Nonfiction > Verse > Ralph Waldo Emerson > The Complete Works > Poems
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882).  The Complete Works.  1904.
Vol. IX. Poems
I. Poems
THAT 1 you are fair or wise is vain,
Or strong, or rich, or generous;
You must add the untaught strain
That sheds beauty on the rose.
There ’s a melody born of melody,        5
Which melts the world into a sea.
Toil could never compass it;
Art its height could never hit;
It came never out of wit;
But a music music-born        10
Well may Jove and Juno scorn.
Thy beauty, if it lack the fire
Which drives me mad with sweet desire,
What boots it? What the soldier’s mail,
Unless he conquer and prevail?        15
What all the goods thy pride which lift,
If thou pine for another’s gift?
Alas! that one is born in blight,
Victim of perpetual slight:
When thou lookest on his face,        20
Thy heart saith, ‘Brother, go thy ways!
None shall ask thee what thou doest,
Or care a rush for what thou knowest,
Or listen when thou repliest,
Or remember where thou liest,        25
Or how thy supper is sodden;’
And another is born
To make the sun forgotten. 2
Surely he carries a talisman
Under his tongue;        30
Broad his shoulders are and strong;
And his eye is scornful,
Threatening and young.
I hold it of little matter
Whether your jewel be of pure water,        35
A rose diamond or a white,
But whether it dazzle me with light.
I care not how you are dressed,
In coarsest weeds or in the best;
Nor whether your name is base or brave:        40
Nor for the fashion of your behavior;
But whether you charm me,
Bid my bread feed and my fire warm me
And dress up Nature in your favor. 3
One thing is forever good;        45
That one thing is Success,—
Dear to the Eumenides,
And to all the heavenly brood.
Who bides at home, nor looks abroad,
Carries the eagles, and masters the sword. 4        50
Note 1. This poem, under the name of “Fate,” appeared in the Dial, in October, 1841. [back]
Note 2. Dr. Holmes, in his chapter on Emerson’s Poems, says of the passage beginning—
  Alas! that one is born in blight,—
“If in the flights of his imagination he is like the strong-winged bird of passage, in his exquisite choice of descriptive epithets he reminds me of the tenui-rostrals. His subtle selective instinct penetrates the vocabulary for the one word he wants, as the long slender bill of those birds dives deep into the flower for its drop of honey. Here is a passage showing admirably the two different conditions: wings closed and the selective instinct picking out its descriptive expressions; then suddenly wings flashing open and the imagination in the firmament, where it is always at home. Follow the pitiful inventory of insignificances of the forlorn being he describes with a pathetic humor more likely to bring a sigh than a smile, and then mark the grand hyperbole of the last two lines.” [back]
Note 3. “The astronomers are very eager to know whether the moon has an atmosphere: I am only concerned that every man have one.”—“Aristocracy,” Lectures and Biographical Sketches. [back]
Note 4. In Mr. Emerson’s essays or poems a higher note is almost always struck at the end, and here in the last two lines is a good word reserved, if he can but find it, for the “victim of perpetual slight.” [back]

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