A moody child and wildly wise

Pursued the game with joyful eyes,

Which chose, like meteors, their way,

And rived the dark with private ray:

They overleapt the horizon's edge,

Searched with Apollo's privilege;

Through man, and woman, and sea, and star,

Saw the dance of nature forward far;

Through worlds, and races, and terms, and times,

Saw musical order, and pairing rhymes.

Olympian bards who sung

Divine ideas below,

Which always find us young,

And always keep us so.

Those who are esteemed umpires of taste, are often persons

knowledge of admired pictures or sculptures, and have an inclination

for whatever is elegant; but if you inquire whether they are

beautiful souls, and whether their own acts are like fair pictures,

you learn that they are selfish and sensual. Their cultivation is

local, as if you should rub a log of dry wood in one spot to produce

fire, all the rest remaining cold. Their knowledge of the fine arts

is some study of rules and particulars, or some limited judgment of

color or form, which is exercised for amusement or for show. It is a

proof of the shallowness of the doctrine of beauty, as it lies in the

minds of our amateurs, that men seem to have lost the perception of

the instant dependence of form upon soul. There is no doctrine of

forms in our philosophy. We were put into our bodies, as fire is put

into a pan, to be carried about; but there is no accurate adjustment

between the spirit and the organ, much less is the latter the

germination of the former. So in regard to other forms, the

intellectual men do not believe in any essential dependence of the

material world on thought and volition. Theologians think it a

pretty air-castle to talk of the spiritual meaning of a ship or a

cloud, of a city or a contract, but they prefer to come again to the

solid ground of historical evidence; and even the poets are contented

with a civil and conformed manner of living, and to write poems from

the fancy, at a safe distance from their own experience. But the

highest minds of the world have never ceased to explore the double

meaning, or, shall I say, the quadruple, or the centuple, or much

more manifold meaning, of every sensuous fact: Orpheus, Empedocles,

Heraclitus, Plato, Plutarch, Dante, Swedenborg, and the masters of

sculpture, picture, and poetry. For we are not pans and barrows, nor

even porters of the fire and torch-bearers, but children of the fire,

made of it, and only the same divinity transmuted, and at two or

three removes, when we know least about it. And this hidden truth,

that the fountains whence all this river of Time, and its creatures,

floweth, are intrinsically ideal and beautiful, draws us to the

consideration of the nature and functions of the Poet, or the man of

Beauty, to the means and materials he uses, and to the general aspect

of the art in the present time.

The breadth of the problem is great, for the poet is

representative. He stands among partial men for the complete man,

and apprises us not of his wealth, but of the common-wealth. The

young man reveres men of genius, because, to speak truly, they are

more himself than he is. They receive of the soul as he also

receives, but they more. Nature enhances her beauty, to the eye of

loving men, from their belief that the poet is beholding her shows at

the same time. He is isolated among his contemporaries, by truth and

by his art, but with this consolation in his pursuits, that they will

draw all men sooner or later. For all men live by truth, and stand

in need of expression. In love, in art, in avarice, in politics, in

labor, in games, we study to utter our painful secret. The man is

only half himself, the other half is his expression.

Notwithstanding this necessity to be published, adequate

expression is rare. I know not how it is that we need an

interpreter; but the great majority of men seem to be minors, who

have not yet come into possession of their own, or mutes, who cannot

report the conversation they have had with nature. There is no man

who does not anticipate a supersensual utility in the sun, and stars,

earth, and water. These stand and wait to render him a peculiar

service. But there is some obstruction, or some excess of phlegm in

our constitution, which does not suffer them to yield the due effect.

Too feeble fall the impressions of nature on us to make us artists.

Every touch should thrill. Every man should be so much an artist,

that he could report in conversation what had befallen him. Yet, in

our experience, the rays or appulses have sufficient force to arrive

at the senses, but not enough to reach the quick, and compel the

reproduction of themselves in speech. The poet is the person in whom

these powers are in balance, the man without impediment, who sees and

handles that which others dream of, traverses the whole scale of

experience, and is representative of man, in virtue of being the

largest power to receive and to impart.

For the Universe has three children, born at one time, which

reappear, under different names, in every system of thought, whether

they be called cause, operation, and effect; or, more poetically,

Jove, Pluto, Neptune; or, theologically, the Father, the Spirit, and

the Son; but which we will call here, the Knower, the Doer, and the

Sayer. These stand respectively for the love of truth, for the love

of good, and for the love of beauty. These three are equal. Each is

that which he is essentially, so that he cannot be surmounted or

analyzed, and each of these three has the power of the others latent

in him, and his own patent.

The poet is the sayer, the namer, and represents beauty. He is

a sovereign, and stands on the centre. For the world is not painted,

or adorned, but is from the beginning beautiful; and God has not made

some beautiful things, but Beauty is the creator of the universe.

Therefore the poet is not any permissive potentate, but is emperor in

his own right. Criticism is infested with a cant of materialism,

which assumes that manual skill and activity is the first merit of

all men, and disparages such as say and do not, overlooking the fact,

that some men, namely, poets, are natural sayers, sent into the world

to the end of expression, and confounds them with those whose

province is action, but who quit it to imitate the sayers. But

Homer's words are as costly and admirable to Homer, as Agamemnon's

victories are to Agamemnon. The poet does not wait for the hero or

the sage, but, as they act and think primarily, so he writes

primarily what will and must be spoken, reckoning the others, though

primaries also, yet, in respect to him, secondaries and servants; as

sitters or models in the studio of a painter, or as assistants who

bring building materials to an architect.

