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
Song of Nature
MINE 1 are the night and morning,
The pits of air, the gulf of space,
The sportive sun, the gibbous moon,
The innumerable days.
I hide in the solar glory,        5
I am dumb in the pealing song,
I rest on the pitch of the torrent,
In slumber I am strong.
No numbers have counted my tallies,
No tribes my house can fill,        10
I sit by the shining Fount of Life
And pour the deluge still;
And ever by delicate powers
Gathering along the centuries
From race on race the rarest flowers,        15
My wreath shall nothing miss.
And many a thousand summers
My gardens ripened well,
And light from meliorating stars
With firmer glory fell. 2        20
I wrote the past in characters
Of rock and fire the scroll,
The building in the coral sea,
The planting of the coal.
And thefts from satellites and rings        25
And broken stars I drew,
And out of spent and aged things
I formed the world anew;
What time the gods kept carnival,
Tricked out in star and flower,        30
And in cramp elf and saurian forms
They swathed their too much power.
Time and Thought were my surveyors,
They laid their courses well,
They boiled the sea, and piled the layers        35
Of granite, marl and shell.
But he, the man-child glorious,—
Where tarries he the while?
The rainbow shines his harbinger,
The sunset gleams his smile.        40
My boreal lights leap upward,
Forthright my planets roll,
And still the man-child is not born,
The summit of the whole.
Must time and tide forever run?        45
Will never my winds go sleep in the west?
Will never my wheels which whirl the sun
And satellites have rest?
Too much of donning and doffing,
Too slow the rainbow fades,        50
I weary of my robe of snow,
My leaves and my cascades;
I tire of globes and races,
Too long the game is played;
What without him is summer’s pomp,        55
Or winter’s frozen shade?
I travail in pain for him,
My creatures travail and wait;
His couriers come by squadrons,
He comes not to the gate.        60
Twice I have moulded an image,
And thrice outstretched my hand,
Made one of day and one of night
And one of the salt sea-sand. 3
One in a Judæan manger,        65
And one by Avon stream,
One over against the mouths of Nile,
And one in the Academe.
I moulded kings and saviors,
And bards o’er kings to rule;—        70
But fell the starry influence short,
The cup was never full.
Yet whirl the glowing wheels once more,
And mix the bowl again;
Seethe, Fate! the ancient elements,        75
Heat, cold, wet, dry, and peace, and pain.
Let war and trade and creeds and song
Blend, ripen race on race,
The sunburnt world a man shall breed
Of all the zones and countless days.        80
No ray is dimmed, no atom worn,
My oldest force is good as new,
And the fresh rose on yonder thorn
Gives back the bending heavens in dew. 4
Note 1. This joyful and eminently characteristic poem seems to have been written by Mr. Emerson in 1859. His belief in the sure advance of life through the ages he had expressed long before, but now, though his belief needed no confirmation, the new and interesting lights on the subject and examples everywhere adduced by Darwin and his followers were inspiring to him, and here found expression. [back]
Note 2. There are in the manuscript varying expressions in the foregoing poem which are interesting.
  In the first, “the gulf of space” originally was “the swallowing space.”
  In the second, the last line ran,—
  In death new-born and strong.
  In the fifth verse, Mr. Emerson hesitated long, as the various trials show, before he changed his line,
  My apples ripened well,
by substituting “gardens” for the more lively image. [back]
Note 3. Readers who wish nothing unsolved are much troubled by this verse, but Nature is not statistical or immediately intelligible. Like the gods she “says all things by indirection.” When the young knight was angered by Merlin’s vagueness, Tennyson makes the wise man answer,—
  “Know ye not, then, the riddling of the Bards?
Confusion, and illusion, and relation,
Elusion, and occasion, and evasion.”
Nor can the editor say with authority who was meant in the third line of the next verse. Its very ambiguity was probably intentional and makes it harmonize better with the preceding verse. If it points to Egypt, some readers have suggested Moses, but Mr. Emerson would have been far more likely to refer to one of the great Alexandrian Neo-platonists.
  But Italy is more strictly
  Over against the mouths of Nile,
and thus the genius of classic Rome or of the Italian Renaissance, without choosing a representative, might have been indicated. If a choice must be made, the “Solution” would point to Dante. It seems remarkable that in that poem Plato, “the purple ancient … of the richest strain” [Mr. Emerson thus named him in his review of Carlyle’s Past and Present. See “Papers from the Dial,” in the volume Natural History of Intellect.], is not named, for the author owed far more to him than to Swedenborg. [back]
Note 4. In the note-book, “Forces,” 1863, is this entry:—
  The sun has lost no beams,
The earth no virtues,
Gravity is as adhesive,
Electricity as swift, heat as expansive, light as joyful,
Air as virtuous, water as medicinal, as in the beginning.
And the magazine of thought and the heart of morals
Are as rich and omnipotent as at the first day.

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