The World-Soul

- 1803-1882

Thanks to the morning light,
   Thanks to the foaming sea,
To the uplands of New Hampshire,
   To the green-haired forest free;
Thanks to each man of courage,
   To the maids of holy mind,
To the boy with his games undaunted
   Who never looks behind.
 
Cities of proud hotels,
   Houses of rich and great,
Vice nestles in your chambers,
   Beneath your roofs of slate.
It cannot conquer folly,—
   Time-and-space-conquering steam,—
And the light-outspeeding telegraph
   Bears nothing on its beam.

The politics are base;
   The letters do not cheer;
And ’t is far in the deeps of history,
   The voice that speaketh clear.
Trade and the streets ensnare us,
   Our bodies are weak and worn;
We plot and corrupt each other,
   And we despoil the unborn.
 
Yet there in the parlor sits
   Some figure of noble guise,—
Our angel, in a stranger’s form,
   Or woman’s pleading eyes;
Or only a flashing sunbeam
   In at the window-pane;
Or Music pours on mortals
   Its beautiful disdain.
 
The inevitable morning
   Finds them who in cellars be;
And be sure the all-loving Nature
   Will smile in a factory.
Yon ridge of purple landscape,
   Yon sky between the walls,
Hold all the hidden wonders
   In scanty intervals.
 
Alas! the Sprite that haunts us
   Deceives our rash desire;
It whispers of the glorious gods,
   And leaves us in the mire.
We cannot learn the cipher
   That ’s writ upon our cell;
Stars taunt us by a mystery
   Which we could never spell.
 
If but one hero knew it,
   The world would blush in flame;
The sage, till he hit the secret,
   Would hang his head for shame.
Our brothers have not read it,
   Not one has found the key;
And henceforth we are comforted,—
   We are but such as they. 
 
Still, still the secret presses;
   The nearing clouds draw down;
The crimson morning flames into
   The fopperies of the town.
Within, without the idle earth,
   Stars weave eternal rings;
The sun himself shines heartily,
   And shares the joy he brings.
 
And what if Trade sow cities
   Like shells along the shore,
And thatch with towns the prairie broad
   With railways ironed o’er?—
They are but sailing foam-bells
   Along Thought’s causing stream,
And take their shape and sun-color
   From him that sends the dream.
 
For Destiny never swerves
   Nor yields to men the helm;
He shoots his thought, by hidden nerves,
   Throughout the solid realm.
The patient Dæmon sits,
   With roses and a shroud;
He has his way, and deals his gifts,—
   But ours is not allowed.
 
He is no churl nor trifler,
   And his viceroy is none,—
Love-without-weakness,—
   Of Genius sire and son.
And his will is not thwarted;
   The seeds of land and sea
Are the atoms of his body bright,
   And his behest obey.
 
He serveth the servant,
   The brave he loves amain;
He kills the cripple and the sick,
   And straight begins again;
For gods delight in gods,
   And thrust the weak aside;
To him who scorns their charities
   Their arms fly open wide.
 
When the old world is sterile
   And the ages are effete,
He will from wrecks and sediment
   The fairer world complete.
He forbids to despair;
   His cheeks mantle with mirth;
And the unimagined good of men
   Is yeaning at the birth.
 
Spring still makes spring in the mind
   When sixty years are told;
Love wakes anew this throbbing heart,
   And we are never old;
Over the winter glaciers
   I see the summer glow,
And through the wild-piled snow-drift
   The warm rosebuds below.

More by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Sphinx

The Sphinx is drowsy,
        The wings are furled;
Her ear is heavy,
        She broods on the world.
"Who'll tell me my secret,
        The ages have kept?--
I awaited the seer,
        While they slumbered and slept;--

"The fate of the man-child;
        The meaning of man;
Known fruit of the unknown;
        Daedalian plan;
Out of sleeping a waking,
        Out of waking a sleep;
Life death overtaking;
        Deep underneath deep?

"Erect as a sunbeam,
        Upspringeth the palm;
The elephant browses,
        Undaunted and calm;
In beautiful motion
        The thrush plies his wings;
Kind leaves of his covert,
        Your silence he sings.

"The waves, unashamed,
        In difference sweet,
Play glad with the breezes,
        Old playfellows meet;
The journeying atoms,
        Primordial wholes,
Firmly draw, firmly drive,
        By their animate poles.

"Sea, earth, air, sound, silence,
        Plant, quadruped, bird,
By one music enchanted,
        One deity stirred,--
Each the other adorning,
        Accompany still;
Night veileth the morning,
        The vapor the hill.

"The babe by its mother
        Lies bathed in joy;
Glide its hours uncounted,--
        The sun is its toy;
Shines the peace of all being,
        Without cloud, in its eyes;
And the sum of the world
        In soft miniature lies.