For poetry was all written before time was, and whenever we are

so finely organized that we can penetrate into that region where the

air is music, we hear those primal warblings, and attempt to write

them down, but we lose ever and anon a word, or a verse, and

substitute something of our own, and thus miswrite the poem. The men

of more delicate ear write down these cadences more faithfully, and

these transcripts, though imperfect, become the songs of the nations.

For nature is as truly beautiful as it is good, or as it is

reasonable, and must as much appear, as it must be done, or be known.

Words and deeds are quite indifferent modes of the divine energy.

Words are also actions, and actions are a kind of words.

The sign and credentials of the poet are, that he announces

that which no man foretold. He is the true and only doctor; he knows

and tells; he is the only teller of news, for he was present and

privy to the appearance which he describes. He is a beholder of

ideas, and an utterer of the necessary and causal. For we do not

speak now of men of poetical talents, or of industry and skill in

metre, but of the true poet. I took part in a conversation the other

day, concerning a recent writer of lyrics, a man of subtle mind,

whose head appeared to be a music-box of delicate tunes and rhythms,

and whose skill, and command of language, we could not sufficiently

praise. But when the question arose, whether he was not only a

lyrist, but a poet, we were obliged to confess that he is plainly a

contemporary, not an eternal man. He does not stand out of our low

limitations, like a Chimborazo under the line, running up from the

torrid base through all the climates of the globe, with belts of the

herbage of every latitude on its high and mottled sides; but this

genius is the landscape-garden of a modern house, adorned with

fountains and statues, with well-bred men and women standing and

sitting in the walks and terraces. We hear, through all the varied

music, the ground-tone of conventional life. Our poets are men of

talents who sing, and not the children of music. The argument is

secondary, the finish of the verses is primary.

For it is not metres, but a metre-making argument, that makes a

poem, -- a thought so passionate and alive, that, like the spirit of

a plant or an animal, it has an architecture of its own, and adorns

nature with a new thing. The thought and the form are equal in the

order of time, but in the order of genesis the thought is prior to

the form. The poet has a new thought: he has a whole new experience

to unfold; he will tell us how it was with him, and all men will be

the richer in his fortune. For, the experience of each new age

requires a new confession, and the world seems always waiting for its

poet. I remember, when I was young, how much I was moved one morning

by tidings that genius had appeared in a youth who sat near me at

table. He had left his work, and gone rambling none knew whither,

and had written hundreds of lines, but could not tell whether that

which was in him was therein told: he could tell nothing but that all

was changed, -- man, beast, heaven, earth, and sea. How gladly we

listened! how credulous! Society seemed to be compromised. We sat

in the aurora of a sunrise which was to put out all the stars.

Boston seemed to be at twice the distance it had the night before, or

was much farther than that. Rome, -- what was Rome? Plutarch and

Shakspeare were in the blue leaf, and Homer no more should be heard

of. It is much to know that poetry has been written this very day,

under this very roof, by your side. What! that wonderful spirit has

not expired! these stony moments are still sparkling and animated! I

had fancied that the oracles were all silent, and nature had spent

her fires, and behold! all night, from every pore, these fine auroras

have been streaming. Every one has some interest in the advent of

the poet, and no one knows how much it may concern him. We know that

the secret of the world is profound, but who or what shall be our

interpreter, we know not. A mountain ramble, a new style of face, a

new person, may put the key into our hands. Of course, the value of

genius to us is in the veracity of its report. Talent may frolic and

juggle; genius realizes and adds. Mankind, in good earnest, have

availed so far in understanding themselves and their work, that the

foremost watchman on the peak announces his news. It is the truest

word ever spoken, and the phrase will be the fittest, most musical,

and the unerring voice of the world for that time.

All that we call sacred history attests that the birth of a

poet is the principal event in chronology. Man, never so often

deceived, still watches for the arrival of a brother who can hold him

steady to a truth, until he has made it his own. With what joy I

begin to read a poem, which I confide in as an inspiration! And now

my chains are to be broken; I shall mount above these clouds and

opaque airs in which I live, -- opaque, though they seem transparent,

-- and from the heaven of truth I shall see and comprehend my

relations. That will reconcile me to life, and renovate nature, to

see trifles animated by a tendency, and to know what I am doing.

Life will no more be a noise; now I shall see men and women, and know

the signs by which they may be discerned from fools and satans. This

day shall be better than my birth-day: then I became an animal: now I

am invited into the science of the real. Such is the hope, but the

fruition is postponed. Oftener it falls, that this winged man, who

will carry me into the heaven, whirls me into the clouds, then leaps

and frisks about with me from cloud to cloud, still affirming that he

is bound heavenward; and I, being myself a novice, am slow in

perceiving that he does not know the way into the heavens, and is

merely bent that I should admire his skill to rise, like a fowl or a

flying fish, a little way from the ground or the water; but the

all-piercing, all-feeding, and ocular air of heaven, that man shall

never inhabit. I tumble down again soon into my old nooks, and lead

the life of exaggerations as before, and have lost my faith in the

possibility of any guide who can lead me thither where I would be.

