Ralph Waldo Emerson


OUT of the cloud that dimmed his sunset light,
Into the unknown firmament withdrawn
Beyond the mists and shadows of the night,
We mourn the friend and teacher who has gone.
As in the days of old when Plato freed
The Athenian youths into a heavenlier sphere,
Long will the age with reverence hear and heed
The sweet deep music of our poet-seer.
For to his eye all objects and events
Spoke a symbolic language; and his mind
Pierced with the poet’s vision through the dense
Dull surface to the larger truth behind.
And yet no solitary mystic trained
To spin a metaphysic web was he;
But open-eyed to all that life contained,
And the broad earth, of living harmony.
Nature adopted him from boyhood’s hour.
The pines, the elms, the willows knew him well.
The lonely streams where blushed the cardinal-flower,
And where the shy Rhodora’s petals fell.
And well his mother’s lore he loved and learned;
His master-hand her crudest stuff refined.
All that she gave he back to her returned
Woven with figures of the shaping mind.
It seemed as if the hill-tops where he met
The sunrise still the livery put on
Of nobler days, and never could forget
The Syrian splendors of the poet’s dawn.
And books to him unfolded all their store;
What soul was in them he had eyes to see.
And past and present turned up golden ore,
Transmuted by his mind’s fine alchemy.
He drew his circles of so wide a sweep
That they encompassed every sect and creed.
Beneath the thought which seemed to others deep
His swifter spirit dived with brilliant speed.
His keen, clear intuition knit the threads
Of truths disjoined in one symmetric whole;
And barren wayside weeds and scattered shreds
Of facts found mystic meanings in his soul.
He dared to ope the windows to the breeze
Of Nature, when sectarians shuddering frowned,
While through the close air of their cloistered ease
The leaves of creeds fell fluttering to the ground;
Yet lived to see harsh theologians change
From blind mistrust to love the truth he taught;
And shallow wits grow dumb beneath his range
Of brilliant apothegm and daring thought.
Choice words and images like Shakspeare’s best
Dropped from his lips and waited on his pen.
His voice in tuneful eloquence expressed
The manliest minds of Plutarch’s noblest men.
For him our Western world its keen, dry lore
Recorded with a stenographic hand,
While the far Orient climes for tribute bore
The scriptures old of many a pagan land.
He saw the Soul whose breath all being breathes; —
The Life that glows in atoms and in suns;
The Law that binds; the Beauty that enwreathes;
The Ideal that all mortal wit outruns.
Yet close to earth and common duties bound,
Pledged to all true and gracious tasks he stood.
His presence made a sunshine all around,
His daily life a bond of brotherhood.
He needed not to worship at a shrine
Purer than private hours might well approve.
His missal was illumed with thoughts divine,
His rosary strung with kindly deeds of love.
Yet love and justice were at one with him;
And on the base oppressor’s brow the stain
And brand were laid, not in derision grim,
But sad and fateful as the mark of Cain.
Thus, true as needle to the polar star,
He espoused the righteous cause, rebuked the wrong,
And flashed chivalric ‘gainst a nation’s bar
Of precedent, though fixed and sanctioned long.
Poet and sage! thy lofty muse demands
An insight deeper than the times attain.
Across the stagnant pools and drifting sands
Of thought I see thee like a sacred fane
Rise sunlit in the broad expanse of time;
And young and old shall greet from far thy light,
And pilgrims turn from many an old-world clime
To hail thy star-like dome of stainless white.
The wise will know thee, and the good will love.
The age to come will feel thy impress given
In all that lifts the race a step above
Itself, and stamps it with the seal of heaven.

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