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Short poem

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)


              1If the red slayer think he slays,
              2    Or if the slain think he is slain,
              3They know not well the subtle ways
              4    I keep, and pass, and turn again.

              5Far or forgot to me is near;
              6    Shadow and sunlight are the same;
              7The vanished gods to me appear;
              8    And one to me are shame and fame.

              9They reckon ill who leave me out;
            10    When me they fly, I am the wings;
            11I am the doubter and the doubt,
            12    I am the hymn the Brahmin sings.

            13The strong gods pine for my abode,
            14    And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
            15But thou, meek lover of the good!
            16    Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.


1] Brahma: Hindu god and spirit of the universe itself. Emerson used the Vishnu Purana as the source for his ideas here (Richardson 407). Cf. Andrew M. McLean, "Emerson's Brahma as an Expression of Brahmin," NEQ 42 (Mar. 1964): 115-22, and K. W. Cameron, "The Reception of Emerson's 'Brahma': Parodies and Paraphrases," ARLR 2 (1988): 165-90.

12] Brahmin: caste of Hindu high priests and teachers.

14] Perhaps the seven greatly wise priests from one of whom each Brahmin was expected to trace his origins: Atri, Bharadvaja, Gautama, Jamadagni, Kashyapa, Vasishtha, and Vishvamitra.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: May-day and Other Pieces (London: G. Routledge, 1867) PS 1624 .M3 Robarts Library
First publication date: 1857
Publication date note: Atlantic Monthly.
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2002
Recent editing: 1:2002/12/24

Composition date: July 1856
Composition date note: Richardson, Robert D., Jr., Emerson: the Mind on Fire: a Biography (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1996): 539.
Rhyme: abab

Other poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson