The poem is a wonderful representation of Jeffers’ writing style and how, through various interpretations, readers can delve into a wide complexity of themes and topics. It is very likely that readers from various backgrounds will interpret the powerful and inspirational images within this text in different ways. But, without a doubt, Jeffers has a very interesting and original message about death, and the power of nature, to share within ‘Gale in April.’
Explore Gale in April
‘Gale in April’ by Robinson Jeffers is a thoughtful poem about the power of the natural world and death.
Within the first lines of this poem, Jeffers begins by describing powerful images of the natural world, many of which present dangers to the human race. He alludes to the strengths and weaknesses of humanity and inspires readers to explore images of survival, especially in the face of such dangers as the “gale in April” that he observed can present. In the last part of the poem, the speaker turns their intentions towards the refuge that death can provide. It is an escape from the joys, passions, powers, dangers, and horrors of physical life on earth.
You can read the full poem here.
Intense and terrible beauty, how has our race with the frail naked nerves,
So little a craft swum down from its far launching?
A gale in April so overfilling the spirit,
In the first lines of the poem, Jeffers begins by utilizing a lyrical style that readers of his verse will be familiar with. He brings the reader into a series of images that discuss the power of the natural world, the allure of death, and the frailty of humankind. Jeffers depicts the human race as filled with “naked nerves” exposed and liable to injury due to their more powerful surroundings.
He wonders how the human race and their “little craft” have managed to survive so far and endure so much. Jeffers was inspired to explore this specific storm in April, during the spring season, while living through something similar along the Pacific coast in California. He evokes the rugged landscape of his surroundings through his very depiction of the storm’s results.
He describes the storm, or gale, as intense and terrible in its beauty. Such is his understanding of much of the natural world and what it is capable of inflicting upon the human race. The seas are lined with jagged rocks, and the small, frail “vessel” that the human race travels in is assaulted by the “passion” or power of the natural elements.
Though his ribs were thick as the earth’s, arches of mountain, how shall one dare to live,
After eighty years there is shelter and the naked nerves shall be covered with deep quietness,
In the next lines, Jeffers includes a few rhetorical questions that emphasize the strengths and weaknesses of the human race. He speaks of “his ribs” that were “thick as the earth’s” or the “arches of mountain.” This is only the first of several comparisons that relate the strength of the natural world to human beings.
While having already implied that humanity can be weak in its “vessel” and due to its “naked nerves,” the speaker turns to discuss what “one” is made of and how one dares to “live” in a world that is as powerful as this April gale is proving.
The speaker answers his own questions by bringing in “death.” The strong lean on death as one might lean upon the rock in the middle of the storm. Here, Jeffers is tapping into the long and now cliché comparison between what one uses to endure life and a “rock.” (It is common to find comparisons between people, faith, and more and something as immovable as a rock.)
In this case, Jeffers speaks about death and how, after eighty years of life (the average lifespan) “there is shelter.” That shelter in which the “naked nerves” will be covered “with the deep quietness” is death itself. Here, he is alluding to death as an escape from the power of the world’s natural elements and implying that the various experiences within someone’s life, which have also assaulted one’s mind and body, will be cast off as well.
O beauty of things go on, go on, O torture
Of intense joy I have lasted out my time. I have thanked God and finished,
From beauty to the other beauty, peace, the night splendor.
The “beauty of things,” the speaker adds in the next lines, goes on and on. The speaker utilizes the first-person perspective in these lines, at once celebrating and expressing distress over the power of everything that has surrounded a human being throughout their life.
It is clear that while the speaker is discussing the power of the natural elements, they are also discussing emotionally distressing and emotionally rejuvenating experiences. Everything they’ve gone through in their life, and everything they’ve seen, lasts on and on until it is “finished.”
It is at this time that the “roots of millennial trees” will fold the speaker into “darkness,” or death. The speaker describes themselves as returning to the earth and being re-incorporated into the roots of trees far older than they are or anyone that has ever lived on earth. It’s in this darkness that the speaker will find peace. It is again depicted as the “night splendor” in the last line of the poem.
All the winds shake the “tops” of the trees, but, as the speaker reiterates, he has found refuge ( in death and his burial) in the roots. It’s there, in the ground, that the speaker escapes from the passions and powers of the natural world and of the emotional world. They find themselves relieved from the old “joy” of life and inspired by a new “peace,” that can be found in death.
Structure and Form
‘Gale in April’ by Robinson Jeffers is a sixteen-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The poem is written in free verse. This means that the poet did not use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern to unify the lines. But, there are examples of rhyme throughout. For example, if one examines the text closely, half-rhymes are scattered throughout. Additionally, the poet’s use of repetition, such as is seen through the use of the phrase “Through his” at the beginning of lines seven and eight, creates a feeling of rhythm.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Simile: can be seen when the poet creates a comparison between two things using “like” or “as.” For example, the “Though his blood were like the earth’s rivers and his flesh iron” and “The strong lean upon death as on a rock.”
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, the repetition of “naked nerves” in line one and “root” used twice in the fifteenth line and “beauty” which appears twice in the sixteenth line.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “ the naked nerves shall be covered with deep quietness” and “because the northwest blows and the headed grass billows / Great seas jagging the west and on the granite.”
- Repetition: occurs when the power repeat an image, word, phrase, literary device, or more. In this case, phrases like “naked nerves” and individual words like “root,” and “beauty” are used multiple times.
The themes of this poem are the power of the natural world and death. Throughout, Jeffers uses his powerful style of writing to explore the damage that nature can inflict and the escape that death can provide for a member of the human race who is overwhelmed by the joys and terrors of everyday life.
Jeffers likely wrote this poem to put to paper his emotions and understanding of a particular spring storm that he witnessed. The storm inspired him to consider the broader power of the natural world, death, and humanity’s place within the torrent of elements that fill the earth.
The message is that the earth contains and demonstrates a wide variety of incredible powers within its natural elements. This is seen specifically through one spring storm that Jeffers witnessed along the California coast.
The speaker is unknown, but it is a known fact that Jeffers was inspired to write this poem by a specific storm that he witnessed near his home, alongside the Pacific Coast. He may be tapping into his own thoughts regarding death and nature within this text, but without an explicit reference to his own life, it is better to assume that Jeff was utilizing a persona in order to convey the message of the poem.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Robinson Jeffers poems. For example:
- ‘Hands’ – is about the distance between modern civilization and past civilizations. It voices Jeffers’s philosophy of “inhumanism.”
- ‘Hurt Hawks’ – explores themes of nature, and humanity’s place in it, as well as suffering and freedom.
- ‘Vulture’ – a poem that describes the thoughts of a speaker caught up in the beauty of death, but not quite ready to enter it.