But leaving these victims of vanity, let us, with new hope,

observe how nature, by worthier impulses, has ensured the poet's

fidelity to his office of announcement and affirming, namely, by the

beauty of things, which becomes a new, and higher beauty, when

expressed. Nature offers all her creatures to him as a

picture-language. Being used as a type, a second wonderful value

appears in the object, far better than its old value, as the

carpenter's stretched cord, if you hold your ear close enough, is

musical in the breeze. "Things more excellent than every image,"

says Jamblichus, "are expressed through images." Things admit of

being used as symbols, because nature is a symbol, in the whole, and

in every part. Every line we can draw in the sand, has expression;

and there is no body without its spirit or genius. All form is an

effect of character; all condition, of the quality of the life; all

harmony, of health; (and, for this reason, a perception of beauty

should be sympathetic, or proper only to the good.) The beautiful

rests on the foundations of the necessary. The soul makes the body,

as the wise Spenser teaches: --

"So every spirit, as it is most pure,

And hath in it the more of heavenly light,

So it the fairer body doth procure

To habit in, and it more fairly dight,

With cheerful grace and amiable sight.

For, of the soul, the body form doth take,

For soul is form, and doth the body make."

Here we find ourselves, suddenly, not in a critical

speculation, but in a holy place, and should go very warily and

reverently. We stand before the secret of the world, there where

Being passes into Appearance, and Unity into Variety.

The Universe is the externisation of the soul. Wherever the

life is, that bursts into appearance around it. Our science is

sensual, and therefore superficial. The earth, and the heavenly

bodies, physics, and chemistry, we sensually treat, as if they were

self-existent; but these are the retinue of that Being we have. "The

mighty heaven," said Proclus, "exhibits, in its transfigurations,

clear images of the splendor of intellectual perceptions; being moved

in conjunction with the unapparent periods of intellectual natures."

Therefore, science always goes abreast with the just elevation of the

man, keeping step with religion and metaphysics; or, the state of

science is an index of our self-knowledge. Since everything in

nature answers to a moral power, if any phenomenon remains brute and

dark, it is that the corresponding faculty in the observer is not yet


No wonder, then, if these waters be so deep, that we hover over

them with a religious regard. The beauty of the fable proves the

importance of the sense; to the poet, and to all others; or, if you

please, every man is so far a poet as to be susceptible of these

enchantments of nature: for all men have the thoughts whereof the

universe is the celebration. I find that the fascination resides in

the symbol. Who loves nature? Who does not? Is it only poets, and

men of leisure and cultivation, who live with her? No; but also

hunters, farmers, grooms, and butchers, though they express their

affection in their choice of life, and not in their choice of words.

The writer wonders what the coachman or the hunter values in riding,

in horses, and dogs. It is not superficial qualities. When you talk

with him, he holds these at as slight a rate as you. His worship is

sympathetic; he has no definitions, but he is commanded in nature, by

the living power which he feels to be there present. No imitation,

or playing of these things, would content him; he loves the earnest

of the northwind, of rain, of stone, and wood, and iron. A beauty

not explicable, is dearer than a beauty which we can see to the end

of. It is nature the symbol, nature certifying the supernatural,

body overflowed by life, which he worships, with coarse, but sincere


The inwardness, and mystery, of this attachment, drives men of

every class to the use of emblems. The schools of poets, and

philosophers, are not more intoxicated with their symbols, than the

populace with theirs. In our political parties, compute the power of

badges and emblems. See the great ball which they roll from

Baltimore to Bunker hill! In the political processions, Lowell goes

in a loom, and Lynn in a shoe, and Salem in a ship. Witness the

cider-barrel, the log-cabin, the hickory-stick, the palmetto, and all

the cognizances of party. See the power of national emblems. Some

stars, lilies, leopards, a crescent, a lion, an eagle, or other

figure, which came into credit God knows how, on an old rag of

bunting, blowing in the wind, on a fort, at the ends of the earth,

shall make the blood tingle under the rudest, or the most

conventional exterior. The people fancy they hate poetry, and they

are all poets and mystics!

Beyond this universality of the symbolic language, we are

apprised of the divineness of this superior use of things, whereby

the world is a temple, whose walls are covered with emblems,

pictures, and commandments of the Deity, in this, that there is no

fact in nature which does not carry the whole sense of nature; and

the distinctions which we make in events, and in affairs, of low and

high, honest and base, disappear when nature is used as a symbol.

Thought makes every thing fit for use. The vocabulary of an

omniscient man would embrace words and images excluded from polite

conversation. What would be base, or even obscene, to the obscene,

becomes illustrious, spoken in a new connexion of thought. The piety

of the Hebrew prophets purges their grossness. The circumcision is

an example of the power of poetry to raise the low and offensive.

Small and mean things serve as well as great symbols. The meaner the

type by which a law is expressed, the more pungent it is, and the

more lasting in the memories of men: just as we choose the smallest

box, or case, in which any needful utensil can be carried. Bare

lists of words are found suggestive, to an imaginative and excited

mind; as it is related of Lord Chatham, that he was accustomed to

read in Bailey's Dictionary, when he was preparing to speak in

Parliament. The poorest experience is rich enough for all the

purposes of expressing thought. Why covet a knowledge of new facts?

