This poem stands out amid Jeffers’ work in that its backdrop is the desert of New Mexico rather than a fog-draped rocky coastline.* It also stands out biographically, as it represents Jeffers’ decade of fame, travel, and distraction.
Beginning in 1929, the Jeffers family began to travel. In 1929, they visited the British Isles for the first of many times. They then began to spend time in Taos, New Mexico, every summer from 1930 to 1939. Their retreat there was the bohemian ranch of heiress Mabel Dodge Luhan. Jeffers also took leave from stonework from 1930 to 1937. The decade can easily be seen as a general decline into depression and dysfunction that bottomed out with Una’s attempted suicide at Taos in 1938.
In light of this dreary summary of a dismal time, New Mexican Mountain seems unconsciously prophetic:
… certainly there was never religion enough, nor beauty nor poetry here
… to fill Americans.
Certainly not enough to fill Jeffers. But he esteems himself above his countrymen, or perhaps deeper, …
Only the drum is confident, it thinks the world has not changed.
Apparently only myself and the strong
Tribal drum, and the rock-head of Taos mountain, remember that
civilization is a transient sickness
… but has he too lost pace with the drum? There is more than a little irony to be found in this white prophet’s hubris.
* Also see Red Mountain (1935), Contrast (1928), and Ascent to the Sierras (1928).
The text of New Mexican Mountain has been made available online by Google Books.
This poem is included in the following anthologies:
- The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, 1973; eds. Ellman & O’Clair
- The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, Second Edition; eds. Ellman & O’Clair
- The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, Stanford, 2001; ed. Tim Hunt