"But man crouches and blushes,
        Absconds and conceals;
He creepeth and peepeth,
        He palters and steals;
Infirm, melancholy,
        Jealous glancing around,
An oaf, an accomplice,
        He poisons the ground.

"Outspoke the great mother,
        Beholding his fear;--
At the sound of her accents
        Cold shuddered the sphere:--
'Who has drugged my boy's cup?
        Who has mixed my boy's bread?
Who, with sadness and madness,
        Has turned the man-child's head?'" 

I heard a poet answer,
        Aloud and cheerfully,
"Say on, sweet Sphinx! thy dirges
        Are pleasant songs to me.
Deep love lieth under
        These pictures of time; 
They fad in the light of
        Their meaning sublime.

"The fiend that man harries
        Is love of the Best;
Yawns the pit of the Dragon,
        Lit by rays from the Blest.
The Lethe of nature
        Can't trace him again,
Whose soul sees the perfect,
        Which his eyes seek in vain.

"Profounder, profounder,
        Man's spirit must dive;
To his aye-rolling orbit
        No goal will arrive;
The heavens that now draw him
        With sweetness untold,
Once found,--for new heavens
        He spurneth the old.

"Pride ruined the angels,
        Their shame them restores;
And the joy that is sweetest
        Lurks in stings of remorse.
Have I a lover
        Who is noble and free?--
I would he were nobler
        Than to love me.

"Eterne alternation
        Now follows, now flied;
And under pain, pleasure,--
        Under pleasure, pain lies.
Love works at the centre,
        Heart-heaving alway;
Forth speed the strong pulses
        To the borders of day.

"Dull Sphinx, Jove keep thy five wits!
        Thy sight is growing blear;
Rue, myrrh, and cummin for the Sphinx--
        Her muddy eyes to clear!"--
The old Sphinx bit her thick lip,--
        Said, "Who taught thee me to name?
I am thy spirit, yoke-fellow,
        Of thine eye I am eyebeam.

"Thou art the unanswered question;
        Couldst see they proper eye,
Alway it asketh, asketh;
        And each answer is a lie.
So take thy quest through nature,
        It through thousand natures ply;
Ask on, thou clothed eternity;
        Time is the false reply."

Uprose the merry Sphinx,
        And crouched no more in stone;
She melted into purple cloud,
        She silvered in the moon;
She spired into a yellow flame;
        She flowered in blossoms red;
She flowed into a foaming wave;
        She stood Monadnoc's head.

Through a thousand voices
        Spoke the universal dame:
"Who telleth one of my meanings,
        Is master of all I am."

The Problem

I like a church; I like a cowl;
I love a prophet of the soul;
and on my heart monastic aisles
Fall like sweet strains, or pensive smiles;
Yet not for all his faith can see
Would I that cowled churchman be. 

Why should the vest on him alure,
Which I could not on me endure?

Not from a vain or shallow thought
His awful Jove young Phidias brought;
Never from lips of cunning fell
The thrilling Delphic oracle;
Out from the heart of nature rolled
The burdens of the Bible old;
the litanies of nations came,
Like the volcano's tongue of flame,
Up from the burning core below,--
The canticles of love and woe;
The hand that rounded Peter's dome,
And groined the aisles of Christian Rome,
Wrought in a sad sincerity;
Himself from God he could not free;
He builded better than he knew;--
The conscious stone to beauty grew. 

Know'st thou what wove yon woodbird's nest
Of leaves, and feathers from her breast?
Or how the fish outbuilt her shell,
Painting with morn each annual cell?
Or how the sacred pine-tree adds
To her old leaves new myriads?
Such and so grew these holy piles,
Whilst love and terror laid the tiles.
Earth proudly wears the Parthenon,
As the best gem upon her zone;
And Morning opes with hast her lids,
To gaze upon the Pyramids;
O'er england's abbeys bends the sky,
As on its friends, with kindred eye;
For, out of Thought's interior sphere,
These wonders rose to upper air;
And nature gladly gave them place,
Adopted them into her race,
And granted them an equal date
With Andes and with Ararat.

These temples grew as grows the grass;
Art might obey, but not surpass.
The passive master lent his hand
To the vast soul that o'er him planned;
And the same power that reared the shrine,
Bestrode the stibes that knelt within.
Ever the fiery Pntecost
Girds with one flame the countless host,
Trances the heart through chanting choirs,
And through the priest the mind inspired.
The word unto the prophet spoken
Was writ on tables yet unbroken;
The word by seers or sibyls told,
In groves of oak, or fanes of gold,
Still floats upon the morning wind,
Still whispers to the willing mind.
One accent of the Holy Ghost
The heedless world hath never lost.
I know what say the fathers wise,--
The Book itself before me lies,
Old Chrysostom, best Augustine,
And he who blent both in his line,
The younger Golden Lips or mines,
Taylor, the Shakspeare of divines.
His words are music in my ear,
I see his cowled portrait dear;
And yet, for all his faith could see,
I would not the good bishop be.

