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Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882).  The Complete Works.  1904.
Vol. IX. Poems
 
I. Poems
Monadnoc
 
THOUSAND 1 minstrels woke within me,
  ‘Our music ’s in the hills;’—
Gayest pictures rose to win me,
  Leopard-colored rills.
‘Up!—If thou knew’st who calls        5
To twilight parks of beech and pine,
High over the river intervals,
Above the ploughman’s highest line,
Over the owner’s farthest walls!
Up! where the airy citadel        10
O’erlooks the surging landscape’s swell!
Let not unto the stones the Day
Her lily and rose, her sea and land display.
Read the celestial sign!
Lo! the south answers to the north;        15
Bookworm, break this sloth urbane;
A greater spirit bids thee forth
Than the gray dreams which thee detain.
Mark how the climbing Oreads
Beckon thee to their arcades;        20
Youth, for a moment free as they,
Teach thy feet to feel the ground,
Ere yet arrives the wintry day
When Time thy feet has bound.
Take the bounty of thy birth,        25
Taste the lordship of the earth.’
 
  I heard, and I obeyed,—
Assured that he who made the claim,
Well known, but loving not a name,
  Was not to be gainsaid.        30
Ere yet the summoning voice was still,
I turned to Cheshire’s haughty hill.
From the fixed cone the cloud-rack flowed
Like ample banner flung abroad
To all the dwellers in the plains        35
Round about, a hundred miles,
With salutation to the sea and to the bordering isles.
In his own loom’s garment dressed,
By his proper bounty blessed,
Fast abides this constant giver,        40
Pouring many a cheerful river;
To far eyes, an aerial isle
Unploughed, which finer spirits pile,
Which morn and crimson evening paint
For bard, for lover and for saint;        45
An eyemark and the country’s core,
Inspirer, prophet evermore;
Pillar which God aloft had set
So that men might it not forget;
It should be their life’s ornament,        50
And mix itself with each event;
Gauge and calendar and dial,
Weatherglass and chemic phial,
Garden of berries, perch of birds,
Pasture of pool-haunting herds,        55
Graced by each change of sum untold,
Earth-baking heat, stone-cleaving cold.
 
The Titan heeds his sky-affairs,
Rich rents and wide alliance shares;
Mysteries of color daily laid        60
By morn and eve in light and shade;
And sweet varieties of chance,
And the mystic seasons’ dance;
And thief-like step of liberal hours
Thawing snow-drift into flowers.        65
O, wondrous craft of plant and stone
By eldest science wrought and shown!
 
‘Happy,’ I said, ‘whose home is here!
Fair fortunes to the mountaineer!
Boon Nature to his poorest shed        70
Has royal pleasure-grounds outspread.’
Intent, I searched the region round,
And in low hut the dweller found:
Woe is me for my hope’s downfall!
Is yonder squalid peasant all        75
That this proud nursery could breed
For God’s vicegerency and stead?
Time out of mind, this forge of ores;
Quarry of spars in mountain pores;
Old cradle, hunting-ground and bier        80
Of wolf and otter, bear and deer;
Well-built abode of many a race;
Tower of observance searching space;
Factory of river and of rain;
Link in the Alps’ globe-girding chain;        85
By million changes skilled to tell
What in the Eternal standeth well,
And what obedient Nature can;—
Is this colossal talisman
Kindly to plant and blood and kind,        90
But speechless to the master’s mind?
I thought to find the patriots
In whom the stock of freedom roots;
To myself I oft recount
Tales of many a famous mount,—        95
Wales, Scotland, Uri, Hungary’s dells:
Bards, Roys, Scanderbegs and Tells;
And think how Nature in these towers
Uplifted shall condense her powers,
And lifting man to the blue deep        100
Where stars their perfect courses keep,
Like wise preceptor, lure his eye
To sound the science of the sky,
And carry learning to its height
Of untried power and sane delight:        105
The Indian cheer, the frosty skies,
Rear purer wits, inventive eyes,—
Eyes that frame cities where none be,
And hands that stablish what these see:
And by the moral of his place        110
Hint summits of heroic grace;
Man in these crags a fastness find
To fight pollution of the mind;
In the wide thaw and ooze of wrong,
Adhere like this foundation strong,        115
The insanity of towns to stem
With simpleness for stratagem.
But if the brave old mould is broke,
And end in churls the mountain folk
In tavern cheer and tavern joke,        120
Sink, O mountain, in the swamp!
Hide in thy skies, O sovereign lamp!
Perish like leaves, the highland breed
No sire survive, no son succeed!
 
