'Merlin II' by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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The rhyme of the poet
Modulates the king's affairs,
Balance-loving nature
Made all things in pairs.
To every foot its antipode,
Each color with its counter glowed,
To every tone beat answering tones,
Higher or graver;
Flavor gladly blends with flavor;
Leaf answers leaf upon the bough,
And match the paired cotyledons.
Hands to hands, and feet to feet,
In one body grooms and brides;
Eldest rite, two married sides
In every mortal meet.
Light's far furnace shines,
Smelting balls and bars,
Forging double stars,
Glittering twins and trines.
The animals are sick with love,
Lovesick with rhyme;
Each with all propitious Time
Into chorus wove.

Like the dancers' ordered band,
Thoughts come also hand in hand,
In equal couples mated,
Or else alternated,
Adding by their mutual gage
One to other health and age.
Solitary fancies go
Short-lived wandering to and fro,
Most like to bachelors,
Or an ungiven maid,
Not ancestors,
With no posterity to make the lie afraid,
Or keep truth undecayed.

Perfect paired as eagle's wings,
Justice is the rhyme of things;
Trade and counting use
The serf-same tuneful muse;
And Nemesis,
Who with even matches odd,
Who athwart space redresses
The partial wrong,
Fills the just period,
And finishes the song.

Subtle rhymes with ruin rife
Murmur in the house of life,
Sung by the Sisters as they spin;
In perfect time and measure, they
Build and unbuild our echoing clay,
As the two twilights of the day
Fold us music-drunken in.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Merlin II: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation


Merlin II is a classic poem written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, a renowned American writer and philosopher. The poem was first published in 1845 and has since been regarded as one of Emerson's most mystical and intriguing works. It tells the story of Merlin, the legendary wizard of Arthurian mythology, and his encounter with the Lady of the Lake.

In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve into the world of Emerson's Merlin II, exploring its themes, symbols, and underlying meanings. We will examine the poem's structure, language, and imagery to gain a deeper understanding of Emerson's vision and message.

The Poem

Before we begin our analysis, let us take a moment to read and appreciate the poem in its entirety:

Merlin II

The rhyme of the palace Of the seventh fold, In theVeil of Maya, Hast thou not told? Visions of beatitude, Pure, without alloy, Souls that are not born, But burst to life with joy;

Leaving the walled mansion, And the dusty road, Up, up, and forever Their portals of God; Bashful or bold, Swim or skate, And utter their secrets On the top of the world.

Is there beauty in the sky, Is there beauty in the mind? Does the cloud, the field, the river, Their faces all combined, Clothe a thought In garment fair, And make delight The toil of care?

Is it Love or is it Fate, That has fashioned us for hate? Is it Chance or is it Will, That has made us good or ill? In the haunted and the sunlit grove Fears and memories and loves Pass, as we pass, In silence and in song.

But thou, Merlin, whose deep gaze Pierces through the outer maze, Read the fate that is to be, From the primal energy. In that humble dale, Where among the hills, The wizard breathed his prayer, And the Lady of the Lake, With the wave her white arms shook, Stood at thy voice The mountain brook.



Merlin II explores several themes that are fundamental to Emerson's philosophy. The most prominent of these themes is the idea of transcendence. The poem portrays a world beyond the physical, where souls can achieve beatitude and burst to life with joy. This world is not limited by the walls of a mansion or the dusty road but is open and limitless. Through the metaphor of swimming or skating, Emerson suggests that the journey to transcendence requires courage and boldness.

Another important theme in the poem is the relationship between beauty and the mind. Emerson asks whether beauty exists in the mind or in the external world, and whether it can be found in nature. He suggests that beauty is a combination of external and internal elements, and that it can be seen in the cloud, the field, and the river. The poem also explores the idea of love and fate, and asks whether we are shaped by chance or by our own will.


Merlin II is a free-verse poem with no rhyme scheme or regular meter. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each with its own distinct theme and imagery. The first stanza explores the idea of transcendence, the second stanza focuses on beauty and fate, and the third stanza introduces Merlin and his ability to read the future. The poem's structure is simple but effective, allowing the reader to follow the progression of ideas and themes.


Emerson's language in Merlin II is both mystical and philosophical, with a touch of Romanticism. The poem is filled with metaphors and symbols that create a dreamlike atmosphere. The use of the Veil of Maya, for example, suggests a world that is illusory, while the Lady of the Lake symbolizes the mystical and magical. The language is also philosophical, with questions about the nature of beauty, love, and fate.


Emerson's use of imagery in Merlin II is evocative and powerful. The image of souls bursting to life with joy suggests a world that is vibrant and full of energy. The metaphor of swimming or skating implies a sense of adventure and challenge. The image of the cloud, the field, and the river combined to clothe a thought in a garment fair is both beautiful and profound. The imagery in the poem reinforces the themes and adds depth to the language.


Merlin II is a complex poem that can be interpreted in several ways. At its core, the poem is about the search for transcendence and the relationship between the physical and the spiritual. Emerson suggests that the journey to transcendence requires courage and boldness, and that the world beyond the physical is limitless and open.

