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Poetry: Emerson


    Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

                Give me truths;
    For I am weary of the surfaces,
    And die of inanition. If I knew
    Only the herbs and simples of the wood,
    Rue, cinquefoil, gill, vervain and agrimony,
    Blue-vetch and trillium, hawkweed, sassafras,
    Milkweeds and murky brakes, quaint pipes and sun-dew,
    And rare and virtuous roots, which in these woods
    Draw untold juices from the common earth,
    Untold, unknown, and I could surely spell
    Their fragrance, and their chemistry apply
    By sweet affinities to human flesh,
    Driving the foe and stablishing the friend,--
    O, that were much, and I could be a part
    Of the round day, related to the sun
    And planted world, and full executor
    Of their imperfect functions.
    But these young scholars, who invade our hills,
    Bold as the engineer who fells the wood,
    And traveling often in the cut he makes,
    Love not the flower they pluck, and know it not,
    And all their botany is Latin names.
    The old men studied magic in the flowers,
    And human fortunes in astronomy,
    And an omnipotence in chemistry,
    Preferring things to names, for these were men,
    Were unitarians of the united world,
    And, wheresoever their clear eye-beams fell,
    They caught the footsteps of the SAME. Our eyes
    And strangers to the mystic beast and bird,
    And strangers to the plant and to the mine.
    The injured elements say, 'Not in us;'
    And haughtily return us stare for stare.
    For we invade them impiously for gain;
    We devastate them unreligiously,
    And coldly ask their pottage, not their love.
    Therefore they shove us from them, yield to us
    Only what to our griping toil is due;
    But the sweet affluence of love and song,
    The rich results of the divine consents
    Of man and earth, of world beloved and lover,
    The nectar and ambrosia, are withheld;
    And in the midst of spoils and slaves, we thieves
    And pirates of the universe, shut out
    Daily to a more thin and outward rind,
    Turn pale and starve. Therefore, to our sick eyes,
    The stunted trees look sick, the summer short,
    Clouds shade the sun, which will not tan our hay,
    And nothing thrives to reach its natural term;
    And life, shorn of its venerable length,
    Even at its greatest space is a defeat,
    And dies in anger that it was a dupe;
    And, in its highest noon and wantonness,
    Is early frugal, like a beggar's child;
    Even in the hot pursuit of the best aims
    And prizes of ambition, checks its hand,
    Like Alpine cataracts frozen as they leaped,
    Chilled with a miserly comparison
    Of the toy's purchase with the length of life.

    This poem is one of many published by the EServer, a nonprofit collective.