Robinson Jeffers

Here you will find the Poem The Purse-Seine of poet Robinson Jeffers

The Purse-Seine

Our sardine fishermen work at night in the dark
 of the moon; daylight or moonlight
They could not tell where to spread the net, 
 unable to see the phosphorescence of the 
 shoals of fish.
They work northward from Monterey, coasting 
 Santa Cruz; off New Year's Point or off 
 Pigeon Point
The look-out man will see some lakes of milk-color 
 light on the sea's night-purple; he points, 
 and the helmsman
Turns the dark prow, the motorboat circles the 
 gleaming shoal and drifts out her seine-net. 
 They close the circle
And purse the bottom of the net, then with great 
 labor haul it in.

 I cannot tell you
How beautiful the scene is, and a little terrible, 
 then, when the crowded fish
Know they are caught, and wildly beat from one wall 
 to the other of their closing destiny the 
Water to a pool of flame, each beautiful slender body 
 sheeted with flame, like a live rocket
A comet's tail wake of clear yellow flame; while outside 
 the narrowing
Floats and cordage of the net great sea-lions come up 
 to watch, sighing in the dark; the vast walls 
 of night
Stand erect to the stars.

 Lately I was looking from a night mountain-top
On a wide city, the colored splendor, galaxies of light: 
 how could I help but recall the seine-net
Gathering the luminous fish? I cannot tell you how 
 beautiful the city appeared, and a little terrible.
I thought, We have geared the machines and locked all together 
 into inter-dependence; we have built the great cities; now
There is no escape. We have gathered vast populations incapable 
 of free survival, insulated
From the strong earth, each person in himself helpless, on all 
 dependent. The circle is closed, and the net
Is being hauled in. They hardly feel the cords drawing, yet 
 they shine already. The inevitable mass-disasters
Will not come in our time nor in our children's, but we 
 and our children
Must watch the net draw narrower, government take all 
 powers--or revolution, and the new government
Take more than all, add to kept bodies kept souls--or anarchy, 
 the mass-disasters.
 These things are Progress;
Do you marvel our verse is troubled or frowning, while it keeps 
 its reason? Or it lets go, lets the mood flow
In the manner of the recent young men into mere hysteria, 
 splintered gleams, crackled laughter. But they are 
 quite wrong.
There is no reason for amazement: surely one always knew 
 that cultures decay, and life's end is death.