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
 
II. May-Day and Other Pieces
Two Rivers
 
THY 1 summer voice, Musketaquit,
Repeats the music of the rain;
But sweeter rivers pulsing flit
Through thee, as thou through Concord Plain.
 
Thou in thy narrow banks art pent:        5
The stream I love unbounded goes
Through flood and sea and firmament;
Through light, through life, it forward flows.
 
I see the inundation sweet,
I hear the spending of the stream        10
Through years, through men, through Nature fleet,
Through love and thought, through power and dream. 2
 
Musketaquit, a goblin strong,
Of shard and flint makes jewels gay;
They lose their grief who hear his song,        15
And where he winds is the day of day.
 
So forth and brighter fares my stream,—
Who drink it shall not thirst again; 3
No darkness stains its equal gleam,
And ages drop in it like rain.        20
 
Note 1. This, perhaps the most musical of the poems, gives opportunity to show Mr. Emerson’s later method. The thought came on the river-bank, whispered by the ripples, and very likely was written there; if not, on his return to his study. It mainly gave the form, for “verse must be alive and inseparable from its contents.” Thereafter, when the days came, as Herrick said,
              “That I
Fitted am to prophesy,”
he repeated or chanted the lines to himself until the right word was in an instant given to replace the awkward phrase with redundant syllables, and the polish and the music came to match the thought. Here is the poem on the day of its birth, in the early summer of 1856:—
  “Thy voice is sweet, Musketaquid, and repeats the music of the rain, but sweeter is the silent stream which flows even through thee, as thou through the land.
  “Thou art shut in thy banks, but the stream I love flows in thy water, and flows through rocks and through the air and through rays of light as well, and through darkness, and through men and women.
  “I hear and see the inundation and the eternal spending of the stream in winter and in summer, in men and animals, in passion and thought. Happy are they who can hear it.”
  I see thy brimming, eddying stream
And thy enchantment,
For thou changest every rock in thy bed
Into a gem,
All is opal and agate,
And at will thou pavest with diamonds:
Take them away from the stream
And they are poor, shreds and flints.
So is it with me to-day.
This rhapsody does not gain by the attempt to reduce part of it to rhyme, which occurs later in the same journal:—
  Thy murmuring voice, Musketaquid,
Repeats the music of the rain,
But sweeter rivers silent flit
Through thee as thou through Concord plain.
Thou in thy banks must dwell,
But
The stream I follow freely flows
Through thee, through rocks, through air as well,
Through light, through men it gayly goes.
But Mr. Emerson kept the verses by him nearly two years before, in their perfected form, he gave them to the Atlantic Monthly for January, 1858. [back]
Note 2. From the first, the image of the stream applied to thought and life appears in the prose and the poems, as in the “Over-Soul” (p. 268), in the first series of Essays, in “Nature” (pp. 178, 179), in the second series, and in Nature, Addresses and Lectures (pp. 26, 27). In the poem “Peter’s Field,” in the Appendix, the poet says,—
  Far seen, the river glides below,
  Tossing one sparkle to the eyes.
I catch thy meaning, wizard wave;
  The River of my Life replies.
 [back]
Note 3. The words of Jesus when he talked with the Samaritan woman at the fountain, were, of course, in the author’s mind. [back]
 
 
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