The Purse-Seine (1937)
Our sardine fishermen work at night in the dark of the moon;
daylight or moonlight they could not tell where to spread the net,
unable to see the phosphorescence of the shoals of fish.
They work northward from
, coasting Monterey ; Santa Cruz
off New Year's Point or off Pigeon Point.
The look-out man will see some lakes of milk-color light on the sea's night-purple;
he points, and the helmsman turns the dark prow, the motorboat circles the gleaming shoal
and drifts out her seine-net.
They close the circle and purse the bottom of the net,then with great labor haul it in.
I cannot tell you how beautiful the scene is, and a little terrible, then,
when the crowded fish know they are caught,
and wildly beat from one wall to the otherof their closing destiny
the phosphorescent water to a pool of flame,
each beautiful slender body sheeted with flame, like a live rocket.
A comet's tail wake of clear yellow flame; while outside the narrowing
floats and cordage of the net great sea-lions come up to watch,
sighing in the dark; the vast walls of night stand erect to the stars.
Lately, I was looking from a night mountain top on a wide city,
the colored splendor, galaxies of light:
how could I help but recall the seine-net gathering the luminous fish?
I cannot tell you how beautiful the city appeared, and a little terrible.
I thought, we have geared the machines and locked all together into inter-dependence;
We have built the great cities; now there is no escape.
We have gathered vast populations incapable of free survival,
insulated from the strong earth,
each person in himself helpless, on all dependent.
The circle is closed, and the net is being hauled in.
They hardly feel the cords drawing, yet they shine already.
The inevitable mass-disasters will not come in our time nor in our children's,
but we and our children must watch the net draw narrower,
government take all powers””or revolution, and the new government take more than all,
add to kept bodies kept souls--or anarchy, the mass disasters.
These things are Progress;
Do you marvel our verse is troubled or frowning, while it keeps its reason?
Or it lets go, lets the mood flow in the manner of the recent young men into mere hysteria,
splintered gleams, crackled laughter.
But they are quite wrong.
There is no reason for amazement:
surely one always knew that cultures decay, and life's end is death.
Shine, Perishing Republic (1963)
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, America
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 moderateas
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