Below, you’ll find a complete analysis of the poem ‘The Stars Go Over the Lonely Ocean’ by Robinson Jeffers. This an allegorical poem and it’s making a direct criticism of modern politics and modern society. Jeffers expresses some pretty unusual and controversial opinions in this piece, so be sure to develop your own opinions and decide whether you agree or disagree with him.
Lean – thin
Black-maned – with a black stripe of hair running down his head
Plowing – turning up soil and earth
Snout – nose
Black-bristled – covered in stiff black hairs
Grubs – bugs
Sod – earth
Fallow – ploughed farmland
Dupes – idiots
Democracy – a system of government based on voting and election
Revolution – when a system of government is overthrown and a new one installed in its place
Ideologies – an ideology is a set of beliefs about humans, culture or society which form the basis of an individual or group’s core thinking. Examples include religious beliefs such as Christianity, or subcategories such as Protestantism, political beliefs such as Conservatism or Liberalism, and social beliefs such as Veganism or Feminism.
Gamey – maturing, as in when meat is hung to cure before being eaten
I was unhappy about some distant things, that weren’t my problem, wandering along the coast and up the lean ridges, I was in the evening the stars go over the lonely ocean, and a black-maned wild boar turning up the earth with his snout on Mal Paso Mountain.
the old monster snuffled, and said: “Here are sweet roots, fat bugs to eat, shiny beetles and sprouted acorns. The best country in Europe has fallen – but the stars go over the lonely ocean.” the old black-haired boar kept tearing up the earth on Mal Paso Mountain.
“The world is in a bad place, my man, and it’s bound to get worse before it mends; it’s better to lie up in the mountain here for four or five hundred years, while the stars go over the lonely ocean.” The old father of wild pigs said this as he was plowing the farmed soil on Mal Paso Mountain.
“Keep clear of the idiots that talk of democracy, and the dogs that talk about revolution, they are all drunk with talk, liars and believers who have false hope that the world will get better. I believe in my tusks. Long live freedom and curse the ideologies, the political beliefs that people have which go nowhere and lead to nothing.” Said the gamey black-manned board, throwing the soil up with his tusks on Mal Paso Mountain.
The speaker in the poem is human, but he takes a back seat in the story itself – he is merely a passerby, walking in what seems to be a natural landscape that’s devoid of other people. The setting is Mal Paso Mountain, a mountain in the Canary Islands, in Spain.
The speaker walks along a ridge – the edge of a cliff – which looks over the ‘lonely ocean’ and out to sea. He spots a wild boar up on the mountain, digging up the soil with his tusks – through the use of dialogue, this boar becomes the primary voice of the poem – we could interpret him as symbolising the voice of nature itself; he seems disdainful of humans and their political world, instead focusing on natural ways of existing in harmony with the land around him – turning soil and seeking food, living a simplistic way of life that avoids the complexities and potential pitfalls of politics and society. Therefore, we can interpret the poem to be allegorical – it is making a direct criticism of modern politics and the follies of modern society.
Double entendre – ‘not my affair’ – the poem opens with the speaker being ‘unhappy’, but not about anything direct or personal. Instead, he is worried about things that are occurring on a national or global scale, which are outside of his control. The term ‘affair’ has a double meaning, firstly it means that the issues are not his personal problems, but it also hints towards the topic of ‘current affairs’, a term that is often used to describe society and current events that are happening in the world around us.
Compound adjectives – ‘black-maned’, ‘black-bristled’ – the boar is described as tough and hardened as if he is an ancient mythological creature who has been around a long time and has therefore gained a long-term perspective on the world and its workings.
Listing – ‘sweet roots,/Fat grubs, slick beetles and sprouted acorns.’ – this description demonstrates the abundance of the earth – this world has so much to offer us, so much nourishment and sustenance, and yet humans are too focused on themselves to appreciate or acknowledge it.
