Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ralph Waldo Emmerson on aging and the boundary at the end

From the Poetry Foundation: "Ralph Waldo Emerson was a pioneering figure of what is now called “multiculturalism” who expanded the Eastern horizons of generations of American readers and writers, and he persuasively demonstrated how classical Indian, Chinese, and Persian works could be used as a means to bring the inquiring self into a fresh appreciation of its own profound powers."

Initially a Unitarian minister, Emerson eventually resigned saying he no longer believed in the divinity of Jesus. However, he did have a strong sense of a connection between the natural and spiritual world and was representative of the Transcendentalists. In his book, Representative Men, the Christian author Swedenborg was presented as his Mystic.

Emmerson's poem below appears to be his awareness of aging and the boundaries of life. he urges us to "Economize the failing river, Not the less revere the Giver." So I suspect he had a strong sense of a Divinity. He seems not depressed but upbeat by ending the poem with " The port, well worth the cruise, is near, And every wave is charmed.” 

Terminus
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is time to be old, 
To take in sail:— 
The god of bounds, 
Who sets to seas a shore, 
Came to me in his fatal rounds, 
And said: “No more! 
No farther shoot 
Thy broad ambitious branches, and thy root. 
Fancy departs: no more invent; 
Contract thy firmament 
To compass of a tent. 
There’s not enough for this and that, 
Make thy option which of two; 
Economize the failing river, 
Not the less revere the Giver, 
Leave the many and hold the few. 
Timely wise accept the terms, 
Soften the fall with wary foot; 
A little while 
Still plan and smile, 
And,—fault of novel germs,— 
Mature the unfallen fruit. 
Curse, if thou wilt, thy sires, 
Bad husbands of their fires, 
Who, when they gave thee breath, 
Failed to bequeath 
The needful sinew stark as once, 
The Baresark marrow to thy bones, 
But left a legacy of ebbing veins, 
Inconstant heat and nerveless reins,— 
Amid the Muses, left thee deaf and dumb, 
Amid the gladiators, halt and numb.” 

As the bird trims her to the gale, 
I trim myself to the storm of time, 
I man the rudder, reef the sail, 
Obey the voice at eve obeyed at prime: 
“Lowly faithful, banish fear, 
Right onward drive unharmed; 
The port, well worth the cruise, is near, 
And every wave is charmed.” 

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