"DAYS"–a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson



Daughters of Time, the hypocrite Days,
Muffled and dumb like barefoot dervishes,
And marching single in an endless file,
Bring diadems and fagots in their hands.
To each they offer gifts after his will,
Bread, kingdoms, stars, and sky that holds them all.
I, in my pleached garden, watched the pomp,
Forgot my morning wishes, hastily
Took a few herbs and apples, and the Day
Turned and departed silent. I, too late,
Under her solemn fillet saw the scorn.

§           §           §

Wow, what a great poem, and an unusual one for Emerson. He rarely wrote unrhymed verse, and the meditative tone of regret here is not to be found in many of his other works.

The feeling of slow movement, the Days walking in single file, is exquisite and immediately makes a deep impression on the imagination, as does the selection of offerings large and small.

Emerson’s poems are often difficult to interpret. Why are the Days hypocrites? Does the narrator regret his choice (simple things instead of the world itself), feeling that his will was insufficient; or does he contemn the Day for scorning his simplicity? Or is it a little bit of both?

My impression is that Emerson is commenting with some measure of regret on the way of time (“muffled and dumb”: time cannot speak for or explain itself) and the way of the world (“the pomp”). Our days promise to bring us anything we want, so long as we are willing to fight for it (“after his will”), but if we forget our “morning wishes” (perhaps our big dreams when we are young) and opt for the simple things, the world looks down upon our choice (“the scorn”).

A deep, beautiful poem that gives one much for pondering, both in image and in thought.

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