Nonfiction > Verse > Ralph Waldo Emerson > The Complete Works > Poems
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882).  The Complete Works.  1904.
Vol. IX. Poems
I. Poems
Woodnotes II
As 1 sunbeams stream through liberal space
And nothing jostle or displace,
So waved the pine-tree through my thought
And fanned the dreams it never brought.
‘Whether is better, the gift or the donor?        5
Come to me,’
Quoth the pine-tree,
‘I am the giver of honor.
My garden is the cloven rock,
And my manure the snow;        10
And drifting sand-heaps feed my stock,
In summer’s scorching glow. 2
He is great who can live by me:
The rough and bearded forester
Is better than the lord;        15
God fills the scrip and canister,
Sin piles the loaded board.
The lord is the peasant that was,
The peasant the lord that shall be;
The lord is hay, the peasant grass,        20
One dry, and one the living tree. 3
Who liveth by the ragged pine
Foundeth a heroic line;
Who liveth in the palace hall
Waneth fast and spendeth all.        25
He goes to my savage haunts,
With his chariot and his care;
My twilight realm he disenchants,
And finds his prison there.
‘What prizes the town and the tower?        30
Only what the pine-tree yields;
Sinew that subdued the fields;
The wild-eyed boy, who in the woods
Chants his hymn to hills and floods,
Whom the city’s poisoning spleen        35
Made not pale, or fat, or lean;
Whom the rain and the wind purgeth,
Whom the dawn and the day-star urgeth,
In whose cheek the rose-leaf blusheth,
In whose feet the lion rusheth,        40
Iron arms, and iron mould,
That know not fear, fatigue, or cold.
I give my rafters to his boat,
My billets to his boiler’s throat,
And I will swim the ancient sea        45
To float my child to victory,
And grant to dwellers with the pine
Dominion o’er the palm and vine.
Who leaves the pine-tree, leaves his friend,
Unnerves his strength, invites his end.        50
Cut a bough from my parent stem,
And dip it in thy porcelain vase;
A little while each russet gem
Will swell and rise with wonted grace;
But when it seeks enlarged supplies,        55
The orphan of the forest dies.
Whoso walks in solitude
And inhabiteth the wood,
Choosing light, wave, rock and bird,
Before the money-loving herd,        60
Into that forester shall pass,
From these companions, power and grace. 4
Clean shall he be, without, within,
From the old adhering sin,
All ill dissolving in the light        65
Of his triumphant piercing sight:
Not vain, sour, nor frivolous;
Not mad, athirst, nor garrulous;
Grave, chaste, contented, though retired,
And of all other men desired.        70
On him the light of star and moon
Shall fall with purer radiance down;
All constellations of the sky
Shed their virtue through his eye.
Him Nature giveth for defence        75
His formidable innocence;
The mounting sap, the shells, the sea,
All spheres, all stones, his helpers be;
He shall meet the speeding year,
Without wailing, without fear;        80
He shall be happy in his love,
Like to like shall joyful prove;
He shall be happy whilst he wooes,
Muse-born, a daughter of the Muse.
But if with gold she bind her hair,        85
And deck her breast with diamond,
Take off thine eyes, thy heart forbear,
Though thou lie alone on the ground.
‘Heed the old oracles,
Ponder my spells;        90
Song wakes in my pinnacles
When the wind swells.
Soundeth the prophetic wind,
The shadows shake on the rock behind,
And the countless leaves of the pine are strings        95
Tuned to the lay the wood-god sings.
    Hearken! Hearken!
If thou wouldst know the mystic song
Chanted when the sphere was young.
Aloft, abroad, the pæan swells;        100
O wise man! hear’st thou half it tells?
O wise man! hear’st thou the least part?
’T is the chronicle of art.
To the open ear it sings
Sweet the genesis of things, 5        105
Of tendency through endless ages,
Of star-dust, and star-pilgrimages,
Of rounded worlds, of space and time,
Of the old flood’s subsiding slime,
Of chemic matter, force and form,        110
Of poles and powers, cold, wet, and warm:
The rushing metamorphosis
Dissolving all that fixture is,
Melts things that be to things that seem,
And solid nature to a dream. 6        115
O, listen to the undersong,
The ever old, the ever young;
And, far within those cadent pauses,
The chorus of the ancient Causes!
Delights the dreadful Destiny        120
To fling his voice into the tree,
And shock thy weak ear with a note
Breathed from the everlasting throat.
In music he repeats the pang
Whence the fair flock of Nature sprang.        125
O mortal! thy ears are stones;
These echoes are laden with tones
Which only the pure can hear;
Thou canst not catch what they recite
Of Fate and Will, of Want and Right,        130
Of man to come, of human life,
Of Death and Fortune, Growth and Strife.’
  Once again the pine-tree sung:—
‘Speak not thy speech my boughs among:
Put off thy years, wash in the breeze;        135
My hours are peaceful centuries.
Talk no more with feeble tongue;
No more the fool of space and time,
Come weave with mine a nobler rhyme.
