Posts Tagged ‘ralph waldo emerson’

"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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"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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"LOVE"–a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson



Love on his errand bound to go
Can swim the flood and wade through snow,
Where way is none, ‘t will creep and wind
And eat through Alps its home to find.

§           §           §

A good quatrain is not easy to write. In just four lines it must give the reader a sense of satisfaction, the feeling that a complete idea has been expressed well.

This quatrain is snappy in meter, full in concept, and compelling in imagery. The escalation from trudging through the snow to gnawing through the very mountains is believable. The reader may adopt the poem not merely as a succinct way to imagine the power of love, but also as a mantra for use in achieving his or her own love goals.

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