The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Purse-Seine” is typical of many of Robinson Jeffers’s short poems. As is characteristic of lyric poems, the poet shares his personal experiences, thoughts, and opinions directly with the reader, using beautifully rendered scenes of nature to illustrate his point. It is written in Jeffers’s unique verse form: a type of free verse with very long lines. The poem’s twenty-four lines are divided into four unequal stanzas. The first stanza presents a scene of commercial sardine fishermen working with a particular kind of net known as a purse seine. The reader is told that this kind of fishing must be done at night when there is no moon so that the schools of fish can be located by their phosphorescent glow. Thus readers are presented with the image of a small boat at sea in nearly total darkness. The narrator then focuses in more closely with a description of the lookout man pointing out a group of fish. The helmsman circles the boat around the fish, setting the net. The bottom of the net is pulled closed, or pursed, and the trapped fish are hauled aboard.

The second stanza is a more artistic interpretation of the same event. The poet begins with a disclaimer, “I cannot tell you/ how beautiful the scene is” and then proceeds to describe it. He says it is a “little terrible” as well as beautiful because of the panic of the trapped fish as the net tightens. The beauty is in the phosphorescent glow that the fish make as they swim and thrash,...

(The entire section is 498 words.)