Descent to the Dead

On July 28, 1948, Random House published The Double Axe with a noteworthy disclaimer:

… Random House feels compelled to go on record with its disagreement over some of the political views pronounced by the poet in this volume. …

This was no mere “not necessarily the views of the publisher” disclaimer. Random House did publish the book, but only after pressuring the poet to retract eleven poems (Wilson in HellWhat Odd Expedients, etc.) and alter others. What the publisher was distancing itself from in this particular passage was the defanged version that had undergone considerable editorial review. Even after all this suppression of content, this was Robinson Jeffers’ darkest, most provocative and politically antagonistic work, featuring a number of poems that cast judgment upon nations and world leaders of all stripes (Pearl Harbor, Historical Choice, etc.). Some poems in the collection were less pointed yet wholeheartedly misanthropic (Original Sin, The Inquisitors, and The King of Beasts). As if all that wern’t dark enough, Jeffers provided the narrative war-horror poem, The Love and the Hate.

About the time the world, happy to have defeated the twin beasts of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, learned that Robinson Jeffers had been stridently against America’s involvement in either world war, Robin and Una went on a tour of Ireland. During their visit Robin came down with a nearly fatal pulmonary illness from which he never fully recovered.

It was not long after Robin was back on his feet that Una’s cancer returned. This time she would not win the fight. She died in Robin’s arms, at a nearby hospital, in September 1950. She left Robin old, frail, depressed, and often inebriated. His popularity had ebbed, and he probably felt that was the way it ought to be. No more empty celebrity for him. He had surely seen enough of that. He continued to write, and even published a dark, mournful, and haunted collection entitiled Hungerfield (1954). He lived eleven years without Una, sharing his home with his son Donnan, daughter-in-law Lee, and their four children.