The poem also explores the idea of beauty and its relationship to the mind. Emerson asks whether beauty exists in the external world or in the mind, and suggests that it is a combination of both. The poem's imagery reinforces this idea, with the cloud, the field, and the river combined to clothe a thought in a garment fair.

The idea of love and fate is also present in the poem, with Emerson asking whether we are shaped by chance or by our own will. The poem implies that our fate is not predetermined, and that we have the power to shape our own destiny.

Finally, the introduction of Merlin in the third stanza adds a mystical and prophetic element to the poem. Merlin's ability to read the future suggests that there is a higher power at work, and that the journey to transcendence is not an easy one.


In conclusion, Merlin II is a mystical and philosophical poem that explores several themes and ideas. The poem's structure, language, and imagery create a dreamlike atmosphere that reinforces the themes and adds depth to the language. Emerson's use of metaphors and symbols adds to the poem's mystical quality, while his philosophical questions add a profound element. The poem is ultimately about the search for transcendence and the relationship between the physical and the spiritual. Merlin II is a classic poem that continues to resonate with readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Merlin II: A Masterpiece of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of the most celebrated poets of the 19th century. His works are known for their philosophical depth, spiritual insight, and lyrical beauty. Among his many poems, Merlin II stands out as a masterpiece of poetic imagination and visionary power. In this essay, we will explore the themes, symbols, and literary devices of Merlin II and analyze its significance in the context of Emerson's philosophy.

Merlin II is a sequel to Emerson's earlier poem, Merlin I, which tells the story of the legendary wizard who prophesies the coming of King Arthur and the Round Table. In Merlin II, Emerson continues the story of Merlin, who has now become an old man, living in a cave in the forest. The poem begins with Merlin's lament for the loss of his magical powers and his longing for the return of his youth and strength. He remembers the days when he could command the elements, summon spirits, and shape reality according to his will. But now, he is powerless and alone, abandoned by his former allies and forgotten by the world.

The theme of aging and mortality is central to Merlin II. Emerson portrays Merlin as a tragic figure, who has lost his vitality and creativity, and is now reduced to a mere shadow of his former self. The poem reflects Emerson's own preoccupation with the transience of life and the inevitability of death. Like Merlin, Emerson was deeply aware of the fleeting nature of human existence and the need to find meaning and purpose in the face of mortality. Merlin's lament is a universal expression of the human condition, a reminder that even the most powerful and wise among us are subject to the ravages of time.

But Merlin's despair is not the end of the story. As the poem progresses, we see a glimmer of hope, a spark of inspiration that rekindles Merlin's spirit and revives his magic. This spark comes in the form of a vision, a dream of a beautiful maiden who appears to him in his cave. The maiden represents the muse, the source of artistic inspiration and spiritual renewal. She inspires Merlin to create a new world, a world of beauty and harmony, where the forces of nature and the human spirit are in perfect balance.

The symbol of the maiden is a recurring motif in Emerson's poetry. She represents the ideal of beauty, wisdom, and grace, the embodiment of the divine feminine. In Merlin II, she is the catalyst for Merlin's transformation, the key to his redemption. Through her, he discovers a new purpose, a new vision, and a new power. She awakens in him the desire to create, to imagine, and to transcend the limitations of his mortal existence.

The theme of creativity and imagination is another important aspect of Merlin II. Emerson sees the artist as a visionary, a seer, who can penetrate the veil of reality and glimpse the hidden truths of the universe. The artist is not bound by the laws of nature or the conventions of society, but is free to explore the infinite possibilities of the human imagination. Merlin is the archetype of the artist, the magician, who can transform the world through his creative power. His magic is not a mere trick or illusion, but a manifestation of his innermost being, his connection to the divine.

The language and imagery of Merlin II are rich and evocative, full of metaphors and allusions that invite the reader to explore the deeper meanings of the poem. Emerson's use of symbolism is particularly effective in conveying the themes of the poem. The cave, for example, represents the unconscious mind, the realm of the unknown and the mysterious. Merlin's isolation in the cave symbolizes his separation from the world of ordinary experience, his detachment from the concerns of everyday life. The forest, on the other hand, represents the natural world, the realm of the wild and the untamed. It is a place of danger and adventure, where the forces of nature are in constant flux.

The use of imagery in Merlin II is also noteworthy. Emerson's descriptions of the natural world are vivid and sensual, capturing the beauty and power of the elements. The wind, the water, the fire, and the earth are all portrayed as living beings, with their own personalities and moods. The imagery of the poem creates a sense of wonder and awe, inviting the reader to contemplate the mysteries of existence.

In conclusion, Merlin II is a masterpiece of poetic imagination and visionary power. It is a testament to Emerson's genius as a poet and a philosopher, and a reflection of his deep insight into the human condition. The themes of aging, mortality, creativity, and imagination are all explored with great depth and sensitivity, making the poem a timeless work of art. The symbolism and imagery of the poem are rich and evocative, inviting the reader to explore the deeper meanings of the text. Merlin II is a poem that speaks to the heart and the mind, inspiring us to seek the beauty and the truth that lie beyond the limits of our ordinary experience.

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