Tamar and Other Poems

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Collection by Jeffers, published in 1924. The volume contains “The Tower Beyond Tragedy,” “Night,” “Shine, Perishing Republic,” and “The Coast Range Christ.” The title piece is a free-verse narrative, suggested by a passage in II Samuel 13.

An incestuous strain in the Cauldwell family, farmers on the California coast, begins with the passion of David and his sister Helen. Helen dies, but a generation later David's son and daughter by his wife, Lee and Tamar, break the same moral law, and Tamar becomes pregnant. She has desired “a love sterile and sacred as the stars,” and now, terrified, attempts to conceal her sin by taking Will Andrews, a former suitor, as her lover. David's sister Stella becomes a psychic medium for the restless spirit of the dead Helen, impelling Tamar to further crime, for Tamar is jealous of Lee, who is about to leave for France to serve in the World War, and stirs her father to lust. In a paroxysm of contempt and desire, she brings Lee, Will, and David together in her bedroom, and by a fabric of lies sets them to fighting. During this violent encounter, an idiot aunt, Jinny, sets fire to the house, which is destroyed with all its occupants. This dramatic tale, of “passions turned inward, incestuous desires, and a fighting against ghosts,” embodies the poet's allegorical warning to humanity against its growing introversion of values. Ending with desolation after a holocaust, it serves to demonstrate his vision of a culminating disaster, to be desired rather than feared, which threatens mankind because of its foolish and perverse attempt at self-deification.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Robinson Jeffers (1887—1962)

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