Nonfiction > Verse > Ralph Waldo Emerson > The Complete Works > Poems
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882).  The Complete Works.  1904.
Vol. IX. Poems
V. Appendix
Fragments on Nature and Life. Nature
Drunken with nectar,
Sleeps or feigns slumber,
Drowsily humming
Music to the march of time.        5
This poor tooting, creaking cricket,
Pan, half asleep, rolling over
His great body in the grass,
Tooting, creaking,
Feigns to sleep, sleeping never;        10
’T is his manner,
Well he knows his own affair,
Piling mountain chains of phlegm
On the nervous brain of man,
As he holds down central fires        15
Under Alps and Andes cold;
Haply else we could not live,
Life would be too wild an ode. 1
COME search the wood for flowers,—
Wild tea and wild pea,        20
Grapevine and succory,
And liatris,
Flaunting in their bowers;
Grass with green flag half-mast high,        25
Succory to match the sky,
Columbine with horn of honey,
Scented fern and agrimony;
Forest full of essences
Fit for fairy presences,        30
Peppermint and sassafras,
Sweet fern, mint and vernal grass,
Panax, black birch, sugar maple,
Sweet and scent for Dian’s table,
Elder-blow, sarsaparilla,        35
Wild rose, lily, dry vanilla,—
Spices in the plants that run
To bring their first fruits to the sun.
Earliest heats that follow frore
Nervèd leaf of hellebore,        40
Sweet willow, checkerberry red,
With its savory leaf for bread.
Silver birch and black
With the selfsame spice
Found in polygala root and rind,        45
Sassafras, fern, benzöine,
Mouse-ear, cowslip, wintergreen,
Which by aroma may compel
The frost to spare, what scents so well.
WHERE the fungus broad and red        50
Lifts its head,
Like poisoned loaf of elfin bread,
Where the aster grew
With the social goldenrod,
In a chapel, which the dew        55
Made beautiful for God:—
O what would Nature say?
She spared no speech to-day:
The fungus and the bulrush spoke,
Answered the pine-tree and the oak,        60
The wizard South blew down the glen,
Filled the straits and filled the wide,
Each maple leaf turned up its silver side.
All things shine in his smoky ray,
And all we see are pictures high;        65
Many a high hillside,
While oaks of pride
Climb to their tops,
And boys run out upon their leafy ropes.
The maple street        70
In the houseless wood,
Voices followed after,
Every shrub and grape leaf
Rang with fairy laughter.
I have heard them fall        75
Like the strain of all
King Oberon’s minstrelsy.
Would hear the everlasting
And know the only strong?
You must worship fasting,        80
You must listen long.
Words of the air
Which birds of the air
Carry aloft, below, around,
To the isles of the deep,        85
To the snow-capped steep,
To the thundercloud.
FOR Nature, true and like in every place,
Will hint her secret in a garden patch,
Or in lone corners of a doleful heath,        90
As in the Andes watched by fleets at sea,
Or the sky-piercing horns of Himmaleh;
And, when I would recall the scenes I dreamed
On Adirondac steeps, I know
Small need have I of Turner or Daguerre,        95
Assured to find the token once again
In silver lakes that unexhausted gleam
And peaceful woods beside my cottage door.
WHAT all the books of ages paint, I have.
What prayers and dreams of youthful genius feign,        100
I daily dwell in, and am not so blind
But I can see the elastic tent of day
Belike has wider hospitality
Than my few needs exhaust, and bids me read
The quaint devices on its mornings gay.        105
Yet Nature will not be in full possessed,
And they who truliest love her, heralds are
And harbingers of a majestic race,
Who, having more absorbed, more largely yield,
And walk on earth as the sun walks in the sphere.        110
BUT never yet the man was found
Who could the mystery expound,
Though Adam, born when oaks were young,
Endured, the Bible says, as long;
But when at last the patriarch died        115
The Gordian noose was still untied.
He left, though goodly centuries old,
Meek Nature’s secret still untold.
