Shine, Perishing Republic by Robinson Jeffers: Summary and Analysis

Shine, Perishing Republic is a satire on the American civilization. Jeffers sees that the America of the 1920s was completing a phase of material progress and was decaying to complete one life-cycle. The only solace to the poet was that everything will decay only to be reborn.

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)

Besides this issue, there is also the personal concern of his sons, about whom Jeffers is afraid that they will also be influenced by the valueless culture of the society. Written in a prosperous American period, typically remembered as the Roaring Twenties, Shine Perishing Republic reveals an extreme distaste for the underlying national trend toward corruption and dictatorship. Jeffers uses the poem to express a philosophy he would continue to explore throughout his career: inhumanism. Jeffers sees the core of American culture and politics hardening into the mold of its vulgarity, corrupt and self-centered.

The poem begins with a striking note, “While this America Settles in the mold of its vulgarity, heavily thickening into empire" The poet speaks of Republic America as if there were, will be or can be other Americas. The America of the period after the First World War was becoming more powerful and was also heading into what Jeffers calls here a vulgarity, of culture. The "perishing republic" is America. Jeffers sees the United States "thickening to empire". Social protest, which is a republic's most powerful tool, means little. Jeffers sees protest as "only a bubble in the molten mass. Such dire images set the mood for the rest of the poem. After lamenting the speaker tries to find some consolation. He looks to nature for perspective. He remembers that perhaps in everything there is a cycle. Out of death comes life. By looking to nature to find the "larger scope for things", the speaker is hoping that out of America's "decadence", will come an era of rebirth.

The 'you' of line 5 may be America again or alternatively the reader. In line 5, the speaker turns his voice to direct address, telling the reader, "you making haste, haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good". Whether it ends short and violently or it lasts like the rock, everything has life and life is good. Generally things are good. In line 6, Jeffers introduces two polar images; the bright splendor of a meteor streaking across the sky versus the immovable and stoic mountain below. The meteor and the mountain work against each other in order to create the circle of life. The mountain is constant and permanent, whereas the meteor is swift and transient. In Lines 7 and 8, Jeffers expresses his worries about his own sons. He has a different attitude about how his children should live. Like any protective parent, he does not want his children exposed to vulgarity and an empire of greed. "Corruption has never been compulsory", or required. In Lines 9, Jeffers, speaking directly to his grown up boys, advises them to be wary of becoming too attached to fellow man, or humankind. This is the philosophy of “inhumanity" of Robinson Jeffers: if men are overtly attached to the mundane pursuits of life and other human beings, they lose the essential values of meaningful life. This is the basic tenet of the self-proclaimed philosophy of "in humanism", which asserts that the root of most evil can be found in mankind's relationship to itself. He continues his warning with an analogy, comparing this relationship to that of "clever servant" to "insufferable master". Wherever there is an empire, there is a severe imbalance of power.

The final line widens the scope of targeting the very basis of Christianity. "There is the trap", "that catches the noblest spirits that caught "God (himself) when he walk the earth." God sent his son to a world afflicted with corruption and vulgarity. But Jesus walked the earth for only 33 years before his fellow men "trapped him," and sent him to his death on the cross.

For Jeffers in 1925 America was dying, and its civilization was hastening its death. Using life-cycle imagery and stressing the decaying phase of the cycle, the prophet foretells the end, counts indifference, and urges isolation to avoid corruption. Jeffers does not believe that modern men will achieve freedom: neither his own poetry nor any other writing will accomplish much. Pessimistically he believed that our civilization is doomed to decay.

Related Topics

The Eye: Summary

The Eye: Literary Appreciation

The Eye: Critical Appreciation

Robinson Jeffers: Biography