Day and night, house and garden, a few books, a few actions, serve us

as well as would all trades and all spectacles. We are far from

having exhausted the significance of the few symbols we use. We can

come to use them yet with a terrible simplicity. It does not need

that a poem should be long. Every word was once a poem. Every new

relation is a new word. Also, we use defects and deformities to a

sacred purpose, so expressing our sense that the evils of the world

are such only to the evil eye. In the old mythology, mythologists

observe, defects are ascribed to divine natures, as lameness to

Vulcan, blindness to Cupid, and the like, to signify exuberances.

For, as it is dislocation and detachment from the life of God,

that makes things ugly, the poet, who re-attaches things to nature

and the Whole, -- re-attaching even artificial things, and violations

of nature, to nature, by a deeper insight, -- disposes very easily of

the most disagreeable facts. Readers of poetry see the

factory-village, and the railway, and fancy that the poetry of the

landscape is broken up by these; for these works of art are not yet

consecrated in their reading; but the poet sees them fall within the

great Order not less than the beehive, or the spider's geometrical

web. Nature adopts them very fast into her vital circles, and the

gliding train of cars she loves like her own. Besides, in a centred

mind, it signifies nothing how many mechanical inventions you

exhibit. Though you add millions, and never so surprising, the fact

of mechanics has not gained a grain's weight. The spiritual fact

remains unalterable, by many or by few particulars; as no mountain is

of any appreciable height to break the curve of the sphere. A shrewd

country-boy goes to the city for the first time, and the complacent

citizen is not satisfied with his little wonder. It is not that he

does not see all the fine houses, and know that he never saw such

before, but he disposes of them as easily as the poet finds place for

the railway. The chief value of the new fact, is to enhance the

great and constant fact of Life, which can dwarf any and every

circumstance, and to which the belt of wampum, and the commerce of

America, are alike.

The world being thus put under the mind for verb and noun, the

poet is he who can articulate it. For, though life is great, and

fascinates, and absorbs, -- and though all men are intelligent of the

symbols through which it is named, -- yet they cannot originally use

them. We are symbols, and inhabit symbols; workman, work, and tools,

words and things, birth and death, all are emblems; but we sympathize

with the symbols, and, being infatuated with the economical uses of

things, we do not know that they are thoughts. The poet, by an

ulterior intellectual perception, gives them a power which makes

their old use forgotten, and puts eyes, and a tongue, into every dumb

and inanimate object. He perceives the independence of the thought

on the symbol, the stability of the thought, the accidency and

fugacity of the symbol. As the eyes of Lyncaeus were said to see

through the earth, so the poet turns the world to glass, and shows us

all things in their right series and procession. For, through that

better perception, he stands one step nearer to things, and sees the

flowing or metamorphosis; perceives that thought is multiform; that

within the form of every creature is a force impelling it to ascend

into a higher form; and, following with his eyes the life, uses the

forms which express that life, and so his speech flows with the

flowing of nature. All the facts of the animal economy, sex,

nutriment, gestation, birth, growth, are symbols of the passage of

the world into the soul of man, to suffer there a change, and

reappear a new and higher fact. He uses forms according to the life,

and not according to the form. This is true science. The poet alone

knows astronomy, chemistry, vegetation, and animation, for he does

not stop at these facts, but employs them as signs. He knows why the

plain, or meadow of space, was strown with these flowers we call

suns, and moons, and stars; why the great deep is adorned with

animals, with men, and gods; for, in every word he speaks he rides on

them as the horses of thought.

By virtue of this science the poet is the Namer, or

Language-maker, naming things sometimes after their appearance,

sometimes after their essence, and giving to every one its own name

and not another's, thereby rejoicing the intellect, which delights in

detachment or boundary. The poets made all the words, and therefore

language is the archives of history, and, if we must say it, a sort

of tomb of the muses. For, though the origin of most of our words is

forgotten, each word was at first a stroke of genius, and obtained

currency, because for the moment it symbolized the world to the first

speaker and to the hearer. The etymologist finds the deadest word to

have been once a brilliant picture. Language is fossil poetry. As

the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the

shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images, or tropes,

which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of

their poetic origin. But the poet names the thing because he sees

it, or comes one step nearer to it than any other. This expression,

or naming, is not art, but a second nature, grown out of the first,

as a leaf out of a tree. What we call nature, is a certain

self-regulated motion, or change; and nature does all things by her

own hands, and does not leave another to baptise her, but baptises

herself; and this through the metamorphosis again. I remember that a

certain poet described it to me thus:

