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Ralph Waldo Emerson

Born: May 25, 1803 // Died: April 27, 1882

Ralph Waldo Emerson Ralph Waldo Emerson was born on May 25, 1803 in Boston, Massachusetts. He is widely regarded as one of America's most influential authors, philosophers and thinkers. At one time a Unitarian minister, Emerson left his pastorate because of doctrinal disputes with his superiors. Soon after, on a trip to Europe, he met a number of intellectuals, including Thomas Carlyle and William Wordsworth.

The ideas of these men, along with those of Plato and some of the Hindu, Buddhist, and Persian thinkers, strongly influenced his development of the philosophy of "Transcendentalism".

Emerson urged independent thinking and stressed that not all life's answers are found in books. In his "The American Scholar" address to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge in 1837 Emerson states that: "Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst." He believed that as a scholar and poet, one learns best by engaging life.

  Ralph Waldo Emerson's Poetry: (click on a title to read a poem)
  Concord Hymn   The Snow-Storm   The Rhodora
  Brahma   Fable   Days
  Give All to Love   Fate   Good-by
  The World-Soul   The Sphinx   Merlin

Concord Hymn
Sung at the Completion of the Concord Monument, 4 July 1837

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
     Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
     And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
     Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
     Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
     We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
     When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
     To die, or leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
     The shaft we raise to them and thee.

The Snow-Storm
Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hill and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farmhouse at the garden's end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier's feet
Delated, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

Come see the north wind's masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hiddden thorn;
Fills up the famer's lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer's sighs; and at the gate
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind's night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.

The Rhodora
(On being asked, Whence is the flower?)

In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals, fallen in the pool,
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,
Then Beauty is its own excuse for being:
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask, I never knew:
But, in my simple ignorance, suppose
The self-same Power that brought me there brought you

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.

The mountain and the squirrel
Had a quarrel,
And the former called the latter, "little prig ":
Bun replied,
"You are doubtless very big;
But all sorts of things and weather
Must be taken in together
To make up a year,
And a sphere.
And I think it no disgrace
To occupy my place.
If I'm not so large as you,
You are not so small as I,
And not half so spry.
I'll not deny you make
A very pretty squirrel track;
Talents differ; all is well and wisely put;
If I cannot carry forests on my back,
Neither can you crack a nut."

Damsels of Time, the hypocritic Days,
Muffled and dumb, like barefoot dervishes,
And marching single in an endless file,
Bring diadems and fagots in their hands.
To each they offer gifts, after his will,
Bread, kingdoms, stars, or sky that holds them all.
I, in my pleachéd garden, watched the pomp,
Forgot my morning wishes, hastily
Took a few herbs and apples, and the Day
Turned and departed silent. I, too late,
Under her solemn fillet saw the scorn.

Give All to Love
Give all to love;
Obey thy heart;
Friends, kindred, days,
Estate, good-fame,
Plans, credit and the Muse,
Nothing refuse.

'Tis a brave master;
Let it have scope:
Follow it utterly,
Hope beyond hope:
High and more high
It dives into noon,
With wing unspent,
Untold intent;
But it is a god,
Knows its own path
And the outlets of the sky.

It was never for the mean;
It requireth courage stout.
Souls above doubt,
Valor unbending,
It will reward,
They shall return
More than they were,
And ever ascending.

Leave all for love;
Yet, hear me, yet,
One word more thy heart behoved,
One pulse more of firm endeavor,
Keep thee to-day,
To-morrow, forever,
Free as an Arab
Of thy beloved.

Cling with life to the maid;
But when the surprise,
First vague shadow of surmise
Flits across her bosom young,
Of a joy apart from thee,
Free be she, fancy-free;
Nor thou detain her vesture's hem,
Nor the palest rose she flung
From her summer diadem.

Though thou loved her as thyself,
As a self of purer clay,
Though her parting dims the day,
Stealing grace from all alive;
Heartily know,
When half-gods go,
The gods arrive.

