Saturday, November 29, 2008

Shine, Perishing Republic

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.

* * *

A few years ago, I would have considered this poem much too pessimistic. But now? I definitely am not placing my hope in America. It will succeed or it will fail, but our kingdom is not of this world.

No matter what happens in this world, "corruption is never compulsory." Even when they try to force us, there is always somewhere we can run. If they deny us that, there is always martyrdom. No one can force you to sin.

Hopefully it won't get that bad. But if it does, there is a kind of hope in this poem -- no matter how bad it gets, no one can make us join in the corruption.

Robinson Jeffers died in 1962. So he missed a lot of what we realize as the "perishing" of our nation. I guess he could see the beginnings of it, even from where he was.


dylan said...

My favorite line, for some reason is, "be in nothing so moderate as in love of man"!

The poem reminds me of one written by another poet who died in 1962, E. E. Cummings. Do you know the one beginning "now does our world descend/ the path to nothingness"?

Meredith said...

Did you know that Robinson Jeffers lived about two hours away from me? His brother worked in an observatory that I can see from my house.

(Random fact of the day!)

Jeffers was a grim fellow. He would have rejoiced to see that fires that burned down half the state this summer.

paul bowman said...

'life is good, be it stubbornly long or suddenly/ A mortal splendor'

I particularly like that part. Don't know anything about Jeffers -- but will be looking him up.

paul bowman said...

Huh, grim fellow indeed, it seems, at least in some things. (I still like that line, anyhow.) And well-known enough for me to be a little ashamed not to have known something about him before now.

paul bowman said...

Oh, hold on. I just made the Tor House connection! Its history's treated in a couple of pages in one of my very favorite books, How Buildings Learn. (With which I evidently need to reacquaint myself.) Shoot, now I do feel dumb.

: )