Nonfiction > Verse > Ralph Waldo Emerson > The Complete Works > Poems
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Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882).  The Complete Works.  1904.
Vol. IX. Poems
 
I. Poems
Blight
 
                GIVE 1 me truths;
For I am weary of the surfaces,
And die of inanition. If I knew
Only the herbs and simples of the wood,
Rue, cinquefoil, gill, vervain and agrimony,        5
Blue-vetch and trillium, hawkweed, sassafras,
Milkweeds and murky brakes, quaint pipes and sun-dew,
And rare and virtuous roots, which in these woods
Draw untold juices from the common earth,
Untold, unknown, and I could surely spell        10
Their fragrance, and their chemistry apply
By sweet affinities to human flesh,
Driving the foe and stablishing the friend,—
O, that were much, and I could be a part
Of the round day, related to the sun        15
And planted world, and full executor
Of their imperfect functions. 2
But these young scholars, who invade our hills,
Bold as the engineer who fells the wood,
And travelling often in the cut he makes,        20
Love not the flower they pluck, and know it not,
And all their botany is Latin names.
The old men studied magic in the flowers,
And human fortunes in astronomy,
And an omnipotence in chemistry,        25
Preferring things to names, for these were men,
Were unitarians of the united world,
And, wheresoever their clear eye-beams fell,
They caught the footsteps of the SAME. 3 Our eyes
Are armed, but we are strangers to the stars,        30
And strangers to the mystic beast and bird,
And strangers to the plant and to the mine.
The injured elements say, ‘Not in us;’
And night and day, ocean and continent,
Fire, plant and mineral say, ‘Not in us;’        35
And haughtily return us stare for stare. 4
For we invade them impiously for gain;
We devastate them unreligiously,
And coldly ask their pottage, not their love.
Therefore they shove us from them, yield to us        40
Only what to our griping toil is due;
But the sweet affluence of love and song,
The rich results of the divine consents
Of man and earth, of world beloved and lover,
The nectar and ambrosia, are withheld;        45
And in the midst of spoils and slaves, we thieves
And pirates of the universe, shut out
Daily to a more thin and outward rind,
Turn pale and starve. Therefore, to our sick eyes,
The stunted trees look sick, the summer short,        50
Clouds shade the sun, which will not tan our hay,
And nothing thrives to reach its natural term;
And life, shorn of its venerable length,
Even at its greatest space is a defeat,
And dies in anger that it was a dupe;        55
And, in its highest noon and wantonness,
Is early frugal, like a beggar’s child;
Even in the hot pursuit of the best aims
And prizes of ambition, checks its hand,
Like Alpine cataracts frozen as they leaped,        60
Chilled with a miserly comparison
Of the toy’s purchase with the length of life.
 
Note 1. This poem was written in midsummer of 1843. Under the name of “The Times” it was printed in the Dial for January of the next year. The latter portion of the poem suggests “Alphonso of Castile.” [back]
Note 2. “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 3. The teaching of Xenophanes and the Eleatic School. [back]
Note 4. A similar passage is found in the “Lecture on the Times,” Nature, Addresses and Lectures, pp. 287, 288. [back]
 
 
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