Shine, Perishing Republic by Robinson Jeffers

Shine, Perishing Republic’ was first published in Roan Stallion, Tamar and Other Poems in 1925. The poem explores themes of nature, and humanity’s relationship with its processes, as well as change and transformation. 

Throughout ‘Shine, Perishing Republic,’ the speaker is alluding to the wider history of this kind of corruption. It is not just America that has experienced this. Widespread corruption as a country grows and becomes more powerful is unavoidable. A reader can look to ancient empires as examples of this cycle. There are two companion pieces that are generally linked with ‘Shine, Perishing Republic’. These are ‘Shine, Republic’ and ‘Shine, Empire’. 

Shine, Perishing Republic by Robinson Jeffers

 

Summary of Shine, Perishing Republic

Shine, Perishing Republic’ by Robinson Jeffers is a clever and multifaceted poem that describes the inevitable decay and destruction of America.

The poem depicts America in the first lines as rotting fruit. It was a flower, but now it’s filled to the brim with corrupt people and intentions. It is am empire that is doomed to rot away as others have before it. The speaker mourns this fact, but he realizes that its all part of a natural cycle of life, death, and a return to mother earth. In the last lines, he addresses his children, telling them not to get too attached to humankind or they’ll follow in the footsteps of Christ. 

You can read the full poem here.

 

Structure of Shine, Perishing Republic

Shine, Perishing Republic’ by Robinson Jeffers is made up of five sets of two lines, known as couplets. Jeffers did not structure this poem with a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. It is written in what is known as free verse. This feature of the text, as well as the content and the use of language, makes this poem read more like a narrative than a piece of poetry. In it, Jeffers tells the story of America. 

 

Literary Devices in Shine, Perishing Republic

Jeffers makes use of several literary devices in ‘Shine, Perishing Republic’. These include but are not limited to enjambment, apostrophe, and metaphor. The latter is seen in the first lines of the poem. A metaphor is a comparison between two, unlike things that does not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. In this case, he uses a metaphor to describe America as rotting fruit. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There is a good example in the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza when the poet refers to America as an “empire”. 

Apostrophe is an arrangement of words addressing someone, something, or creature, that does not exist, or is not present, in the poem’s immediate setting. The exclamation, “Oh,” is often used at the beginning of the phrase. The person is spoken to as though they can hear and understand the speaker’s words. In the last lines of the poem, the speaker talks to his children and explains to them how they should contend with this decaying country.

 

Analysis of Shine, Perishing Republic

Stanza One 

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening 

to empire

(…)

In the first stanza of ‘Shine, Perishing Republic’ the speaker begins by referring to America. With the addition of the title, a reader can assume that the United States is the country that’s going to be “perishing”. The first lines also introduce an important metaphor—the comparison of American to a rotting piece of fruit. The speaker describes how the “vulgarity” of the country is mould-like. It is thickening, becoming more poignant and destructive. 

The country is corrupt and that corruption is destroying everything that is good about it. The transition from the first line into the second should encourage a reader to consider what kind of “empire” this is. The implications are not positive. 

 

Stanza Two 

(…)

Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and deca-

dence; and home to the mother.

The speaker thinks back to the past, using alliteration, to describe how the country used to be. It was  “flower” but then it became a fruit. Now, that fruit is rotting and returning to the earth. Despite the fairly gross imagery that has been featured in the poem so far, this is a natural cycle. It’s starting to become clear, especially in the last lines of this stanza, that the speaker does see this cycle as something recurring. It has happened before to other empires. 

When he speaks about “the mother” he is referring to mother earth. The empire came “Out of the mother” and then goes “home to the mother” again. 

 

Stanza Three 

(…)

A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains: 

shine, perishing republic.

The speaker addresses the listener telling them that they are “making haste…on decay”. The listener is part of this empire and a part of its fall. But, it’s not their fault. Life, he says, is “good” no matter the form it takes. There is another example of alliteration In this line with “stubbornly” and “suddenly”. 

The next two lines bring back in the natural imagery that’s at the heart of this poem. The speaker refers to “meteors” and “mountains”. One may destroy the other but nature will continue on, rebuilding and recreating throughout time.  

 

Stanza Four 

But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the thick-

ening center; corruption

(…)

In the fourth stanza of ‘Shine, Perishing Republic,’ the speaker says that despite all this and the unavoidable nature of the cycle, he does not want those he cares about to suffer at the heart of the corruption. He’d “have them keep their distance”. It is not “compulsory” to participate in the corruption, he adds. This line also contains a good example of a synecdoche. The speaker is using one thing to represent the larger whole. The “cities” represent the empire, or America, and the mountains the uncorrupt nature. 

 

Stanza Five 

And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant, 

(…)

God, when he walked on earth. 

The last lines of ‘Shine, Perishing Empire’ the speaker concludes by addressing his children, his boys. This is an example of an apostrophe. He tells them that they shouldn’t get distracted by or too attached to the idea of loving humankind. Men are not as loveable as one might want them to be. They are cruel and “insufferable master[s]”.

The final line of the poem uses the example of God and Jesus Christ to show the boys why they shouldn’t love humanity too much. Christ did this and got caught in the “trap” of their cruelty. 

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