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RALPH WALDO EMERSON  
(1803-1882)
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(One of our contributing authors, Joshua Dolezal, is composing a biography for Emerson, so be sure to check back later for this update.)

American Transcendentalism Web site

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Three Poems:

Hamatreya

Bulkeley, Hunt, Willard, Hosmer, Meriam, Flint,
Possessed the land which rendered to their toil
Hay, corn, roots, hemp, flax, apples, wool and wood.
Each of these landlords walked amidst his farm,
Saying, "'Tis mine, my children's and my name's.
How sweet the west wind sounds in my own trees!
How graceful climb those shadows on my hill!
I fancy these pure waters and the flags
Know me, as does my dog: we sympathize;
And, I affirm, my actions smack of the soil.'

Where are these men? Asleep beneath their grounds:
And strangers, fond as they, their furrows plough.
Earth laughs in flowers, to see her boastful boys
Earth-proud, proud of the earth which is not theirs;
Who steer the plough, but cannot steer their feet
Clear of the grave.
They added ridge to valley, brook to pond,
And sighed for all that bounded their domain;
'This suits me for a pasture; that's my park;
We must have clay, lime, gravel, granite-ledge,
And misty lowland, where to go for peat.
The land is well,--lies fairly to the south.
'Tis good, when you have crossed the sea and back,
To find the sitfast acres where you left them.'
Ah! the hot owner sees not Death, who adds
Him to his land, a lump of mould the more.
Hear what the Earth says:--

 

                                    Earth-Song

            'Mine and yours;
            Mine, not yours, Earth endures;
            Stars abide--
            Shine down in the old sea;
            Old are the shores;
            But where are old men?
            I who have seen much,
            Such have I never seen.
            'The lawyer's deed
            Ran sure,
            In tail,
            To them, and to their heirs
            Who shall succeed,
            Without fail,
            Forevermore.

            'Here is the land,
            Shaggy with wood,
            With its old valley,
            Mound and flood.
            "But the heritors?--
            Fled like the flood's foam.
            The lawyer, and the laws,
            And the kingdom,
            Clean swept herefrom.

            'They called me theirs,
            Who so controlled me;
            Yet every one
            Wished to stay, and is gone,
            How am I theirs,
            If they cannot hold me,
            But I hold them?'

When I heard the Earth-song,
I was no longer brave;
My avarice cooled
Like lust in the chill of the grave.

(1846)

 

Brahma

If the red slayer think he slays,
  Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
  I keep, and pass, and turn again.

Far or forgot to me is near, 
  Shadow and sunlight are the same,
The vanished gods to me appear,
  And one to me are shame and fame.

They reckon ill who leave me out;
  When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt,
  And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.

The strong gods pine for my abode,
  And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
But thou, meek lover of the good!
  Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.

(1856 [1857])

 

The Sphinx

The Sphinx is drowsy,
  Her wings are furled:
Her ear is heavy,
  She broods on the world.
"Who'll tell me my secret,
  The ages have kept?__
I awaited the seer
  While they slumbered and slept:__

"The fate of the man-child,
  The meaning of man;
Known fruit of the unknown;
  Daedalian  plan;
Out of sleeping a waking,
  Out of waking a sleep;
Life death overtaking;
  Deep underneath deep?

:Erect as a sunbeam,
  Upspringeth the palm;
The elephant browses,
  Undaunted and calm;
In beautiful motion
  The thrush plies his wings;
Kind leaves of his covert,
  Your silence he sings.

"The waves, unashamйd,
  In difference sweet,
Play glad with the breezes,
  Old playfellows meet;
The journeying atoms, 
  Primordial wholes,
Firmly draw, firmly drive,
  By their animate poles.

"Sea, earth, air, sound, silence,
  Plant, quadruped, bird,
By one music enchanted,
  One deity stirred,--
Each the other adorning,
  Accompany still;
Night veileth the morning,
  The vapor the hill.

"The babe by its mother
  Lies bathйd in joy;
Glide its hours uncounted,--
  The sun is its toy;
Shines the peace of all being,
  Without cloud, in its eyes;
And the sum of the world
  In soft miniature lies.

"But man crouches and blushes ,
  Absconds and conceals;
He creepeth and peepeth,
  He palters and steals;
Infirm, melancholy,
  Jealous glancing around,
An oaf, an accomplice,
  He poisons the ground.

"Out spoke the great mother,
  Beholding his fear;--
At the sound of her accents
  Cold shuddered the sphere:--
'Who has drugged my boy's cup?
  Who has mixed my boy's bread?
Who, with sadness and madness,
  Has turned my child's head?

I heard a poet answer
  Aloud and cheerfully,
"Say on, sweet Sphinx! thy dirges
  Are pleasant songs to me.
Deep love lieth under
  These pictures of time;
They fade in the light of
  Their meaning sublime.

"The fiend that man harries
  Is love of the Best;
Yawns the pit of the Dragon,
  Lit by rays from the Blest.
The lethe of Nature
  Can't trance him again,
Whose soul sees the perfect,
  Which his eyes seek in vain.

"To vision profounder,
  Man's spirit must dive;
His aye-rolling orb
  At no goal will arrive;
The heavens that now draw him
  With sweetness untold,
Once found,--for new heavens
  He spurneth the old.

"Pride ruined the angels,
  Their shame them restores;
Lurks the joy that is sweetest
  In stings of remorse.
Have I a lover 
  Who is noble and free?--
I would he were nobler
  Than to love me.

"Eterne alternation
  Now follows, now flies;
And under pain, pleasure,--
  Under pleasure, pain lies.
Love works at the center,
  Heart-heaving alway;
Forth speed the strong pulses
  To the borders of day.

"Dull Sphinx, Jove keep thy five wits'
  Thy sight is growing blear;
Rue, myrrh and cummin for the Sphinx,
  Her muddy eyes to clear!"
The old Sphinx bit her thick lip,--
  Said, "Who taught thee me to name?
I am thy spirit, yoke-fellow;
  Of thine eye I am eyebeam.

"Thou art the unanswered question ;
  Couldst see thy proper eye,
Alway it asketh, asketh;
  And each answer is a lie.
So take thy question through nature,
  It through thousand natures ply;
Ask on, thou clothed eternity;
  Time is the false reply.

Uprose the merry Sphinx,
  And crouched no more in stone;
She melted into purple cloud,
  She silvered in the moon;
She spired into a yellow flame;
  She flowered in blossoms red;
She flowed into a foaming wave:
  She stood Monadnoc's head.

Through a thousand voices
  Spoke the universal dame
"Who telleth one of my meanings
  Is master of all I am."

(The Dial, 1841)

 

 

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Last Updated: Tue, June 27, 2006
©2006 John Struloeff -- All Rights Reserved.