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
In Memoriam E. B. E.
 
I MOURN upon this battle-field,
But not for those who perished here.
Behold the river-bank
Whither the angry farmers came,
In sloven dress and broken rank,        5
Nor thought of fame.
Their deed of blood
All mankind praise;
Even the serene Reason says,
It was well done.        10
The wise and simple have one glance
To greet yon stern head-stone,
Which more of pride than pity gave
To mark the Briton’s friendless grave.
Yet it is a stately tomb;        15
The grand return
Of eve and morn,
The year’s fresh bloom,
The silver cloud,
Might grace the dust that is most proud. 1        20
 
  Yet not of these I muse
In this ancestral place,
But of a kindred face
That never joy or hope shall here diffuse.
 
  Ah, brother of the brief but blazing star!        25
What hast thou to do with these
Haunting this bank’s historic trees?
Thou born for noblest life,
For action’s field, for victor’s car,
Thou living champion of the right?        30
To these their penalty belonged:
I grudge not these their bed of death,
But thine to thee, who never wronged
The poorest that drew breath.
 
  All inborn power that could        35
Consist with homage to the good
Flamed from his martial eye;
He who seemed a soldier born,
He should have the helmet worn,
All friends to fend, all foes defy,        40
Fronting foes of God and man,
Frowning down the evil-doer,
Battling for the weak and poor.
His from youth the leader’s look
Gave the law which others took,        45
And never poor beseeching glance
Shamed that sculptured countenance.
 
  There is no record left on earth,
Save in tablets of the heart,
Of the rich inherent worth,        50
Of the grace that on him shone,
Of eloquent lips, of joyful wit:
He could not frame a word unfit,
An act unworthy to be done;
Honor prompted every glance,        55
Honor came and sat beside him,
In lowly cot or painful road,
And evermore the cruel god
Cried “Onward!” and the palm-crown showed,
Born for success he seemed,        60
With grace to win, with heart to hold,
With shining gifts that took all eyes,
With budding power in college-halls,
As pledged in coming days to forge
Weapons to guard the State, or scourge        65
Tyrants despite their guards or walls.
On his young promise Beauty smiled,
Drew his free homage unbeguiled,
And prosperous Age held out his hand,
And richly his large future planned,        70
And troops of friends enjoyed the tide,—
All, all was given, and only health denied.
 
  I see him with superior smile
Hunted by Sorrow’s grisly train
In lands remote, in toil and pain,        75
With angel patience labor on,
With the high port he wore erewhile,
When, foremost of the youthful band,
The prizes in all lists he won;
Nor bate one jot of heart or hope, 2        80
And, least of all, the loyal tie
Which holds to home ’neath every sky,
The joy and pride the pilgrim feels
In hearts which round the hearth at home
Keep pulse for pulse with those who roam.        85
 
  What generous beliefs console
The brave whom Fate denies the goal!
If others reach it, is content;
To Heaven’s high will his will is bent.
Firm on his heart relied,        90
What lot soe’er betide,
Work of his hand
He nor repents nor grieves,
Pleads for itself the fact,
As unrepenting Nature leaves        95
Her every act.
 
  Fell the bolt on the branching oak;
The rainbow of his hope was broke;
No craven cry, no secret tear,—
He told no pang, he knew no fear;        100
Its peace sublime his aspect kept,
His purpose woke, his features slept;
And yet between the spasms of pain
His genius beamed with joy again.
 
  O’er thy rich dust the endless smile        105
Of Nature in thy Spanish isle
Hints never loss or cruel break
And sacrifice for love’s dear sake,
Nor mourn the unalterable Days
That Genius goes and Folly stays.        110
What matters how, or from what ground,
The freed soul its Creator found?
Alike thy memory embalms
That orange-grove, that isle of palms,
And these loved banks, whose oak-boughs bold        115
Root in the blood of heroes old.
 
Note 1. The Old North Bridge, across which the opening volleys of the Revolutionary War were fired in a battle whose field extended from the Musketaquid to the Charles River, was close behind the Manse built by Rev. William Emerson, the young patriot minister of Concord, and there his grandsons William, Ralph Waldo, Edward and Charles had spent many pleasant days in boyhood. (See the poems “Dirge” and “Peter’s Field.”) The two British soldiers killed at the first fire lie buried where they fell. [back]
Note 2. The expression in this line is borrowed from Milton and used by Mr. Emerson more than once in his writings. [back]
 
 
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