ATOM from atom yawns as far
As moon from earth, or star from star.        120
WHEN all their blooms the meadows flaunt
  To deck the morning of the year,
Why tinge thy lustres jubilant
  With forecast or with fear?
Teach me your mood, O patient stars!        125
  Who climb each night the ancient sky,
Leaving on space no shade, no scars,
  No trace of age, no fear to die.
THE SUN athwart the cloud thought it no sin
To use my land to put his rainbows in.        130
FOR joy and beauty planted it,
  With faerie gardens cheered,
And boding Fancy haunted it
  With men and women weird.
WHAT central flowing forces, say,        135
Make up thy splendor, matchless day?
DAY by day for her darlings to her much she added more;
In her hundred-gated Thebes every chamber was a door,
A door to something grander,—loftier walls, and vaster floor.
SHE paints with white and red the moors        140
To draw the nations out of doors.
A SCORE of airy miles will smooth
Rough Monadnoc to a gem.
OUR eyeless bark sails free
  Though with boom and spar        145
Andes, Alp or Himmalee,
  Strikes never moon or star. 2
WISP and meteor nightly falling,
But the Stars of God remain.
SEE yonder leafless trees against the sky,
How they diffuse themselves into the air,
And, ever subdividing, separate
Limbs into branches, branches into twigs,
As if they loved the element, and hasted
To dissipate their being into it.        155
PARKS and ponds are good by day;
I do not delight
In black acres of the night,
Nor my unseasoned step disturbs
The sleeps of trees or dreams of herbs.        160
IN Walden wood the chickadee
Runs round the pine and maple tree
Intent on insect slaughter:
O tufted entomologist!
Devour as many as you list,        165
Then drink in Walden water.
THE LOW December vault in June be lifted high,
And largest clouds be flakes of down in that enormous sky.
MANY things the garden shows,
And pleased I stray        170
From tree to tree
Watching the white pear-bloom,
Bee-infested quince or plum.
I could walk days, years, away
Till the slow ripening, secular tree        175
Had reached its fruiting-time,
Nor think it long.
SOLAR insect on the wing
In the garden murmuring,
Soothing with thy summer horn        180
Swains by winter pinched and worn.
DARLINGS of children and of bard,
Perfect kinds by vice unmarred,
All of worth and beauty set
Gems in Nature’s cabinet;        185
These the fables she esteems
Reality most like to dreams.
Welcome back, you little nations,
Far-travelled in the south plantations;
Bring your music and rhythmic flight,        190
Your colors for our eyes’ delight:
Freely nestle in our roof,
Weave your chamber weatherproof;
And your enchanting manners bring
And your autumnal gathering.        195
Exchange in conclave general
Greetings kind to each and all,
Conscious each of duty done
And unstainèd as the sun. 3
THE WATER understands
Civilization well;
It wets my foot, but prettily
It chills my life, but wittily,
It is not disconcerted,
It is not broken-hearted:        205
Well used, it decketh joy,
Adorneth, doubleth joy:
Ill used, it will destroy,
In perfect time and measure
With a face of golden pleasure        210
Elegantly destroy.
ALL day the waves assailed the rock,
  I heard no church-bell chime,
The sea-beat scorns the minster clock
  And breaks the glass of Time. 4        215
WOULD you know what joy is hid
In our green Musketaquid,
And for travelled eyes what charms
Draw us to these meadow farms,
Come and I will show you all        220
Makes each day a festival.
Stand upon this pasture hill,
Face the eastern star until
The slow eye of heaven shall show
The world above, the world below.        225
Behold the miracle!
Thou saw’st but now the twilight sad
And stood beneath the firmament,
A watchman in a dark gray tent,
Waiting till God create the earth,—        230
Behold the new majestic birth!
The mottled clouds, like scraps of wool,
Steeped in the light are beautiful.
