Here are a couple of poems from the early version of Jeffers’ selected poems that were left out by Tim Hunt that seemed to me to be important themes in Jeffers’ work. It would be interesting to examine in more detail what poems Hunt included that Jeffers didn’t and which poems Jeffers included but Hunt left out. My initial impression was that Hunt was trying to take some of the hard edges off Jeffers and make him appear more compassionate than he probably really was.
Of course, my attraction to these poems probably suggests I share some of these beliefs with Jeffers, though I’m sure Jeffers would have found me much too soft and sentimental for his tastes.
Historically, Jeffers is not alone in feeling that American materialism threatens America’s well being:
No bitterness: our ancestors did it.
They were only ignorant and hopeful, they wanted freedom but wealth too.
Their children will learn to hope for a Caesar.
Or rather-for we are not aquiline Romans but soft mixed colonists-
Some kindly Sicilian tyrant who’ll keep
Poverty and Carthage off until the Romans arrive.
We are easy to manage, a gregarious people,
Full of sentiment, clever at mechanics, and we love our luxuries.
A hundred years earlier Emerson warned “things are in the saddle and ride mankind,” but even he didn’t go so far as to equate this desire for things with political tyranny. It’s not an invention of the Bush Administration?!
I’ll have to admit that I share some of Jeffers’ disdain for wealth and the softness engendered by that wealth:
I am not well civilized, really alien here: trust me not.
I can understand the guns and the airplanes,
The other conveniences leave me cold.
“We must adjust our economics to the new abundance .
Of what? Toys: motors, music-boxes,
Paper, fine clothes, leisure, diversion.
I honestly believe (but really an alien here: trust me not)
Blind war, compared to this kind of life,
Has nobility, famine has dignity.
Be happy, adjust your economics to the new abundance;
One is neither saint nor devil, to wish
The intolerable nobler alternative.
Having fought in Vietnam I’m not about to believe war is nobler than owning too many toys, but the point is well taken. Why would anyone be willing to trade the environment for a few more toys? Is there really any doubt that far too many Americans are soft, not to mention overweight? Overall, though, I consider myself more Athenian while Jeffers sounds an awful lot like a Spartan.