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April 04, 2006

thickening to empire

Robinson Jeffers, "Shine, Perishing Republic" (1924)

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.


Notes:

"Empire": not, in 1924, mainly a result of conquest and invasion, but a metaphor for all-consuming production and consumption; the American empire of things.
"You making haste haste on decay": by rushing, you (Americans) speed up the process of decay.
Be "in nothing so moderate as in love of man": contrast the Biblical view: for example, 1 Peter 4:8 "And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins."
"There is the trap": i.e., love of people, which might tempt the poet's sons to participate in national affairs instead of withdrawing to solitude. (But why does the poet, safe in his mountains, take the trouble to address the republic and its corrupt cities?)

Posted by peterlevine at April 4, 2006 07:31 AM

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