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Give All To Love -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1616) Give All To Love
 Give all to love;
 Obey thy heart;
 Friends, kindred, days,
 Estate, good fame,
 Plans, credit, and the Muse -
 Nothing refuse.

 'Tis a brave master;
 Let it have scope:
 Follow it utterly,
 Hope beyond hope;
 High and more high,
 It dives into noon,
 With wing unspent,
 Untold intent;
 But it is a god,
 Knows its own path,
 And the outlets of the sky.

 It was not for the mean;
 It requireth courage stout,
 Souls above doubt,
 Valor unbending;
 Such 'twill reward, -
 They shall return
 More than they were,
 And ever ascending.

 Leave all for love;
 Yet, hear me, yet,
 One word more thy heart behoved,
 One pulse more of firm endeavor,-
 Keep thee to-day,
 To-morrow, for ever,
 Free as an Arab
 Of thy beloved.
 Cling with life to the maid;
 But when the surprise,
 First vague shadow of surmise,
 Flits across her bosom young
 Of a joy apart from thee,
 Free be she, fancy-free;
 Nor thou detain her vesture's hem,
 Nor the palest rose she flung
 From her summer diadem.

 Though thou loved her as thyself,
 As a self of purer clay,
 Though her parting dims the day,
 Stealing grace from all alive;
 Heartily know,
 When half-gods go,
 The gods arrive.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
The first time I came across this poem I was 16 (I was going through a major
Poe phase and ended up with a book that also included a bunch of poems by
Emerson). I remember being fairly unimpressed by it at the time. The short
lines had a restless, seductive beat, but the sentiments seemed trite and
the imagery uninspired and the whole thing had a vaguely Hallmark Card feel
to it.

Six years later, looking for a poem to console a friend who was going
through a break-up I came across it again - and realised how totally perfect
it is. It's not just the breathtaking optimism of the last three lines (so
much more heartening, for example, than "Better to have loved and lost /
than never to have loved at all"). It's also that reading the poem a second
time you realise that all that stuff that seemed like a rehearsal of
platitudes the first time around is really unflinching courage - an almost
heroic refusal to shy away from love just when it would be most tempting to
deny it. Emerson has elevated love to an act of faith - he demands that we
believe in it with every morsel of our being but also denies us any claims
on it.

The other thing that makes this poem so moving is the simplicity of the
phrasing. Which is not to say that the language isn't beautiful (where else
can you find a love that "dives into noon / with wing unspent" only to
discover that it "knows its own path / and the outlets of the sky"), but the
overall effect is not of someone trying to write poetry, but of someone
simply saying what he thinks. Emerson is so sure that the emotion in his
poem will ring true that he isn't afraid to use cliche, isn't afraid of
overstating his point. That's why he can bring himself to say "Though her
parting dims the day / Stealing grace from all alive" - words that will seem
overblown to the sophisticated critic, but frighteningly real to someone
disappointed in love.

It's probably a morbid thing to say, but this is my favourite break-up poem.
It's the one I prescribe to every one of my friends who's been through a
broken relationship (and the number just grows and grows).  It's the one
I've used myself. So I figured you might as well have it up on Minstrels.
Just in case.


P.S. Speaking of famous poets not represented on Minstrels - Emerson is
another startling exception - you don't have a single of his poems
officially in the index (though comments to both Poem #949 and Poem #580 do
quote him)!


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