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Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882).  The Complete Works.  1904.
Vol. IX. Poems
 
I. Poems
Saadi
 
TREES 1 in groves,
Kine in droves,
In ocean sport the scaly herds,
Wedge-like cleave the air the birds,
To northern lakes fly wind-borne ducks,        5
Browse the mountain sheep in flocks,
Men consort in camp and town,
But the poet dwells alone.
 
God, who gave to him the lyre,
Of all mortals the desire,        10
For all breathing men’s behoof,
Straitly charged him, ‘Sit aloof;’
Annexed a warning, poets say,
To the bright premium,—
Ever, when twain together play,        15
Shall the harp be dumb.
 
Many may come,
But one shall sing;
Two touch the string,
The harp is dumb.        20
Though there come a million,
Wise Saadi dwells alone.
 
Yet Saadi loved the race of men,—
No churl, immured in cave or den;
In bower and hall        25
He wants them all,
Nor can dispense
With Persia for his audience;
They must give ear,
Grow red with joy and white with fear;        30
But he has no companion;
Come ten, or come a million,
Good Saadi dwells alone.
 
Be thou ware where Saadi dwells;
Wisdom of the gods is he,—        35
Entertain it reverently.
Gladly round that golden lamp
Sylvan deities encamp,
And simple maids and noble youth
Are welcome to the man of truth.        40
Most welcome they who need him most,
They feed the spring which they exhaust;
For greater need
Draws better deed:
But, critic, spare thy vanity,        45
Nor show thy pompous parts,
To vex with odious subtlety
The cheerer of men’s hearts.
 
Sad-eyed Fakirs swiftly say
Endless dirges to decay,        50
Never in the blaze of light
Lose the shudder of midnight;
Pale at overflowing noon
Hear wolves barking at the moon;
In the bower of dalliance sweet        55
Hear the far Avenger’s feet:
And shake before those awful Powers,
Who in their pride forgive not ours.
Thus the sad-eyed Fakirs preach:
‘Bard, when thee would Allah teach,        60
And lift thee to his holy mount,
He sends thee from his bitter fount
Wormwood,—saying, “Go thy ways;
Drink not the Malaga of praise, 2
But do the deed thy fellows hate,        65
And compromise thy peaceful state;
Smite the white breasts which thee fed,
Stuff sharp thorns beneath the head
Of them thou shouldst have comforted;
For out of woe and out of crime        70
Draws the heart a lore sublime.”’
And yet it seemeth not to me
That the high gods love tragedy;
For Saadi sat in the sun,
And thanks was his contrition;        75
For haircloth and for bloody whips,
Had active hands and smiling lips;
And yet his runes he rightly read,
And to his folk his message sped.
Sunshine in his heart transferred        80
Lighted each transparent word,
And well could honoring Persia learn
What Saadi wished to say;
For Saadi’s nightly stars did burn
Brighter than Jami’s day.        85
 
Whispered the Muse in Saadi’s cot:
‘O gentle Saadi, listen not,
Tempted by thy praise of wit,
Or by thirst and appetite
For the talents not thine own,        90
To sons of contradiction.
Never, son of eastern morning,
Follow falsehood, follow scorning.
Denounce who will, who will deny,
And pile the hills to scale the sky;        95
Let theist, atheist, pantheist,
Define and wrangle how they list,
Fierce conserver, fierce destroyer,—
But thou, joy-giver and enjoyer,
Unknowing war, unknowing crime,        100
Gentle Saadi, mind thy rhyme;
Heed not what the brawlers say,
Heed thou only Saadi’s lay. 3
 
‘Let the great world bustle on
With war and trade, with camp and town;        105
A thousand men shall dig and eat;
At forge and furnace thousands sweat;
And thousands sail the purple sea,
And give or take the stroke of war,
Or crowd the market and bazaar;        110
Oft shall war end, and peace return,
And cities rise where cities burn,
Ere one man my hill shall climb,
Who can turn the golden rhyme.
Let them manage how they may,        115
Heed thou only Saadi’s lay.
Seek the living among the dead,—
Man in man is imprisonèd;
Barefooted Dervish is not poor,
If fate unlock his bosom’s door,        120
So that what his eye hath seen
His tongue can paint as bright, as keen;
And what his tender heart hath felt
With equal fire thy heart shalt melt.
For, whom the Muses smile upon,        125
And touch with soft persuasion,
His words like a storm-wind can bring
Terror and beauty on their wing;
In his every syllable
Lurketh Nature veritable;        130
And though he speak in midnight dark,—
In heaven no star, on earth no spark,—
Yet before the listener’s eye
Swims the world in ecstasy,
The forest waves, the morning breaks,        135
The pastures sleep, ripple the lakes,
Leaves twinkle, flowers like persons be,
And life pulsates in rock or tree.
Saadi, so far thy words shall reach:
Suns rise and set in Saadi’s speech!’        140
 
