'Astræ' by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Himself it was who wrote
His rank, and quartered his own coat.
There is no king nor sovereign state
That can fix a hero's rate;
Each to all is venerable,
Cap-a-pie invulnerable,
Until he write, where all eyes rest,
Slave or master on his breast.

I saw men go up and down
In the country and the town,
With this prayer upon their neck,
"Judgment and a judge we seek."
Not to monarchs they repair,
Nor to learned jurist's chair,
But they hurry to their peers,
To their kinsfolk and their dears,
Louder than with speech they pray,
What am I? companion; say.
And the friend not hesitates
To assign just place and mates,
Answers not in word or letter,
Yet is understood the better;—
Is to his friend a looking-glass,
Reflects his figure that doth pass.
Every wayfarer he meets
What himself declared, repeats;
What himself confessed, records;
Sentences him in his words,
The form is his own corporal form,
And his thought the penal worm.

Yet shine for ever virgin minds,
Loved by stars and purest winds,
Which, o'er passion throned sedate,
Have not hazarded their state,
Disconcert the searching spy,
Rendering to a curious eye
The durance of a granite ledge
To those who gaze from the sea's edge.
It is there for benefit,
It is there for purging light,
There for purifying storms,
And its depths reflect all forms;
It cannot parley with the mean,
Pure by impure is not seen.
For there's no sequestered grot,
Lone mountain tam, or isle forgot,
But justice journeying in the sphere
Daily stoops to harbor there.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Astræ by Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

When thinking of Ralph Waldo Emerson, many people immediately conjure up quotes from his famous essays such as Self-Reliance or Nature. However, Emerson was also a prolific poet, and his work Astræ is one of his most striking examples of his poetic prowess. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve into the themes, structure, and language of this classic poem.


Before we dive into the poem itself, it is important to understand the context in which Emerson wrote Astræ. The poem was published in 1847, during a time when Emerson was grappling with the loss of his young son Waldo. This tragedy deeply affected Emerson, and it is believed that Astræ was written as a way for him to cope with his grief.


At its core, Astræ is a poem that explores the theme of loss and how we deal with it. The poem begins with the speaker addressing a figure named Astræ, who is described as a "phantom" that has come to visit. It is unclear who or what Astræ represents, but the language used implies that it is a personification of death.

Throughout the poem, the speaker engages in a dialogue with Astræ, questioning why death must exist and what purpose it serves. In one of the most poignant lines of the poem, the speaker asks, "why should I be with thee / O Death, on terms of policy / When the faithful gulf can just / As well separate us, or adjust?"

This line speaks to the idea that death is not something we can control, and that it will come for us all eventually. The speaker is questioning why we should try to make peace with it when it is inevitable. It is a powerful sentiment that speaks to the human experience of grappling with our own mortality.


Astræ is structured as a dialogue between the speaker and Astræ. The poem consists of eight stanzas, each with four lines. The first two stanzas introduce the speaker and Astræ, and the remaining six stanzas are the dialogue between the two.

The structure of the poem is simple, yet effective. The short stanzas allow for a quick pace, and the dialogue format gives the poem a sense of immediacy. It feels as though the reader is eavesdropping on a conversation between two people, which adds to the emotional impact of the poem.


One of the most striking aspects of Astræ is Emerson's use of language. The poem is full of rich metaphors and imagery that paint a vivid picture of the speaker's emotions.

For example, in the second stanza, the speaker describes Astræ as a "phantom," which immediately sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The use of the word "phantom" implies that Astræ is not a physical being, but rather a manifestation of the speaker's fear of death.

Emerson also uses a number of naturalistic metaphors throughout the poem. In the fourth stanza, the speaker describes death as a "dark gulf," which is a metaphor for the unknown. The use of the word "gulf" implies that death is something that cannot be crossed, and that it is a vast, unknowable entity.

The language used in Astræ is powerful and evocative, and it is clear that Emerson put a great deal of thought into every word.


In conclusion, Astræ is a powerful poem that explores the human experience of loss and mortality. Through the use of metaphor and vivid imagery, Emerson creates a dialogue between the speaker and death that is both poignant and thought-provoking.

The poem is a testament to Emerson's skill as a poet, and it is clear that he poured his heart and soul into every line. Astræ is a classic work of American literature that continues to resonate with readers today, and it is a testament to the enduring power of poetry to speak to the human experience.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Astræa: A Poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson is a name that needs no introduction. He is one of the most celebrated poets of the 19th century, known for his transcendentalist philosophy and his ability to capture the essence of nature in his writing. One of his most famous poems is Astræa, a beautiful piece that explores the themes of love, nature, and the divine. In this article, we will take a closer look at this classic poem and analyze its meaning and significance.

The poem begins with the speaker describing a beautiful scene in nature. He talks about the stars shining in the sky and the moon casting a soft glow over the landscape. The imagery is vivid and evocative, painting a picture of a serene and peaceful world. The speaker then introduces the character of Astræa, a goddess of justice and innocence who is said to have lived among the stars.

The speaker describes Astræa as a beautiful and pure being, who embodies the virtues of justice and truth. He talks about how she has left the heavens and come down to earth to bring these virtues to humanity. The imagery here is powerful, as the speaker portrays Astræa as a divine being who has come to earth to guide and inspire us.

As the poem progresses, the speaker describes how Astræa wanders through the world, seeking out those who are in need of her guidance. He talks about how she brings justice to the oppressed and comfort to the suffering. The imagery here is poignant, as the speaker portrays Astræa as a compassionate and caring being who is always ready to help those in need.

The poem then takes a more philosophical turn, as the speaker reflects on the nature of love and the divine. He talks about how love is the highest virtue, and how it is through love that we can connect with the divine. The imagery here is mystical and spiritual, as the speaker portrays love as a force that transcends the physical world and connects us to something greater.

The poem ends with the speaker reflecting on the beauty of nature and the divine. He talks about how the stars and the moon are symbols of the divine, and how they remind us of the beauty and wonder of the world. The imagery here is awe-inspiring, as the speaker portrays nature as a manifestation of the divine, and encourages us to appreciate its beauty and majesty.

Overall, Astræa is a beautiful and powerful poem that explores some of the most fundamental themes of human existence. Through its vivid imagery and evocative language, it captures the essence of nature, love, and the divine, and encourages us to reflect on our place in the world. As one of Ralph Waldo Emerson's most famous works, it is a testament to his skill as a poet and his ability to capture the beauty and wonder of the world around us.

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