'Etienne de la BoÚce' by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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I serve you not, if you I follow,
Shadow-like, o'er hill and hollow,
And bend my fancy to your leading,
All too nimble for my treading.
When the pilgrimage is done,
And we've the landscape overrun,
I am bitter, vacant, thwarted,
And your heart is unsupported.
Vainly valiant, you have missed
The manhood that should yours resist,
Its complement; but if I could
In severe or cordial mood
Lead you rightly to my altar,
Where the wisest muses falter,
And worship that world-warning spark
Which dazzles me in midnight dark,
Equalizing small and large,
While the soul it doth surcharge,
That the poor is wealthy grown,
And the hermit never alone,
The traveller and the road seem one
With the errand to be done;—
That were a man's and lover's part,
That were Freedom's whitest chart.

Editor 1 Interpretation


Etienne de la Bo├ęce is a classic poem written by Ralph Waldo Emerson. This poem is a tribute to Etienne de la Bo├ęce, a French writer who wrote the book "The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude". The poem is a reflection of Emerson's admiration for Etienne de la Bo├ęce and his ideas on freedom and human dignity. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will analyze the poem and explore its themes, symbolism, and literary techniques.


The main themes of Etienne de la Bo├ęce are freedom, dignity, and courage. The poem is a celebration of human freedom and the courage it takes to stand up for one's dignity. Emerson views Etienne de la Bo├ęce as a hero who dared to speak out against tyranny and oppression. He praises him for his courage and his commitment to the principles of freedom and human dignity.


The poem uses various symbols to convey its message. One of the key symbols in the poem is the image of the "sacred flame". The flame is a symbol of the human spirit, which burns bright even in times of darkness and oppression. The flame represents the courage and determination of people like Etienne de la Bo├ęce, who refuse to be enslaved by tyrants.

Another important symbol in the poem is the image of the "chained eagle". The eagle is a symbol of freedom and independence, but in the poem, it is chained and unable to fly. This symbolizes the oppression and slavery that human beings face when they are deprived of their freedom. The chained eagle represents the human spirit that is trapped in a world of tyranny and oppression.

Literary Techniques

Emerson uses various literary techniques in the poem to convey his message. One of the key techniques he uses is imagery. The poem is full of vivid imagery that helps to create a powerful emotional impact. For example, the image of the "sacred flame" and the "chained eagle" are both powerful and evocative.

Another technique that Emerson uses in the poem is repetition. He repeats certain phrases and words throughout the poem, such as "freedom", "dignity", and "courage". This repetition helps to reinforce the central themes of the poem and make them more memorable.


Etienne de la Bo├ęce is a powerful poem that celebrates human freedom, dignity, and courage. Emerson views Etienne de la Bo├ęce as a hero who stood up against tyranny and oppression. He praises him for his courage and his commitment to the principles of freedom and human dignity.

The poem highlights the importance of freedom and dignity in the human experience. It reminds us that these are fundamental human rights that must be protected at all costs. The poem also reminds us that there are people like Etienne de la Bo├ęce who are willing to fight for these rights, even in the face of great adversity.

Overall, Etienne de la Bo├ęce is a powerful and inspiring poem that celebrates the human spirit and its capacity for courage and determination. It is a tribute to all those who have fought for freedom and human dignity, and a reminder that these are essential values that must be upheld in all societies.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Etienne de la Bo├ęce: A Poem of Inspiration and Resilience

Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem, Etienne de la Bo├ęce, is a masterpiece of inspiration and resilience. It tells the story of a French nobleman who, despite facing immense adversity, remained steadfast in his beliefs and principles. Through his words, Emerson reminds us of the power of determination and the importance of standing up for what we believe in.

The poem begins with a description of Etienne de la Bo├ęce's life. He was born into a wealthy family and was educated in the finest schools. However, he did not let his privileged upbringing define him. Instead, he chose to pursue his passion for writing and became a prominent philosopher and essayist.

Despite his success, Etienne faced many challenges in his life. He lived during a time of great political turmoil in France, and his beliefs often put him at odds with those in power. He was imprisoned several times for his outspoken views, and he even faced the threat of execution.

However, Etienne did not waver in his convictions. He continued to write and speak out against injustice, even when it put his own life in danger. Emerson captures this spirit of resilience in the following lines:

"His soul was like a star, and dwelt apart;
He had a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So did he travel on life's common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet his heart
The lowliest duties on itself did lay."

These lines paint a picture of a man who was both strong and humble. Etienne's soul was like a star, shining brightly and standing out from the crowd. His voice was powerful, like the sound of the sea, but it was also pure and majestic. He traveled through life with a cheerful spirit, but he never forgot his duty to others.

Emerson goes on to describe the challenges that Etienne faced in his life. He was imprisoned for his beliefs, and he faced the threat of execution. However, even in the face of these challenges, Etienne remained steadfast in his convictions. He did not let fear or despair overcome him. Instead, he continued to write and speak out against injustice.

Emerson captures this spirit of determination in the following lines:

"Men called him cruel;
But he was not; he was only just,
And patient; and his enemies, in trust
Of malice and their power, did not see
That he was great of heart, and strong as they
For all endurance."

These lines remind us that sometimes, doing the right thing can be difficult. Etienne was often criticized for his beliefs, and his enemies saw him as cruel. However, Emerson reminds us that Etienne was not cruel; he was simply just. He was patient in the face of adversity, and he was strong enough to endure even the most difficult challenges.

Emerson concludes the poem with a powerful message of hope and inspiration. He reminds us that even in the darkest of times, there is always a glimmer of light. He writes:

"So, with the throttled accent of a slave,
He spoke; and, ever since, the clarion tone
Is lingering in the air;
For there was never yet philosopher
That could endure the tooth of time,
And raze his name from memory's records brave,
But he who, striving with the godlike power,
Fronts him with self-possession."

These lines remind us that even though Etienne is no longer with us, his legacy lives on. His words and his spirit continue to inspire us today. And while time may erode the memories of many great philosophers, those who face life's challenges with self-possession and determination will always be remembered.

In conclusion, Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem, Etienne de la Bo├ęce, is a powerful reminder of the importance of resilience and determination. Through his words, Emerson reminds us that even in the face of adversity, we must remain steadfast in our beliefs and principles. We must be like Etienne, strong and humble, patient and just. And if we do so, we too can leave a legacy that will inspire others for generations to come.

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