Nonfiction > Verse > Ralph Waldo Emerson > The Complete Works > Poems
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882).  The Complete Works.  1904.
Vol. IX. Poems
I. Poems
BULKELEY, 1 Hunt, Willard, Hosmer, Meriam, Flint,
Possessed the land which rendered to their toil
Hay, corn, roots, hemp, flax, apples, wool and wood. 2
Each of these landlords walked amidst his farm,
Saying, ‘’T is mine, my children’s and my name’s.        5
How sweet the west wind sounds in my own trees!
How graceful climb those shadows on my hill!
I fancy these pure waters and the flags
Know me, as does my dog: we sympathize;
And, I affirm, my actions smack of the soil.’        10
Where are these men? Asleep beneath their grounds:
And strangers, fond as they, their furrows plough.
Earth laughs in flowers, to see her boastful boys
Earth-proud, proud of the earth which is not theirs;
Who steer the plough, but cannot steer their feet        15
Clear of the grave.
They added ridge to valley, brook to pond,
And sighed for all that bounded their domain;
‘This suits me for a pasture; that ’s my park;
We must have clay, lime, gravel, granite-ledge,        20
And misty lowland, where to go for peat.
The land is well,—lies fairly to the south.
’T is good, when you have crossed the sea and back,
To find the sitfast acres where you left them.’
Ah! the hot owner sees not Death, who adds        25
Him to his land, a lump of mould the more.
Hear what the Earth says:—

        ‘Mine and yours;
        Mine, not yours.
        Earth endures;        30
        Stars abide—
        Shine down in the old sea;
        Old are the shores;
        But where are old men?
        I who have seen much,        35
        Such have I never seen.
        ‘The lawyer’s deed
        Ran sure,
        In tail,
        To them, and to their heirs        40
        Who shall succeed,
        Without fail,
        ‘Here is the land,
        Shaggy with wood,        45
        With its old valley,
        Mound and flood.
        But the heritors?—
        Fled like the flood’s foam.
        The lawyer, and the laws,        50
        And the kingdom,
        Clean swept herefrom.
        ‘They called me theirs,
        Who so controlled me;
        Yet every one        55
        Wished to stay, and is gone,
        How am I theirs,
        If they cannot hold me,
        But I hold them?’
      When I heard the Earth-song        60
      I was no longer brave;
      My avarice cooled
      Like lust in the chill of the grave.
Note 1. This poem is a free rendering of a passage in the Vishnu Purana, book IV., an everlasting theme which, by changing the imagery to that which surrounded them, Mr. Emerson made striking to his Concord neighbors. The title Hamatreya is evidently some other version of Maitreya, which occurs in this passage copied from the journal of 1845:—
  “I have now given you a summary account of the sovereigns of the earth.—These and other kings who with perishable frames have possessed this ever-during world, and who, blinded with deceptive notions of individual occupation, have indulged the feeling that suggests ‘This earth is mine,—it is my son’s,—it belongs to my dynasty,’—have all passed away. So, many who reigned before them, many who succeeded them, and many who are yet to come, have ceased or will cease to be. Earth laughs, as if smiling with autumnal flowers to behold her kings unable to effect the subjugation of themselves. I will repeat to you, Maitreya, the stanzas that were chanted by Earth, and which the Muni Asita communicated to Janaka, whose banner was virtue.
  “‘How great is the folly of princes who are endowed with the faculty of reason, to cherish the confidence of ambition when they themselves are but foam upon the wave. Before they have subdued themselves, they seek to reduce their ministers, their servants, their subjects, under their authority; they then endeavor to overcome their foes. “Thus,” say they, “will we conquer the ocean-circled Earth;” and intent upon their project, behold not death, which is not far off. But what mighty matter is the subjugation of the sea-girt Earth, to one who can subdue himself? Emancipation from existence is the fruit of self-control. It is through infatuation that kings desire to possess me, whom their predecessors have been forced to leave, whom their fathers have not retained. Beguiled by the selfish love of sway, fathers contend with their sons, and brothers with brothers, for my possession. Foolishness has been the character of every king who has boasted, “All this earth is mine—everything is mine—it will be in my house forever;”—for he is dead. How is it possible that such vain desires should survive in the hearts of his descendants, who have been their progenitor, absorbed by the thirst of dominion, compelled to relinquish me whom he called his own, and tread the path of dissolution? When I hear a king sending word to another by his ambassador, “This earth is mine; resign your pretensions to it,”—I am at first moved to violent laughter; but it soon subsides in pity for the infatuated fool.’
  “These were the verses, Maitreya, which Earth recited and by listening to which ambition fades away like snow before the sun.” [back]
Note 2. Peter Bulkeley, a minister of Odell in Bedfordshire, a man of learning, piety and substance, was silenced by Archbishop Laud for non-conformity, and with many of his flock moved to New England. In company with Simon Willard, of Kent, a man of experience in trade and in military affairs, he made the first inland settlement on land purchased of the Indians, and called it Concord. One of Mr. Emerson’s ancestors married his daughter. The other names in the first line are those of some of the first settlers. [back]

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