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
I DO 1 not count the hours I spend
In wandering by the sea;
The forest is my loyal friend,
Like God it useth me.
In plains that room for shadows make        5
Of skirting hills to lie,
Bound in by streams which give and take
Their colors from the sky;
Or on the mountain-crest sublime,
Or down the oaken glade,        10
O what have I to do with time?
For this the day was made. 2
Cities of mortals woe-begone
Fantastic care derides,
But in the serious landscape lone        15
Stern benefit abides.
Sheen will tarnish, honey cloy,
And merry is only a mask of sad,
But, sober on a fund of joy,
The woods at heart are glad. 3        20
There the great Planter plants
Of fruitful worlds the grain,
And with a million spells enchants
The souls that walk in pain.
Still on the seeds of all he made        25
The rose of beauty burns;
Through times that wear and forms that fade,
Immortal youth returns.
The black ducks mounting from the lake,
The pigeon in the pines,        30
The bittern’s boom, a desert make
Which no false art refines.
Down in yon watery nook,
Where bearded mists divide,
The gray old gods whom Chaos knew,        35
The sires of Nature, hide.
Aloft, in secret veins of air,
Blows the sweet breath of song,
O, few to scale those uplands dare,
Though they to all belong!        40
See thou bring not to field or stone
The fancies found in books;
Leave authors’ eyes, and fetch your own,
To brave the landscape’s looks.
Oblivion here thy wisdom is,        45
Thy thrift, the sleep of cares;
For a proud idleness like this
Crowns all thy mean affairs.
Note 1. Possibly the decision to use for Forest Solitude an equivalent, outlandish in the strict and respectful sense, may have been influenced by the fact that to woods in the region of Walden more than to others, Mr. Emerson went for communion with Nature, and the German word had a kindred sound. And yet the first two lines tell the story that the poem was begun during a visit to Mr. John M. Forbes at the beautiful island of Naushon, in the summer of 1857. The poem was published in the Atlantic Monthly for October of the following year. [back]
Note 2. “Allah does not count the days spent in the chase” was a favorite quotation, but the sea always suggested to Emerson illimitable time. Mrs. Helen Hunt Jackson relates that when she was a fellow guest with Mr. Emerson at the house of a friend in Newport, he quietly asked, “Are there any clocks in Newport?” and the meaning did not instantly occur to the hearers. [back]
Note 3. Journal, 1845. “The wood is soberness with a basis of joy.” Immediately under this is written,
  Sober with a fund of joy.

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