Nonfiction > Verse > Ralph Waldo Emerson > The Complete Works > Poems
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882).  The Complete Works.  1904.
Vol. IX. Poems
II. May-Day and Other Pieces
ONCE 1 I wished I might rehearse
Freedom’s pæan in my verse,
That the slave who caught the strain
Should throb until he snapped his chain.
But the Spirit said, ‘Not so;        5
Speak it not, or speak it low;
Name not lightly to be said,
Gift too precious to be prayed,
Passion not to be expressed
But by heaving of the breast:        10
Yet,—wouldst thou the mountain find
Where this deity is shrined,
Who gives to seas and sunset skies
Their unspent beauty of surprise,
And, when it lists him, waken can        15
Brute or savage into man;
Or, if in thy heart he shine,
Blends the starry fates with thine,
Draws angels nigh to dwell with thee,
And makes thy thoughts archangels be;        20
Freedom’s secret wilt thou know?—
Counsel not with flesh and blood;
Loiter not for cloak or food;
Right thou feelest, rush to do.’
Note 1. In the autumn of 1853 Mr. Emerson wrote in his journal the beginnings of this poem expressing his feeling that no muse would help should he attack in song African Slavery, the doleful theme that recurred each morning when he woke. But in life and his private and public speech he was true to Freedom.
  In the first from, the lines, after the fourth, ran thus:—
  But the God said, ‘Not so;
Theme not this for lyric flow,
Keep thy counsel soft and low;
Name too holy to be said,
Gift too precious to be prayed,
Counsel not to be exprest,
But by will of glowing breast.
But the power by heaven adored,
With Truth and Love the Triune Lord,
When it listed woke again
Brutish millions into men,’ etc.
  The last line appears also in the forms, “Right thou feelest rashly do,” or, “instant do.” [back]

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