Ralph Waldo Emerson

(1803 - 1882 / Boston / United States)

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Dirge


Knows he who tills this lonely field
To reap its scanty corn,
What mystic fruit his acres yield
At midnight and at morn?

In the long sunny afternoon,
The plain was full of ghosts,
I wandered up, I wandered down,
Beset by pensive hosts.

The winding Concord gleamed below,
Pouring as wide a flood
As when my brothers long ago,
Came with me to the wood.

But they are gone,— the holy ones,
Who trod with me this lonely vale,
The strong, star-bright companions
Are silent, low, and pale.

My good, my noble, in their prime,
Who made this world the feast it was,
Who learned with me the lore of time,
Who loved this dwelling-place.

They took this valley for their toy,
They played with it in every mood,
A cell for prayer, a hall for joy,
They treated nature as they would.

They colored the horizon round,
Stars flamed and faded as they bade,
All echoes hearkened for their sound,
They made the woodlands glad or mad.

I touch this flower of silken leaf
Which once our childhood knew
Its soft leaves wound me with a grief
Whose balsam never grew.

Hearken to yon pine warbler
Singing aloft in the tree;
Hearest thou, O traveller!
What he singeth to me?
Not unless God made sharp thine ear
With sorrow such as mine,
Out of that delicate lay couldst thou
The heavy dirge divine.

Go, lonely man, it saith,
They loved thee from their birth,
Their hands were pure, and pure their faith,
There are no such hearts on earth.

Ye drew one mother's milk,
One chamber held ye all;
A very tender history
Did in your childhood fall.

Ye cannot unlock your heart,
The key is gone with them;
The silent organ loudest chants
The master's requiem.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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Read poems about / on: childhood, lonely, history, birth, grief, flower, faith, sorrow, star, nature, tree, mother, joy, god, world, brother, wind

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  • Sixtus Osim (11/24/2013 1:53:00 PM)

    I can't imagine being through such pains
    Of losing a dear one within my yard
    Lest siblings of mine in prime days
    Then wander along ugly paths..

    Painful indeed, that Emerson is not just talking about how we are going to meet where we are to reunite, but expressing his dim, hollow heart of missing almost all, except a vague promise to meet with his lost ones again. (Report) Reply

  • Savita Tyagi (11/24/2013 10:12:00 AM)

    Long but enjoyable! Enjoyed Sidi Mahtrow's short one even more. Thanks for sharing. (Report) Reply

  • Sidi Mahtrow (11/24/2012 9:31:00 AM)

    Once we trod these virgin acres
    Thoughts free and pure
    No image of growing old
    Or losing that for which we were bold
    Now they lie moldering in the dirt
    Bones, bleached and white
    Only their memory lingers on
    Strong liquor does not atone
    For I wait to gain presence there
    Where we will be reunited, there is no despair.

    s
    (For those who found Emerson's poem too long.) (Report) Reply

  • Cherryl Delan (11/24/2012 3:58:00 AM)

    the gift of family, of having brothers and sisters to grow up with. i am blessed to have such. (Report) Reply

  • Kevin Straw (11/24/2009 5:55:00 AM)

    This is a wonderful elegy to Emerson’s boyhood spent roaming in the countryside with his brothers now dead. It recalls for me the first verse of Wordsworth's Immortality Ode:

    THERE was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
    The earth, and every common sight,
    To me did seem
    Apparell'd in celestial light,
    The glory and the freshness of a dream. 5
    It is not now as it hath been of yore; —
    Turn wheresoe'er I may,
    By night or day,
    The things which I have seen I now can see no more. (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (11/24/2009 1:17:00 AM)

    A long meaningful poem by Emerson in praise of plough man lonely is praiseworthy! (Report) Reply

  • surya . (11/24/2008 3:47:00 AM)

    Hi Ralph
    I find this poem as a serious effort. Your mind seems firm on the idea. Very good poem.Congrats.
    sury surya (Report) Reply

  • Mary Burnette (11/24/2007 11:15:00 AM)

    As a dirge, this poem is successful. But so full of despair that its message of remembrances of things past is almost lost. I don't know nearly enough about Ralph Waldo Emerson's life to know his circumstances were when he wrote the poem, but it was depressing to me. (Report) Reply

  • Amanda Ngcobo (11/21/2007 1:36:00 PM)

    Its to long and this poet has a similar style to Silvia Plath (I dislike her poetry to a certain extent) (Report) Reply

Read all 13 comments »

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