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
Dirge
 
Concord, 1838

I REACHED 1 the middle of the mount
  Up which the incarnate soul must climb,
And paused for them, and looked around,
  With me who walked through space and time.
 
Five rosy boys with morning light        5
  Had leaped from one fair mother’s arms,
Fronted the sun with hope as bright,
  And greeted God with childhood’s psalms.
 
  Knows he who tills this lonely field
    To reap its scanty corn,        10
  What mystic fruit his acres yield
    At midnight and at morn?
 
  In the long sunny afternoon
    The plain was full of ghosts;
  I wandered up, I wandered down,        15
    Beset by pensive hosts.
 
  The winding Concord gleamed below,
    Pouring as wide a flood
  As when my brothers, long ago,
    Came with me to the wood.        20
 
  But they are gone,—the holy ones
    Who trod with me this lovely vale;
  The strong, star-bright companions
    Are silent, low and pale.
 
  My good, my noble, in their prime,        25
    Who made this world the feast it was,
  Who learned with me the lore of time,
    Who loved this dwelling-place!
 
  They took this valley for their toy,
    They played with it in every mood;        30
  A cell for prayer, a hall for joy,—
    They treated Nature as they would.
 
  They colored the horizon round;
    Stars flamed and faded as they bade,
  All echoes hearkened for their sound,—        35
    They made the woodlands glad or mad.
 
  I touch this flower of silken leaf,
    Which once our childhood knew;
  Its soft leaves wound me with a grief
    Whose balsam never grew. 2        40
 
  Hearken to yon pine-warbler
    Singing aloft in the tree!
  Hearest thou, O traveller,
    What he singeth to me?
 
  Not unless God made sharp thine ear        45
    With sorrow such as mine,
  Out of that delicate lay could’st thou
    Its heavy tale divine.
 
  ‘Go, lonely man,’ it saith;
    ‘They loved thee from their birth;        50
  Their hands were pure, and pure their faith,—
    There are no such hearts on earth.
 
  ‘Ye drew one mother’s milk,
    One chamber held ye all;
  A very tender history        55
    Did in your childhood fall.
 
  ‘You cannot unlock your heart,
    The key is gone with them;
  The silent organ loudest chants
    The master’s requiem.’        60
 
Note 1. The explanation of the first two introductory lines, which have a suggestion of Dante about them, is that they were written about the time of Mr. Emerson’s thirty-fifth birthday anniversary—when he had completed half of the journey of life allotted to man in Scripture.
  Madam Emerson, as she was called in her later years, had six sons: John Clark, William, Ralph Waldo, Edward Bliss, Robert Bulkeley, and Charles Chauncy; and also two daughters, who died in infancy. But John died too early for his brother Waldo to have any clear remembrance of him. William thus became, on graduating from Harvard at the age of seventeen, his mother’s main dependence for aid in supporting the family, though all but Bulkeley (who remained childish through life) helped in turn. William, after teaching school successfully, studied theology in Germany, but was obliged by conscientious doubts to abandon divinity for the law, of which he became a successful and respected practitioner in New York. Waldo, Edward and Charles were drawn together by close ties of taste and sympathy, and circumstances allowed them to remain longer together. They eagerly embraced every chance to visit their grandmother, widow of the Rev. William Emerson of Concord, and later wife of Dr. Ezra Ripley, at the Old Manse. This poem and another version of it, printed in the Appendix under the title of “Peter’s Field,” recall the happy and sad associations with the Great Meadows and Cæsar’s Woods. Edward died in 1834, and Charles two years later. Dr. Holmes and Mr. Cabot in their biographies paid a tribute to these brilliant youths, dying before their prime. [back]
Note 2. “The flower of silken leaf” was the humble lespedeza, which, in after years, Mr. Emerson seldom passed without a tender word for it to his children. [back]
 
 
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