Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Problem

I LIKE a church; I like a cowl; 
I love a prophet of the soul; 
And on my heart monastic aisles 
Fall like sweet strains or pensive smiles; 
Yet not for all his faith can see 5 
Would I that cowl┬d churchman be. 
Why should the vest on him allure  
Which I could not on me endure? 

Not from a vain or shallow thought 
His awful Jove young Phidias brought; 10 
Never from lips of cunning fell 
The thrilling Delphic oracle: 
Out from the heart of nature rolled 
The burdens of the Bible old; 
The litanies of nations came 15 
Like the volcano's tongue of flame  
Up from the burning core below ! 
The canticles of love and woe; 
The hand that rounded Peter's dome  
And groined the aisles of Christian Rome 20 
Wrought in a sad sincerity; 
Himself from God he could not free; 
He builded better than he knew;! 
The conscious stone to beauty grew. 

Know'st thou what wove yon woodbird's nest 25 
Of leaves and feathers from her breast? 
Or how the fish outbuilt her shell  
Painting with morn each annual cell? 
Or how the sacred pine tree adds 
To her old leaves new myriads? 30 
Such and so grew these holy piles  
Whilst love and terror laid the tiles. 
Earth proudly wears the Parthenon  
As the best gem upon her zone; 
And Morning opes with haste her lids 35 
To gaze upon the Pyramids; 
O'er England's abbeys bends the sky  
As on its friends with kindred eye; 
For out of Thought's interior sphere  
These wonders rose to upper air; 40 
And Nature gladly gave them place  
Adopted them into her race  
And granted them an equal date 
With Andes and with Ararat. 

These temples grew as grows the grass; 45 
Art might obey but not surpass. 
The passive Master lent his hand 
To the vast soul that o'er him planned; 
And the same power that reared the shrine  
Bestrode the tribes that knelt within. 50 
Ever the fiery Pentecost 
Girds with one flame the countless host  
Trances the heart through chanting choirs  
And through the priest the mind inspires. 

The word unto the prophet spoken 55 
Was writ on tables yet unbroken; 
The word by seers or sibyls told  
In groves of oak or fanes of gold  
Still floats upon the morning wind  
Still whispers to the willing mind. 60 
One accent of the Holy Ghost 
The heedless world hath never lost. 
I know what say the fathers wise ! 
The Book itself before me lies ! 
Old Chrysostom best Augustine 65 
And he who blent both in his line  
The younger Golden Lips or mines  
Taylor the Shakespeare of divines. 
His words are music in my ear  
I see his cowl┬d portrait dear; 70 
And yet for all his faith could see  
I would not this good bishop be. 

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, 5 
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, 10 
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 15 
The self-same Power that brought me there brought you. 

The Humble-Bee

BURLY dozing humble-bee  
Where thou art is clime for me. 
Let them sail for Porto Rique  
Far-off heats through seas to seek; 
I will follow thee alone 5 
Thou animated torrid-zone! 
Zigzag steerer desert cheerer  
Let me chase thy waving lines; 
Keep me nearer me thy hearer  
Singing over shrubs and vines. 10 

Insect lover of the sun  
Joy of thy dominion! 
Sailor of the atmosphere; 
Swimmer through the waves of air; 
Voyager of light and noon; 15 
Epicurean of June; 
Wait I prithee till I come 
Within earshot of thy hum ! 
All without is martyrdom. 

When the south wind in May days 20 
With a net of shining haze 
Silvers the horizon wall  
And with softness touching all  
Tints the human countenance 
With a color of romance 25 
And infusing subtle heats  
Turns the sod to violets  
Thou in sunny solitudes  
Rover of the underwoods  
The green silence dost displace 30 
With thy mellow breezy bass. 

