Poetry Review: “Excesses of God” by Robinson Jeffers

Stone Wall in Iowa (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

Stone Wall in Iowa (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

Robinson Jeffers is famous for building by-hand his own stone home, “Tor House and Hawk Tower,” in Carmel, California. Because of that, it is natural for readers to approach a Jeffers’ poem as if it were also built stone-by-stone.

The image of poet as stone-builder is a good one: the perfect combination of the primitive and the craftsman and the anachronistic. Poetry is, after all, all of that.

Poetry is the oldest art. Even those who painted on cave walls were moved to try and shape their own world ultimately by the magic and religious words that gave their world and their lives meaning.

Words like stones have weight. We may treat words sometimes like they are merely the movements of breath, and play with  them that way… like stones we skip across the water to kill a few moments of the day. But words have a weight unto themselves. A weight we can hold in our hands and feel and measure. Words like Godbeauty, desire, secret.

Jeffers, maybe more than any poet, understood the true weight of words, a primitive and anachronistic weight. A weight we cannot always articulate but which is always able to articulate us.

On a cool December morning, a Jeffers’ poem seems like just the thing.



The Excesses of God
Is it not by his high superfluousness we know
Our God? For to equal a need
Is natural, animal, mineral: but to fling
Rainbows over the rain
And beauty above the moon, and secret rainbows
On the domes of deep sea-shells,
And make the necessary embrace of breeding
Beautiful also as fire,
Not even the weeds to multiply without blossom
Nor the birds without music:
There is the great humaneness at the heart of things,
The extravagant kindness, the fountain
Humanity can understand, and would flow likewise
If power and desire were perch-mates.


Listening with a pencil and my ear, these are the lines I marked:

                                   to fling
Rainbows over the rain
And beauty above the moon, and secret rainbows
On the domes of deep sea-shells


There are so many lines in this poem I love. But these are the lines that I have found myself repeating most often over the years.

There is a sub-genre of poetry called Christian Poetry just as in music there is a large amount of so-called Christian Music, Christian Rock, etc…. Just like with Christian Music, Christian Poetry merely has the outside trappings of poetry. It has none of the heart or soul or edge of real poetry. It has none of the weight that this poem by Jeffers does.

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