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
Xenophanes
 
BY 1 fate, not option, frugal Nature gave
One scent to hyson and to wall-flower,
One sound to pine-groves and to waterfalls,
One aspect to the desert and the lake.
It was her stern necessity: all things        5
Are of one pattern made; bird, beast and flower,
Song, picture, form, space, thought and character
Deceive us, seeming to be many things,
And are but one. Beheld far off, they part
As God and devil; bring them to the mind,        10
They dull its edge with their monotony.
To know one element, explore another,
And in the second reappears the first.
The specious panorama of a year
But multiplies the image of a day,—        15
A belt of mirrors round a taper’s flame;
And universal Nature, through her vast
And crowded whole, an infinite paroquet,
Repeats one note. 2
 
Note 1. This poem bears the date “Concord, 1834.” It is less agreeable presentation of the ancient doctrine which is happily presented in “Each and All.” It represents the sadder mood of Xenophanes of Elea, the rhapsodist and philosopher (570–480 B.C.), who taught the Unity of God and Nature. His doctrine, [Greek], the One and the All, constantly recurs in Mr. Emerson’s writings, and the poem in his verse-book bears the Greek title.
  Xenophanes said, “There is one God, the greatest among gods and men, comparable to mortals neither in form nor thought.” Mr. Arthur K. Rogers, in his Student’s History of Philosophy, says that what Xenophanes taught was “that what we name God is the One immutable and comprehensive material universe, which holds within it and determines all those minor phenomena to which an enlightened philosophy will reduce the many deities of the popular faith. The conception is not unlike that of Spinoza in later times.”
  It is a remarkable that after Mr. Emerson’s return from Europe, in 1834, his first lectures were upon Natural History. In a lecture called “The Naturalist,” given in May, 1834, is a passage similar to the first four lines of this poem. [back]
Note 2. “So poor is Nature that from the beginning to the end of the universe she has but one stuff,—but one stuff with its two ends, to serve up all her dream-like variety.”—“Nature,” Essays, Second Series. [back]
 
 
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