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Shine, Perishing Republic

By July 2, 2016 2 Comments

Since I’ve drawn holiday-weekend duty, I need to gin up something about the holiday. And if something worked well along that line once, it might well again. This post from Memorial Day 2012, alas, bears repeating in this season of electoral absurdity.

Our poet for today, Robinson Jeffers, was born (in 1887) into Calvinism, son of a professor of Old Testament at the Presbyterian Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh. Papa had him reading Greek and Latin by age 5 but was less successful in keeping him in theism. Nonetheless, the son held on to stern judgments regarding human pretensions, and also could sound faint chords of the civic virtue which another secularized Calvinist, James Madison, also remembered as being vital to a republic.

Here then, gentle reader, your daily devotional. Is this high summer indeed the season for us to remember, “sadly smiling,” the seasonal cycle of birth, maturation, and decay back into the birthing loam?  Is the United States to be “suddenly a mortal splendor,” one of the “meteors [that] are not needed less than mountains”? Time, surely, to remember that “corruption never has been compulsory.”

         Shine, Perishing Republic, by Robinson Jeffers (1925)

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, “Shine, Perishing Republic” from The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, edited by Tim Hunt.  Copyright © 2318 by Robinson Jeffers, renewed 1966 and ©Jeffers Literary Properties.  With the permission of Stanford University Press,

Source: The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers (Stanford University Press, 2001)

James Bratt

James Bratt is professor of history emeritus at Calvin College, specializing in American religious history and especially the connections between religion and politics. Starting in Fall 2016 he took a break from blogging on The Twelve to teach in China and on the Semester at Sea, which venues afforded him some welcome distance from the USA’s descent into its current mortal illness. But now he’s back in the States, looking for hope. His most recent book (which he edited and completed for the late John Woolverton) is  “A Christian and a Democrat”: Religion in the Life and Leadership of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Well, you’ve introduced me to yet one more thing.

  • Amory Jewett says:

    This is an interesting poem by an interesting poet. Yes, the poem, although composed in 1925, seems apropos to our day and time. Perspective is always a good thing. “Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new?’ It has already been, in the ages before us.” (Eccl 1:10)

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