Hot midsummer's petted crone  
Sweet to me thy drowsy tone 
Tells of countless sunny hours  
Long days and solid banks of flowers; 35 
Of gulfs of sweetness without bound 
In Indian wildernesses found; 
Of Syrian peace immortal leisure  
Firmest cheer and bird-like pleasure. 
Aught unsavory or unclean 40 
Hath my insect never seen; 
But violets and bilberry bells  
Maple-sap and daffodels  
Grass with green flag half-mast high  
Succory to match the sky 45 
Columbine with horn of honey  
Scented fern and agrimony  
Clover catchfly adder's-tongue 
And brier-roses dwelt among; 
All beside was unknown waste 50 
All was picture as he passed. 

Wiser far than human seer  
blue-breeched philosopher! 
Seeing only what is fair  
Sipping only what is sweet 55 
Thou dost mock at fate and care  
Leave the chaff and take the wheat. 
When the fierce northwestern blast 
Cools sea and land so far and fast  
Thou already slumberest deep; 60 
Woe and want thou canst outsleep; 
Want and woe which torture us  
Thy sleep makes ridiculous. 


THE MOUNTAIN and the squirrel 
Had a quarrel; 
And the former called the latter "Little Prig." 
Bun replied  
You are doubtless very big; 5 
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 10 
To occupy my place. 
If I'm not as large as you, 
You are not so small as I, 
And not half so spry. 
I'll not deny you make 15 
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.  

To Eva

O FAIR and stately maid whose eyes 
Were kindled in the upper skies 
At the same torch that lighted mine; 
For so I must interpret still 
Thy sweet dominion o'er my will 5 
A sympathy divine. 

Ah! let me blameless gaze upon 
Features that seem at heart my own; 
Nor fear those watchful sentinels  
Who charm the more their glance forbids 10 
Chaste-glowing underneath their lids  
With fire that draws while it repels. 

Concord Hymn 
Sung at the Completion of the Battle Monument April 19 1836

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; 5 
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; 10 
That memory may their deed redeem  
When like our sires our sons are gone. 

Spirit that made those heroes dare 
To die and leave their children free  
Bid Time and Nature gently spare 15 
The shaft we raise to them and thee. 


DAUGHTERS 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 5 
Bread kingdoms stars and sky that holds them all. 
I in my pleach┬d 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 10 
Under her solemn fillet saw the scorn. 


TO clothe the fiery thought 
In simple words succeeds  
For still the craft of genius is 
To mask a king in weeds. 

From the French

SOME of the hurts you have cured  
And the sharpest you still have survived  
But what torments of grief you endured 
From evils which never arrived! 

Heri Cras Hodie

SHINES the last age the next with hope is seen  
To-day slinks poorly off unmarked between: 
Future or Past no richer secret folds  
O friendless Present! than thy bosom holds. 


THOUGH love repine and reason chafe  
There came a voice without reply ! 
'T is man's perdition to be safe, 
When for the truth he ought to die.  


I SEE all human wits 
Are measured but a few; 
Unmeasured still my Shakespeare sits  
Lone as the blessed Jew. 


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; 5 
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; 10 
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! 15 
Find me and turn thy back on heaven.

Give All to Love

GIVE all to love; 
Obey thy heart; 
Friends kindred days  
Estate good fame  
Plans credit and the Muse! 5 
Nothing refuse. 

'Tis a brave master; 
Let it have scope: 
Follow it utterly  
Hope beyond hope: 10 
High and more high 
It dives into noon  
With wing unspent  
Untold intent; 
But it is a god 15 
Knows its own path  
And the outlets of the sky. 

It was never for the mean; 
It requireth courage stout  
Souls above doubt 20 
Valour unbending: 
Such 'twill reward;! 
They shall return 
More than they were  
And ever ascending. 25 

Leave all for love; 
Yet hear me yet  
One word more thy heart behoved  
One pulse more of firm endeavour! 
Keep thee to-day 30 
To-morrow for ever  
Free as an Arab 
Of thy beloved. 

Cling with life to the maid; 
But when the surprise 35 
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 40 
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 45 
Stealing grace from all alive; 
Heartily know  
When half-gods go 
The gods arrive. 


IT fell in the ancient periods 
Which the brooding soul surveys  
Or ever the wild Time coin'd itself 
Into calendar months and days. 

