Jeffers’ “November Surf”

I’ve finished the first four hundred pages of The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, and I’m still waiting for a poem that I love nearly as much as “Shine, Perishing Republic.” I find it extremely difficult to wade through his long poems, though my favorite so far is “Thurso’s Landing,” which manages to be psychologically more interesting than the previous one’s I’ve read. It traces the effects of a father’s suicide on his family with devastating effects. I would probably have enjoyed it even more if I hadn’t read Berryman’s “Dream Songs” just recently.

Unfortunately, I’m more repelled by Jeffers’ Nietzschean view of mankind than I am attracted by his attraction to nature. Still, I can certainly identify with:


Some lucky day each November great waves awake and are drawn
Like smoking mountains bright from the west
And come and cover the cliff with white violent cleanness: then suddenly
The old granite forgets half a year’s filth:
The orange-peel, eggshells, papers, pieces of clothing, the clots
Of dung in corners of the rock, and used
Sheaths that make light love safe in the evenings: all the droppings of the summer
Idlers washed off in a winter ecstasy:
I think this cumbered continent envies its cliff then . . . . But all seasons
The earth, in her childlike prophetic sleep,
Keeps dreaming of the bath of a storm that prepares up the long coast
Of the future to scour more than her sea-lines:
The cities gone down, the people fewer and the hawks more numerous,
The rivers mouth to source pure; when the two-footed
Mammal, being someways one of the nobler animals, regains
The dignity of room, the value of rareness.

Every time I walk to Pt Defiance Park and see the tires, appliances, and trash dumped into the woods I’m enraged. I can’t comprehend such behavior. What hiker hasn’t had a trip to a favorite wilderness besmirched by someone else’s careless garbage?

Like Jeffers, I believe population growth presents a real threat to our quality of life. As I’ve noted before, population growth in the Pacific Northwest, particularly in areas that used to be wilderness is frightening. Such growth has put immense pressure on wilderness areas. It has radically decreased the habitat of wildlife, while increasing the demand for wilderness experiences. Growing up, I could never have imagined needing to apply for a wilderness permit a year in advance, yet that’s precisely what has happened in high-demand areas.