Concord Hymn

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
    Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
    And fired the shot heard round the world.

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.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
    We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
    When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
    To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
    The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Related Poems

The Soul

The shaft of narrative peers down.
The soul's a petrified fleck of partridge this October. 
Mud-spattered, it thinks it's brush, it thinks 
it's one with the brush when God aims 

just below its feathers. It's too late to raise the soul, 
some ossified conceit we use to talk about deer 
as if we were deer, to talk about the sun, as if the cold 
autumn light mirrored our lover asleep in the tub. 

Nevertheless, I want to talk about it. Those scarred bodies 
on the hospital table, they're white chalk children use 
to deface the sidewalk. The deer fed in the gazebo, 
where the salt lick was barely safe from the fox. 

And when the wind didn't drag my scent to her,
I sat listless, half-awake, and watched her hunger 
surpass her timidity. I should have been changed. 
I should have been startled into submission 

by a very white light, I should have shed my misgivings 
as her tongue made that sticky sound on the lick
and two startled animals stared into what St. Francis
called a mystery. I should bring her back, the woman too, 

the woman who what why words fail me here. 
I should sanctify the hospital gown as it slides down
the tunnel of the catscan, to see where 
the nodules have spread into the thin, pliable tissues 

we call the innards in animals, because they dwell 
in scenery, they're setting for the poem, they provide 
a respite from the subject who's been probed and lacerated,
who's been skinned and eaten away by the story 

when I'm beguiled by the music the hooves made
on the pine floor. I can bring her back, can't I,
I'm bringing him back, the hero who was close enough 
so I could watch what was inside his face hover and scatter. 

Thanatopsis

   To him who in the love of Nature holds 
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks 
A various language; for his gayer hours 
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile 
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides 
Into his darker musings, with a mild 
And healing sympathy, that steals away 
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts 
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight 
Over thy spirit, and sad images 
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall, 
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house, 
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;— 
Go forth, under the open sky, and list 
To Nature's teachings, while from all around— 
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air,— 
Comes a still voice—Yet a few days, and thee 
The all-beholding sun shall see no more 
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground, 
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears, 
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist 
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim 
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again; 
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up 
Thine individual being, shalt thou go 
To mix forever with the elements, 
To be a brother to the insensible rock 
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain 
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak 
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.
 
   Yet not to thy eternal resting place 
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish 
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down
With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings, 
The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good, 
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past, 
All in one mighty sepulchre. The hills 
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales 
Stretching in pensive quietness between; 
The venerable woods—rivers that move 
In majesty, and the complaining brooks 
That make the meadows green; and poured round all, 
Old ocean's grey and melancholy waste,— 
Are but the solemn decorations all 
Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun, 
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven, 
Are shining on the sad abodes of death, 
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread 
The globe are but a handful to the tribes 
That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings 
Of morning—and the Barcan wilderness, 
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods 
Where rolls the Oregan, and hears no sound, 
Save his own dashings—yet the dead are there:
And millions in those solitudes, since first 
The flight of years began, have laid them down 
In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone.— 
So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw 
In silence from the living, and no friend 
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe 
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh 
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care 
Plod on, and each one as before will chase 
His favourite phantom; yet all these shall leave 
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come, 
And make their bed with thee. As the long train 
Of ages glides away, the sons of men, 
The youth in life's fresh spring, and he who goes 
In the full strength of years, matron, and maid, 
The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man,—  
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side, 
By those, who in their turn shall follow them. 

   So live, that when thy summons comes to join 
The innumerable caravan, that moves 
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take 
His chamber in the silent halls of death, 
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night, 
Scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed 
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave, 
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch 
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Song of Myself, 50

 

There is that in me—I do not know what it is—but I know it is in me.

Wrench'd and sweaty—calm and cool then my body becomes,
I sleep—I sleep long.

I do not know it—it is without name—it is a word unsaid,
It is not in any dictionary, utterance, symbol.

Something it swings on more than the earth I swing on,
To it the creation is the friend whose embracing awakes me.

Perhaps I might tell more. Outlines! I plead for my brothers and sisters.

Do you see O my brothers and sisters?
It is not chaos or death—it is form, union, plan—it is eternal life—it is Happiness.