Shine, Perishing Republic

A masterfully concise thought poem, and perhaps Jeffers’ most anthologized poem. It is, on the one hand, an unsurpassed example of his prophetic, Inhumanist lyric, but it is more than that. It acknowledges that the human tragedy is as natural (or necessary) as mountains, and it even grants an angle to Christian mythology, positioning love of man as a kind of trap seductive enough to have caught God himself.

The poem is admirably level-headed. Sure, the poet admits, the human tragedy is as natural as a falling star, but he personally would rather not participate in it, and chooses to withdraw with his boys to the mountains. Jeffers never actually did such a thing, but settled in Carmel, which was already an elite retreat, a component of the Del Monte tourism complex since well before he arrived. He made a few overnight excursions into the mountains in his lifetime, sometimes accompanying his son Garth who was more of an outdoorsman than he was. Once again, Jeffers is crafting his own myth. That said, the poem stands very well on its own if we don't think of it as autobiography.

… when the cities lie at the monster’s feet there are left the mountains. [1]

There is an ironic aspect to this poem when one considers the mining of Pico Blanco, that archetypal mountain of Big Sur, after the poet’s death. Though this irony was certainly unintended, yet it doesn't take anything away from the poem, but perhaps adds to it.

 

[1] SP 23

This poem can be read online at The Robinson Jeffers Association site.

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Shine, Perishing Republic is included in the following anthologies:

  • The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, 2013; ed. Rita Dove
  • The Oxford Book of American Poetry, 2006; ed. David Lehman
  • The Norton Anthology of Poetry, 5th Edition, 2005; eds. Ferguson, Salter, & Stalworthy
  • The Norton Anthology of Poetry, Shorter 5th Edition, 2005; eds. Ferguson, Salter, & Stalworthy
  • California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present, 2003; ed. Dana Gioia, Chryss Yost, and Jack Hicks
  • Twentieth-Century American Poetry, 2003; eds. Gioia, Mason, & Schoerke
  • The Wild God of the World: An Anthology of Robinson Jeffers, 2003; ed. Albert Gelpi
  • The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, Third Edition, 2003; eds. Ramazani, Ellman, & O’Clair
  • The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, Stanford, 2001; ed. Tim Hunt
  • The Norton Anthology of Poetry, 4th Edition, 1996; eds. Ferguson, Salter, & Stalworthy
  • The Columbia Anthology of American Poetry, 1995; ed. Jay Parini
  • The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, Second Edition, 1988; eds. Ellman & O’Clair
  • The New Oxford Book of American Verse, 1976; ed. Richard Ellman
  • The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, 1973; eds. Ellman & O’Clair
  • The Norton Anthology of Poetry, Shorter Edition, 1970
  • Robinson Jeffers: Selected Poems, Vintage Books, 1965
  • The Oxford Book of American Verse, 1950; ed. F.O. Matthiessen

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