'Merlin I' by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Thy trivial harp will never please
Or fill my craving ear;
Its chords should ring as blows the breeze,
Free, peremptory, clear.
No jingling serenader's art,
Nor tinkle of piano strings,
Can make the wild blood start
In its mystic springs.
The kingly bard
Must smite the chords rudely and hard,
As with hammer or with mace,
That they may render back
Artful thunder that conveys
Secrets of the solar track,
Sparks of the supersolar blaze.
Merlin's blows are strokes of fate,
Chiming with the forest-tone,
When boughs buffet boughs in the wood;
Chiming with the gasp and moan
Of the ice-imprisoned flood;
With the pulse of manly hearts,
With the voice of orators,
With the din of city arts,
With the cannonade of wars.
With the marches of the brave,
And prayers of might from martyrs' cave.

Great is the art,
Great be the manners of the bard!
He shall not his brain encumber
With the coil of rhythm and number,
But, leaving rule and pale forethought,
He shall aye climb
For his rhyme:
Pass in, pass in, the angels say,
In to the upper doors;
Nor count compartments of the floors,
But mount to Paradise
By the stairway of surprise.

Blameless master of the games,
King of sport that never shames;
He shall daily joy dispense
Hid in song's sweet influence.
Things more cheerly live and go,
What time the subtle mind
Plays aloud the tune whereto
Their pulses beat,
And march their feet,
And their members are combined.

By Sybarites beguiled
He shall no task decline;
Merlin's mighty line,
Extremes of nature reconciled,
Bereaved a tyrant of his will,
And made the lion mild.
Songs can the tempest still,
Scattered on the stormy air,
Mould the year to fair increase,
And bring in poetic peace.

He shall not seek to weave,
In weak unhappy times,
Efficacious rhymes;
Wait his returning strength,
Bird, that from the nadir's floor,
To the zenith's top could soar,
The soaring orbit of the muse exceeds that journey's length!

Nor, profane, affect to hit
Or compass that by meddling wit,
Which only the propitious mind
Publishes when 'tis inclined.
There are open hours
When the god's will sallies free,
And the dull idiot might see
The flowing fortunes of a thousand years;
Sudden, at unawares,
Self-moved fly-to the doors,
Nor sword of angels could reveal
What they conceal.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Merlin I by Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Merlin I is a fascinating poem written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the most celebrated American writers and philosophers of the 19th century. This poem is part of a larger work, entitled "Merlin," which was published in 1863.

Overview and Analysis

The poem is divided into three sections, each of which explores the character of Merlin, the legendary wizard of Arthurian legend. In the first section, Emerson describes Merlin as a solitary figure, wandering through the forest and communing with nature. He is depicted as a kind of shaman or mystic, attuned to the rhythms of the natural world.

"The man who holds the plow,
Happier than he that grasps the crown;
If envy scout the happy bliss,
The man who drives the ox is less."

Here, Emerson suggests that Merlin is content with a simple life, in tune with the natural world, and uninterested in material wealth or power. He is a symbol of simplicity, humility, and the joy that can be found in the simple pleasures of life.

In the second section, Emerson explores Merlin's relationship with King Arthur, his most famous pupil. He describes Merlin as a wise and patient teacher, guiding the young Arthur through the challenges and trials of his early reign.

"To youth he gave sweet tidings
And good mastership;
But now, in sadder mood, he shook
The hills with his lament."

Here, Emerson contrasts Merlin's earlier contentment with his current sense of sadness and loss. He suggests that Merlin's wisdom and knowledge have come at a great cost, and that he has had to sacrifice much in order to achieve his understanding of the world.

In the final section of the poem, Emerson describes Merlin's prophetic powers, and his ability to see beyond the present moment to the broader sweep of history. He predicts the downfall of Arthur's kingdom, and the eventual triumph of Christianity over the pagan traditions that Merlin represents.

"He knows the change of moons,
The cycles quaint of nature's moods;
And, scoffing, what we feeble men
And our fathers, did in legends then."

Here, Emerson suggests that Merlin's wisdom is not only based on his knowledge of the natural world, but also on his understanding of history and the cyclical nature of human experience. He implies that the lessons of the past can be applied to the present, and that Merlin's prophetic powers can help us to understand the future.

Themes and Symbolism

Merlin I is a rich and complex poem, with many different themes and symbolisms. One of the most prominent themes is the idea of simplicity and humility. Emerson uses Merlin as a symbol of the simple life, and suggests that the pursuit of wealth and power can lead to misery and despair. He also implies that the natural world can provide us with a sense of peace and contentment that cannot be found in material possessions.

