The Eye by Robinson Jeffers: Summary

The Atlantic is a stormy moat (deep, wide ditch filled with water dug round a castle etc., as a defense), and the Mediterranean is the blue pool in the old garden (part of the Atlantic) has taken the sacrifice of ships and blood for more than five thousand years.

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)

This blue pool shines in the sun. But here is the pacific the ships, planes, wars are perfectly irrelevant. Neither our present blood-feud (quarrel) with the brave dwarfs (Hitler and his Nazi soldier or Japanese soldiers) nor any future world-quarrel of Western and Eastern man, the bloody migrations, greed of power, battle-falcons are a mote (speck, small particle) of dust in the great scale-pan of the Pacific ocean. Here from this mountain shore, headland beyond the stormy headland plunging like dolphins through the grey sea-smoke into pale sea, look west at the hill of water (looking out westward across the immensity of the Pacific Ocean). It is half the planet, this dome, and this half-globe, this bulging eyeball of water, arched over to Asia, Australia and white Antarctica. Those are the eyelids that never close. This is the staring unsleeping eye of the earth, and what it watches is not our wars.

Initially, the poem is a bit complex one. The situation of the speaker is that he is standing high up on a mountainous shore. He is looking out westward across the vast Pacific Ocean. Most possibly he is somewhere in America. And from this place, he is thinking through his mind’s eye of the ships and airplanes that signify war.

This is an intellectually stimulating poem about war on the mind of its beholder, who looks at the future of humanity with the sense of uncertainty.

The poem begins with the quick passing details of the strife-filled history of the other oceans. The Atlantic is not only “stormy”. It is long and clearly defined between parallel lines like a “moat”, the military defensive fortification. Only America seems to be not so much affected by the ravages of war. The greed of power lurks in Europe, and America is protected by the oceans. Superficially the Mediterranean is beautiful-looking – “the blue pool in the old garden”. But its history is quite different. For the last five thousand years, it (the Mediterranean) stretches back like a savage, inhuman God, on the sacrifices of ships, men, and blood. It has “drunk sacrifices”. It has participated in the bloodiest of the battles humanity has ever known. Now in the modern world, the Pacific Ocean is witnessing the bloody war. There is, however difference between the wars of the present and the past. In the past, wars had limited scope, but, in the present time, wars create havoc (destruction) world-wide. The expanse of the war is far and wide. In every casual way the poet, documents the kind of war modern man involves in: ships, warheads and “planes”. Such wars are perfectly irrelevant. This shows the attitude of the poet towards the war. He speaks with some hatred about the human warfare which is taking place in the pacific area. The speaker maintains a detached perspective, even though he seems to be related to the American landscape. He reflects upon the present war, which is bloody and is waged against the Japanese or Asian soldiers (“dwarfs”). He sees a kind of mess. People are “Westering” and Eastering”. The war is fought not on any significant issue, ideological or the like, but merely for “greed of power.” It is among the “bloody migrations” and “battle-falcons”. The drunkenness and lust for power are everywhere. In essence, the war as it exists is a minor, irritating phenomenon, stupid and vicious, and only of momentary importance.

From the tenth line onward, the poet’s mind turns towards the sheer immensity of the vast expanses. The poet does not see the landscape as a vast flat area. The Earth’s surface is curved-like. The poet uses metaphors to express this idea. The Pacific is presented as a “hill of water”; a “dome”, a “half-globe” and, finally “a bulging eyeball of water.” This is a magnificent comparison between the human eye and the Pacific Ocean in shape, in the wateriness, in the division between the outward and inward parts of the eye compared to the watery expanses of the Pacific Ocean contrasted to the landed half of the globe containing Asia and Europe. He glances on the farther side of the eyeball like ocean the continents: Asia, Australia, and Antarctica, which represent for him “the eye-lids which never close”. The never-closing eyelids imply the drifting apart (separateness) of the continents involved in war.

We saw that the poem establishes the metaphor of the Pacific as the eye of the Earth. The earth now becomes a sentient, intelligent, watchful being, looking out in the vastness, unknowable and uncertain future. War is thus an irrelevant thing for him. The poem does not bring death- toll from the war front; neither do we see in the lines the bloodshed, death, human- skeletons like melodramatic happenings. The poem is more intellectual than passionate. It is reflective in mood. The poem shows us the phenomena of human warfare against the background of the whole universe. This gives the impressions that war does not belong to the eternal order of things: it is simply a foolish invention of mankind.

The language of the poem is sparse (thin and scattered) and economic. The simile like “the plunging dolphins” makes a useful contribution to rhythmic seascape. “Eyeball” is the metaphor in “Eyeball of water…” and the poet’s eye matches perfectly with the eye of the sea looking back and forth of human strife and its destiny. The poem is both imaginative and intellectual. The intellectualization has not marred its poetic beauty.

Related Topics

Shine, Perishing Republic: Summary and Analysis

The Eye: Literary Appreciation

The Eye: Critical Appreciation

Robinson Jeffers: Biography