Ralph Emerson From wise men the world inherits a literature of wisdom, characterized less by its scheduled education than by its strength and shortness of statement. Thought provoking and discerning, Ralph Waldo Emerson gave a cynical world an unbiased perspective on human frailty. Emerson first and foremost was a poet. He has not written a line which is not conceived in the interest of mankind. He never writes in the interest of a section, of a party, of a church, or a man, always in the interest of mankind.” (Carlyle 19) From Emersons poetry the reader is able to derive a central theme of idealism and reality. Emerson was “a poet that sings to us with thoughts beyond his song.” (Howe) His never ending search for immortality was always resolved by his reencounter with reality.
In his poem “Days” he expresses the purely ideal or mystical half of his thoughts. “Days” suggests both points of view and is structurally divided into two parts. The first six lines personify the “Days” as demigods who offer the gifts of life to mortals. Daughters of Time, the hypocritic 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, or sky that holds them all.
Emerson is saying here that the individual days arranged in an endless running bring man indulgences and plainness alike. They bring whatever is the will of man. Bazemore 2 Emersons problem with this is that it is up to him to claim responsibility for his actions. These supreme beings simply provide a steadfast pace unchanging and unyielding. They say nothing and make no efforts to intervene in mans path.
They claim time, but so short. The time they provide is not long enough, and that is why they are hypocrites, thus providing Emersons confrontation with perfection. In the last five lines he describes his actual failure to realize the value of these gifts, and then his ideal recognition of this mortal failure. Man is depicted as a tragic hero in “Days.” I, in my pleached garden, watched the pomp, Forget 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.
(Emerson 437) Emerson here refers to how he looks at these beings or demigods, with resentment. He has high expectations in the morning but sees how time has not given him the means necessary. He almost gives the “Days” an evil regard and expects a reply, but instead the “Days” leave without a word. He sees the errors of his ways and sees how because he has given the “Days” so much thought he has wasted the day, and thus executes the last line where he indicates he “saw the scorn.” (Emerson 437) Again in another well-renown poem by Emerson, “Rhodora,” the theme of self-reliance is depicted by combining idealistic and realistic virtues. He gives a flower the Bazemore 3 appeal of a prefect being. This time, however, his technique is reversed from the previous poem.
The first lines express the normality of the flower. He says, I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods, Spreading its leaflets Blooms in a damp nook, to please the desert And the sluggish brook. (Emerson) Nothing, thus far, has portrayed the flower as anything but a delightful surprise. He speaks of the happiness it has brought to the scene, but has not given it any unusual attributes. Then he grants that this flower is the greatest thing to ever happen to the world.
Rhodora! If the sages ask thee why this charm is wasted on the earth and sky, Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing, Then beauty is its own excuse for being.. In another critically acclaimed poem by Emerson, “Forbearance”, he dwells on the idea of mans nature of selfishness and heartlessness Hast thou named all the birds without a gun? Loved the wood-rose, and left it on its stalk? At rich mens tables eaten bread and pulse? Unarmed, faced danger with a heart of trust? Bazemore 4 And loved so well a high behavior, In man or maid, that though from speech refrained, Nobility more nobly to repay? O, be my friend, and teach me to be thine! (Emerson 31) Emerson condemns man for their unfortunate nature. Why must man kill to understand and be glutinous with greed and predisposition. Yet other men want nothing less than to be like these men. Men who take advantage of others in order to succeed and advance their own fancy.
That is what Emerson is referring to when he says, “O, be my friend, and teach me to be thine!” This is an example of his interpretation of reality. Idealism would be represent the better sides of mans nature and instead show these sides as faultless. In this poem, rather than writing about idealism, it is in a form of rhetorical question. When readers finish the poem they are perplexed with the idea of what man should be like and the way he should act. In another famous Emerson poem, “Faith”, he speaks of attributes which require the greatest of discipline, and again self-reliance.
Plunge in your angry waves, Defying doubt and care, And the flowing of the seven broad seas Bazemore 5 Shall never wet thy hair. Emerson here is granting the most idealistic conditions that one might imagine. He is basically saying that men should face their fear and dive into them rather than ignore them. All is said and well, but it is mans overcoming nature to let fear consume their minds and take control. And though thy fortune and thy form Be broken, waste and void, Though suns be spent, of thy life-root No fibre is destroyed.
Here if men face their fears Emerson explains that they will be better off and will be stronger because of their decision. He observes the trials and obstacles which accompany mans decision but essentially realizes that strength comes from them. It is these fundamental ideas that Emerson presents that show forth his idealistic principles. Emerson represents a small piece of every man. “So much of his thought and life was cast in forms of immortal beauty..it shows the mortal fixed in immortality, and the deep serene persuasion which smiles beyond tears.” (Howe 307) His never ending search for tranquility in life provided mankind with bits and pieces that might fulfill their lives.
Emerson once said “I cannot declare, yet cannot all withhold.” (Emerson 472) Emerson was a man with an extraordinary ability to express his thoughts on paper. Not many are Bazemore 6 given this ingenuity in their lifetime. Emersons life was dedicated to poetry and forms of writing that diagnosed the complications of life. In every piece of his writing there is an underlying theme of idealism and reality. He speaks of the way things should be and then speaks of the way they are.
“His writings poor forth no unhappy nor unholy passion. A charm of unconsciousness is in them.” (Howe 309) Bibliography Black, Walter J. The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York Press, (1882) : 13. Carlyle, Thomas. The Correspondence of Emerson and Carlyle.
Columbia University Press, (1964): 516-518. Chapman, John Jay. “Emerson.” Charles Scribners Sons, (1898) : 3-108. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Houghton Mifflin Company, (1913) : 314-21. Grimm, Hernan. “Ralph Waldo Emerson.” Upham and Co., (1886) : 1-43. Howe, Julia Ward. “Emersons Relation to Society.” Kennikat Press, (1971) : 286-309. Laurence, D.H. “Americans.” Viking Penguin, (1936) : 314-321.
Emerson: Hero Lost By Tanner Bazemore English 102 Professor Sheila Tombe 3 December 1998.