Robinson Jeffers

Photograph of Robinson Jeffers (1937) © Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964)

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection,

LOT 12735, no. 583

The Answer *

 by Robinson Jeffers


Then what is the answer?- Not to be deluded by dreams.

To know that great civilizations have broken down into violence,

      and their tyrants come, many times before.

When open violence appears, to avoid it with honor or choose

      the least ugly faction; these evils are essential.

To keep one's own integrity, be merciful and uncorrupted

      and not wish for evil; and not be duped

By dreams of universal justice or happiness. These dreams will

      not be fulfilled.

To know this, and know that however ugly the parts appear

      the whole remains beautiful. A severed hand

Is an ugly thing and man dissevered from the earth and stars

      and his history... for contemplation or in fact...

Often appears atrociously ugly. Integrity is wholeness,

      the greatest beauty is

Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty

      of the universe. Love that, not man

Apart from that, or else you will share man's pitiful confusions,

      or drown in despair when his days darken. 

* "From THE COLLECTED POETRY OF ROBINSON JEFFERS, edited by Tim Hunt. Used with the permission of the publishers, Stanford University Press. Copyright 1936, renewed 1966 by Donnan and Garth Jeffers. Copyright transferred 1995 to the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University"

"Not Man Apart"


No assemblage of words better portrays how I feel about the beauty and integrity of our universe as does this poem, The Answer, by Robinson Jeffers. I memorized it when I was a teenager. I often whisper it to myself, and only have to step into my back yard, and gaze skyward on a clear night to be reminded that, "the greatest beauty is organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty of the universe..." and why we might want to "Love that, not man apart from that..." Every moment I live, observe, follow, immerse in the wild, only fortifies this idea more, which has always seemed so obvious to me anyway. I suppose that all along I have subconsciously tried to provide visual elements to Jeffers' writing with some of my photographs. I think all artists attempt to do this with an important and inspired piece of writing they relate to. It has been a formidable and somewhat futile undertaking given how perfect the picture is that Jeffers paints for me with this and other poems.

I first became aware of Robinson Jeffers through the Exhibit Format Book, "Not Man Apart", lines from Robinson Jeffers , Photographs of the Big Sur Coast, edited by David Brower and published by the Sierra Club in 1965. I was quite taken with the words of Robinson Jeffers woven amongst the great photographs of the Big Sur coast and the Monterey Peninsula. The photographers who contributed to this book are all legends in their own time, my time, and for all time; Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock, Steve Crouch, William E. Garnett, Philip Hyde, Eliot Porter, Cole Weston, Edward Weston, Don Worth, Cedric Wright and others. The Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series of books, conceived by Nancy Newhall, Ansel Adams, with David Brower who supported and published many titles, celebrated the earth's wild places in a way books had never done before. These books, in no small way, contributed to my appreciation of wild places, and the greatness of nature and natural systems. They also introduced me to great writing, great ideas, and the likes of Robinson Jeffers. I was quite honored when thirteen years later David Brower would publish an exhibit format book of my marine mammal photography, "Wake of the Whale", 1979, Friends of the Earth/EP Dutton. The real editor of "Not Man Apart" turns out to be David Brower's son Kenneth Brower, who authored my book, "Wake of the Whale". Ken was twenty when "Not Man Apart" was published. Thirteen years later he showed up on my doorstep in Maine to begin work on our book. Since then we have shared many a wild moment together around the planet.

For more information on Robinson Jeffers I have provided a link to the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation. In their words, "The Tor House Foundation, affiliated with the National Trust For Historic Preservation, is a nonprofit organization of volunteer members established in 1978 to acquire, maintain, and provide for public access to Tor House, Hawk Tower, and the surrounding gardens. The Foundation sponsors events and publishes material designed to preserve and extend the cultural and literary legacy of Robinson Jeffers, poet of California. Membership is open to anyone interested in supporting the aims and goals of the Foundation and in learning more about the life, works, and home of the Poet."   Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation


I have also provided a link to the The Robinson Jeffers Association which again in their words is, "a community of persons interested in the life and work of the California poet Robinson
Jeffers (1887-1962)."   The Robinson Jeffers Association


I would like to thank Stanford University Press for permission to reproduce the Robinson Jeffers poem, The Answer, on this web site as well as the excerpts.  Stanford University Press



David Ray

by David Ray

Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right
for what it was, something we can accept,
mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
not able to be, perhaps, what we wished,
or what looking back half the time it seems
we could so easily have been, or ought...
The future, yes, and even for the past,
that it will become something we can bear.
And I too, and my children, so I hope,
will recall as not too heavy the tug
of those albatrosses I sadly placed
upon their tender necks. Hope for the past,
yes, old Frost, your words provide that courage,
and it brings strange peace that itself passes
into past, easier to bear because
you said it, rather casually, as snow
went on falling in Vermont years ago.

© David Ray

And Thanks to David Ray For This Wonderful Poem

and For Permission To Publish It Here!