"FROM HAFIZ"–a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson



I said to the heaven that glowed above,
O hide yon sun-filled zone,
Hide all the stars you boast;
For, in the world of love
And estimation true,
The heaped-up harvest of the moon
Is worth one barley-corn at most,
The Pleiads’ sheaf but two.

§           §           §

This is in the “Translations” section of my complete poems by Emerson, so presumably he translated something (a complete poem, a fragment?) by Hafez, a very great Persian poet of whom I was, until I read Emerson’s lyric above, almost completely ignorant (perhaps the name rang a bell, but that’s about it).

Emerson’s lyric is probably a butchery of whatever Hafez wrote, but it’s a nice little poem in its own right. Having read through (or shall I say, “processed”?) all of Emerson’s poems, I must opine that the success of this small work depends mostly on luck: Emerson was best when he kept it short, which he didn’t often do, but almost all of his short poems also lack “it” (indeed, I really liked only ten or so in total, all of which I intend to post on this blog).

Why does this poem work for me? The metaphor is apt, and the lines of irregular length and the irregular rhyme scheme in combination with the effect of the last two lines add up to something clever and aurally and mentally satisfying.

I don’t know if there is a term for it, but I really like the poetical effect exhibited in the last two lines, in which the latter phrase builds upon the former but elides much of its structure:

Is worth one barley-corn at most,
The Pleiads’ sheaf [is worth] but two [at most].

To me, this kind of structure has great elan and, in this case, “makes” the poem.

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