Nonfiction > Verse > Ralph Waldo Emerson > The Complete Works > Poems
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Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882).  The Complete Works.  1904.
Vol. IX. Poems
 
I. Poems
Each and All
 
LITTLE 1 thinks, in the field, yon red-cloaked clown
Of thee from the hill-top looking down;
The heifer that lows in the upland farm,
Far-heard, lows not thine ear to charm;
The sexton, tolling his bell at noon,        5
Deems not that great Napoleon
Stops his horse, and lists with delight,
Whilst his files sweep round yon Alpine height; 2
Nor knowest thou what argument
Thy life to thy neighbor’s creed has lent.        10
All are needed by each one;
Nothing is fair or good alone.
I thought the sparrow’s note from heaven,
Singing at dawn on the alder bough;
I brought him home, in his nest, at even;        15
He sings the song, but it cheers not now,
For I did not bring home the river and sky;—
He sang to my ear,—they sang to my eye. 3
The delicate shells lay on the shore;
The bubbles of the latest wave        20
Fresh pearls to their enamel gave,
And the bellowing of the savage sea
Greeted their safe escape to me.
I wiped away the weeds and foam,
I fetched my sea-born treasures home;        25
But the poor, unsightly, noisome things
Had left their beauty on the shore
With the sun and the sand and the wild uproar.
The lover watched his graceful maid,
As ’mid the virgin train she strayed,        30
Nor knew her beauty’s best attire
Was woven still by the snow-white choir.
At last she came to his hermitage,
Like the bird from the woodlands to the cage;—
The gay enchantment was undone,        35
A gentle wife, but fairy none.
Then I said, ‘I covet truth;
Beauty is unripe childhood’s cheat;
I leave it behind with the games of youth:’—
As I spoke, beneath my feet        40
The ground-pine curled its pretty wreath,
Running over the club-moss burrs;
I inhaled the violet’s breath;
Around me stood the oaks and firs;
Pine-cones and acorns lay on the ground;        45
Over me soared the eternal sky,
Full of light and of deity;
Again I saw, again I heard,
The rolling river, the morning bird;—
Beauty through my senses stole;        50
I yielded myself to the perfect whole.
 
Note 1. The germ of this poem, perhaps, is found in this entry in Mr. Emerson’s journal:—
  “May 16th, 1834. I remember when I was a boy going upon the beach and being charmed with the colors and forms of the shells. I picked up many and put them in my pocket. When I got home I could find nothing that I gathered—nothing but some dry, ugly mussel and snail shells. Thence I learned that Composition was more important than the beauty of individual forms to Effect. On the shore they lay wet and social, by the sea and under the sky.”
  This passage he introduced into a lecture called “The Naturalist” given in that month before the Boston Natural History Society. The poem, like “Good-bye,” was published in The Western Messenger in 1839. [back]
Note 2. Journal, 1844. “Buonaparte was sensible to the music of bells. Hearing the bell of a parish church, he would pause, and his voice faltered as he said, ‘Ah! that reminds me of the first years I spent at Brienne; I was then happy.’” [back]
Note 3. Mr. Emerson said, “I think sometimes that my lack of musical ear is made good to me through my eyes: that which others hear I see.” [back]
 
 
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