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 phosphorescent
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 interdependence; 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.


Robinson Jeffers, The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, Random House, 1953.