Jones 1 Brian Jones English 547 Jeredith Merrin A Comparison of Jeffers and Lowell In the study of various poets

, two in particular might stand out as being very similar to one another. These two individuals are Robinson Jeffers and Robert Lowell. Both were rather cynical, and neither cared about how their poetry was accepted by their peers. Instead, Jeffers found solace in the natural world around him, and Lowell found a necessary challenge in protesting war. The mindset of both of these men was that humanity, in general, is bad – or at least making far too many mistakes. Jeffers discusses this in his poem “Carmel Point”, and Lowell does likewise in “Memories of West Street and Lepke.” “Carmel Point” is about a beautiful natural location, surrounded by smooth rocks and flowing water. Unfortunately, it has been overruled by suburban development, and the natural beauty of Carmel Point is now diminishing. Jeffers held a firm belief that mankind was not a permanent entity in the span of eternity; rather, he thought that humanity would be wiped out or caused to disappear in some way or another. The timeless living beings on the earth, then, are those that comprise what one might call “nature”: trees, rocks, water, and so on. The blind pride of man, however, causes us to destroy such things in order to make way for office buildings, shopping malls, and “suburban houses.”

Jones 2 Although this motif is prevalent in nearly all of Jeffers’ work, this particular poem directly addresses the idea. Despite the fact that it might seem like a depressing story to a naturalist like Jeffers, the second half of the poem illustrates the point in which he places his hope. In reference to the earth, he poses the question, “does it care?” The immediate answer, of course, is “Not faintly.” Here Jeffers actually personifies the planet as a whole. This provides us with a sense of insignificance as a species; even though most humans view the planet as simply a large terrestrial rock which we can use for our own bidding, Jeffers wants us to realize that it is more important than we are. The earth, he argues, is wise. It is simply letting us believe that we are more significant than is actually the case. Regardless, this is still not a very happy conclusion. After all, Jeffers is a part of humanity, despite his best efforts to detach from the rest of society. He is only going to live during the time that man will be destroying the earth, including specific beautiful areas like Carmel Point. He must witness all of these things, and it only makes his bitterness towards his fellow man even worse. It is no wonder, then, that Jeffers would be considered a cynic! His fellow man is actually developing buildings and society as way to increase the standard of living, and gradually make survival easier on the species as a whole; still, Jeffers refused to accept any of this. One might even wonder if Jeffers cared about his own life at all. Judging by the immense “finger-pointing” directed at mankind in his poetry, without any apparent acceptance of his own faults, it can be seen that he was most likely an elitist. It is very possible that reading his work was quite frustrating for many people, because he was not accepting any blame himself. In this way, he came off as both hypocritical and, again, cynical.

Jones 3 It is easy to see the cynicism present in Jeffers’ writings, but it is a bit more hidden in those of Lowell. “Memories of West Street and Lepke”, after all, is merely a reflection of some of his experiences in earlier days. Presented in a rather wide-eyed voice, Lowell relates the story of how he was sent to jail for being a religious conscientious objector to the war. Nothing truly awful seems to happen to have happened to him during his prison stay, but he naturally did not like the time he spent there anyway. He was, after all, “fire-breathing” in his actions before he was sent to jail, so it can be deduced that he had a bit of an angry streak – one which was clearly evident in his behavior and dealings with the government. Obviously being a liberal, he was not happy with conservative political actions, and this is where the reader can start to see past the apparent neutrality of his voice. In the first stanza, Lowell discusses how even a man “scavenging filth in the back alley trash cans . . . is a ‘young Republican.’” Because the Republicans are known for being biased towards helping the rich, Lowell is actually appalled at the fact that nearly everyone is supporting them and, in effect, the war. However, was this really the case? Perhaps Boston, at the time, was overall a rather conservative city; but was the city as disproportioned as Lowell believed? It is quite possible that, because he was fighting with great fervor against the war, that his perspective was influenced. He was angry, he was cynical, and he felt like everyone was against him. Of course, being sent to prison would not help a man in a situation like this. While in jail, he witnessed like-minded liberals suffer attacks from wealthy criminals like Boff and Brown. Even in prison, “B & B” wore “chocolate double-breasted suits” as they beat

Jones 4 down on a vegetarian pacifist. Lowell and these other victims shared the common ground of refusing to fight, and having little economic or physical power. Despite this kinship, he still presents them in a manner of neutrality. He mentions talking to them, but they are displayed as weak. Abramowitz, for instance, is described as a “fly-weight”. If Lowell had not been trying to make any particular statements about this man, then would a seemingly condescending description be necessary? No; Lowell wishes to separate himself from these other victims in prison. It can be seen that this separation is similar to the elitism displayed in Jeffers’ work. Whereas Jeffers seemed to be completely detached from society, though, Lowell found companionship with some people. After all, Lowell was friends with several other poets, such as Elizabeth Bishop. When it comes to discussing others alongside whom Lowell suffered, however, it seems like he still wished to make himself appear superior. He may have been thinking that people like Abramowitz deserved to be punished, if for nothing else than their weaknesses; this would be opposed to his own situation of imprisonment and persecution, in which he didn’t believe he deserved to be positioned. He had been unfairly punished by the government, and it was unfair that other prisoners like Boff and Brown could still do as they pleased. Lowell’s poem ends on a negative note. While discussing the notorious murderer Czar Lepke, he ends by saying that the now-lobotomized criminal is now wandering through the rest of his life; his brain is metaphorically “hanging . . . in his air/of lost connections. . . .” The connotation of this ending is one of sadness. Despite the fact that Lepke was a murderer, Lowell still presents him in a way which extracts sympathy from

Jones 5 the reader. Once again, the government has done something wrong. Of course, this is from Lowell’s perspective; many people would argue that lobotomizing the man was the proper course of action. This would be an argument stemming from a conservative frame of mind, though. Maybe the fight against such conservative viewpoints was what drove Jeffers and Lowell into cynicism. They were both liberals, fighting for the environment and peace. The general public, including the government, tended to deny their pleas of liberal notions – but did this always happen? An in-depth historical study of such a matter is beyond the scope of this essay, but one with common historical knowledge would likely believe that the country has never been too unequally divided between conservatism and liberalism. If one were to already have a pessimistic or cynical perspective, though, then the appearance of American politics might seem rather different. Lowell and Jeffers, it seems, both shared this latter view.