Genius is the activity which repairs the decays of things,

whether wholly or partly of a material and finite kind. Nature,

through all her kingdoms, insures herself. Nobody cares for planting

the poor fungus: so she shakes down from the gills of one agaric

countless spores, any one of which, being preserved, transmits new

billions of spores to-morrow or next day. The new agaric of this

hour has a chance which the old one had not. This atom of seed is

thrown into a new place, not subject to the accidents which destroyed

its parent two rods off. She makes a man; and having brought him to

ripe age, she will no longer run the risk of losing this wonder at a

blow, but she detaches from him a new self, that the kind may be safe

from accidents to which the individual is exposed. So when the soul

of the poet has come to ripeness of thought, she detaches and sends

away from it its poems or songs, -- a fearless, sleepless, deathless

progeny, which is not exposed to the accidents of the weary kingdom

of time: a fearless, vivacious offspring, clad with wings (such was

the virtue of the soul out of which they came), which carry them fast

and far, and infix them irrecoverably into the hearts of men. These

wings are the beauty of the poet's soul. The songs, thus flying

immortal from their mortal parent, are pursued by clamorous flights

of censures, which swarm in far greater numbers, and threaten to

devour them; but these last are not winged. At the end of a very

short leap they fall plump down, and rot, having received from the

souls out of which they came no beautiful wings. But the melodies of

the poet ascend, and leap, and pierce into the deeps of infinite


So far the bard taught me, using his freer speech. But nature

has a higher end, in the production of new individuals, than

security, namely, _ascension_, or, the passage of the soul into

higher forms. I knew, in my younger days, the sculptor who made the

statue of the youth which stands in the public garden. He was, as I

remember, unable to tell directly, what made him happy, or unhappy,

but by wonderful indirections he could tell. He rose one day,

according to his habit, before the dawn, and saw the morning break,

grand as the eternity out of which it came, and, for many days after,

he strove to express this tranquillity, and, lo! his chisel had

fashioned out of marble the form of a beautiful youth, Phosphorus,

whose aspect is such, that, it is said, all persons who look on it

become silent. The poet also resigns himself to his mood, and that

thought which agitated him is expressed, but _alter idem_, in a

manner totally new. The expression is organic, or, the new type

which things themselves take when liberated. As, in the sun, objects

paint their images on the retina of the eye, so they, sharing the

aspiration of the whole universe, tend to paint a far more delicate

copy of their essence in his mind. Like the metamorphosis of things

into higher organic forms, is their change into melodies. Over

everything stands its daemon, or soul, and, as the form of the thing

is reflected by the eye, so the soul of the thing is reflected by a

melody. The sea, the mountain-ridge, Niagara, and every flower-bed,

pre-exist, or super-exist, in pre-cantations, which sail like odors

in the air, and when any man goes by with an ear sufficiently fine,

he overhears them, and endeavors to write down the notes, without

diluting or depraving them. And herein is the legitimation of

criticism, in the mind's faith, that the poems are a corrupt version

of some text in nature, with which they ought to be made to tally. A

rhyme in one of our sonnets should not be less pleasing than the

iterated nodes of a sea-shell, or the resembling difference of a

group of flowers. The pairing of the birds is an idyl, not tedious

as our idyls are; a tempest is a rough ode, without falsehood or

rant: a summer, with its harvest sown, reaped, and stored, is an epic

song, subordinating how many admirably executed parts. Why should

not the symmetry and truth that modulate these, glide into our

spirits, and we participate the invention of nature?

This insight, which expresses itself by what is called

Imagination, is a very high sort of seeing, which does not come by

study, but by the intellect being where and what it sees, by sharing

the path, or circuit of things through forms, and so making them

translucid to others. The path of things is silent. Will they

suffer a speaker to go with them? A spy they will not suffer; a

lover, a poet, is the transcendency of their own nature, -- him they

will suffer. The condition of true naming, on the poet's part, is

his resigning himself to the divine _aura_ which breathes through

forms, and accompanying that.

It is a secret which every intellectual man quickly learns,

that, beyond the energy of his possessed and conscious intellect, he

is capable of a new energy (as of an intellect doubled on itself), by

abandonment to the nature of things; that, beside his privacy of

power as an individual man, there is a great public power, on which

he can draw, by unlocking, at all risks, his human doors, and

suffering the ethereal tides to roll and circulate through him: then

he is caught up into the life of the Universe, his speech is thunder,

his thought is law, and his words are universally intelligible as the

plants and animals. The poet knows that he speaks adequately, then,

only when he speaks somewhat wildly, or, "with the flower of the

mind;" not with the intellect, used as an organ, but with the

intellect released from all service, and suffered to take its

direction from its celestial life; or, as the ancients were wont to

express themselves, not with intellect alone, but with the intellect

inebriated by nectar. As the traveller who has lost his way, throws

his reins on his horse's neck, and trusts to the instinct of the

animal to find his road, so must we do with the divine animal who

carries us through this world. For if in any manner we can stimulate

this instinct, new passages are opened for us into nature, the mind

flows into and through things hardest and highest, and the

metamorphosis is possible.

This is the reason why bards love wine, mead, narcotics,

coffee, tea, opium, the fumes of sandal-wood and tobacco, or whatever

other species of animal exhilaration. All men avail themselves of

such means as they can, to add this extraordinary power to their

normal powers; and to this end they prize conversation, music,

pictures, sculpture, dancing, theatres, travelling, war, mobs, fires,

gaming, politics, or love, or science, or animal intoxication, which

are several coarser or finer _quasi_-mechanical substitutes for the

true nectar, which is the ravishment of the intellect by coming

nearer to the fact. These are auxiliaries to the centrifugal

tendency of a man, to his passage out into free space, and they help

him to escape the custody of that body in which he is pent up, and of

that jail-yard of individual relations in which he is enclosed.