That you are fair or wise is vain,
Or strong, or rich, or generous;
You must have also the untaught strain
That sheds beauty on the rose.
There is a melody born of melody,
Which melts the world into a sea.
Toil could never compass it,
Art its height could never hit,
It came never out of wit,
But a music music-born
Well may Jove and Juno scorn.
Thy beauty, if it lack the fire
Which drives me mad with sweet desire,
What boots it? what the soldier's mail,
Unless he conquer and prevail?
What all the goods thy pride which lift,
If thou pine for another's gift?
Alas! that one is born in blight,
Victim of perpetual slight;
When thou lookest in his face,
Thy heart saith, Brother! go thy ways!
None shall ask thee what thou doest,
Or care a rush for what thou knowest,
Or listen when thou repliest,
Or remember where thou liest,
Or how thy supper is sodden,
And another is born
To make the sun forgotten.
Surely he carries a talisman
Under his tongue;
Broad are his shoulders, and strong,
And his eye is scornful,
Threatening, and young.
I hold it of little matter,
Whether your jewel be of pure water,
A rose diamond or a white,
But whether it dazzle me with light.
I care not how you are drest,
In the coarsest, or in the best,
Nor whether your name is base or brave,
Nor tor the fashion of your behavior,
But whether you charm me,
Bid my bread feed, and my fire warm me,
And dress up nature in your favor.
One thing is forever good,
That one thing is success,
Dear to the Eumenides,
And to all the heavenly brood.
Who bides at home, nor looks abroad,
Carries the eagles, and masters the sword

Good-by, proud world, I'm going home,
Thou'rt not my friend, and I'm not thine;
Long through thy weary crowds I roam;
A river-ark on the ocean brine,
Long I've been tossed like the driven foam,
But now, proud world, I'm going home. 
Good-by to Flattery's fawning face,
To Grandeur, with his wise grimace,
To upstart Wealth's averted eye,
To supple Office low and high,
To crowded halls, to court, and street,
To frozen hearts, and hasting feet,
To those who go, and those who come,
Good-by, proud world, I'm going home.

I'm going to my own hearth-stone
Bosomed in yon green hills, alone,
A secret nook in a pleasant land,
Whose groves the frolic fairies planned;
Where arches green the livelong day
Echo the blackbird's roundelay,
And vulgar feet have never trod
A spot that is sacred to thought and God.

Oh, when I am safe in my sylvan home,
I tread on the pride of Greece and Rome;
And when I am stretched beneath the pines
Where the evening star so holy shines,
I laugh at the lore and the pride of man,
At the sophist schools, and the learned clan;
For what are they all in their high conceit,
When man in the bush with God may meet. 

The World-Soul
Thanks to the morning light,
    Thanks to the seething sea,
To the uplands of New Hampshire,
    To the green-haired forest free;
Thanks to each man of courage,
    To the maids of holy mind,
To the boy with his games undaunted,
    Who never looks behind.

Cities of proud hotels,
    Houses of rich and great,
Vice nestles in your chambers,
    Beneath your roofs of slate.
It cannot conquer folly,
    Time-and-space-conquering steam,
And the light-outspeeding telegraph
    Bears nothing on its beam.

The politics are base,
    The letters do not cheer,
And 'tis far in the deeps of history
    The voice that speaketh clear.
Trade and the streets ensnare us,
    Our bodies are weak and worn,
We plot and corrupt each other,
    And we despoil the unborn.

Yet there in the parlor sits
    Some figure of noble guise,
Our angel in a stranger's form,
    Or woman's pleading eyes;
Or only a flashing sunbeam
    In at the window pane;
Or music pours on mortals
    Its beautiful disdain.

The inevitable morning
    Finds them who in cellars be,
And be sure the all-loving Nature
    Will smile in a factory.
Yon ridge of purple landscape,
    Yon sky between the walls,
Hold all the hidden wonders
    In scanty intervals.

Alas, the sprite that haunts us
    Deceives our rash desire,
It whispers of the glorious gods,
    And leaves us in the mire:
We cannot learn the cipher
    That's writ upon our cell,
Stars help us by a mystery
    Which we could never spell.

If but one hero knew it,
    The world would blush in flame,
The sage, till he hit the secret,
    Would hang his head for shame.
But our brothers have not read it,
    Not one has found the key,
And henceforth we are comforted,
    We are but such as they.

Still, still the secret presses,
    The nearing clouds draw down,
The crimson morning flames into
    The fopperies of the town.
Within, without, the idle earth
    Stars weave eternal rings,

The sun himself shines heartily,
    And shares the joy he brings.

And what if trade sow cities
    Like shells along the shore,
And thatch with towns the prairie broad
    With railways ironed o'er;
They are but sailing foambells
    Along Thought's causing stream,
And take their shape and Sun-color
    From him that sends the dream.

For destiny does not like
    To yield to men the helm,
And shoots his thought by hidden nerves
    Throughout the solid realm.
The patient Dæmon sits
    With roses and a shroud,
He has his way, and deals his gifts
    But ours is not allowed.

He is no churl or trifler,
    And his viceroy is none,
    Of genius sire and son;

And his will is not thwarted,
    The seeds of land and sea
Are the atoms of his body bright,
    And his behest obey.

