Littell's Living Age/Volume 1/Issue 1/Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Littell's Living Age
Volume 1, Issue 1 : Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson, although he has written very little in this way, comes accredited to us by unmistakable manifestations of an original and poetical mind. He is the author of a volume of profound Essays, recently republished in England, under the editorship of Mr. Carlyle, who discovered in him a spiritual faculty congenial to his own. Mr. Emerson was formerly a Unitarian minister, but he embraced the Quaker interpretation of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and threw up his church. He is now the editor of a quarterly magazine in Boston. The same thoughtful spirit which pervades his prose writings is visible in his poetry, bathed in the “purple light” of a rich fancy. Unfortunately, he has written too little to ensure him a great reputation; but what he has written is quaint and peculiar, and native to his own genius. From a little poem addressed “To the Humble Bee,” which, without being in the slightest degree an imitation, constantly reminds us of the gorgeous beauty of “l’Allegro,” we extract two or three passages.

Fine humble-bee! fine humble-bee!
Where thou art is clime for me,
Let them sail for Porto Rique,
Far-off heats through seas to seek—
I will follow thee alone,
Thou animated torrid-zone!
        *       *       *
When the south-wind, in May days,
With a net of shining haze,
Silvers the horizon wall,
And with softness touching all,
Tints the human countenance
With a color of romance,
And infusing subtle heats
Turns the sod to violets—
Thou in sunny solitudes,
Rover of the underwoods,
The green silence dust displace
With thy mellow breezy bass.
        *       *       *
Aught unsavory or unclean
Hath my insect never seen,
But violets, and bilberry bells,
Maple sap, and daffodels,
Clover, catchfly, adders-tongue,
And brier-roses dwelt among.
All besides was unknown waste,
All was picture as he past.

This is not merely beautiful, though “beauty is its OWN excuse for being.” There is pleasant wisdom hived in the bag of the “yellow-breeched philosopher,” who sees only what is fair and sips only what is sweet. Mr. Emerson evidently cares little about any reputation to be gained by writing verses; his intellect seeks other vents, where it is untrammelled by forms and conditions. But he cannot help his inspiration. He is a poet in his prose.