Nonfiction > Verse > Ralph Waldo Emerson > The Complete Works > Poems
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882).  The Complete Works.  1904.
Vol. IX. Poems
IV. Quatrains and Translations
NEVER 1 did sculptor’s dream unfold
A form which marble doth not hold
In its white block; yet it therein shall find
Only the hand secure and bold
Which still obeys the mind.        5
So hide in thee, thou heavenly dame,
The ill I shun, the good I claim;
I alas! not well alive,
Miss the aim whereto I strive.
Not love, nor beauty’s pride,        10
Nor Fortune, nor thy coldness, can I chide,
If, whilst within thy heart abide
Both death and pity, my unequal skill
Fails of the life, but draws the death and ill.
IN Farsistan the violet spreads
Its leaves to the rival sky;
I ask how far is the Tigris flood,
And the vine that grows thereby?
Except the amber morning wind,
Not one salutes me here;        20
There is no lover in all Bagdat
To offer the exile cheer.
I know that thou, O morning wind!
O’er Kernan’s meadow blowest,
And thou, heart-warming nightingale!        25
My father’s orchard knowest.
The merchant hath stuffs of price,
And gems from the sea-washed strand,
And princes offer me grace
To stay in the Syrian land;        30
But what is gold for, but for gifts?
And dark, without love, is the day;
And all that I see in Bagdat
Is the Tigris to float me away.
I SAID to heaven that glowed above,
O hide yon sun-filled zone,
Hide all the stars you boast;
For, in the world of love
And estimation true,
The heaped-up harvest of the moon        40
Is worth one barley-corn at most,
The Pleiads’ sheaf but two.
IF my darling should depart,
And search the skies for prouder friends,
God forbid my angry heart        45
In other love should seek amends.
When the blue horizon’s hoop
Me a little pinches here,
Instant to my grave I stoop,
And go find thee in the sphere.        50
BETHINK, poor heart, what bitter kind of jest
Mad Destiny this tender stripling played;
For a warm breast of maiden to his breast,
She laid a slab of marble on his head.
THEY say, through patience, chalk        55
Becomes a ruby stone;
Ah, yes! but by the true heart’s blood
The chalk is crimson grown.
THOU foolish Hafiz! Say, do churls
Know the worth of Oman’s pearls?        60
Give the gem which dims the moon
To the noblest, or to none. 2
DEAREST, where thy shadow falls,
Beauty sits and Music calls;
Where thy form and favor come,        65
All good creatures have their home.
ON prince or bride no diamond stone
Half so gracious ever shone,
As the light of enterprise
Beaming from a young man’s eyes.        70
EACH spot where tulips prank their state
Has drunk the life-blood of the great;
The violets yon field which stain
Are moles of beauties Time hath slain.
UNBAR the door, since thou the Opener art,        75
Show me the forward way, since thou art guide,
I put no faith in pilot or in chart,
Since they are transient, and thou dost abide.
HE who has a thousand friends has not a friend to spare,
And he who has one enemy will meet him everywhere.        80
ON two days it steads not to run from thy grave,
The appointed, and the unappointed day;
On the first, neither balm nor physician can save,
Nor thee, on the second, the Universe slay.
TWO things thou shalt not long for, if thou love a mind serene;—
A woman to thy wife, though she were a crowned queen;
And the second, borrowed money,—though the smiling lender say
That he will not demand the debt until the Judgment Day.
HARK what, now loud, now low, the pining flute complains,
Without tongue, yellow-cheeked, full of winds that wail and sigh;        90
Saying, Sweetheart! the old mystery remains,—
If I am I; thou, thou; or thou art I?
THY foes to hunt, thy enviers to strike down,
Poises Arcturus aloft morning and evening his spear.
NOT in their houses stand the stars,
But o’er the pinnacles of thine!
FROM thy worth and weight the stars gravitate,
And the equipoise of heaven is thy house’s equipoise.

        [Among the religious customs of the dervishes is an astronomical dance, in which the dervish imitates the movements of the heavenly bodies, by spinning on his own axis, whilst at the same time he revolves round the Sheikh in the centre, representing the sun; and, as he spins, he sings the Song of Seyd Nimetollah of Kuhistan.]

SPIN the ball! I reel, I burn,
Nor head from foot can I discern,        100
Nor my heart from love of mine,
Nor the wine-cup from the wine.
All my doing, all my leaving,
Reaches not to my perceiving;
Lost in whirling spheres I rove,        105
And know only that I love.
  I am seeker of the stone,
Living gem of Solomon;
From the shore of souls arrived,
In the sea of sense I dived;        110
But what is land, or what is wave,
To me who only jewels crave?
Love is the air-fed fire intense,
And my heart the frankincense;
As the rich aloes flames, I glow,        115
Yet the censer cannot know.
I’m all-knowing, yet unknowing;
Stand not, pause not, in my going.
  Ask not me, as Muftis can,
To recite the Alcoran;        120
Well I love the meaning sweet,—
I tread the book beneath my feet.
  Lo! the God’s love blazes higher,
Till all difference expire.
What are Moslems? what are Giaours?        125
All are Love’s, and all are ours.
I embrace the true believers,
But I reck not of deceivers.
Firm to Heaven my bosom clings,
Heedless of inferior things;        130
Down on earth there, underfoot,
What men chatter know I not.
Note 1. Among the poems in his first volume, Mr. Emerson placed two translations from Hafiz, through the German, of course, less pleasing than those here given. These were omitted by him from the Selected Poems, and by Mr. Cabot in the Riverside Edition. They are not restored here, because of their length and because the space is needed for restored and early poems, and interesting fragments. In his preface to the American edition of Saadi’s Gulistan, translated by Gladwin, are some of Mr. Emerson’s translations of Persian poetry, and also in the essay on that subject in Letters and Social Aims. [back]
Note 2. Mr. Joel Benton [Emerson as a Poet. By Joel Benton. New York: M. L. Holbrook & Co., 1883.], writing of the quatrains and the translations which follow, and comparing the quatrain “Hafiz” with this rendering, well says,—
  “If the translation here seems (as it evidently does) a little more like Emerson than it does like Hafiz, the balance is more than preserved by his steeping his own original quatrain in a little tincture of the wine and spirit of Oriental thought. When he translated Hafiz, he was probably thinking of his own workmanship; when he described him, he was simply absorbed in the milieu of the Persian poet.”
  Mr. Benton says also, “What Goethe says of the Spanish poet Calderon (I quote Lord Houghton’s forcible translation) serves equally well if you substitute for his name Emerson’s:—
  “‘Many a light the Orient throws
O’er the midland waters brought;
He alone who Hafiz knows
Knows what Calderon has thought.’”
  This suggests that it very likely was Goethe who drew Emerson’s attention to Hafiz. [back]

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