And thus to Saadi said the Muse:
‘Eat thou the bread which men refuse;
Flee from the goods which from thee flee;
Seek nothing,—Fortune seeketh thee.
Nor mount, nor dive; all good things keep        145
The midway of the eternal deep.
Wish not to fill the isles with eyes
To fetch thee birds of paradise:
On thine orchard’s edge belong
All the brags of plume and song;        150
Wise Ali’s sunbright sayings pass
For proverbs in the market-place:
Through mountains bored by regal art,
Toil whistles as he drives his cart.
Nor scour the seas, nor sift mankind,        155
A poet or a friend to find:
Behold, he watches at the door!
Behold his shadow on the floor! 4
Open innumerable doors
The heaven where unveiled Allah pours        160
The flood of truth, the flood of good,
The Seraph’s and the Cherub’s food.
Those doors are men: the Pariah hind
Admits thee to the perfect Mind.
Seek not beyond thy cottage wall        165
Redeemers that can yield thee all:
While thou sittest at thy door
On the desert’s yellow floor,
Listening to the gray-haired crones,
Foolish gossips, ancient drones,        170
Saadi, see! they rise in stature
To the height of mighty Nature,
And the secret stands revealed
Fraudulent Time in vain concealed,—
That blessed gods in servile masks        175
Plied for thee thy household tasks.’ 5
 
Note 1. This poem was first published in the Dial for October, 1842.
  It does not appear in what year Mr. Emerson first read in translation the poems of Saadi, but although in later years he seems to have been strangely stimulated by Hafiz, whom he names “the prince of Persian poets,” yet Saadi was his first love; indeed, he adopted his name, in its various modifications, for the ideal poet, and under it describes his own longings and his most intimate experiences.
  Saadi, guarding himself from entangling alliances, living apart and simply and in the great sunny Present, recognizing living and pervading Deity, affirming only, and giving freedom and joy to human souls, might be Emerson in Oriental mask.
  In whatever form he first came on Saadi’s verse, Mr. Emerson’s letters show that he did not know the Gulistan until 1848, and in that year he wrote in his journal: “In Saadi’s Gulistan I find many traits which comport with the portrait I drew,” evidently referring to this poem, which was first printed in the Dial for October, 1842. It pleased him to find that the real Saadi approached his type of what the poet should be. In 1865 Mr. Emerson wrote the preface to the American edition of Gladwin’s translation of the Gulistan, published by Messrs. Ticknor & Fields, in Boston. This explains the omission of an account of Saadi and his poems in the lecture written soon after on “Persian Poetry,” now included in Letters and Social Aims.
  This paragraph concerning him is from Mr. Emerson’s journal of 1843:—
  “Saadi was long a Sacayi, or water-drawer, in the Holy Land, ‘till found worthy of an introduction to the prophet Khizr (Elias, or the Syrian and Greek Hermes), who moistened his mouth with the water of immortality.’ Somebody doubted this, and saw in a dream a host of angels descending with salvers of glory in their hands. On asking one of them for whom those were intended, he answered, ‘for Shaikh Saadi of Shiraz, who has written a stanza of poetry that has met the approbation of God Almighty.’ Khosraw of Delhi asked Khizr for a mouthful of this inspiring beverage; but he told him that Saadi had got the last of it.
  “‘It was on the coming of Friday in the month Showal, of the Arabian year 690, that the eagle of the immaterial soul of Shaikh Saadi shook from his plumage the dust of his body.’” [back]
Note 2. This reference to the sweet wine of Malaga is a youthful reminiscence. In Mr. Emerson’s obituary notice of his townsman and classmate, John Cheney, he says, “I remember the Malaga from Warland’s” (the Cambridge grocer), which was the Falernian of the Pythologian club, of which he was the Horace, “as more delicious than any wine I have tasted since.” [back]
Note 3. “Life is a bubble and a skepticism…. Grant it, and as much more as they will, but thou, God’s darling, heed thy private dream; thou wilt not be missed in the scorning and skepticism.”—Essays, Second Series, p. 65.
  Mr. George W. Cooke, in his biography, says that Emerson’s Divinity School Address “became the subject of frequent sermons, and the air was full of pamphlets and newspaper articles. The Unitarian ministers debated whether Emerson was a Christian; some said he was not; some that he was an atheist; while others earnestly defended him. By some of the ‘Friends of Progress’ … he was pronounced a pantheist.” [back]
Note 4. Compare the passage in “The Over-Soul,” Essays, First Series, p. 293. [back]
Note 5. The image is much like that in the poem “Days.” [back]
 
 
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