The storm-dances of gulls, the barking game
Over and under the ocean …
Divinely superfluous beauty
Rules the games, presides over destinies,
makes trees grow
And hills tower, waves fall.
The incredible beauty of joy
Stars with fire the joining of lips, O let our loves too
Be joined, there is not a maiden
Burns and thirsts for love
More than my blood for you, by the shore of seals
while the wings
Weave like a web in the air
Divinely superfluous beauty.
This is one of my favorite poems by the great Carmel poet Robinson Jeffers. Many critics who I respect label him as a mere versifier and a copycat of the Irish poet W.B. Yeats. There may be some truth to this claim. But there is something definitely false about it when you contextualize the poet’s work in the sublime landscape of Big Sur and Point Lobos. All disappointed criticism falls to the wayside as one stands on the craggy granite shore and becomes a witness of the profound impersonal cosmos, represented by the sea’s largess, and the violence of nature. In his poetry, Jeffers is a scribe of sensations, and he describes the feeling of being in a localized present, the unparalleled divinely superfluous beauty of Carmel and Big Sur. He shows that the source of creativity is our unbounded vulnerability to self-importance. This is why his philosophy of ‘inhumanism,’ a synthesis of ideas from Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Calvin, requires us to “uncenter” ourselves and consider the contingency of our existence. We do not have to exist, but we do. And so we are obligated to report the observations of our finitude. In rare Paterian moments when we would experience the “gem-like flame” of insight, we would do well to commemorate the “incredible beauty of joy.”