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. Life
A TRAIN of gay and clouded days
Dappled with joy and grief and praise,
Beauty to fire us, saints to save,
Escort us to a little grave.
No fate, save by the victim’s fault, is low,        5
For God hath writ all dooms magnificent,
So guilt not traverses his tender will.
AROUND the man who seeks a noble end,
Not angels but divinities attend. 1
FROM high to higher forces        10
  The scale of power uprears,
The heroes on their horses,
  The gods upon their spheres.
THIS shining moment is an edifice
Which the Omnipotent cannot rebuild.        15
ROOMY Eternity
Casts her schemes rarely,
And an æon allows
For each quality and part
Of the multitudinous        20
And many-chambered heart.
THE BEGGAR begs by God’s command,
And gifts awake when givers sleep,
Swords cannot cut the giving hand
Nor stab the love that orphans keep.        25
IN the chamber, on the stairs,
  Lurking dumb,
  Go and come
Lemurs and Lars. 2
SUCH another peerless queen        30
Only could her mirror show.
EASY to match what others do,
Perform the feat as well as they;
Hard to out-do the brave, the true,
And find a loftier way:        35
The school decays, the learning spoils
Because of the sons of wine;
How snatch the stripling from their toils?—
Yet can one ray of truth divine
The blaze of revellers’ feasts outshine.        40
OF all wit’s uses the main one
Is to live well with who has none.
THE TONGUE is prone to lose the way,
  Not so the pen, for in a letter
We have not better things to say,        45
  But surely say them better. 3
SHE walked in flowers around my field
As June herself around the sphere.
FRIENDS to me are frozen wine;
I wait the sun on them should shine. 4        50
YOU shall not love me for what daily spends;
You shall not know me in the noisy street,
Where I, as others, follow petty ends;
Nor when in fair saloons we chance to meet;
Nor when I’m jaded, sick, anxious or mean.        55
But love me then and only, when you know
Me for the channel of the rivers of God
From deep ideal fontal heavens that flow.
To and fro the Genius flies,
  A light which plays and hovers        60
  Over the maiden’s head
And dips sometimes as low as to her eyes.
Of her faults I take no note,
  Fault and folly are not mine;
Comes the Genius,—all ’s forgot,        65
Replunged again into that upper sphere
He scatters wide and wild its lustres here. 5
Asks nought his brother cannot give;
Asks nothing, but does all receive.        70
Love calls not to his aid events;
He to his wants can well suffice:
Asks not of others soft consents,
Nor kind occasion without eyes;
Nor plots to ope or bolt a gate,        75
Nor heeds Condition’s iron walls,—
Where he goes, goes before him Fate;
Whom he uniteth, God installs;
Instant and perfect his access
To the dear object of his thought,        80
Though foes and land and seas between
Himself and his love intervene. 6
THE BRAVE Empedocles, defying fools,
Pronounced the word that mortals hate to hear—
“I am divine, I am not mortal made;        85
I am superior to my human weeds.”
Not Sense but Reason is the Judge of truth;
Reason ’s twofold, part human, part divine;
That human part may be described and taught,
The other portion language cannot speak. 7        90
TELL men what they knew before;
Paint the prospect from their door.
HIM strong Genius urged to roam,
Stronger Custom brought him home.
THAT each should in his house abide,        95
Therefore was the world so wide.
THOU shalt make thy house
The temple of a nation’s vows.
Spirits of a higher strain
Who sought thee once shall seek again.        100
I detected many a god
Forth already on the road,
Ancestors of beauty come
In thy breast to make a home.
THE ARCHANGEL Hope        105
Looks to the azure cope,
Waits through dark ages for the morn,
Defeated day by day, but unto victory born.
As the drop feeds its fated flower,
As finds its Alp the snowy shower,        110
Child of the omnific Need,
Hurled into life to do a deed,
Man drinks the water, drinks the light.
EVER the Rock of Ages melts
  Into the mineral air,        115
To be the quarry whence to build
  Thought and its mansions fair.
GO if thou wilt, ambrosial flower,
  Go match thee with thy seeming peers;
I will wait Heaven’s perfect hour        120
Through the innumerable years.
YES, sometimes to the sorrow-stricken
Shall his own sorrow seem impertinent,
A thing that takes no more root in the world
Than doth the traveller’s shadow on the rock.        125
BUT if thou do thy best,
Without remission, without rest,
And invite the sunbeam,
And abhor to feign or seem
Even to those who thee should love        130
And thy behavior approve;
If thou go in thine own likeness,
Be it health, or be it sickness;
If thou go as thy father’s son.
If thou wear no mask or lie,        135
Dealing purely and nakedly,—
*        *        *        *        *
ASCENDING thorough just degrees
To a consummate holiness,
As angel blind to trespass done,
And bleaching all souls like the sun.        140
FROM the stores of eldest matter,
The deep-eyed flame, obedient water,
Transparent air, all-feeding earth,
He took the flower of all their worth,
And, best with best in sweet consent,        145
Combined a new temperament.
THE BARD and mystic held me for their own,
I filled the dream of sad, poetic maids,
I took the friendly noble by the hand,
I was the trustee of the hand-cart man,        150
The brother of the fisher, porter, swain,
And these from the crowd’s edge well pleased beheld
The service done to me as done to them. 8
WITH the key of the secret he marches faster,
  From strength to strength, and for night brings day;        155
While classes or tribes, too weak to master
  The flowing conditions of life, give way.
WILT thou seal up the avenues of ill?
Pay every debt as if God wrote the bill.
IF curses be the wage of love,        160
Hide in thy skies, thou fruitless Jove,
    Not to be named:
    It is clear
  Why the gods will not appear;
    They are ashamed.        165
WHEN wrath and terror changed Jove’s regal port,
And the rash-leaping thunderbolt fell short.
SHUN passion, fold the hands of thrift,
  Sit still and Truth is near:
Suddenly it will uplift        170
  Your eyelids to the sphere:
Wait a little, you shall see
The portraiture of things to be.
THE RULES to men made evident
By Him who built the day,        175
The columns of the firmament
Not firmer based than they.
ON bravely through the sunshine and the showers!
Time hath his work to do and we have ours.
Note 1. See the Address to the Divinity Students (Nature, Addresses and Lectures, p. 124). [back]
Note 2. The Lemures were the household ghosts, and the Lares the household divinities of the Latins. [back]
Note 3. See “Friendship” (Essays, First Series, pp. 191, 211). [back]
Note 4. The same thought is in the poem “Rubies.” [back]
Note 5. The first four lines are in “The Dæmonic Love.” [back]
Note 6. These verses are written in the older verse-book on the same page with “Eros.” [back]
Note 7. “Statements of the infinite are usually felt to be unjust to the finite, and blasphemous. Empedocles undoubtedly spoke a truth of thought, when he said, ‘I am God;’ but the moment it was out of his mouth it became a lie to the ear; and the world revenged itself for the seeming arrogance by the good story about his shoe” (“The Method of Nature,” Nature, Addresses and Lectures, p. 198). See also Conduct of Life, p. 26. Empedocles, the common people believed, threw himself into the crater of Mount Ætna that no trace of his death might appear, and it be supposed that he was translated. Hence, when the volcano cast up his brazen sandal, they were pleased. [back]
Note 8. In the verse-book, Mr. Emerson gives to these lines the title “Rex,” but “The Related Man” might have been better. He delighted in such, as much when he observed them (not, however, filling the dream of high, poetic maids, or consorting with bards and mystics) in the grocery, or insurance-office of the village, as when he saw the master minds of the growing Republic in cities, East or West. [back]

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