National Endowment for the Arts - The Big Read
The Poetry of Robinson Jeffers

The Poetry of Robinson Jeffers

by Robinson Jeffers

Permanent things, or things forever renewed, like the grass and human passions, are the material for poetry...


Robinson Jeffers, 1948 (Photo by Nat Farbman/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

The writing exercises in this guide provide possible essay topics, as do the five Discussion Questions in the Reader's Guide. Advanced students can come up with their own essay topics, as long as they are interesting and specific. Other ideas for essays are provided below.

For essays, students should organize their ideas around a thesis-that is, an argument or interpretation-about the poem or poems in question. This statement or thesis should be focused, with clear reasons to support its conclusion. The thesis and supporting evidence should be backed by references to the text.

  1. If a newspaper editor asked you to write an article called "Robinson Jeffers: A Poet for Our Time," what would you say? Combine quotations from Jeffers's poems with your own analysis in a persuasive essay that explains how and why Jeffers speaks to us today.
  2. Philosophers and poets wrestle with life's biggest questions: Does God (or do the gods)exist? What is the purpose of human life? What happens when we die? With the poems you have read as a resource, write an essay in which you discuss Jeffers's responses to these three questions. What, specifically, did he say about these issues?
  3. As a poet concerned with environmental issues, Jeffers looked closely at humankind's relation to the natural world. What was the essence of his message? Discuss the problems he identified and the solutions he proposed. Optional exercise: Research the impact that Jeffers and his contemporaries-Ansel Adams and Edward Weston-had on environmental issues affecting California's central coastline.
  4. With the central coast of California as the primary setting for his work, Jeffers is highly regarded as a regional poet. Because of his concern for issues important to people everywhere, Jeffers is also appreciated for his universality. Write an essay in which you discuss these two aspects of Jeffers's work. Select and discuss three poems: one that emphasizes his regionalism, one that reveals his universality, and one that expresses both.
  5. What is the central message and specific context of the poem "Hands"? Compose an essay that explains how this message suits the imagery. Discuss the reappearance of these ideas in other works by Jeffers.
  6. Optional exercise: research the Native American tribes from California, and offer a historical reading of this poem.
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