Soft! let not the offended muse        125
Toil’s hard hap with scorn accuse.
Many hamlets sought I then,
Many farms of mountain men.
Rallying round a parish steeple
Nestle warm the highland people,        130
Coarse and boisterous, yet mild,
Strong as giant, slow as child.
Sweat and season are their arts,
Their talismans are ploughs and carts;
And well the youngest can command        135
Honey from the frozen land;
With cloverheads the swamp adorn,
Change the running sand to corn;
For wolf and fox, bring lowing herds,
And for cold mosses, cream and curds:        140
Weave wood to canisters and mats;
Drain sweet maple juice in vats.
No bird is safe that cuts the air
From their rifle or their snare;
No fish, in river or in lake,        145
But their long hands it thence will take;
Whilst the country’s flinty face,
Like wax, their fashioning skill betrays,
To fill the hollows, sink the hills,
Bridge gulfs, drain swamps, build dams and mills,        150
And fit the bleak and howling waste
For homes of virtue, sense and taste. 2
The World-soul knows his own affair,
Forelooking, when he would prepare
For the next ages, men of mould        155
Well embodied, well ensouled,
He cools the present’s fiery glow,
Sets the life-pulse strong but slow:
Bitter winds and fasts austere
His quarantines and grottoes, where        160
He slowly cures decrepit flesh,
And brings it infantile and fresh.
Toil and tempest are the toys
And games to breathe his stalwart boys:
They bide their time, and well can prove,        165
If need were, their line from Jove;
Of the same stuff, and so allayed,
As that whereof the sun is made,
And of the fibre, quick and strong,
Whose throbs are love, whose thrills are song.        170
 
  Now in sordid weeds they sleep,
In dulness now their secret keep;
Yet, will you learn our ancient speech,
These the masters who can teach.
Fourscore or a hundred words        175
All their vocal muse affords;
But they turn them in a fashion
Past clerks’ or statesmen’s art or passion.
I can spare the college bell,
And the learned lecture, well;        180
Spare the clergy and libraries,
Institutes and dictionaries,
For that hardy English root
Thrives here, unvalued, underfoot.
Rude poets of the tavern hearth,        185
Squandering your unquoted mirth,
Which keeps the ground and never soars,
While Jake retorts and Reuben roars;
Scoff of yeoman strong and stark,
Goes like bullet to its mark;        190
While the solid curse and jeer
Never balk the waiting ear. 3
 
  On the summit as I stood,
O’er the floor of plain and flood
Seemed to me, the towering hill        195
Was not altogether still,
But a quiet sense conveyed:
If I err not, thus it said:—
 
‘Many feet in summer seek,
Oft, my far-appearing peak;        200
In the dreaded winter time,
None save dappling shadows climb,
Under clouds, my lonely head,
Old as the sun, old almost as the shade;
And comest thou        205
To see strange forests and new snow,
And tread uplifted land?
And leavest thou thy lowland race,
Here amid clouds to stand?
And wouldst be my companion        210
Where I gaze, and still shall gaze,
Through tempering nights and flashing days,
When forests fall, and man is gone,
Over tribes and over times,
At the burning Lyre,        215
Nearing me,
With its stars of northern fire,
In many a thousand years?
 
‘Gentle pilgrim, if thou know
The gamut old of Pan,        220
And how the hills began,
The frank blessings of the hill
Fall on thee, as fall they will.
 
‘Let him heed who can and will;
Enchantment fixed me here        225
To stand the hurts of time, until
In mightier chant I disappear.
  If thou trowest
How the chemic eddies play,
Pole to pole, and what they say;        230
And that these gray crags
Not on crags are hung,
But beads are of a rosary
On prayer and music strung;
And, credulous, through the granite seeming,        235
Seest the smile of Reason beaming;—
Can thy style-discerning eye
The hidden-working Builder spy,
Who builds, yet makes no chips, no din,
With hammer soft as snowflake’s flight;—        240
Knowest thou this?
O pilgrim, wandering not amiss!
Already my rocks lie light,
And soon my cone will spin. 4
 
‘For the world was built in order,        245
And the atoms march in tune;
Rhyme the pipe, and Time the warder,
The sun obeys them and the moon.
Orb and atom forth they prance,
When they hear from far the rune;        250
None so backward in the troop,
When the music and the dance
Reach his place and circumstance,
But knows the sun-creating sound,
And, though a pyramid, will bound.        255
 
‘Monadnoc is a mountain strong,
Tall and good my kind among;
But well I know, no mountain can,
Zion or Meru, measure with man.
For it is on zodiacs writ,        260
Adamant is soft to wit:
And when the greater comes again
With my secret in his brain,
I shall pass, as glides my shadow
Daily over hill and meadow.        265
 
‘Through all time, in light, in gloom
Well I hear the approaching feet
On the flinty pathway beat
Of him that cometh, and shall come;
Of him who shall as lightly bear        270
My daily load of woods and streams,
As doth this round sky-cleaving boat
Which never strains its rocky beams;
Whose timbers, as they silent float,
Alps and Caucasus uprear,        275
And the long Alleghanies here,
And all town-sprinkled lands that be,
Sailing through stars with all their history.
 
