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
The World-Soul
 
THANKS 1 to the morning light,
  Thanks to the foaming sea,
To the uplands of New Hampshire,
  To the green-haired forest free;
Thanks to each man of courage,        5
  To the maids of holy mind,
To the boy with his games undaunted
  Who never looks behind. 2
 
Cities of proud hotels,
  Houses of rich and great,        10
Vice nestles in your chambers,
  Beneath your roofs of slate.
It cannot conquer folly,—
  Time-and-space-conquering steam,—
And the light-outspeeding telegraph        15
  Bears nothing on its beam.
 
The politics are base;
  The letters do not cheer;
And ’t is far in the deeps of history,
  The voice that speaketh clear.        20
Trade and the streets ensnare us,
  Our bodies are weak and worn;
We plot and corrupt each other,
  And we despoil the unborn.
 
Yet there in the parlor sits        25
  Some figure of noble guise,—
Our angel, in a stranger’s form,
  Or woman’s pleading eyes;
Or only a flashing sunbeam
  In at the window-pane;        30
Or Music pours on mortals
  Its beautiful disdain. 3
 
The inevitable morning
  Finds them who in cellars be;
And be sure the all-loving Nature        35
  Will smile in a factory.
Yon ridge of purple landscape,
  Yon sky between the walls,
Hold all the hidden wonders
  In scanty intervals.        40
 
Alas! the Sprite that haunts us
  Deceives our rash desire;
It whispers of the glorious gods,
  And leaves us in the mire.
We cannot learn the cipher        45
  That ’s writ upon our cell;
Stars taunt us by a mystery
  Which we could never spell. 4
 
If but one hero knew it,
  The world would blush in flame;        50
The sage, till he hit the secret,
  Would hang his head for shame.
Our brothers have not read it,
  Not one has found the key;
And henceforth we are comforted,—        55
  We are but such as they. 5
 
Still, still the secret presses;
  The nearing clouds draw down;
The crimson morning flames into
  The fopperies of the town.        60
Within, without the idle earth,
  Stars weave eternal rings;
The sun himself shines heartily,
  And shares the joy he brings.
 
And what if Trade sow cities        65
  Like shells along the shore,
And thatch with towns the prairie broad
  With railways ironed o’er?—
They are but sailing foam-bells
  Along Thought’s causing stream,        70
And take their shape and sun-color
  From him that sends the dream.
 
For Destiny never swerves
  Nor yields to men the helm;
He shoots his thought, by hidden nerves,        75
  Throughout the solid realm.
The patient Dæmon sits,
  With roses and a shroud;
He has his way, and deals his gifts,—
  But ours is not allowed. 6        80
 
He is no churl nor trifler,
  And his viceroy is none,—
Love-without-weakness,—
  Of Genius sire and son.
And his will is not thwarted;        85
  The seeds of land and sea
Are the atoms of his body bright,
  And his behest obey.
 
He serveth the servant,
  The brave he loves amain;        90
He kills the cripple and the sick,
  And straight begins again;
For gods delight in gods,
  And thrust the weak aside;
To him who scorns their charities        95
  Their arms fly open wide.
 
When the old world is sterile
  And the ages are effete,
He will from wrecks and sediment
  The fairer world complete.        100
He forbids to despair;
  His cheeks mantle with mirth;
And the unimagined good of men
  Is yeaning at the birth.
 
Spring still makes spring in the mind        105
  When sixty years are told;
Love wakes anew this throbbing heart,
  And we are never old;
Over the winter glaciers
  I see the summer glow,        110
And through the wild-piled snow-drift
  The warm rosebuds below.
 
Note 1. This poem presents with the freshness of a June morning in New England a doctrine from the ancient East. I quote from Mr. George Willis Cooke’s excellent Life of Emerson [Ralph Waldo Emerson, his Life, Writings, and Philosophy. James R. Osgood & Co., 1881.] the following passage:—
  “Around Plotinus … there grew up a distinct school of thought, teaching the philosophic doctrine of the identity of subject and object, mind and matter, and making intuition the method of knowing. One of his disciples was Porphyry, who distinctly taught that matter emanates from … the soul. Amelius departed so far from Plotinus as to teach the unity of all souls in the World-Soul, a favorite doctrine of Emerson’s.” [back]
Note 2. “But why should you keep your head over your shoulder?… It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on your memory alone, but to bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day…. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”—“Self-Reliance.” [back]
Note 3. This suggests his words on the effect on the fancy of a horn blown among echoing mountains, “Can a musical note be so lofty, so haughtily beautiful?”—“Nature,” Essays, Second Series. [back]
Note 4. In the first few pages of the essay (“Nature”) quoted in the note above, are passages on the effect of “these delicately emerging stars, with their private and ineffable glances,… eloquent of secret promises.” [back]
Note 5. Journal, 1851. “There is something—our brothers over the sea do not know it or own it—… which is setting them all aside, and the whole world also, and planting itself forever and ever.” [back]
Note 6. September 15, 1842. “I suppose there are secret bands that tie each man to his mark with a mighty force; first, of course, his Dæmon, a beautiful immortal figure, whom the ancients said, though never visible to himself, sometimes to appear shining before him to others.”—From Letters of Emerson to a Friend. [back]
 
 
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