Nonfiction > Verse > Ralph Waldo Emerson > The Complete Works > Poems
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882).  The Complete Works.  1904.
Vol. IX. Poems
I. Poems
The Day’s Ration
                    WHEN 1 I was born,
From all the seas of strength Fate filled a chalice,
Saying, ‘This be thy portion, child; this chalice,
Less than a lily’s, thou shalt daily draw
From my great arteries,—nor less, nor more.’        5
All substances the cunning chemist Time
Melts down into that liquor of my life,—
Friends, foes, joys, fortunes, beauty and disgust.
And whether I am angry or content,
Indebted or insulted, loved or hurt,        10
All he distils into sidereal wine
And brims my little cup; heedless, alas!
Of all he sheds how little it will hold,
How much runs over on the desert sands.
If a new Muse draw me with splendid ray,        15
And I uplift myself into its heaven,
The needs of the first sight absorb my blood,
And all the following hours of the day
Drag a ridiculous age.
To-day, when friends approach, and every hour        20
Brings book, or starbright scroll of genius,
The little cup will hold not a bead more,
And all the costly liquor runs to waste;
Nor gives the jealous lord one diamond drop
So to be husbanded for poorer days.        25
Why need I volumes, if one word suffice?
Why need I galleries, when a pupil’s draught
After the master’s sketch fills and o’erfills
My apprehension? Why seek Italy,
Who cannot circumnavigate the sea        30
Of thoughts and things at home, but still adjourn
The nearest matters for a thousand days?
Note 1. Among the few entries in Mr. Emerson’s autobiographical note-book several relate to his limited strength and, especially, animal spirits, yet the poem expresses but a mood; his days were full and happy. He had only the right proportion of divine discontent. The thought of this poem is also expressed in Representative Men, p. 184. [back]

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