He serveth the servant,
    The brave he loves amain,
He kills the cripple and the sick,
    And straight begins again;
For gods delight in gods,
    And thrust the weak aside;
To him who scorns their charities,
    Their arms fly open wide.

When the old world is sterile,
    And the ages are effete,
He will from wrecks and sediment
    The fairer world complete.
He forbids to despair,
    His cheeks mantle with mirth,
And the unimagined good of men
    Is yeaning at the birth.

Spring still makes spring in the mind,
    When sixty years are told;

Love wakes anew this throbbing heart,
    And we are never old.
Over the winter glaciers,
    I see the summer glow,
And through the wild-piled snowdrift
    The warm rose buds below.

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, unashamed,
     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 bathéd 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.

"Profounder, profounder
     Man's spirit must dive;
His aye-rolling orbit
     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."

Thy trivial harp will never please
Or fill my craving ear;
Its chords should ring as blows the breeze,
Free, peremptory, clear.
No jingling serenader's art,
Nor tinkle of piano strings,
Can make the wild blood start
In its mystic springs.
The kingly bard
Must smile the chords rudely and hard,
As with hammer or with mace;
That they may render back
Artful thunder, which conveys
Secrets of the solar track,
Sparks of the supersolar blaze.
Merlin's blows are strokes of fate,

Chiming with the forest tone,
When boughs buffet boughs in the wood;
Chiming with the gasp and moan
Of the ice-imprisoned hood;
With the pulse of manly hearts;
With the voice of orators;
With the din of city arts;
With the cannonade of wars;
With the marches of the brave;
And prayers of might from martyrs' cave.

Great is the art,
Great be the manners, of the bard.
He shall not his brain encumber
With the coil of rhythm and number;
But, leaving rule and pale forethought,
He shall aye climb
For his rhyme.
"Pass in, pass in," the angels say,
"In to the upper doors,
Nor count compartments of the floors,
But mount to paradise
By the stairway of surprise."

Blameless master of the games,
King of sport that never shames,
He shall daily joy dispense
Hid in song's sweet influence.
Forms more cheerly live and go,
What time the subtle mind
Sings aloud the tune whereto
Their pulses beat,
And march their feet,
And their members are combined.

By Sybarites beguiled,
He shall no task decline;
Merlin's mighty line
Extremes of nature reconciled,
Bereaved a tyrant of his will,
And made the lion mild.
Songs can the tempest still,
Scattered on the stormy air,
Mold the year to fair increase,
And bring in poetic peace.

He shall not seek to weave,
In weak, unhappy times,
Efficacious rhymes;
Wait his returning strength.
Bird that from the nadir's floor
To the zenith's top can soar,
The roaring orbit of the muse exceeds that
journey's length.
Nor profane affect to hit
Or compass that, by meddling wit,
Which only the propitious mind
Publishes when 'tis inclined.
There are open hours
When the God's will sallies free,
And the dull idiot might see
The flowing fortunes of a thousand years;
Sudden, at unawares,
Self-moved, fly-to the doors,
Nor sword of angels could reveal
What they conceal.

Merlin II

The rhyme of the poet
Modulates the king's affairs;
Balance-loving Nature
Made all things in pairs.
To every foot its antipode;
Each color with its counter glowed:
To every tone beat answering tones,
Higher or graver;
Flavor gladly blends with flavor;
Leaf answers leaf upon the bough;
And match the paired cotyledons.
Hands to hands, and feet to feet,
In one body grooms and brides;
Eldest rite, two married sides
In every mortal meet.
Light's far furnace shines,
Smelting balls and bars,
Forging double stars,
Glittering twins and trines.
The animals are sick with love,
Lovesick with rhyme;
Each with all propitious Time
Into chorus wove.

Like the dancers' ordered band,
Thoughts come also hand in hand;
In equal couples mated,
Or else alternated;
Adding by their mutual gage,
One to other, health and age.
Solitary fancies go
Short-lived wandering to and ire,
Most like to bachelors,
Or an ungiven maid,
Nor ancestors,
With no posterity to make the lie afraid,
Or keep truth undecayed.
Perfect-paired as eagle's wings,
Justice is the rhyme of things;
Trade and counting use
The self-same tuneful muse;
And Nemesis,
Who with even matches odd,
Who athwart space redresses
The partial wrong,
Fills the just period,
And finishes the song.

Subtle rhymes, with ruin rife
Murmur in the hour of life,
Sung by the Sisters as they spin;
In perfect time and measure they
Build and unbuild our echoing clay.
As the two twilights of the day
Fold us music-drunken in.

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