‘Every morn I lift my head,
See New England underspread,        280
South from Saint Lawrence to the Sound,
From Katskill east to the sea-bound.
Anchored fast for many an age,
I await the bard and sage,
Who, in large thoughts, like fair pearl-seed,        285
Shall string Monadnoc like a bead.
Comes that cheerful troubadour,
This mound shall throb his face before,
As when, with inward fires and pain,
It rose a bubble from the plain.        290
When he cometh, I shall shed,
From this wellspring in my head,
Fountain-drop of spicier worth
Than all vintage of the earth.
There ’s fruit upon my barren soil        295
Costlier far than wine or oil.
There ’s a berry blue and gold,—
Autumn-ripe, its juices hold
Sparta’s stoutness, Bethlehem’s heart,
Asia’s rancor, Athens’ art,        300
Slowsure Britain’s secular might,
And the German’s inward sight.
I will give my son to eat
Best of Pan’s immortal meat,
Bread to eat, and juice to drain;        305
So the coinage of his brain
Shall not be forms of stars, but stars,
Nor pictures pale, but Jove and Mars. 5
He comes, but not of that race bred
Who daily climb my specular head.        310
Oft as morning wreathes my scarf,
Fled the last plumule of the Dark,
Pants up hither the spruce clerk
From South Cove and City Wharf.
I take him up my rugged sides,        315
Half-repentant, scant of breath,—
Bead-eyes my granite chaos show,
And my midsummer snow:
Open the daunting map beneath,—
All his county, sea and land,        320
Dwarfed to measure of his hand;
His day’s ride is a furlong space,
His city-tops a glimmering haze.
I plant his eyes on the sky-hoop bounding;
“See there the grim gray rounding        325
Of the bullet of the earth
Whereon ye sail,
Tumbling steep
In the uncontinented deep.”
He looks on that, and he turns pale.        330
’T is even so, this treacherous kite,
Farm-furrowed, town-incrusted sphere,
Thoughtless of its anxious freight,
Plunges eyeless on forever;
And he, poor parasite,        335
Cooped in a ship he cannot steer,—
Who is the captain he knows not,
Port or pilot trows not,—
Risk or ruin he must share. 6
I scowl on him with my cloud,        340
With my north wind chill his blood;
I lame him, clattering down the rocks;
And to live he is in fear.
Then, at last, I let him down
Once more into his dapper town,        345
To chatter, frightened, to his clan
And forget me if he can.’
 
As in the old poetic fame
The gods are blind and lame,
And the simular despite        350
Betrays the more abounding might,
So call not waste that barren cone
Above the floral zone,
Where forests starve:
It is pure use;—        355
What sheaves like those which here we glean and bind
Of a celestial Ceres and the Muse?
 
Ages are thy days,
Thou grand affirmer of the present tense, 7
And type of permanence!        360
Firm ensign of the fatal Being,
Amid these coward shapes of joy and grief,
That will not bide the seeing!
 
Hither we bring
Our insect miseries to thy rocks;        365
And the whole flight, with folded wing,
Vanish, and end their murmuring,—
Vanish beside these dedicated blocks,
Which who can tell what mason laid?
Spoils of a front none need restore,        370
Replacing frieze and architrave;—
Where flowers each stone rosette and metope brave;
Still is the haughty pile erect
Of the old building Intellect. 8
 
Complement of human kind,        375
Holding us at vantage still,
Our sumptuous indigence,
O barren mound, thy plenties fill!
We fool and prate;
Thou art silent and sedate.        380
To myriad kinds and times one sense
The constant mountain doth dispense;
Shedding on all its snows and leaves,
One joy it joys, one grief it grieves.
Thou seest, O watchman tall,        385
Our towns and races grow and fall,
And imagest the stable good
For which we all our lifetime grope,
In shifting form the formless mind,
And though the substance us elude,        390
We in thee the shadow find.
Thou, in our astronomy
An opaker star,
Seen haply from afar,
Above the horizon’s hoop,        395
A moment, by the railway troop,
As o’er some bolder height they speed,—
By circumspect ambition,
By errant gain,
By feasters and the frivolous,—        400
Recallest us,
And makest sane.
Mute orator! well skilled to plead,
And send conviction without phrase,
Thou dost succor and remede        405
The shortness of our days,
And promise, on thy Founder’s truth,
Long morrow to this mortal youth. 9
 