Hence a great number of such as were professionally expressors of

Beauty, as painters, poets, musicians, and actors, have been more

than others wont to lead a life of pleasure and indulgence; all but

the few who received the true nectar; and, as it was a spurious mode

of attaining freedom, as it was an emancipation not into the heavens,

but into the freedom of baser places, they were punished for that

advantage they won, by a dissipation and deterioration. But never

can any advantage be taken of nature by a trick. The spirit of the

world, the great calm presence of the creator, comes not forth to the

sorceries of opium or of wine. The sublime vision comes to the pure

and simple soul in a clean and chaste body. That is not an

inspiration which we owe to narcotics, but some counterfeit

excitement and fury. Milton says, that the lyric poet may drink wine

and live generously, but the epic poet, he who shall sing of the

gods, and their descent unto men, must drink water out of a wooden

bowl. For poetry is not `Devil's wine,' but God's wine. It is with

this as it is with toys. We fill the hands and nurseries of our

children with all manner of dolls, drums, and horses, withdrawing

their eyes from the plain face and sufficing objects of nature, the

sun, and moon, the animals, the water, and stones, which should be

their toys. So the poet's habit of living should be set on a key so

low and plain, that the common influences should delight him. His

cheerfulness should be the gift of the sunlight; the air should

suffice for his inspiration, and he should be tipsy with water. That

spirit which suffices quiet hearts, which seems to come forth to such

from every dry knoll of sere grass, from every pine-stump, and

half-imbedded stone, on which the dull March sun shines, comes forth

to the poor and hungry, and such as are of simple taste. If thou

fill thy brain with Boston and New York, with fashion and

covetousness, and wilt stimulate thy jaded senses with wine and

French coffee, thou shalt find no radiance of wisdom in the lonely

waste of the pinewoods.

If the imagination intoxicates the poet, it is not inactive in

other men. The metamorphosis excites in the beholder an emotion of

joy. The use of symbols has a certain power of emancipation and

exhilaration for all men. We seem to be touched by a wand, which

makes us dance and run about happily, like children. We are like

persons who come out of a cave or cellar into the open air. This is

the effect on us of tropes, fables, oracles, and all poetic forms.

Poets are thus liberating gods. Men have really got a new sense, and

found within their world, another world, or nest of worlds; for, the

metamorphosis once seen, we divine that it does not stop. I will not

now consider how much this makes the charm of algebra and the

mathematics, which also have their tropes, but it is felt in every

definition; as, when Aristotle defines _space_ to be an immovable

vessel, in which things are contained; -- or, when Plato defines a

_line_ to be a flowing point; or, _figure_ to be a bound of solid;

and many the like. What a joyful sense of freedom we have, when

Vitruvius announces the old opinion of artists, that no architect can

build any house well, who does not know something of anatomy. When

Socrates, in Charmides, tells us that the soul is cured of its

maladies by certain incantations, and that these incantations are

beautiful reasons, from which temperance is generated in souls; when

Plato calls the world an animal; and Timaeus affirms that the plants

also are animals; or affirms a man to be a heavenly tree, growing

with his root, which is his head, upward; and, as George Chapman,

following him, writes, --

"So in our tree of man, whose nervie root

Springs in his top;"

when Orpheus speaks of hoariness as "that #CCCCFF flower which

marks extreme old age;" when Proclus calls the universe the statue of

the intellect; when Chaucer, in his praise of `Gentilesse,' compares

good blood in mean condition to fire, which, though carried to the

darkest house betwixt this and the mount of Caucasus, will yet hold

its natural office, and burn as bright as if twenty thousand men did

it behold; when John saw, in the apocalypse, the ruin of the world

through evil, and the stars fall from heaven, as the figtree casteth

her untimely fruit; when Aesop reports the whole catalogue of common

daily relations through the masquerade of birds and beasts; -- we

take the cheerful hint of the immortality of our essence, and its

versatile habit and escapes, as when the gypsies say, "it is in vain

to hang them, they cannot die."

The poets are thus liberating gods. The ancient British bards

had for the title of their order, "Those who are free throughout the

world." They are free, and they make free. An imaginative book

renders us much more service at first, by stimulating us through its

tropes, than afterward, when we arrive at the precise sense of the

author. I think nothing is of any value in books, excepting the

transcendental and extraordinary. If a man is inflamed and carried

away by his thought, to that degree that he forgets the authors and

the public, and heeds only this one dream, which holds him like an

insanity, let me read his paper, and you may have all the arguments

and histories and criticism. All the value which attaches to

Pythagoras, Paracelsus, Cornelius Agrippa, Cardan, Kepler,

Swedenborg, Schelling, Oken, or any other who introduces questionable

facts into his cosmogony, as angels, devils, magic, astrology,

palmistry, mesmerism, and so on, is the certificate we have of

departure from routine, and that here is a new witness. That also is

the best success in conversation, the magic of liberty, which puts

the world, like a ball, in our hands. How cheap even the liberty

then seems; how mean to study, when an emotion communicates to the

intellect the power to sap and upheave nature: how great the

perspective! nations, times, systems, enter and disappear, like

threads in tapestry of large figure and many colors; dream delivers

us to dream, and, while the drunkenness lasts, we will sell our bed,

our philosophy, our religion, in our opulence.

