Jeffers Country

“Lend me the stone strength of the past and I will lend you
The wings of the future, for I have them.
— Robinson Jeffers, To the Rock that Will be a Cornerstone

— I took a tour of Tor House and Hawk Tower in Carmel, CA, once home to the American poet Robinson Jeffers, not too long ago with my guy. We had made a New Year’s resolution to see and do things in our hometown area. We wanted to be able to say yes when visitors asked us, “Hey have you gone to … fill in the blank” … about local landmarks and historic sites. That motivation opened the world of one of our best American poets to us and we’re still talking about it.

The handcrafted stone cottage and tower, constructed in the 1920s, are as much works of art as the iconic poems he composed. When you consider that every granite boulder for both was moved there by Jeffers from Carmel’s nearby rocky shore, it is quite a structural and artistic masterpiece. He built it where land meets sea like the “prow and plunging cutwater” of a ship and designed this home like an English Tudor barn, small and low to the ground. It’s cozy.

The word tor is Celtic for craggy outcropping. At the time Jeffers built Tor House, his residence, the land was just that, windswept and ruggedly sparse, much like the English landscape that inspired this edifice. Jeffers apprenticed with a stonemason to learn this skill and went on to build Hawk Tower out of the same Santa Lucia granite completely by himself.

Stonemasons use the term making the “stone love stone.” Each boulder has to hold its own in place, connected to those around it for strength. It’s like a giant three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle which humans have been constructing for thousands of years. Just look at the Pyramids, or Machu Picchu or Chaco Canyon here in the United States … all made by laying one piece of stone next to and on top of another.

It struck me on our tour, that Jeffers built his home much the same way he wrote his poems, using his words as building blocks, moving the reader from one image to another in a seamless transition of reflections and perceptions. Much like the stone foundation of his home, his poetic voice is solid and grounded in the world around him. All of Jeffers’ major poetical works were written from his refuge atop the weather-beaten shore of Carmel Bay. He was a tough outdoorsman who worshipped the glory of nature, bringing its mystical rugged beauty to life in verse.

Many of his poems, epic narratives filled with his own environmental theory of “inhumanism,” ask us to “turn outward to the inexhaustible beauty beyond humanity,” making him, in many people’s estimation, a harbinger of the need to protect and preserve the natural world. He was inspired by the splendor of the Big Sur coast, the awesome, rough terrain of the Santa Lucia Mountains and the tenacity of the flora and fauna with which he coexisted; his favorite, his spiritual totem, the hawk.

Both Jeffers and his wife, Una, considered Carmel to be “our inevitable place.” Take the tour. You’ll see what captured their hearts.

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