Sunday, December 13, 2020

Robinson Jeffers and Ocean Vuong / Mid-December views with local music

Robinson Jeffers walking near home on the California coast with his twin sons, Donnan and Garth

"... In the autumn of 1934, Jeffers received a letter from Sister Mary James Power — principal and teacher at a girls’ Catholic high school in Massachusetts. A lifelong lover of poetry, Power had endeavored to edit an anthology of prominent poets’ reflections on the spiritual dimensions of their art and their creative motive force. She invited Jeffers to contribute, asking about his “religious attitudes.” His response, originally published in Powers’s 1938 book Poets at Prayer and later included in The Wild God of the World:  An Anthology of Robinson Jeffersis one of the most beautiful and succinct articulations of a holistic, humanistic moral philosophy ever committed to words — some of the wisest words to live and think and feel by ..."

(to read the entire essay, click here)

"Response to Sister Mary James Power

Tor House, Carmel, California
October 1, 1934

Dear Sister Mary James:

Your letter should have been answered sooner, but there have been so many visitors and other events the past fortnight.

As to my "religious attitudes: -- you know it is a sort of tradition in this country not to talk about religion for fear of offending -- I am still a little subject to the tradition, and rather dislike stating my "attitudes" except in the course of a poem. -- However, they are simple. I believe that the universe is one being, all its parts are different expressions of the same energy, and they are all in communication with each other, influencing each other, therefore parts of one organic whole.  (This is physics, I believe, as well as religion.)  The parts change and pass, or die, people and races and rocks and stars; none of them seems to me important in itself, but only the whole.  This whole is in all parts so beautiful, and is felt by me to be so intensely in earnest, that I am compelled to love it, and to think of it as divine.  It seems to me that this whole alone is worthy of a deeper sort of love; and there is peace, freedom, I might say a kind of salvation, in turning one's affections outward toward this one God, rather than inward on one's self-- or on humanity, or on human imaginations and abstractions -- the world of the spirits.

I think that it is our privilege and felicity to love God for his beauty, without claiming or expecting love from him.  We are not important to him, but he to us.

I think that one may contribute (ever so slightly) to the beauty of things by making one's own life and surroundings  environment beautiful, so far as one's power reaches.  This includes moral beauty, one of the qualities of humanity, though it does {seems} not {to} appear elsewhere in the universe.  But I would have each person realize that his contribution is not important, its success not really a matter for exultance nor its failure for mourning; the beauty of things is sufficient without him.

(An office of tragic poetry is to show that there is beauty in pain and failure as much as in success and happiness.)

-- There is nothing here that has not been more feelingly expressed in my verses; but I thought that a plain question deserves a plain answer. -- Of course you are welcome to photostat this at pleasure.

Sincerely yours,
Robinson Jeffers."


As I read Robinson Jeffers' response, I thought of the quote that Sabine posted a few days ago:

"Do you remember the happiest day of your life? What about the saddest? Do you ever wonder if sadness and happiness can be combined, to make a deep purple feeling, not good, not bad, but remarkable simply because you didn't have to live on one side or the other?"

         Ocean Voung


Looking east in mid-December:

And if you have time, listen to this music from the county where I live  (population 229,247 in 2019).  Whatcom County took its name from a Nooksack word meaning "noisy waters."


beth coyote said...

I just listened to an interview with Ocean Vuong on "On Being". When he talks/tells stories, sometimes he sobs a little. I first read some of his poetry in the NYT and promptly put them up in my kitchen. I had the great good fortune to attend a reading he gave in our public library last year.

He is brilliant and wise and beautiful. Wounded and whole. His book, "Night Sky with Exit Wounds is marvelous. I will never tire of his work. I'm a different kind of poet. To say I admire him would be putting it mildly.

Carruthers said...

That Jeffers letter is a great document. It's great to read things like that that reflect one's own thoughts and experiences. My own existence is in fact indistinguishable from the existence of the Universe. My thoughts, memories and perceptions create the illusion of my individuality.

I'll have to read some of his poetry. (Just took a break between paragraphs to read one!)

Anonymous said...

I loved reading all of this, but most especially being reminded of Robinson Jeffers. I think on the next rainy day, I will read more of his writings. Beautiful photos, am.

Colette said...

I do love when artists of all sorts think deeply and write accordingly.

Sabine said...

Everything here is wondrous and moving.