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
Merlin’s Song
OF 1 Merlin wise I learned a song,—
Sing it low or sing it loud,
It is mightier than the strong,
And punishes the proud.
I sing it to the surging crowd,—        5
Good men it will calm and cheer,
Bad men it will chain and cage—
In the heart of the music peals a strain
Which only angels hear;
Whether it waken joy or rage        10
Hushed myriads hark in vain,
Yet they who hear it shed their age,
And take their youth again.
Hear 2 what British Merlin sung,
Of keenest eye and truest tongue.        15
Say not, the chiefs who first arrive
Usurp the seats for which all strive;
The forefathers this land who found
Failed to plant the vantage-ground;
Ever from one who comes to-morrow        20
Men wait their good and truth to borrow.
But wilt thou measure all thy road,
See thou life the lightest load.
Who has little, to him who has less, can spare,
And thou, Cyndyllan’s son! beware        25
Ponderous gold and stuffs to bear,
To falter ere thou thy task fulfil,—
Only the light-armed climb the hill.
The richest of all lords is Use,
And ruddy Health the loftiest Muse.        30
Live in the sunshine, swim the sea,
Drink the wild air’s salubrity:
When the star Canope shines in May,
Shepherds are thankful and nations gay.
The music that can deepest reach,        35
And cure all ill, is cordial speech:
Mask thy wisdom with delight,
Toy with the bow, yet hit the white.
Of all wit’s uses, the main one
Is to live well with who has none.        40
Note 1. This poem was suggested by the specimens of Welsh Bardic poems which Mr. Emerson took so much pleasure in, and of which he gives specimens “Poetry and Imagination” (Letters and Social Aims, pp. 58, 59), one being not unlike this poem. In the journals are similar passages of which it is hard to tell whether they are from the Bards, or Mr. Emerson cast his own thought in that form,—as the following:—
  “I know a song which, though it be sung never so loud, few can hear,—only six or seven or eight persons; yet they who hear it become young again. When it is sung, the stars twinkle gladly, and the moon bends nearer the earth.” [back]
Note 2. Although there seems entire fitness in printing this song of Merlin, which Mr. Emerson used for the motto to “Considerations by the Way” in the Conduct of Life, in connection with the preceding one, they never appear together in the verse-books. [back]

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