The Poetry of Things

Why does late American poet Robinson Jeffers deserve to have a voice in the Parliament of Things? Though he certainly classifies as a ‘treehugger’ – to use the modern derogatory term – Robinson Jeffers was much more. His life’s work consists of one epic homage to nature. Echoing the reverential language and style of precursors such as George Byron, Jeffers’ poems combine the lyrical with the political. Jeffers is most commonly known for his philosophy of “inhumanism”, in his day a revolutionary way of thinking about the place of mankind in the natural world. Jeffers believed that, in order to transcend conflict, it is necessary to de-emphasize human concerns in favor of the boundless whole. This led him to oppose America’s involvement in World War II, a controversial stance to take at the time.

What message does Jeffers’ voice communicate in the Parliament of Things? His philosophy of ‘inhumanism’ accuses mankind of being too self-centered and too indifferent to the “astonishing beauty of things.” In his celebrated poem ‘Carmel Point’, Jeffers calls on humans to “uncenter” themselves. Though some accuse him of misanthropy, Jeffers’ message is the opposite of pessimistic; by urging us to admire the magnificence and splendor of the natural world, his is a plight for a calculated detachment from the throes of human existence.

On the other side of the poetical spectrum we have the poetry of Francis Ponge. Contrary to the lyrical tone used by Jeffers, Ponge explicitly avoided appeals to emotion and symbolism and instead sought to reconstruct the way we experience everyday objects. Ponge expressed this as the “concentration on simple objects – stones, grass, directed towards a restoration of the power and purity of language.” Ponge’s voice resonates powerfully through the corridors of the Parliament of Things, and with it come the voices of a thousand Things.