The Purse-Seine

by Robinson Jeffers

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.