This was the lapse of Uriel 5 
Which in Paradise befell. 
Once among the Pleiads walking  
Sayd overheard the young gods talking; 
And the treason too long pent  
To his ears was evident. 10 
The young deities discuss'd 
Laws of form and metre just  
Orb quintessence and sunbeams  
What subsisteth and what seems. 
One with low tones that decide 15 
And doubt and reverend use defied  
With a look that solved the sphere  
And stirr'd the devils everywhere  
Gave his sentiment divine 
Against the being of a line. 20 
'Line in nature is not found; 
Unit and universe are round; 
In vain produced all rays return; 
Evil will bless and ice will burn.' 
As Uriel spoke with piercing eye 25 
A shudder ran around the sky; 
The stern old war-gods shook their heads; 
The seraphs frown'd from myrtle-beds; 
Seem'd to the holy festival 
The rash word boded ill to all; 30 
The balance-beam of Fate was bent; 
The bounds of good and ill were rent; 
Strong Hades could not keep his own  
But all slid to confusion. 

A sad self-knowledge withering fell 35 
On the beauty of Uriel; 
In heaven once eminent the god 
Withdrew that hour into his cloud; 
Whether doom'd to long gyration 
In the sea of generation 40 
Or by knowledge grown too bright 
To hit the nerve of feebler sight. 
Straightway a forgetting wind 
Stole over the celestial kind  
And their lips the secret kept 45 
If in ashes the fire-seed slept. 
But now and then truth-speaking things 
Shamed the angels' veiling wings; 
And shrilling from the solar course  
Or from fruit of chemic force 50 
Procession of a soul in matter  
Or the speeding change of water  
Or out of the good of evil born  
Came Uriel's voice of cherub scorn  
And a blush tinged the upper sky 55 
And the gods shook they knew not why. 


BRING me wine but wine which never grew 
In the belly of the grape  
Or grew on vine whose tap-roots reaching through 
Under the Andes to the Cape  
Suffer'd no savour of the earth to 'scape. 5 

Let its grapes the morn salute 
From a nocturnal root  
Which feels the acrid juice 
Of Styx and Erebus; 
And turns the woe of Night 10 
By its own craft to a more rich delight. 

We buy ashes for bread; 
We buy diluted wine; 
Give me of the true  
Whose ample leaves and tendrils curl'd 15 
Among the silver hills of heaven 
Draw everlasting dew; 
Wine of wine  
Blood of the world  
Form of forms and mould of statures 20 
That I intoxicated  
And by the draught assimilated  
May float at pleasure through all natures; 
The bird-language rightly spell  
And that which roses say so well: 25 

Wine that is shed 
Like the torrents of the sun 
Up the horizon walls  
Or like the Atlantic streams which run 
When the South Sea calls. 30 

Water and bread  
Food which needs no transmuting  
Rainbow-flowering wisdom-fruiting  
Wine which is already man  
Food which teach and reason can. 35 

Wine which Music is ! 
Music and wine are one ! 
That I drinking this  
Shall hear far Chaos talk with me; 
Kings unborn shall walk with me; 40 
And the poor grass shall plot and plan 
What it will do when it is man. 
Quicken'd so will I unlock 
Every crypt of every rock. 

I thank the joyful juice 45 
For all I know; 
Winds of remembering 
Of the ancient being blow  
And seeming-solid walls of use 
Open and flow. 50 

Pour Bacchus! the remembering wine; 
Retrieve the loss of me and mine! 
Vine for vine be antidote  
And the grape requite the lote! 
Haste to cure the old despair; 55 
Reason in Nature's lotus drench'd! 
The memory of ages quench'd! 
Give them again to shine; 
Let wine repair what this undid; 
And where the infection slid 60 
A dazzling memory revive; 
Refresh the faded tints  
Recut the ag┬d prints  
And write my old adventures with the pen 
Which on the first day drew 65 
Upon the tablets blue  
The dancing Pleiads and eternal men.