Verse > Anthologies > The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse > 78. Ode to Beauty
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Nicholson & Lee, eds.  The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. 1917.
  
78. Ode to Beauty
By Ralph Waldo Emerson  (1803–1882)
  
WHO gave thee, O Beauty,
The keys of this breast,—
Too credulous lover
Of blest and unblest?
Say, when in lapsed ages        5
Thee knew I of old?
Or what was the service
For which I was sold?
When first my eyes saw thee,
I found me thy thrall,       10
By magical drawings,
Sweet tyrant of all!
I drank at thy fountain
False waters of thirst;
Thou intimate stranger,       15
Thou latest and first!
Thy dangerous glances
Make women of men;
New-born, we are melting
Into nature again.       20
Lavish, lavish promiser,
Nigh persuading gods to err!
Guest of million painted forms,
Which in turn thy glory warms!
The frailest leaf, the mossy bark,       25
The acorn’s cup, the raindrop’s arc,
The swinging spider’s silver line,
The ruby of the drop of wine,
The shining pebble of the pond,
Thou inscribest with a bond,       30
In thy momentary play,
Would bankrupt nature to repay.
 
Ah, what avails it
To hide or to shun
Whom the Infinite One       35
Hath granted His throne?
The heaven high over
Is the deep’s lover;
The sun and sea,
Informed by thee,       40
Before me run,
And draw me on,
Yet fly me still,
As Fate refuses
To me the heart Fate for me chooses.       45
Is it that my opulent soul
Was mingled from the generous whole;
Sea-valleys and the deep of skies
Furnished several supplies;
And the sands whereof I’m made       50
Draw me to them, self-betrayed?
I turn the proud portfolios
Which hold the grand designs
Of Salvator, of Guercino,
And Piranesi’s lines.       55
I hear the lofty paeans
Of the masters of the shell,
Who heard the starry music
And recount the numbers well;
Olympian bards who sung       60
Divine Ideas below,
Which always find us young,
And always keep us so.
Oft, in streets or humblest places,
I detect far-wandered graces,       65
Which, from Eden wide astray,
In lonely homes have lost their way.
 
Thee gliding through the sea of form,
Like the lightning through the storm,
Somewhat not to be possessed,       70
Somewhat not to be caressed.
No feet so fleet could ever find,
No perfect form could ever bind.
Thou eternal fugitive,
Hovering over all that live,       75
Quick and skilful to inspire
Sweet, extravagant desire,
Starry space and lily-bell
Filling with thy roseate smell,
Wilt not give the lips to taste       80
Of the nectar which thou hast.
 
All that’s good and great with thee
Works in close conspiracy;
Thou hast bribed the dark and lonely
To report thy features only,       85
And the cold and purple morning
Itself with thoughts of thee adorning;
The leafy dell, the city mart,
Equal trophies of thine art;
E’en the flowing azure air       90
Thou hast touched for my despair;
And, if I languish into dreams,
Again I meet the ardent beams.
Queen of things! I dare not die
In Being’s deeps past ear and eye;       95
Lest there I find the same deceiver,
And be the sport of Fate for ever.
Dread Power, but dear! if God thou be,
Unmake me quite, or give thyself to me!

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