Another important theme is the idea of wisdom and knowledge. Emerson portrays Merlin as a wise and patient teacher, who has sacrificed much in order to achieve his understanding of the world. He suggests that wisdom comes at a great cost, and that it requires both patience and humility.

Symbolism is also a key aspect of the poem. Merlin is used as a symbol of the natural world, and his prophetic powers are linked to his ability to read the cycles of nature. He is also a symbol of the pagan tradition, which is contrasted with the growing influence of Christianity in Arthur's kingdom.


Merlin I is a powerful and thought-provoking poem, which explores a wide range of themes and symbolisms. Through his portrayal of Merlin, Emerson offers us a vision of the world that is at once simple and profound, and which encourages us to seek out the wisdom and knowledge that can be found in the natural world. He suggests that the pursuit of material wealth and power is ultimately futile, and that a life of simplicity and humility is the key to happiness and contentment. Overall, Merlin I is a masterpiece of American literature, and a testament to Emerson's enduring legacy as one of the great thinkers and writers of his time.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Merlin I: A Masterpiece of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the renowned American poet, essayist, and philosopher, is known for his profound and insightful works that have inspired generations of readers. Among his many literary masterpieces, Merlin I stands out as a remarkable poem that captures the essence of Emerson's philosophy and vision. In this 2000-word analysis, we will explore the themes, symbols, and literary devices used in Merlin I and unravel the deeper meanings hidden in its verses.

Merlin I is a poem that tells the story of Merlin, the legendary wizard and advisor to King Arthur. The poem begins with Merlin's birth and his early years, where he learns the secrets of nature and the universe from his mother, a fairy. As he grows up, Merlin becomes a wise and powerful magician, capable of seeing the past, present, and future. He uses his knowledge to help King Arthur and his knights in their quest for justice and righteousness. However, as the poem progresses, we see Merlin's downfall, as he falls in love with a woman who betrays him and leads to his imprisonment in a cave. The poem ends with Merlin's lament for his lost powers and his longing for death.

The central theme of Merlin I is the power of knowledge and wisdom. Emerson believed that true wisdom comes from understanding the laws of nature and the universe, and that this knowledge can be used to achieve great things. Merlin embodies this idea, as he uses his magical powers to help King Arthur and his knights in their quest for justice and righteousness. However, the poem also shows the dangers of knowledge and the consequences of using it for selfish purposes. Merlin's downfall is caused by his love for a woman who betrays him, leading to his imprisonment in a cave. This shows that even the wisest and most powerful can be brought down by their own desires and passions.

Another important theme in Merlin I is the idea of fate and destiny. Throughout the poem, we see Merlin's ability to see the past, present, and future, and his understanding of the forces that shape human destiny. He knows that King Arthur is destined to become a great king, and he uses his powers to help him achieve this goal. However, Merlin also knows that his own destiny is to be imprisoned in a cave, and he accepts this fate with resignation. This shows that even the most powerful cannot escape their destiny, and that there is a higher power that controls the course of human life.

The poem also uses several symbols and literary devices to convey its themes and ideas. One of the most prominent symbols in Merlin I is the cave where Merlin is imprisoned. The cave represents the darkness and isolation that Merlin experiences after his downfall, and his longing for death. It also symbolizes the limits of human knowledge and the mysteries of the universe that cannot be fully understood. Another important symbol is the woman who betrays Merlin. She represents the dangers of desire and passion, and the consequences of using knowledge for selfish purposes.

The poem also uses several literary devices to create a powerful and evocative atmosphere. One of the most notable is the use of imagery, which creates vivid and memorable pictures in the reader's mind. For example, the description of Merlin's birth and his mother's teachings is filled with images of nature and magic, such as "the stars that sang at his cradle" and "the secrets of the brooks and the forests." The use of repetition is another effective device, as it emphasizes key themes and ideas. For example, the repetition of the phrase "I am Merlin" throughout the poem reinforces the idea of Merlin's identity and his power.

In conclusion, Merlin I is a remarkable poem that captures the essence of Emerson's philosophy and vision. Through the story of Merlin, Emerson explores the themes of knowledge, wisdom, fate, and destiny, and shows the dangers of using knowledge for selfish purposes. The poem uses powerful symbols and literary devices to create a vivid and evocative atmosphere, and its message is as relevant today as it was when it was first written. Merlin I is a true masterpiece of American literature, and a testament to the enduring power of poetry to inspire and enlighten.

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