Plosives – dupes that talk democracy – the repeated ‘d’ sounds are heavy and empathic, hammering home the point that the boar feels democracy is for idiots. While this at first may sound shocking, it is important to note that the poet is likely not disagreeing with the idea of democracy in principle. Instead, he says that there are too many naive and gullible people who thing that their votes count for something, when in reality corrupt politicians and businessmen run the world. The metaphor ‘dogs that talk revolution’ shows an equally pessimistic view of the thought that society could be overturned and improved. Jeffers, who wrote the poem in 1954, lived through several wars and revolutions in his lifetime. He makes direct observations of those wars in the closing stanza.
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STRUCTURE + FORM
Fable – the narrative poem feels quite like a fable. A fable is a traditional tale which often uses animals as the main characters. The main goal of a fable is usually to highlight the flaws and weaknesses of human beings.
Septets – the poem divides regularly into seven-line stanzas, or septets. This contrasts with the varying line length – with some lines being clearly short, or hypometric. This perhaps signifies the fluctuations and variations in life, combined with underlying structures and patterns that repeat throughout history. The boar thinks that the world will be alright again, but that it will take ‘four or five centuries’, before things improve. This suggests a cyclical pattern where the world oscillates between being a good or bad place.
Repetition – ‘The stars go over the lonely ocean,’ is both the title and a repeated line throughout the poem. It suggests that the world has natural cyclical rhythms. These operate on short and long-term scales. In the same way in which the day and night cycle round, there are periods of greatness and horror on the earth. However, the adjective ‘lonely’ adds a poignant touch to the line. It suggests perhaps that nature is lonely without human attention and care.
Mal Paso Mountain is a mountain in the Canary Islands, Spain. The takes a walk along the ridge of mountains by the shore. He watches the stars rise above the lonely ocean. He spots an old black boar on the top of the mountain, tilling the soil for food. The setting is rural, natural and distanced from the human world or city life, with its politics and social ideologies.
Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) was a famous American poet. He drew on Romantic and Transcendentalist traditions of poets such as Walt Whitman, to present nature in its purity and entirety, and to consider the relationship between humans and the natural world. Jeffers harboured critical and misanthropic beliefs, generally despairing at the state of the human race and the way that humans have lost touch with our natural origins over time through becoming too focused on ourselves and losing sight of our wider place within the world.
Jeffers thought that God no longer cared for humans, and had therefore shunned them. Furthermore, he felt that their self-obsession led to a feeling of superiority which had drastic environmental repercussions for the world. We would increasingly start to use and disrespect nature rather than working in harmony with it. You could view his beliefs as being similar to modern-day environmentalists or political activists that campaign against climate change. Jeffers called this philosophy ‘inhumanism’.
Politics is not worth our time and attention. The poem is pessimistic about the political world in general – it takes neither a right nor left-wing approach, instead suggesting that the whole political system is too complex, corrupt and human-centric to really make any big difference to the world at large, as well as being too unstable in itself to function efficiently. The boar is anti-ideological in general – he distrusts anything that a group of people believe in too strongly, particularly if it seems like a solution to the world’s problems. Instead, he says ‘I believe in my tusks’ – a symbol of his own power and strength as an individual. The poem takes a libertarian political stance. The speaker believes that men and women should be as free as possible to live their own lives. They shouldn’t be pressured into believing ideologies or conforming to society.
Humans neglect and mistreat nature. Jeffers was a nature poet who felt that humans were too egocentric. He thought that they placed themselves above nature in the world’s hierarchy. Therefore, his poetry expresses pity, suggesting that we should live and work more in harmony with the natural world. We should get back in touch with our natural origins, rather that trying to advance beyond our natural capacities. That way, we would understand nature better and be able to respect it more.
Isolation from society is the best way to cope with our current world. The speaker seems to be an intermediary between the humans and natural world. Though human, he is alone. He observes the world around him with curiosity. This demonstrates a wish to interact and commune with nature rather than dominating or using it.
History moves in cycles. The boar’s prediction that he should lay low for ‘four or five hundred’ more years suggests all moments in history are temporary. It alludes to the natural cycles of life. This implies a small hope for the future: humans may live in harmony with nature once again.
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