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Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882).  The Complete Works.  1904.
Vol. IX. Poems
 
I. Poems
Alphonso of Castile
 
I, ALPHONSO, 1 live and learn,
Seeing Nature go astern.
Things deteriorate in kind;
Lemons run to leaves and rind;
Meagre crop of figs and limes;        5
Shorter days and harder times.
Flowering April cools and dies
In the insufficient skies.
Imps, at high midsummer, blot
Half the sun’s disk with a spot;        10
‘T will not now avail to tan
Orange cheek or skin of man.
Roses bleach, the goats are dry,
Lisbon quakes, the people cry.
Yon pale, scrawny fisher fools,        15
Gaunt as bitterns in the pools,
Are no brothers of my blood;—
They discredit Adamhood.
Eyes of gods! ye must have seen,
O’er your ramparts as ye lean,        20
The general debility; 2
Of genius the sterility;
Mighty projects countermanded;
Rash ambition, brokenhanded;
Puny man and scentless rose        25
Tormenting Pan to double the dose.
Rebuild or ruin: either fill
Of vital force the wasted rill,
Or tumble all again in heap
To weltering Chaos and to sleep. 3        30
 
Say, Seigniors, are the old Niles dry,
Which fed the veins of earth and sky,
That mortals miss the loyal heats,
Which drove them erst to social feats;
Now, to a savage selfness grown,        35
Think nature barely serves for one;
With science poorly mask their hurt;
And vex the gods with question pert,
Immensely curious whether you
Still are rulers, or Mildew?        40
 
Masters, I ’m in pain with you;
Masters, I ’ll be plain with you;
In my palace of Castile,
I, a king, for kings can feel.
There my thoughts the matter roll,        45
And solve and oft resolve the whole.
And, for I’m styled Alphonse the Wise,
Ye shall not fail for sound advice.
Before ye want a drop of rain,
Hear the sentiment of Spain.        50
 
You have tried famine: no more try it;
Ply us now with a full diet;
Teach your pupils now with plenty,
For one sun supply us twenty.
I have thought it thoroughly over,—        55
State of hermit, state of lover;
We must have society,
We cannot spare variety.
Hear you, then, celestial fellows!
Fits not to be overzealous;        60
Steads not to work on the clean jump,
Nor wine nor brains perpetual pump.
Men and gods are too extense;
Could you slacken and condense?
Your rank overgrowths reduce        65
Till your kinds abound with juice?
Earth, crowded, cries, ‘Too many men!’
My counsel is, kill nine in ten,
And bestow the shares of all
On the remnant decimal.        70
Add their nine lives to this cat;
Stuff their nine brains in one hat;
Make his frame and forces square
With the labors he must dare;
Thatch his flesh, and even his years        75
With the marble which he rears.
There, growing slowly old at ease
No faster than his planted trees,
He may, by warrant of his age,
In schemes of broader scope engage.        80
So shall ye have a man of the sphere
Fit to grace the solar year.
 
Note 1. This poem was written in the summer of 1847.
  Alfonso X. of Castile (1252–84), surnamed the Wise, was a monarch of extraordinary gifts and beneficent activity. I quote the following estimate of him from the History of Spain, by Ulick Ralph Burke, M. A.: “If his Royal Highness the present heir apparent to the crown of England were a senior wrangler and a double first-class man at our English universities, if he were called upon to fill the place of astronomer royal of England,… if he had written a more brilliant history than Macaulay, and a finer poem than Tennyson, if he were fit to teach Wagner music and Cayley mathematics, and if in the intervals of his studies he had found time to codify the entire laws of England into a digest which might endure for six hundred years to come—then and only then could the practical preëminence of his intellectual attainments in modern England represent the practical preëminence of the sabidura of Alfonso X. in mediæval Spain.”
  Alfonso is reported (some say maliciously) to have said, “Had God consulted me in the making of the world, he would have made it differently.” Mr. Emerson alludes to King Alfonso in “Nominalist and Realist,” in Essays, Second Series, p. 238. [back]
Note 2. “The cosmical debility” in some of the MS. verses. [back]
Note 3. “To weltering Chaos and old Sleep.”—MS. [back]
 
 
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