Shine, Perishing Republic
By Norah Christianson
By Robinson Jeffers
While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity,
……….heavily thickening to empire,
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and
……….sighs out, and the mass hardens,
I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit,
……….the fruit rots to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances,
……….ripeness and decadence; and home to the mother.
You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is
……….good, be it stubbornly long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than
……….mountains: shine, perishing republic.
But for my children, I would have them keep their distance
……….from the thickening center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the
……….monster’s feet there are left the mountains.
And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a
……….clever servant, insufferable master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught–
……….they say–God, when he walked on earth.
Robinson Jeffers, an American poet and environmentalist, was born in Allegheny, PA in 1887. As a youth, he attended school in Germany, France and Switzerland. Jeffers lived in relative solitude with his wife, Una, in Carmel, California in a granite house he built with his own hands. Jeffers loved the natural earth, and saw civilization as a negative force in the world. He called on humans to “uncenter” themselves and to practice a kind of detachment instead of love, hate and envy.
Like a song, an “ear worm,” that keeps circling around your brain, this poem came into my head a few weeks ago and won’t leave. It came to my unconscious mind, I think, because, though it was published in 1925 during the decadent Roaring Twenties, it is a poem that could have been written today. It still retains its relevance and force.
In “Shine, Perishing Republic,” Jeffers describes an increasingly corrupt American empire. He describes America as a mould of vulgarity thickening to a mass of empire (not democracy). Any protesting of the current situation is only a little bubble that “sighs out” as the mass hardens.
But then Jeffers remembers the cycle of nature: “…the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots to make earth”. He looks to nature for perspective. He sees America as a meteor shining as it flares out, and advises us to view its extinguishing as a natural event. He urges us to accept the decline.
However, incongruously, he then warns his sons to keep their distance from the rotting center. He tells them corruption has never been compulsory. We have a choice. He also tells them not to love man immoderately because man is “a clever servant, insufferable master.” Jeffers ends his poem with this warning: “There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught–they say–God, when he walked on earth.” The “trap” is loving mankind without any skepticism, uncertainty, or distrust.
All this sounds very pessimistic. Over-the-top. Dark. It is not a cheerful poem. But it’s real. Aren’t we daily being warned against scammers and thieves? Aren’t politicians and corporations continually being charged with corruption? Isn’t our entertainment often riddled with vulgarity? Aren’t we daily being subject to lies from the media? Aren’t we looking at a national trend toward corruption and dictatorship? Doesn’t it seem like the America we knew is “perishing?”
From me to you, have a blessed day. But be aware. Be mindful.