Back to top



Emerson: Ode Inscribed to W. H. Channing

    Ode Inscribed to W. H. Channing

    Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

    Though loath to grieve
    The evil time's sole patriot,
    I cannot leave
    My honied thought
    For the priest's cant,
    Or statesman's rant.

    If I refuse
    My study for their politique,
    Which at the best is trick,
    The angry Muse
    Puts confusion in my brain.

    But who is he that prates
    Of the culture of mankind,
    Of better arts and life?
    Go, blindworm, go,
    Behold the famous States
    Harrying Mexico
    With rifle and with knife!

    Or who, with accent bolder,
    Dare praise the freedom-loving mountaineer?
    I found by thee, O rushing Contoocook!
    And in thy valleys, Agiochook!
    The jackals of the negro-holder.

    The God who made New Hampshire
    Taunted the lofty land
    With little men;--
    Small bat and wren
    House in the oak:--
    If earth-fire cleave
    The upheaved land, and bury the folk,
    The southern crocodile would grieve.
    Virtue palters; Right is hence;
    Freedom praised, but hid;
    Funeral eloquence
    Rattles the coffin-lid.

    What boots thy zeal,
    O glowing friend,
    That would indignant rend
    The northland from the south?
    Wherefore? to what good end?
    Boston Bay and Bunker Hill
    Would serve things still;--
    Things are of the snake.

    The horseman serves the horse,
    The neatherd serves the neat,
    The merchant serves the purse,
    The eater serves his meat;
    'T is the day of the chattel,
    Web to weave, and corn to grind;
    Things are in the saddle,
    And ride mankind.

    There are two laws discrete,
    Not reconciled,--
    Law for man, and law for thing;
    The last builds town and fleet,
    But it runs wild,
    And doth the man unking.
    'T is fit the forest fall,
    The steep be graded,
    The mountain tunnelled,
    The sand shaded,
    The orchard planted,
    The glebe tilled,
    The prairie granted,
    The steamer built.

    Let man serve law for man;
    Live for friendship, live for love,
    For truth's and harmony's behoof;
    The state may follow how it can,
    As Olympus follows Jove.

       Yet do not I implore
    The wrinkled shopman to my sounding woods,
    Nor bid the unwilling senator
    Ask votes of thrushes in the solitudes.
    Every one to his chosen work;--
    Foolish hands may mix and mar;
    Wise and sure the issues are.
    Round they roll till dark is light,
    Sex to sex, and even to odd;--
    The over-god
    Who marries Right to Might,
    Who peoples, unpeoples,--
    He who exterminates
    Races by stronger races,
    Black by white faces,--
    Knows to bring honey
    Out of the lion;
    Grafts gentlest scion
    On pirate and Turk.

    The Cossack eats Poland,
    Like stolen fruit;
    Her last noble is ruined,
    Her last poet mute:
    Straight, into double band
    The victors divide;
    Half for freedom strike and stand;--
    The astonished Muse finds thousands at her side.

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