Did Random House “suppress” or censor Robinson Jeffers’ The Double Axe? For many readers of Jeffers, both academic and general, that’s taken for granted. James Shebl originally argued this position in 1976 In This Wild Water: The Suppressed Poems of Robinson Jeffers, and William Everson and Bill Hotchkiss shape their 1977 edition of The Double Axe and Other Poems on this assumption. However, the manuscript material for The Double Axe poems and the documents that reflect Jeffers’ struggle to shape this collection, both before initially submitting it to Random House and after Random House returned it to him for further consideration, suggest that Jeffers himself was conflicted about these poems and this collection. If we simply treat the alterations to the collection as forced on Jeffers by Random House, we mistake the matter and we obscure crucial aspects of these poems and this collection.
In “Double the Axe, Double the Fun: Is There a Final Version of Jeffers’ The Double Axe, I drew on some of the evidence that problematizes the claim that Random House censored The Double Axe to explore what was at the time a current editorial question. The piece does not, for that reason, fully engage or develop the implications of Jeffers’ changing positions on the poems and their presentation. It does, though, indicate that we cannot adequately understand these poems or the collection if we insist that the changes in phrasing and content in the collection as finally published are simply the result of Random House coercing Jeffers. This piece, then, is a kind of preliminary clarification, from which a more adequate critical account of The Double Axe in its multiple forms and Jeffers’ World War II poetry could be developed (the documents needed to develop such a critical account can be found in Volume Five of The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers).
This essay appeared originally in TEXT 7 (1995). This link accesses a PDF of the article: