Monday Muse: “Beauty is its own excuse for being.”

Here’s Emerson waxing poetic about a flower in the woods. His rather old-fashioned and self-consciously poetic vein   can be trying: You can tell I’m a poet because I say "thee!" And because I invert normal sentence structures! (Yes, I know that both language and poetic conventions were different in 1834, but greater poets worked with them without sounding so stilted in some lines. The problem is that those lines jar, and they do that because Emerson establishes a pretty straightforward syntax and style at the beginning. Okay, I’ll shut up now.)

Despite some stylistic lapses, the concepts here are endlessly intruiging. It’s a version of that old conundrum: if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make any sound? I don’t think this is a great poem, but it came to mind during my latest philosophical meanderings about bean blossoms and the nature of beauty, so I thought I’d go ahead and post it. Also, the line I quote as my title for this post is pretty damn good: simple, unforced, yet profound — and it scans perfectly, every other syllable receiving emphasis, like the downbeat in a measure of music.

The Rhodora

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

On being asked, Whence is the flower?

In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals, fallen in the pool,
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,
Then Beauty is its own excuse for being:
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask, I never knew:
But, in my simple ignorance, suppose
The self-same Power that brought me there brought you.

4 Responses to Monday Muse: “Beauty is its own excuse for being.”

  1. I’m a huge Emerson fan, more because of his subject matter than his style. This might not be a favorite, but it is very familiar. :)

  2. I have an extremely soft spot for Emerson as well, Nancy, though now and then when I stumble over something like this after a long absence, I wonder why. Then I step back from my derision and see again that I’m an incurable word-snob, at least about dead writers; I hope less so about real live people who have other claims on my attention and affection.

  3. Poetry mo matter who the poet is or what time period it was written, all has beauty. It comes from expanding the mind and mixing with the heart. It is a gift.

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