The Purse-Seine

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

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

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

into inter-dependence; we have built the great cities; now

There is no escape. We have gathered vast populations

of free survival, insulated

From the strong earth, each person in himself helpless, on

dependent. The circle is closed, and the net

Is being hauled in. They hardly feel the cords drawing,

they shine already. The inevitable mass-disasters

Will not come in our time nor in our children’s, but

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

the mass-disasters.

These things are Progress;

Do you marvel our verse is troubled or frowning, while it

its reason? Or it lets go, lets the mood flow

In the manner of the recent young men into mere

splintered gleams, crackled laughter. But they are 

quite wrong.

There is no reason for amazement: surely one always

that cultures decay, and life’s end is death. 

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