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,
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.
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.
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 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 on earth.
Lest we delude ourselves into thinking America’s present crisis and people’s diverse reactions to it are anything new, this insightful, but disturbing, poem first appeared in 1926.
Those, like myself, who see the source of America’s international problems stemming from our attempts to extend our capitalistic empire, rather than our democratic ideals may, indeed, sigh with regret when we realize that as early as 1926 insightful citizens were warning of the dangers of empire, a warning never taken seriously.
Those who know history are only too aware that all empires decline and fall, whether they be Egyptian, Greek, Roman, English, or American. It is only a matter of time before ours, too, falls, though some may find some small comfort in the fact that this poem was written almost 75 years ago; so our decline may not be as "meteoric" as Jeffers envisioned.
For me, though, the most powerful, and frightening, line in the poem is beware the "love of man" for "There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught-they-say God, when he walked on earth."
The dilemma that each of us critical of America faces is whether to retreat within ourselves in order to save ourselves or to reach out to try to change a society that does not appear to want to change, that is happy with life as it is. And if we reach out, will we inevitably be pulled along with those we come to love?