Robinson Jeffers: An American Stonecutter

My previous post, on the restoration of a medieval Chapter House, reminded me of two renowned people who worked in other fields but turned to stonework for renewal.  One was the great Psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, who viewed stone as a symbol of the True Self, and carved stone as a means of self-discovery.

Jung’s Bollingen Stone

The other was the renowned poet, Robinson Jeffers (1887 – 1962), who studied geology in college, and worked in stone all his life.  In 1914, Jeffers and his new wife, Uma, moved from Los Angeles to Carmel, CA.  To build a home, Jeffers first hired a local builder and then worked alongside the man, learning the art of stonemasonry.  By 1919, Jeffers was hauling  boulders up from the beach, shaping them, and using them to add rooms to the home, which he named Tor House.  Later, he built the four story, Hawk Tower, as a gift for his wife, who loved Irish literature and stone towers.

Tor House and Hawk Tower, built by Robinson Jeffers in Carmel

The tower was named for a hawk that appeared while Jeffers worked on the structure, and disappeared the day it was finished.  After his death, Jeffers’ oldest son finished the construction then deeded the buildings to the Tor House Foundation, which was formed by Ansel Adams for their preservation.  The Foundation maintains the grounds and offers excellent guided tours.  You can even climb by a secret stairway to the very top of the tower.  There’s a wealth of information on Jeffers and Tor House at the Foundation website, where you can also schedule tours in advance:  http://www.torhouse.org/.

Jeffers work with stone is central to his austere poetic vision of a human spirit that longs to fly like a hawk and find something that lasts, but must finally acknowledge that in this life, it can do neither.

***

To the Stonecutters
by Robinson Jeffers.

Stone-cutters fighting time with marble, you fore-defeated
Challengers of oblivion
Eat cynical earnings, knowing rock splits, records fall down,
The square-limbed Roman letters
Scale in the thaws, wear in the rain. The poet as well
Builds his monument mockingly:
For man will be blotted out, the blithe earth dies, the brave sun
Die blind, his heart blackening:
Yet stones have stood for a thousand years, and pained thoughts found
The honey peace in old poems.

***

Robinson Jeffers

***

Rock and Hawk
by Robinson Jeffers

Here is a symbol in which
Many high tragic thoughts
Watch their own eyes.

This gray rock, standing tall
On the headland, where the sea-wind
Lets no tree grow,

Earthquake-proved, and signatured
By ages of storms: on its peak
A falcon has perched.

I think, here is your emblem
To hang in the future sky;
Not the cross, not the hive,

But this; bright power, dark peace;
Fierce consciousness joined with final
Disinterestedness;

Life with calm death; the falcon’s
Realist eyes and act
Married to the massive

Mysticism of stone,
Which failure cannot cast down
Nor success make proud.

***

Hawk Tower

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6 Responses to Robinson Jeffers: An American Stonecutter

  1. Rosi says:

    Beautiful photos and stunning poetry. Can’t ask for more than that. Thanks, Morgan.

    Like

  2. The rough unhewn stone is a powerful spiritual symbol, because it represents the rough and unfinshed nature of man. In the same way a cube, or finished stone, represents spiritual obtainment and mastery. There is a very good reason that many societies, including the Freemasons, have adopted stones in various states of refinement as important symbols.

    Like

  3. Oh and as always, great post and thank you for sharing!

    Like

  4. I visited Tor House only a few weeks ago. What a wonderful experience. I have never ever seen a house so individualized to its owner, so full of the physical and spiritual presence of Jeffers himself.

    Like

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