What majestic stillness broods
Over these colored solitudes.        235
Sleeps the vast East in pleasèd peace,
Up the far mountain walls the streams increase
Inundating the heaven
With spouting streams and waves of light
Which round the floating isles unite:—        240
See the world below
Baptized with the pure element,
A clear and glorious firmament
Touched with life by every beam.
I share the good with every flower,        245
I drink the nectar of the hour:—
This is not the ancient earth
Whereof old chronicles relate
The tragic tales of crime and fate;
But rather, like its beads of dew        250
And dew-bent violets, fresh and new,
An exhalation of the time. 5
*        *        *        *        *
I LEFT my dreary page and sallied forth,
Received the fair inscriptions of the night;
The moon was making amber of the world,        255
Glittered with silver every cottage pane,
The trees were rich, yet ominous with gloom.
                The meadows broad
From ferns and grapes and from the folded flowers
Sent a nocturnal fragrance; harlot flies        260
Flashed their small fires in air, or held their court
In fairy groves of herds-grass.
HE lives not who can refuse me;
All my force saith, Come and use me:
A gleam of sun, a summer rain,        265
And all the zone is green again.
SEEMS, though the soft sheen all enchants,
Cheers the rough crag and mournful dell,
As if on such stern forms and haunts
A wintry storm more fitly fell.        270
PUT in, drive home the sightless wedges
And split to flakes the crystal ledges.
ILLUSION works impenetrable,
Weaving webs innumerable,
Her gay pictures never fail,        275
Crowds each on other, veil on veil,
Charmer who will be believed
By man who thirsts to be deceived.
ILLUSIONS like the tints of pearl,
Or changing colors of the sky,        280
Or ribbons of a dancing girl
That mend her beauty to the eye.
THE COLD gray down upon the quinces lieth
And the poor spinners weave their webs thereon
To share the sunshine that so spicy is.        285
SAMSON stark, at Dagon’s knee,
Gropes for columns strong as he;
When his ringlets grew and curled,
Groped for axle of the world.
BUT Nature whistled with all her winds,        290
Did as she pleased and went her way. 6
Note 1. In the leading essay in Natural History of Intellect is this passage on the Greek symbolizing of Nature in the god Pan:—
  “Pan, that is, All. His habit was to dwell in mountains, lying on the ground, tooting like a cricket in the sun, refusing to speak, clinging to his behemoth ways. He could intoxicate by the strain of his shepherd’s pipe,—silent yet to most, for his pipes make the music of the spheres, which, because it sounds eternally, is not heard at all by the dull, but only by the mind. He wears a coat of leopard spots or stars. He could terrify by earth-born fears called panics. Yet was he in the secret of Nature and could look both before and after. He was only seen under disguises, and was not represented by any outward image; a terror sometimes, at others a placid omnipotence.” [back]
Note 2. This was originally in the rough draft of Monadnoc, in which is the image,—
  Of the bullet of the earth
Whereon ye sail, etc.
Note 3. Another version of a passage in “May-Day.”
  This little note in praise of the animal creation is from one of the verse-books:—
  See how Romance adheres
To the deer, the lion,
And every bird,
Because they are free
And have no master but Law.
On the wild ice in depths of sea,
On Alp or Andes side,
In the vast abyss of air,
The bird, the flying cloud,
The fire, the wind, the element,—
These have not manners coarse or cowed,
And no borrowed will,
But graceful as cloud and flame
All eyes with pleasure fill.
Note 4. Journal, 1853. “At Nahant the eternal play of the sea seems the anti-clock, or destroyer of the memory of time.” [back]
Note 5. These verses were probably written while Mr. Emerson was visiting Dr. Ezra Ripley (his step- grandfather, always kind and hospitable) at the Manse, after his return from Europe in 1833. Opposite the house is a pasture-hill giving a fine view of the great meadows to the eastward, and, on the western horizon, of some of the mountains on the New Hampshire line. [back]
Note 6. Journal, 1860. “We can’t make half a bow and say, I honor and despise you. But Nature can: she whistles with all her winds and—does as she pleases.” [back]

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