Only thy Americans        140
Can read thy line, can meet thy glance,
But the runes that I rehearse
Understands the universe;
The least breath my boughs which tossed
Brings again the Pentecost;        145
To every soul resounding clear
In a voice of solemn cheer,—
“Am I not thine? Are not these thine?”
And they reply, “Forever mine!”
My branches speak Italian,        150
English, German, Basque, Castilian,
Mountain speech to Highlanders,
Ocean tongues to islanders,
To Fin and Lap and swart Malay,
To each his bosom-secret say.        155
  ‘Come learn with me the fatal song
Which knits the world in music strong,
Come lift thine eyes to lofty rhymes,
Of things with things, of times with times,
Primal chimes of sun and shade,        160
Of sound and echo, man and maid,
The land reflected in the flood,
Body with shadow still pursued. 7
For Nature beats in perfect tune,
And rounds with rhyme her every rune,        165
Whether she work in land or sea,
Or hide underground her alchemy.
Thou canst not wave thy staff in air,
Or dip thy paddle in the lake,
But it carves the bow of beauty there,        170
And the ripples in rhymes the oar forsake. 8
The wood is wiser far than thou;
The wood and wave each other know
Not unrelated, unaffied,
But to each thought and thing allied,        175
Is perfect Nature’s every part,
Rooted in the mighty Heart.
But thou, poor child! unbound, unrhymed,
Whence camest thou, misplaced, mistimed,
Whence, O thou orphan and defrauded?        180
Is thy land peeled, thy realm marauded?
Who thee divorced, deceived and left?
Thee of thy faith who hath bereft,
And torn the ensigns from thy brow,
And sunk the immortal eye so low?        185
Thy cheek too white, thy form too slender,
Thy gait too slow, thy habits tender
For royal man;—they thee confess
An exile from the wilderness,—
The hills where health with health agrees,        190
And the wise soul expels disease.
Hark! in thy ear I will tell the sign
By which thy hurt thou may’st divine.
When thou shalt climb the mountain cliff,
Or see the wide shore from thy skiff,        195
To thee the horizon shall express
But emptiness on emptiness;
There lives no man of Nature’s worth
In the circle of the earth;
And to thine eye the vast skies fall,        200
Dire and satirical,
On clucking hens and prating fools,
On thieves, on drudges and on dolls.
And thou shalt say to the Most High,
“Godhead! all this astronomy,        205
And fate and practice and invention,
Strong art and beautiful pretension,
This radiant pomp of sun and star,
Throes that were, and worlds that are,
Behold! were in vain and in vain;— 9        210
It cannot be,—I will look again.
Surely now will the curtain rise,
And earth’s fit tenant me surprise;—
But the curtain doth not rise,
And Nature has miscarried wholly        215
Into failure, into folly.”
‘Alas! thine is the bankruptcy,
Blessed Nature so to see.
Come, lay thee in my soothing shade,
And heal the hurts which sin has made.        220
I see thee in the crowd alone;
I will be thy companion.
Quit thy friends as the dead in doom,
And build to them a final tomb;
Let the starred shade that nightly falls        225
Still celebrate their funerals,
And the bell of beetle and of bee
Knell their melodious memory.
Behind thee leave thy merchandise,
Thy churches and thy charities;        230
And leave thy peacock wit behind;
Enough for thee the primal mind
That flows in streams, that breathes in wind:
Leave all thy pedant lore apart;
God hid the whole world in thy heart.        235
Love shuns the sage, the child it crowns,
Gives all to them who all renounce.
The rain comes when the wind calls;
The river knows the way to the sea;
Without a pilot it runs and falls,        240
Blessing all lands with its charity;
The sea tosses and foams to find
Its way up to the cloud and wind;
The shadow sits close to the flying ball;
The date fails not on the palm-tree tall;        245
And thou,—go burn thy wormy pages,—
Shalt outsee seers, and outwit sages.
Oft didst thou thread the woods in vain
To find what bird had piped the strain:—
Seek not, and the little eremite        250
Flies gayly forth and sings in sight.
‘Hearken once more!
I will tell thee the mundane lore.
Older am I than thy numbers wot,
Change I may, but I pass not.        255
Hitherto all things fast abide,
And anchored in the tempest ride.
Trenchant time behoves to hurry
All to yean and all to bury:
All the forms are fugitive,        260
But the substances survive.
Ever fresh the broad creation,
A divine improvisation,
From the heart of God proceeds,
A single will, a million deeds.        265
Once slept the world an egg of stone,
And pulse, and sound, and light was none;
And God said, “Throb!” and there was motion
And the vast mass became vast ocean.
Onward and on, the eternal Pan,        270
Who layeth the world’s incessant plan,
Halteth never in one shape,
But forever doth escape,
Like wave or flame, into new forms
Of gem, and air, of plants, and worms.        275
I, that to-day am a pine,
Yesterday was a bundle of grass.
He is free and libertine,
Pouring of his power the wine
To every age, to every race;        280
Unto every race and age
He emptieth the beverage;
Unto each, and unto all,
Maker and original.
The world is the ring of his spells,        285
And the play of his miracles.
As he giveth to all to drink,
Thus or thus they are and think.