Note 1. In the verse-book of the period between 1833 and 1846 is the half-erased pencilling of an improvisation, the beginning of this poem, very likely written by Mr. Emerson as he sat above the forest waiting for sunrise on the great courses of dark rock, worn by the old glacier; for above the verses is written “1845, 3 May, 4 hours, 10 m., A. M.” It is as follows, the introductory passage of the poem evidently having been written later:—
                  I stand
Upon this uplifted land
Hugely massed to draw the clouds,
Like a banner unrolled
To all the dwellers in the plains
Round about a hundred miles.
In his own loom’s garment dressed,
By his own bounty blessed,
Thus constant giver,
Yielding many a cheerful river;
Appearing an aërial isle,
A cheerful and majestic pile,
Which morn and crimson eve shall paint
For bard, for lover and for saint;
The country’s core,
Inspirer, prophet evermore;
That which God aloft had set
So that men might it not forget;
It should be their lives’ ornament,
And mix itself with each event;
Their almanac and dial,
Painter’s palette, sorcerer’s phial,
*        *        *        *        *
Mysteries of color duly laid
By the great painter, light and shade;
And sweet varieties of time
And chance
And the mystic seasons’ dance;
The soft succession of the hours
Thawed the snow-drift into flowers.
*        *        *        *        *
By million changes skilled to tell
What in the Eternal standeth well.
 [back]
Note 2. In the essay in Conduct of Life, called “Considerations by the Way,” is a passage similar to this. [back]
Note 3. Mr. Emerson said that the street must be one of the orator’s schools. “The speech of the man in the street is invariably strong, nor can you mend it by making it what you call parliamentary. You say, ‘If he could only express himself;’ but he does already, better than any one can for him,—can always get the ear of an audience to the exclusion of everybody else.”—“Eloquence,” Letters and Social Aims. [back]
Note 4. “A profound thought will lift Olympus…. Go and talk with a man of genius, and the first word he utters sets all your so-called knowledge afloat and at large.”—“Literary Ethics,” Nature, Addresses and Lectures. [back]
Note 5. To hazard a guess on this riddle, the answer might be, that the berry is the material Universe (whose colors are,—the woods and fields, seen from a mountain, blue and pale yellow, and the heavens, day and night, blue and gold), a symbol of divinity in which all have a share—the Over-Soul. “The poet alone knows astronomy, chemistry, vegetation and animation, for he does not stop at these facts, but employs them as signs.”—“The Poet,” Essays, Second Series. [back]
Note 6. Here is a note in verse to the same purpose, apparently taken at Monadnoc:—
  Our eyeless bark sails free,
  Though with boom and spar
Andes, Alp, or Himmalee,
  Strikes never moon or star.
 [back]
Note 7. “All good and great and happy actions are made up precisely of these blank to-days.”—“The Times,” Nature, Addresses and Lectures. [back]
Note 8. Dr. Holmes, in his Life of his friend, thus speaks of this poem:—
  “How alive he makes Monadnoc! Dinocrates undertook to ‘hew Mount Athos to the shape of man’ in the likeness of Alexander the Great. Without the help of tools or workmen, Emerson makes ‘Cheshire’s haughty hill’ stand before us an impersonation of kingly humanity, and talk with us as a god from Olympus might have talked.” [back]
Note 9. The concluding lines of the poem are a shorter essay on Immorality.
  Before leaving the subject of Monadnoc, the poems of Mr. Emerson’s friends and neighbors should be remembered; Thoreau’s fine poem, called “Mountains,” on the blue eminences on Concord’s western horizon, and the part of Mr. Channing’s long poem, “The Wanderer,” called “The Mountain.” This poem, though of most unequal merit, has lines and passages of great beauty and singular descriptive felicity.
  There is also a poem by the late Mr. James Nesmith of Lowell, describing with strength and beauty, through all the lights and phases of the changing year, Monadnoc, where it stands
  “Like a huge arrowhead in stone.”
Unhappily this poem was only privately printed during the author’s life, but it is to be hoped an edition may be published. It seems as if Mr. Nesmith had Mr. Emerson in mind, for he uses for the motto of his “Monadnoc” Shakspeare’s line,—
  “Seeing a better spirit doth use thy name.”
 [back]
 
 
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