Nonfiction > Verse > Ralph Waldo Emerson > The Complete Works > Poems
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882).  The Complete Works.  1904.
Vol. IX. Poems
I. Poems
Étienne de la Boéce
I SERVE 1 you not, if you I follow,
Shadowlike, o’er hill and hollow;
And bend my fancy to your leading,
All too nimble for my treading.
When the pilgrimage is done,        5
And we ’ve the landscape overrun,
I am bitter, vacant, thwarted,
And your heart is unsupported.
Vainly valiant, you have missed
The manhood that should yours resist,—        10
Its complement; but if I could,
In severe or cordial mood,
Lead you rightly to my altar,
Where the wisest Muses falter,
And worship that world-warming spark        15
Which dazzles me in midnight dark,
Equalizing small and large,
While the soul it doth surcharge,
Till the poor is wealthy grown,
And the hermit never alone,—        20
The traveller and the road seem one
With the errand to be done,—
That were a man’s and lover’s part,
That were Freedom’s whitest chart.
Note 1. The friendship of Montaigne, as related by himself, with Étienne de la Boéce (or Boetie) has, like that of David and Jonathan, become proverbial. Both were educated for the law at Bordeaux, and they later found themselves in the same parliament or court. When they first met, they ran into each other’s arms, as if long acquainted. Étienne was a man who seemed made for whatever he undertook. “The happy strength of his genius rejoiced in difficulties.” In troublous times he wrote a purely philosophic work, Discours de la servitude volontaire, a brave protest against the tyranny of kings. It was widely read, but brought him disfavor at court. He also wrote graceful, imaginative poems. He died in 1563, at the age of thirty-three.
  Mr. Emerson used this name to stand for the perfect friend, utterly loyal, yet austere. In this poem is the spirit of the fourth verse of “Give All to Love.” Its thought may be found in “Friendship” (Essays, First Series, p. 208) and in “New England Reformers” (Nature, Addresses and Lectures, p. 273).
  It seems probable that the poem was written in 1833. In the journal of that year, opposite the account of his coming on Montaigne’s Essays when a boy, Mr. Emerson writes of friends, “Echo them, and you will see fast enough that you have nothing for them. They came to you for somewhat new. A man loves a man.” [back]

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