With one drop sheds form and feature;
With the next a special nature;        290
The third adds heat’s indulgent spark;
The fourth gives light which eats the dark;
Into the fifth himself he flings,
And conscious Law is King of kings. 10
As the bee through the garden ranges,        295
From world to world the godhead changes;
As the sheep go feeding in the waste,
From form to form He maketh haste;
This vault which glows immense with light
Is the inn where he lodges for a night.        300
What recks such Traveller if the bowers
Which bloom and fade like meadow flowers
A bunch of fragrant lilies be,
Or the stars of eternity?
Alike to him the better, the worse,—        305
The glowing angel, the outcast corse.
Thou metest him by centuries,
And lo! he passes like the breeze;
Thou seek’st in globe and galaxy,
He hides in pure transparency;        310
Thou askest in fountains and in fires,
He is the essence that inquires.
He is the axis of the star;
He is the sparkle of the spar;
He is the heart of every creature;        315
He is the meaning of each feature;
And his mind is the sky.
Than all it holds more deep, more high.’
Note 1. The second portion of this poem appeared first in the Dial for October, 1841.
  The stately white pine of New England was Emerson’s favorite tree; hence the graceful drawing by Mrs. Alice Stone which adorns the title-page of these volumes. This poem records the actual fact; nearly every day, summer or winter, when at home, he went to listen to its song. The pine grove by Walden, still standing, though injured by time and fire, was one of his most valued possessions. He questioned whether he should not name his book Forest Essays, for, he said, “I have scarce a day-dream on which the breath of the pines has not blown and their shadow waved.” The great pine on the ridge over Sleepy Hollow was chosen by him as his monument. When a youth, in Newton, he had written, “Here sit Mother and I under the pine-trees, still almost as we shall lie by and by under them.” [back]
Note 2. Here followed, in the original form, these lines:—
  Ancient or curious,
Who knoweth aught of us?
Old as Jove,
Old as Love,
Who of me
Tells the pedigree?
Only the mountains old,
Only the waters cold,
Only moon and star
My coævals are.
Ere the first fowl sung
My relenting boughs among;
Ere Adam wived,
Ere Adam lived,
Ere the duck dived,
Ere the bees hived,
Ere the lion roared,
Ere the eagle soared,
Light and heat, land and sea
Spake unto the oldest tree.
Glad in the sweet and secret aid
Which matter unto matter paid,
The water flowed, the breezes fanned,
The tree confined the roving sand,
The sunbeam gave me to the sight,
The tree adorned the formless light;
And once again
O’er the grave of men
We shall talk to each other again
Of the old age behind,
Of the time out of mind,
Which shall come again.
Note 3. “The city would have died out, rotted and exploded, long ago, but that it was reinforced from the fields. It is only country which came to town day before yesterday that is city and court to-day.”—“Manners,” Essays, Second Series. [back]
Note 4. “Those that live in solitary places are the saviours of themselves, so far as respects human causes.”—Plotinus. [back]
Note 5. Mr. Emerson’s delight in the nebular hypothesis, and evolution, as far as it had then been surmised, appears again and again in his poems. Poetry and the philosophy of the ancient writers had prepared him for the latter belief, and the living Nature in his daily walks confirmed it.
  Tyndall spoke of Emerson as “a profoundly religious man who is really and entirely undaunted by the discoveries of science, present, past or prospective; one by whom scientific conceptions are continually transmuted into the finer forms and warmer hues of an ideal world.” [back]
Note 6. The fable of Proteus, Heracleitus’s doctrine of the Flowing, and the modern teaching of the correlation and conservation of force, Mr. Emerson saw as versions of Identity in Multiplicity. Among many places where he expresses this thought may be mentioned the first pages of “Circles,” and in the Poems the end of “Threnody,” the lines in the “Ode to Beauty,” “Thee gliding through the sea of form,” etc., and passages on “The Poet” in the Appendix. [back]
Note 7. Compare “Merlin,” II., celebrating the correspondences and rhymes in Nature. [back]
Note 8. Journal, 1846. “‘As for beauty, I need not look beyond an oar’s length for my fill of it.’ I do not know whether he [William Ellery Channing] used the expression with design or no, but my eye rested on the charming play of light on the water which he was striking with his paddle. I fancied I had never seen such color, such transparency, such eddies; it was the hue of Rhine wines, it was jasper and verd-antique, topaz and chalcedony, it was gold and green and chestnut and hazel in bewitching succession and relief, without cloud or confusion.” See also “Nature,” in Essays, Second Series, pp. 172, 173. [back]
Note 9. Journal, May, 1832. “What has the imagination created to compare with the science of Astronomy? What is there in Paradise Lost to elevate and astonish like Herschell or Somerville? The contrast between the magnitude and duration of the things, and the animalcule observer.… I hope the time will come when there will be a telescope in every street.” [back]
Note 10. “The man who shall be born, whose advent men and events prepare and foreshow,… shall not take counsel of flesh and blood, but shall rely on the Law alive and beautiful which works over our heads and under our feet.”—“New England Reformers,” Essays, Second Series. [back]

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