There is good reason why we should prize this liberation. The

fate of the poor shepherd, who, blinded and lost in the snow-storm,

perishes in a drift within a few feet of his cottage door, is an

emblem of the state of man. On the brink of the waters of life and

truth, we are miserably dying. The inaccessibleness of every thought

but that we are in, is wonderful. What if you come near to it, --

you are as remote, when you are nearest, as when you are farthest.

Every thought is also a prison; every heaven is also a prison.

Therefore we love the poet, the inventor, who in any form, whether in

an ode, or in an action, or in looks and behavior, has yielded us a

new thought. He unlocks our chains, and admits us to a new scene.

This emancipation is dear to all men, and the power to impart

it, as it must come from greater depth and scope of thought, is a

measure of intellect. Therefore all books of the imagination endure,

all which ascend to that truth, that the writer sees nature beneath

him, and uses it as his exponent. Every verse or sentence,

possessing this virtue, will take care of its own immortality. The

religions of the world are the ejaculations of a few imaginative men.

But the quality of the imagination is to flow, and not to

freeze. The poet did not stop at the color, or the form, but read

their meaning; neither may he rest in this meaning, but he makes the

same objects exponents of his new thought. Here is the difference

betwixt the poet and the mystic, that the last nails a symbol to one

sense, which was a true sense for a moment, but soon becomes old and

false. For all symbols are fluxional; all language is vehicular and

transitive, and is good, as ferries and horses are, for conveyance,

not as farms and houses are, for homestead. Mysticism consists in

the mistake of an accidental and individual symbol for an universal

one. The morning-redness happens to be the favorite meteor to the

eyes of Jacob Behmen, and comes to stand to him for truth and faith;

and he believes should stand for the same realities to every reader.

But the first reader prefers as naturally the symbol of a mother and

child, or a gardener and his bulb, or a jeweller polishing a gem.

Either of these, or of a myriad more, are equally good to the person

to whom they are significant. Only they must be held lightly, and be

very willingly translated into the equivalent terms which others use.

And the mystic must be steadily told, -- All that you say is just as

true without the tedious use of that symbol as with it. Let us have

a little algebra, instead of this trite rhetoric, -- universal signs,

instead of these village symbols, -- and we shall both be gainers.

The history of hierarchies seems to show, that all religious error

consisted in making the symbol too stark and solid, and, at last,

nothing but an excess of the organ of language.

Swedenborg, of all men in the recent ages, stands eminently for

the translator of nature into thought. I do not know the man in

history to whom things stood so uniformly for words. Before him the

metamorphosis continually plays. Everything on which his eye rests,

obeys the impulses of moral nature. The figs become grapes whilst he

eats them. When some of his angels affirmed a truth, the laurel twig

which they held blossomed in their hands. The noise which, at a

distance, appeared like gnashing and thumping, on coming nearer was

found to be the voice of disputants. The men, in one of his visions,

seen in heavenly light, appeared like dragons, and seemed in

darkness: but, to each other, they appeared as men, and, when the

light from heaven shone into their cabin, they complained of the

darkness, and were compelled to shut the window that they might see.

There was this perception in him, which makes the poet or seer,

an object of awe and terror, namely, that the same man, or society of

men, may wear one aspect to themselves and their companions, and a

different aspect to higher intelligences. Certain priests, whom he

describes as conversing very learnedly together, appeared to the

children, who were at some distance, like dead horses: and many the

like misappearances. And instantly the mind inquires, whether these

fishes under the bridge, yonder oxen in the pasture, those dogs in

the yard, are immutably fishes, oxen, and dogs, or only so appear to

me, and perchance to themselves appear upright men; and whether I

appear as a man to all eyes. The Bramins and Pythagoras propounded

the same question, and if any poet has witnessed the transformation,

he doubtless found it in harmony with various experiences. We have

all seen changes as considerable in wheat and caterpillars. He is

the poet, and shall draw us with love and terror, who sees, through

the flowing vest, the firm nature, and can declare it.

I look in vain for the poet whom I describe. We do not, with

sufficient plainness, or sufficient profoundness, address ourselves

to life, nor dare we chaunt our own times and social circumstance.

If we filled the day with bravery, we should not shrink from

celebrating it. Time and nature yield us many gifts, but not yet the

timely man, the new religion, the reconciler, whom all things await.

Dante's praise is, that he dared to write his autobiography in

colossal cipher, or into universality. We have yet had no genius in

America, with tyrannous eye, which knew the value of our incomparable

materials, and saw, in the barbarism and materialism of the times,

another carnival of the same gods whose picture he so much admires in

Homer; then in the middle age; then in Calvinism. Banks and tariffs,

the newspaper and caucus, methodism and unitarianism, are flat and

dull to dull people, but rest on the same foundations of wonder as

the town of Troy, and the temple of Delphos, and are as swiftly

passing away. Our logrolling, our stumps and their politics, our

fisheries, our Negroes, and Indians, our boasts, and our

repudiations, the wrath of rogues, and the pusillanimity of honest

men, the northern trade, the southern planting, the western clearing,

Oregon, and Texas, are yet unsung. Yet America is a poem in our

eyes; its ample geography dazzles the imagination, and it will not

wait long for metres. If I have not found that excellent combination

of gifts in my countrymen which I seek, neither could I aid myself to

fix the idea of the poet by reading now and then in Chalmers's

collection of five centuries of English poets. These are wits, more

than poets, though there have been poets among them. But when we

adhere to the ideal of the poet, we have our difficulties even with

Milton and Homer. Milton is too literary, and Homer too literal and


But I am not wise enough for a national criticism, and must use

the old largeness a little longer, to discharge my errand from the

muse to the poet concerning his art.

