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
My Garden
IF 1 I could put my woods in song
And tell what ’s there enjoyed,
All men would to my gardens throng,
And leave the cities void. 2
In my plot no tulips blow,—        5
Snow-loving pines and oaks instead;
And rank the savage maples grow
From Spring’s faint flush to Autumn red.
My garden is a forest ledge
Which older forests bound;        10
The banks slope down to the blue lake-edge,
Then plunge to depths profound.
Here once the Deluge ploughed,
Laid the terraces, one by one;
Ebbing later whence it flowed,        15
They bleach and dry in the sun.
The sowers made haste to depart,—
The wind and the birds which sowed it;
Not for fame, nor by rules of art,
Planted these, and tempests flowed it.        20
Waters that wash my garden-side
Play not in Nature’s lawful web,
They heed not moon or solar tide,—
Five years elapse from flood to ebb. 3
Hither hasted, in old time, Jove,        25
And every god,—none did refuse;
And be sure at last came Love,
And after Love, the Muse.
Keen ears can catch a syllable,
As if one spake to another,        30
In the hemlocks tall, untamable,
And what the whispering grasses smother.
Æolian harps in the pine
Ring with the song of the Fates;
Infant Bacchus in the vine,—        35
Far distant yet his chorus waits.
Canst thou copy in verse one chime
Of the wood-bell’s peal and cry,
Write in a book the morning’s prime,
Or match with words that tender sky?        40
Wonderful verse of the gods,
Of one import, of varied tone;
They chant the bliss of their abodes
To man imprisoned in his own. 4
Ever the words of the gods resound;        45
But the porches of man’s ear
Seldom in this low life’s round
Are unsealed, that he may hear.
Wandering voices in the air
And murmurs in the wold        50
Speak what I cannot declare,
Yet cannot all withhold.
When the shadow fell on the lake,
The whirlwind in ripples wrote
Air-bells of fortune that shine and break,        55
And omens above thought.
But the meanings cleave to the lake,
Cannot be carried in book or urn;
Go thy ways now, come later back,
On waves and hedges still they burn.        60
These the fates of men forecast,
Of better men than live to-day;
If who can read them comes at last
He will spell in the sculpture, ‘Stay.’
Note 1. Of his Garden Mr. Emerson wrote to his friend Carlyle on May 14, 1846:—
  “I, too, have a new plaything, the best I ever had,—a wood-lot. Last Fall I bought a piece of more than forty acres, on the border of a little lake half a mile wide and more, called Walden Pond;—a place to which my feet have for years been accustomed to bring me once or twice a week at all seasons. My lot, to be sure, is on the farther side of the water, not so familiar to me as the nearer shore. Some of the wood is an old growth, but most of it has been cut off within twenty years and is growing thriftily. In these May days, when maples, poplars, oaks, birches, walnut and pine are in their spring glory, I go thither every afternoon, and cut with my hatchet an Indian path through the thicket all along the bold shore, and open the finest pictures.
  “My two little girls know the road now, though it is nearly two miles from my house, and find their way to the spring at the foot of a pine grove, and with some awe to the ruins of a village of shanties, all overgrown with mullein, which the Irish who built the railroad left behind them. At a good distance in from the shore the land rises to a rocky head, perhaps sixty feet above the water. Thereon I think to place a hut; perhaps it will have two stories and be a petty tower, looking out to Monadnoc and other New Hampshire Mountains. There I hope to go with book and pen when good hours come.”
  “My Garden” is the hill, with a ledge of rock cropping out, these covered by a vigorous growth of oak, on the Lincoln side of Walden, opposite Mr. Emerson’s loved pine grove where Thoreau lived for two years. Destructive fires of late years, set by passing railroad trains, have ruined the forest that clothed it.
  In his afternoon walks alone in the wood for many years, he strove to “put his woods in song,” and to his children, when they went with him, he would often croon a few lines. The resulting verses gradually were separated, and those printed in the Appendix under the title “Walden” are mostly the earlier ones.
  “My Garden” was first printed in the Atlantic Monthly for December, 1866. [back]
Note 2. The second verse in the manuscript, here omitted, was:—
  For joy and beauty planted it,
With faerie gardens cheered,
And boding Fancy haunted it
With men and women weird.
Note 3. The rising and falling of Walden’s waters are curiously independent of dry or wet seasons. Its watershed is small; it is fed by springs at its bottom,—its clear water being more than one hundred feet in depth. It has no visible outlet, though it is evident that this must be by filtration through a ridge of sand and boulders one or two hundred yards thick, to a swamp, whence the waters run by the “Sanguinetto Brook,” as Mr. Channing named it, to “Fair-haven Bay” on the Musketaquid or Concord River. [back]
Note 4. This suggests some sentences on the last page of “Nature,” in Essays, Second Series. [back]

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