HOME TO THE MOTHER
“I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots to make earth. Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and decadence; and home to the mother.”
The above is from “Shine, Perishing Republic,” a poem by Robinson Jeffers (l887-1962), an America poet who never had to work a day for a living and who was a misanthrope, a nature lover and a prescient thinker. He was born into wealth and classical culture. He married; and with the help of his twin sons he built himself a house of boulders on a height in California, where he immured himself, contemplated man and nature and wrote into his poetry his ruminations.
I don’t know when Jeffers wrote “Shine, Perishing Republic,” but it doesn’t matter when. What matters to me is how current is the thinking in it. How could America’s present be better stated in so few words: “While this America settles in the mold of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire, / And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens,….”
When I grew up in the Thirties this nation was isolationist to the core. The Monroe Doctrine was viable. This country’s standing army was a few thousands soldiers, many of whom trained with wooden guns and cardboard tanks. In 1936 at Langley Field I saw all of the Army Air Corps’ heavy bomber force: seven B-17s. And I saw at Newport News, VA, the just-built aircraft carrier Yorktown, one of the few flat-tops available to the navy and one of a number sunk by Japanese action. America was a republic, inferior in military might to Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan and perhaps Russia. And even though the times were in the depth of the Depression there was nothing like the ill distribution of the nation’s wealth that is today so conspicuous and divisive.
When war came with Japan and Germany and their allies, every able-bodied youth from farm, factory and university, of common blood or of blueblood, of pallid or red neck, either enlisted or was drafted. It was a citizens’ army that fought and died for the democracy that was America in 1941. My two closest prewar buddies, buddies with whom I worked in fields and hunted in woods, sailed to Europe in convoy, marched with other farm boys across the Old World — one of them having helped to take the bridge at Remagen — and were there when the end came. The Greatest Generation was made of everyone, from everywhere, high and low in social status, and the sacrifices were more equitable than, say, in Vietnam.
Then, there was a man in the White House who damned the Robber Barons of old and their successors of his day and talked about equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth and social justice, and eyed them with be damned to those who whined that he was promoting class warfare. He curbed the corporcrates and put the bureaucrats to work for the people.
Then came Reagan with his premise that government isn’t the solution but the problem and his favoring the wealthy over the poor. Since, America has slowly but surely metamorphosed from democracy, admittedly less than perfect, to a plutocracy, a government of the wealthy, which is ruled by bought politicians and gold-plated corporcrates. And it has so increased the power, so expanded the might of the military, so extended its power around the world that it is on the brink of empire and the rule, not just of the wealthy and the corporcrates, but as well the rule of the protectors of their wealth and power, the military. Thus has been the metamorphosis from bloom to fruit to rot of republics in Athens and Rome and wherever they have risen to power and wealth.
There are grounds for optimism, though. Hear Jeffers: “But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the thickening center; corruption / Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster’s feet there are left the mountains.” And there is where I am and where my children were reared and it has made all the difference.
I live with one foot in the 21st century and another in the 19th century. My roots are in the land, in planting in spring and harvesting in fall, in preserving the bounty of the earth, walking the fields in April’s green birth and in October’s golden demise, watching the drama of weather and its storms and serenities, smelling the flowers and hearing the birds and having access to a mountaintop where in day one can see in circle the whole of the horizons and view at night the heavens in full scope with all the starry sights undiluted by man’s ubiquitous incandescence. And my children have “keep their distance from the thickening center” of vulgarity and corruption, a blessing unparalleled by any other blessing on earth and probably in heaven.
“You making haste, haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it stubbornly long or suddenly / A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains: shine, perishing republic.”
Time is money say the money changers from Christ’s day to this day, when all of them squat and role the dice in the columned temples on Wall Street. Haste is a virtue to those who measure virtue by high, low and close. Society needs those whose careers are meteoric but it needs as much those who build on rock and endure as the mountains.
And who can argue with Jeffers’ advice to his sons: “And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant, insufferable master. / There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught — they say — God, when he walked the earth.”
But there is further reason for optimism amid all the decadence and cynicism. Nature renews and recreates. Barren and worn soil is rejuvenated and made fertile again once man abandons it. And nature does so in every corner of its jurisdiction whether on land or in seas, and throughout the heights and depths and widths of the universe. The law is that sooner are later all goes home to mother to become the seeds and sustenance of future births.