Art is the path of the creator to his work. The paths, or

methods, are ideal and eternal, though few men ever see them, not the

artist himself for years, or for a lifetime, unless he come into the

conditions. The painter, the sculptor, the composer, the epic

rhapsodist, the orator, all partake one desire, namely, to express

themselves symmetrically and abundantly, not dwarfishly and

fragmentarily. They found or put themselves in certain conditions,

as, the painter and sculptor before some impressive human figures;

the orator, into the assembly of the people; and the others, in such

scenes as each has found exciting to his intellect; and each

presently feels the new desire. He hears a voice, he sees a

beckoning. Then he is apprised, with wonder, what herds of daemons

hem him in. He can no more rest; he says, with the old painter, "By

God, it is in me, and must go forth of me." He pursues a beauty, half

seen, which flies before him. The poet pours out verses in every

solitude. Most of the things he says are conventional, no doubt; but

by and by he says something which is original and beautiful. That

charms him. He would say nothing else but such things. In our way

of talking, we say, `That is yours, this is mine;' but the poet knows

well that it is not his; that it is as strange and beautiful to him

as to you; he would fain hear the like eloquence at length. Once

having tasted this immortal ichor, he cannot have enough of it, and,

as an admirable creative power exists in these intellections, it is

of the last importance that these things get spoken. What a little

of all we know is said! What drops of all the sea of our science are

baled up! and by what accident it is that these are exposed, when so

many secrets sleep in nature! Hence the necessity of speech and

song; hence these throbs and heart-beatings in the orator, at the

door of the assembly, to the end, namely, that thought may be

ejaculated as Logos, or Word.

Doubt not, O poet, but persist. Say, `It is in me, and shall

out.' Stand there, baulked and dumb, stuttering and stammering,

hissed and hooted, stand and strive, until, at last, rage draw out of

thee that _dream_-power which every night shows thee is thine own; a

power transcending all limit and privacy, and by virtue of which a

man is the conductor of the whole river of electricity. Nothing

walks, or creeps, or grows, or exists, which must not in turn arise

and walk before him as exponent of his meaning. Comes he to that

power, his genius is no longer exhaustible. All the creatures, by

pairs and by tribes, pour into his mind as into a Noah's ark, to come

forth again to people a new world. This is like the stock of air for

our respiration, or for the combustion of our fireplace, not a

measure of gallons, but the entire atmosphere if wanted. And

therefore the rich poets, as Homer, Chaucer, Shakspeare, and Raphael,

have obviously no limits to their works, except the limits of their

lifetime, and resemble a mirror carried through the street, ready to

render an image of every created thing.

O poet! a new nobility is conferred in groves and pastures, and

not in castles, or by the sword-blade, any longer. The conditions

are hard, but equal. Thou shalt leave the world, and know the muse

only. Thou shalt not know any longer the times, customs, graces,

politics, or opinions of men, but shalt take all from the muse. For

the time of towns is tolled from the world by funereal chimes, but in

nature the universal hours are counted by succeeding tribes of

animals and plants, and by growth of joy on joy. God wills also that

thou abdicate a manifold and duplex life, and that thou be content

that others speak for thee. Others shall be thy gentlemen, and shall

represent all courtesy and worldly life for thee; others shall do the

great and resounding actions also. Thou shalt lie close hid with

nature, and canst not be afforded to the Capitol or the Exchange.

The world is full of renunciations and apprenticeships, and this is

thine: thou must pass for a fool and a churl for a long season. This

is the screen and sheath in which Pan has protected his well-beloved

flower, and thou shalt be known only to thine own, and they shall

console thee with tenderest love. And thou shalt not be able to

rehearse the names of thy friends in thy verse, for an old shame

before the holy ideal. And this is the reward: that the ideal shall

be real to thee, and the impressions of the actual world shall fall

like summer rain, copious, but not troublesome, to thy invulnerable

essence. Thou shalt have the whole land for thy park and manor, the

sea for thy bath and navigation, without tax and without envy; the

woods and the rivers thou shalt own; and thou shalt possess that

wherein others are only tenants and boarders. Thou true land-lord!

sea-lord! air-lord! Wherever snow falls, or water flows, or birds

fly, wherever day and night meet in twilight, wherever the blue

heaven is hung by clouds, or sown with stars, wherever are forms with

transparent boundaries, wherever are outlets into celestial space,

wherever is danger, and awe, and love, there is Beauty, plenteous as

rain, shed for thee, and though thou shouldest walk the world over,

thou shalt not be able to find a condition inopportune or ignoble.