Nonfiction > Verse > Ralph Waldo Emerson > The Complete Works > Poems
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882).  The Complete Works.  1904.
Vol. IX. Poems
VI. Poems of Youth and Early Manhood (1823–1834)
AH 1 Fate, cannot a man
  Be wise without a beard?
East, West, from Beer to Dan,
  Say, was it never heard
That wisdom might in youth be gotten,        5
Or wit be ripe before ’t was rotten?
He pays too high a price
  For knowledge and for fame
Who sells his sinews to be wise,
  His teeth and bones to buy a name,        10
And crawls through life a paralytic
To earn the praise of bard and critic.
Were it not better done,
  To dine and sleep through forty years;
Be loved by few; be feared by none;        15
  Laugh life away; have wine for tears;
And take the mortal leap undaunted,
Content that all we asked was granted?
But Fate will not permit
  The seed of gods to die,        20
Nor suffer sense to win from wit
  Its guerdon in the sky,
Nor let us hide, whate’er our pleasure,
The world’s light underneath a measure.
Go then, sad youth, and shine;        25
  Go, sacrifice to Fame;
Put youth, joy, health upon the shrine,
  And life to fan the flame;
Being for Seeming bravely barter
And die to Fame a happy martyr.

Note 1. This bit of youthful irony on a theme which, even in college, its author often wrote upon, “Being and Seeming,” was very possibly playfully addressed to one of his brothers, or, it may be, to himself. [back]

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