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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

From “Woodnotes”

By Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)

[From Poems. Revised Edition. Edited by J. E. Cabot. 1884. See full text.]

The Child of Earth and Sky

’TWAS one of the charmèd days

When the genius of God doth flow,

The wind may alter twenty ways,

A tempest cannot blow;

It may blow north, it still is warm;

Or south, it still is clear;

Or east, it smells like a clover-farm;

Or west, no thunder fear.

The musing peasant lowly great.

Beside the forest water sate;

The rope-like pine roots crosswise grown

Composed the net-work of his throne;

The wide lake, edged with sand and grass,

Was burnished to a floor of glass,

Painted with shadows green and proud

Of the tree and of the cloud.

He was the heart of all the scene;

On him the sun looked more serene;

To hill and cloud his face was known,—

It seemed the likeness of their own;

They knew by secret sympathy

The public child of earth and sky.

“You ask,” he said, “what guide

Me through trackless thickets led,

Through thick-stemmed woodlands rough and wide.

I found the water’s bed.

The watercourses were my guide;

I travelled grateful by their side,

Or through their channel dry;

They led me through the thicket damp,

Through brake and fern, the beaver’s camp,

Through beds of granite cut my road,

And their resistless friendship showed:

The falling waters led me,

The foodful waters fed me,

And brought me to the lowest land,

Unerring to the ocean sand.

The moss upon the forest bark

Was pole-star when the night was dark;

The purple berries in the wood

Supplied me necessary food;

For Nature ever faithful is

To such as trust her faithfulness.

When the forest shall mislead me,

When the night and morning lie,

When sea and land refuse to feed me,

’Twill be time enough to die;

Then will yet my mother yield

A pillow in her greenest field,

Nor the June flowers scorn to cover

The clay of their departed lover.”


“HEED the old oracles,

Ponder my spells;

Song wakes in my pinnacles

When the wind swells.

Soundeth the prophetic wind,

The shadows shake on the rock behind,

And the countless leaves of the pine are strings

Tuned to the lay the wood-god sings.

Hearken! Hearken!

If thou wouldst know the mystic song

Chanted when the sphere was young.

Aloft, abroad, the pæan swells;

O wise man! hear’st thou half it tells?

O wise man! hear’st thou the least part?

’Tis the chronicle of art.

To the open ear it sings

Sweet the genesis of things,

Of tendency through endless ages,

Of star-dust, and star-pilgrimages,

Of rounded worlds, of space and time,

Of the old flood’s subsiding slime,

Of chemic matter, force and form,

Of poles and powers, cold, wet and warm:

The rushing metamorphosis

Dissolving all that fixture is,

Melts things that be to things that seem,

And solid nature to a dream.

O, listen to the undersong,

The ever old, the ever young;

And, far within those cadent pauses,

The chorus of the ancient Causes!

Delights the dreadful Destiny

To fling his voice into the tree,

And shock thy weak ear with a note

Breathed from the everlasting throat.

In music he repeats the pang

Whence the fair flock of Nature sprang.

O mortal! thy ears are stones;

These echoes are laden with tones

Which only the pure can hear;

Thou canst not catch what they recite

Of Fate and Will, of Want and Right,

Of man to come, of human life,

Of Death and Fortune, Growth and Strife.”


“Come learn with me the fatal song

Which knits the world in music strong,

Come lift thine eyes to lofty rhymes,

Of things with things, of times with times,

Primal chimes of sun and shade,

Of sound and echo, man and maid,

The land reflected in the flood,

Body with shadow still pursued.

For Nature beats in perfect tune,

And rounds with rhyme her every rune,

Whether she work in land or sea,

Or hide underground her alchemy.

Thou canst not wave thy staff in air,

Or dip thy paddle in the lake,

But it carves the bow of beauty there,

And the ripples in rhymes the oar forsake.

The wood is wiser far than thou;

The wood and wave each other know

Not unrelated, unaffied,

But to each thought and thing allied,

Is perfect Nature’s every part,

Rooted in the mighty Heart.

But thou, poor child! unbound, unrhymed,

Whence camest thou, misplaced, mistimed,

Whence, O thou orphan and defrauded?

Is thy land peeled, thy realm marauded?

Who thee divorced, deceived and left?

Thee of thy faith who hath bereft,

And torn the ensigns from thy brow,

And sunk the immortal eye so low?

Thy cheek too white, thy form too slender,

Thy gait too slow, thy habits tender

For royal man;—they thee confess

An exile from the wilderness,—

The hills where health with health agrees,

And the wise soul expels disease.

Hark! in thy ear I will tell the sign

By which thy hurt thou may’st divine.

When thou shalt climb the mountain cliff,

Or see the wide shore from thy skiff,

To thee the horizon shall express

But emptiness on emptiness;

There lives no man of Nature’s worth

In the circle of the earth;

And to thine eye the vast skies fall,

Dire and satirical,

On clucking hens and prating fools,

On thieves, on drudges and on dolls.

And thou shalt say to the Most High,

‘Godhead! all this astronomy,

And fate and practice and invention

Strong art and beautiful pretension,

This radiant pomp of sun and star,

Throes that were, and worlds that are,

Behold! were in vain and in vain;—

It cannot be,—I will look again.

Surely now will the curtain rise,

And earth’s fit tenant me surprise;—

But the curtain doth not rise,

And Nature has miscarried wholly

Into failure, into folly.’

“Alas! thine is the bankruptcy,

Blessed Nature so to see.

Come, lay thee in my soothing shade,

And heal the hurts which sin has made.

I see thee in the crowd alone;

I will be thy companion.

Quit thy friends as the dead in doom,

And build to them a final tomb;

Let the starred shade that nightly falls

Still celebrate their funerals,

And the bell of beetle and of bee

Knell their melodious memory.

Behind thee leave thy merchandise,

Thy churches and thy charities;

And leave thy peacock wit behind;

Enough for thee the primal mind

That flows in streams, that breathes in wind;

Leave all thy pedant lore apart;

God hid the whole world in thy heart.”