Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Celtic Twilight of Carmel, California. Part Two

It is tempting to compare Ella Young's Dublin connection with W.B. Yeats and his elusive love, Maud Gonne, with her later connection to Robinson Jeffers and his wife, Una.  There is, of course, the great-poet-and-his-inspiring-woman connection that links the two couples - but far more important - there is Ireland.

Una Call  - Mrs. Edward Kuster - a young, beautiful and vivacious graduate student, met Jeffers in Los Angeles in 1906. While traveling in Ireland in 1912, to sort out her feelings for both her husband and her new lover, Una wrote a letter to Kuster describing her ancestral land:

"We passed through a beautiful country Emerald - indeed…Meadow lands crossed by little wandering streams and everywhere amidst tall, lush grass great beds of golden iris growing wild. Giant trees and hawthorn hedges break up the fields and very often a crumbling tower in the midst of an utter solitude…"

Photograph © Denise Sallee 2010

A crumbling tower.  Little did Una know then how Irish towers - and their real and symbolic roles  - were to figure in her life with Jeffers.  

In a few short years Una's new poet-husband would build for her a tower of her own in Carmel from stones he hauled up from the beach and shaped into a fitting sanctuary for his beloved bride. In the foreword to his book, The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, the poet describes his first view of his new homeland: "A second piece of pure accident brought us to the Monterey coast mountains, where for the first time in my life I could see people living - amid magnificent unspoiled scenery - essentially as they did in the Idyls or the Sagas, or in Homer’s Ithaca. Here was life purged of its ephemeral accretions."

I think this poem by Jeffers reveals what he felt while building Hawk Tower:

To The House
I am heaping the bones of the old mother
To build us a hold against the host of the air;
Granite the blood-heat of her youth
Held molten in hot darkness against the heart
Hardened to temper under the feet
Of the ocean cavalry that are maned with snow
And march from the remotest west.
This is the primitive rock, here in the wet
Quarry under the shadow of waves
Whose hollows mouthed the dawn; little house each stone   
Baptized from that abysmal font
The sea and the secret earth gave bonds to affirm you.
From Roan Stallion, Tamar and other poems. Boni and Liveright, 1925
Credit:William Brooks Collection, Henry Meade Williams Local History Room, Harrison Memorial Library, Carmel, CA

In another letter, from 1927, Una tells her dear friend Albert Bender how much she treasures her inscribed picture of Yeats' own tower and cottage, because, as she writes "Yeats is one of my most honored authors - because its on a coast I love - and because it seems unbelievable that another poet should have a tower and cottage on a western shore!"

In 1929 the Jeffers went to Ireland - staying for the most part in County Antrim but also touring throughout both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. By now Una and Ella Young were very close friends. Ella wrote letters of introduction for the Jeffers to take to Maud Gonne, but cautioned Una about Maud, saying "Hope Maud Gonne won't be in prison or deported when you arrive." Ella goes on to reassure Una, telling her "I know she would enjoy you all."  Ella wrote to Maud prior to the visit, describing Jeffers as "the big poet of America" and Una as "his Irish wife." 

Robinson Jeffers was drawn to the many ancient towers and sacred ruins of Ireland. He wrote several poems while he was there - poems that often merged the local mythos with the land. A theme that was prominent in his California writing, as well. 

The Low Sky
No vulture is here, hardly a hawk,
Could long wings or great eyes fly
Under this low-lidded soft sky?

On the wide heather the curlew's whistle
Dies of its echo, it has no room
Under the low lid of this tomb.

But one to whom mind and imagination
Sometimes used to seem burdensome
Is glad to lie down awhile in the tomb.

Among stones and quietness
The mind dissolves without a sound,
The flesh drops into the ground.
From Descent to the Dead. Poems, etc.  Random House, 1931 

Photograph © Denise Sallee 2010

Una Jeffers met Ella Young in the spring of 1926 when Ella lectured at the Golden Bough Theatre (owned by Una's former husband Edward Kuster). Ella's lectures were entitled "Nature Magic" and "The Celtic Myth of Creation." How I wish I had been in the audience on that enchanted evening!  

Una was there and later she wrote this description:

“Ella Young was like a Druidess that first time I saw her, in flowing gown, against the lovely blue-green curtain of the Golden Bough stage, a wisp of veil about her head, gray eyes shining and hands weaving magic as she named the old Irish gods and heroes and told the deeds they wrought. Since that night I have seen her in many different settings; kneeling to succor a wounded snake; hovering on the seat of my car... [on] that terrible old coast road...peer[ing] into the chasms at our side, following a hawk’s flight as carefree as if she too had wings.”   The Carmel Pine Cone.  December 20, 1935 pg. 9

And so we further explore a little of what made Carmel, in the first decades of the 20th century, such a Celtic and magical refuge for so many people - both ex-pats like Ella Young and those who feel an Ireland of their own possessing their souls. I fall into the latter category and yearn most for what Una perfectly captured when she wrote "an utter solitude…"

No comments:

Post a Comment