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Fanning secret fires which glow
The million-handed sculptor moulds
Leaving to one side the mere external shows of the world, and calling in science to aid imagination, the poet strikes out stanzas like these from the 'Song of Nature:'
I wrote the past in characters
And thefts from satellites and rings
And out of spent and aged things
I formed the world anew;
What time the gods kept carnival,
'Hamatreya,' the exquisite Rhodora,' and the musical allegory 'Two Rivers' are important as showing the part played by Nature in Emerson's
Certain poems repeat (or anticipate) the ideas of the essays. Brahma,' for example, is an incomparable setting of the doctrine of the universal soul or ground of all things:
Far or forgot to me is near;
Shadow and sunlight are the same;
And one to me are shame and fame.
'The Sphinx' announces, in a sphinx-like manner it must be acknowledged, though with rare beauty in individual lines, the doctrine of man's relation to all existences, comprehending one phase of which man has the key to the whole. 'Uriel' is a declaration of the poet's faith in good out of evil. The Problem' teaches the imminence of the Infinite :
The hand that rounded Peter's dome
And groined the aisles of Christian Rome
Himself from God he could not free;
Rich in thought and abounding in genuine poetic gold are The World-Soul,' The Visit,' Destiny,' 'Days' (Emerson's perfect poem), 'Forerunners,' 'Xenophanes,' The Day's Ration,' and the 'Ode to Beauty.'
'Merlin' and 'Saadi' treat of the poet and his mission. The one is a protest against the tinkling rhyme, an art without substance; the other exalts the calling of the bard, but warns him that while he has need of men and they of him, the true poet dwells alone. Together with these suggestive verses should be read the posthumous fragment originally intended for a masque.'
The Poet,' printed in the appendix of the definitive edition of Emerson's Poems.
Of his occasional and patriotic poems the 'Con'cord Hymn,' sung at the dedication of the battle monument in 1837, must be held an imperishable part of our young literature. The winged words of the first stanza are among the not-to-be-forgotten things, and there is rare beauty in the second
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
For the Concord celebration of 1857 Emerson wrote the 'Ode' beginning
O tenderly the haughty day
Fills his blue urn with fire;
and for the Jubilee Concert' in Music Hall, on the day Emancipation went into effect, the ' Boston 'Hymn,' with the bold stanzas: —
God said, I am tired of kings,
I suffer them no more;
Up to my ear the morning brings
Think ye I made this ball
A field of havoc and war,
Where tyrants great and tyrants small
The best of Emerson's patriotic poems is the 'Voluntaries,' containing the often quoted and perfect lines:
So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, Thou must,
The youth replies, I can.
The personal poems are 'Good-Bye,' ' Termi'nus,' ' In Memoriam,' 'Dirge,' and ' Threnody.' The last of the group is the poet's lament for his first-born, the 'hyacinthine boy' of five years, who died in 1842. It is hardly worth the while to compare these exquisite verses with some other poem born of intense sorrow with a view to determining whether they are greater, or less. Their wondrous beauty is as palpable as it is unresembling.
Comparisons little befit Emerson the poet. His muse was wayward. Extreme eulogists do him injury by applying to him standards that were none of his. They forget how he said of himself that he was not a poet, but a lover of 'poetry and poets, and merely serving as a writer, 'etc., in this empty America before the arrival of 'poets.' For the extravagancies of the extremists the tempered admirers find themselves regularly lectured, as if they were children who must have it explained to them that Emerson was not a Keats or a Shelley, or a Hugo.
Emerson as frequently gets less than he deserves as more. What niggardly praise is that from the pen of an eminent living English man of letters who can only suppose that Emerson 'knew what 'he was about when he wandered into the fairy'land of verse, and that in such moments be found 'nothing better to his hand!' But the Threnody,' 'Monadnock,' 'May-Day,' 'Voluntaries,' and
"The Problem,' whatever else may be true of them, are not the work of a man who found nothing better to his hand.
FIVE Volumes remain to be commented on. The first, Society and Solitude (so called after the initial paper), is a group of twelve essays entitled 'Civilization,' Art,' Eloquence,' Domestic Life,' 'Farming,' 'Works and Days,' ' Books,' ' Clubs,' Courage,' 'Success,' and 'Old Age.' They have mostly a practical bent. That on Books' doubtless gives an account of Emerson's own reading, adequate as far as it expresses his literary preferences, inadequate respecting completeness. For example, Emerson must have read George Borrow, of an acquaintance with whom he repeatedly gives proof, but these lists contain no mention of Lavengro or Romany Rye. Here too will be found his famous heresy about the value of translations, but not so radically stated by Emerson as it is sometimes stated by those who propose to attack Emerson's position.
Letters and Social Aims (a volume forced from him by the rumor that an English house proposed to reprint his early papers from 'The Dial') covers topics as diverse as, on the one hand, 'Social Aims,'