Shine, Perishing Republic Introduction
In A Nutshell
Shine on, you crazy Shmoopers. There's nothing like a classic rock anthem to get us going on what it means to "shine." Feeling chilled out and groovy yet? Well enjoy the bliss while it lasts, because Robinson Jeffers would like to interject that chill session with a little reality check with his poem "Shine, Perishing Republic," which is also about shining, though with a not so groovy focus.
Simply put, Jeffers is a tad concerned about America's "perishing republic" that used to be noble but that (in 1925, when this poem was published in Jeffers's Roan Stallion, Tamar and Other Poems) seemed to be rotting away due to corruption and a growing empire. His speaker compares the U.S. of A to a kind of decaying fruit (ew) that's just another part of nature's cycles that come and go on this earth. One minute the Roman Empire was all that, then later the British Empire was all that and a bag of chips, but they—along with all the other empires—crashed back down to earth. Now America, according to our speaker, is following right in the footsteps of these other failed empires.
But cheer up, campers; it's not all doom and gloom. The overall tone of the poem suggests that there's still a promising republic that has the potential to shine after all. Maybe the speaker's thinking America will give up the whole empire schtick and become something new that's more indicative of the republic the forefathers had in mind.
Then again… maybe not. Jeffers's speaker isn't so concerned about drawing out any definite conclusions for us. That's the trouble with apocalyptic poems: it's easy to say the world's going to end, but it's much harder to say how exactly that will come about. In fact, the speaker even says, "life is good," despite all the worrying about world's ending and such. He makes it seem like all of the folks running around contributing to the decay aren't really blameworthy, since all things must pass (yay?). In other words, you can't really say we need mountains more than meteors because nature has both: stuff that destroys and the stuff that rises out of the destruction. And in the end, the speaker is way more interested in mountains (since Mother Nature tends to stick around and endure) than man's craziness (which always comes and goes). Yeah, people are pretty much the worst, and this poem seems to confirm it.
Why Should I Care?
Ever heard the expression, you can't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been? The basic idea is that in order to understand the present and future, you need to know a little something (or a lot of something) about the past. History tends to repeat itself all over the globe, usually because people tend to be a pretty predictable, repetitious bunch. That's why you'll notice that writers tend to write about the same stuff over and over again, much to our English teacher's delight—we're talking power, corruption, nature, greed… the list goes on.
Robinson Jeffers's "Shine, Perishing Republic" is all about patterns, whether in politics or nature. And in fact we can pretty much scratch off all of the above topics that are, albeit briefly, addressed in this poem. Yup, Jeffers takes a big bite out of this republic and finds that it tastes an awful lot like a rotten bit of fruit. Yum. That flavor is due to history repeating itself. And if you're thinking you'd like a side of fries with that, you might want to think again because his speaker warns us that you'd best not take part in any of it. It's better to hide out in nature where you're more likely to outlast the "monster" that's about to gobble us all up.
So, are we depressed yet? Well, cheer up Shmoopers because we know you noticed that the title includes the idea of "shining." Surely there must be some small ray of hope in this poem, somewhere. What's beneath the surface of these pesky habits of corruption and cultural decay is a bright and shiny republic that has the potential to keep on keeping on. Maybe things are looking pretty bleak at first, but that's just the way this downturn tends to work. After all, it can't be spring and fruitful pastures all the time. At some point nature and politics need to take a little rest, maybe even die off completely, so as to come back better than ever. And who doesn't like a good comeback? Rocky sure does.