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Such Counsels You Gave to Me

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Free-verse narrative by Jeffers, the title poem of a volume published in 1937. It is based on the old Scottish ballad “Edward, Edward.”

Howard Howren, eager for knowledge and success, has worked his way through high school and a year of college, unaided by his brutal, stupid father. Ill and overworked, he fears a nervous collapse, and returns to the family farm on the California coast, carrying a phial of poison with which to kill himself if his demand for financial aid is refused. His neurotic mother suspects his purpose, and, after his father laughs at his request, she persuades her son that it is better to live, even though he must work on the farm. At the same time she reveals her hatred and fear of her husband, of whose death she says she has been dreaming. A few months later, during an emotional crisis, Howard poisons his father. His mother then reveals her incestuous passion for him, and he realizes that his ambition and inner conflict have arisen from an unnatural love for her. He refuses to possess her, however, and she becomes insane. He acknowledges to himself that his crime developed inevitably from “divided desire and the split will,” but decides that, rather than “escape easily” by suicide, he must undergo the ordeal of trial and execution. “There are certain duties,” he tells himself, “Even for … what did you say? … modern man.”

Subjects: Literature

Reference entries

Robinson Jeffers (1887—1962)