A Poem by Robinson Jeffers

This poem was originally published in 1925. But it could have been written today. (Pardon the formatting. Some of the lines break in the wrong places. I don’t know what to do about it.)

Shine, Perishing Republic

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
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5 Responses to “A Poem by Robinson Jeffers”

  1. Tim Mueller Says:

    Ah, the city has always been the whipping boy of the sentimentalist. Progress as well. That said, Jeffers does a exquisite and commendable job of it. (Can poets be “commendable”?) His use of language is reminiscent of Gerald Manley Hopkins, which I consider a good thing.

    • markbittner Says:

      Sentimentalists may feel like whipping cities and progress. But so do some of us “others.”

  2. Tim Mueller Says:

    I tell my students that cities are prisons. They ask me what I mean, and I tell them they’ll have to find out for themselves.

  3. Tim Mueller Says:

    Just listened to Quicksilver Messenger Service’s “What About Me?” on a compilation CD. How quickly that idealism evaporated! The cost in Time and Energy apparently turned most of us away from a life of service to our communities and the world at large. I was taught that my gifts/talents/abilities, whatever you want to call them, were intended to be used to benefit everyone, including myself. I don’t think that that’s just a religious concept; I think it’s a vision of what, ultimately, is our purpose on this planet. To talk about purpose, duty, or responsibility seems to be the domain of old Peace Corps volunteers these days. We have sold our soul for a $10 cup of coffee.
    There is hope, however. I’m re-reading The Culture of Narcissism after thirty years, and Lasch remained optimistic to the end. Our culture will have to collapse, but he believed that enough people understood what it takes to keep a community or culture together, and that we humans possess the tools to restore sanity to our world. It’s going to get worse before it gets better, and most of the victims will be the most vulnerable among us. Yeah, life is tragic. I think we die at the end…

    • markbittner Says:

      I think what we call ideals are what the universe is made of, its essential structure, how it functions. We here in the material plane with our freewill have elected to screw up. Badly. How bad does it get before we realize that we have to return to the ideals? which are the only rules that work. That’s how I’ve always seen it. Ideals aren’t lofty, but disconnected, made-up ideas (which is how most people who besmirch idealism see them). They’re fundamental.

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