'Forebearance' by Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Hast thou named all the birds without a gun;
Loved the wood-rose, and left it on its stalk;
At rich men's tables eaten bread and pulse;
Unarmed, faced danger with a heart of trust;
And loved so well a high behavior
In man or maid, that thou from speech refrained,
Nobility more nobly to repay?—
O be my friend, and teach me to be thine!
Editor 1 Interpretation
A Deep Dive into Emerson's "Forebearance"
Ralph Waldo Emerson was a man of many talents - he was a philosopher, essayist, poet, and lecturer, among other things. His poetry often reflects his beliefs about self-reliance, individualism, and nature. "Forebearance," a poem published in his collection "Poems" in 1847, is no exception.
At first glance, "Forebearance" is a relatively short and simple poem. It consists of just two stanzas, each with four lines. However, upon closer examination, the poem reveals itself to be a powerful meditation on the nature of forgiveness and the human spirit.
"Thou dost not beat thy breast, thou dost not weep,"
This opening line sets the stage for the poem's exploration of forgiveness. "Thou" refers to the person who has been wronged, and the line suggests that they are not reacting in the way one might expect. There is no overt display of emotion - no beating of the breast or weeping.
This could be interpreted in a number of ways. Perhaps the person is suppressing their emotions, trying to appear strong and composed in the face of adversity. Or, perhaps they have truly reached a state of forgiveness and have no need for outward displays of emotion.
Either way, the line immediately draws the reader in, sparking questions about the nature of forgiveness and how it is expressed.
"Nor, hurrying to the judge, dost thou complain;"
The second line further emphasizes the peace and calm of the person who has been wronged. They are not seeking retribution or justice through legal means.
This line could be seen as a commentary on the limitations of the justice system - that it cannot always provide true resolution for those who have been wronged. It could also be interpreted as a call for individuals to take responsibility for their own emotions and not rely on external forces to provide closure.
"Nor murmur at the cross thou art called to bear,"
The third line of the first stanza brings in religious imagery, suggesting that the person who has been wronged is bearing a cross - a symbol of suffering and sacrifice in Christianity.
The use of "murmur" implies that the person is not complaining or protesting their fate, but accepting it. This line further emphasizes the stoicism of the person who has been wronged, and suggests that they have found a way to make peace with their suffering.
"Preserved thy calms of soul, and evenness,"
The final line of the first stanza brings the focus back to the person who has been wronged. "Calms of soul" and "evenness" suggest a state of inner peace and equilibrium.
This line could be interpreted as a commentary on the power of forgiveness to bring about emotional healing. By preserving their "calms of soul," the person is able to move past the pain of the wrongdoing and find peace within themselves.
"The sword, indeed, was in thy hand, and doth
Aptly thy brave and manly spirit suit;"
The second stanza shifts the focus to the person who has committed the wrongdoing. The first two lines suggest that they were capable of inflicting harm - "the sword was in thy hand."
However, the use of "aptly" emphasizes that the person's spirit is still admirable despite their wrongdoing. It suggests that they are a "brave and manly" person who is capable of taking action, even if that action is harmful.
"But sheathed it was ere harm was done, or blood
Had stained thy conscience with a brother's guilt."
The final two lines of the poem reveal that the person who was potentially harmed was not actually hurt. The sword was "sheathed" before any harm could be done, and there is no "guilt" on the conscience of the person who wielded it.
This final revelation brings the poem full circle, emphasizing the power of forgiveness to heal even before harm is done. The fact that no harm was done suggests that the person who committed the wrongdoing was capable of recognizing their mistake and stopping before it was too late.
"Forebearance" is a powerful meditation on the nature of forgiveness and the human spirit. By juxtaposing the calm and stoic reaction of the person who has been wronged with the potential harm that could have been caused by the person who committed the wrongdoing, the poem highlights the power of forgiveness to heal even before any harm is done.
The use of religious imagery reinforces the idea that forgiveness is a powerful force for good in the world. By bearing their cross without complaint, the person who has been wronged is able to find inner peace and move past their pain.
At the same time, the poem acknowledges the potential for harm and wrongdoing in the world. By suggesting that the person who committed the wrongdoing was still a "brave and manly" spirit, the poem recognizes the complexity of human nature and the potential for both good and evil.
Overall, "Forebearance" is a thought-provoking and deeply moving poem that encourages readers to consider the power of forgiveness and the resilience of the human spirit.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Forebearance: A Poem of Wisdom and Patience
Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the most celebrated poets of the 19th century, is known for his philosophical and transcendentalist writings. His poem "Forebearance" is a masterpiece that reflects his deep understanding of human nature and the importance of patience and tolerance in our lives.
The poem begins with the lines, "Hast thou named all the birds without a gun? / Loved the wood-rose, and left it on its stalk?" These lines set the tone for the rest of the poem, which is a call for us to appreciate the beauty of nature and to refrain from harming it. Emerson is reminding us that we can enjoy the beauty of the world without destroying it, and that we should show respect and reverence for all living things.
The next stanza of the poem continues this theme, as Emerson asks, "At rich men's tables eaten bread and pulse? / Unarmed, faced danger with a heart of trust?" Here, he is asking us if we have ever been in situations where we have had to rely on our own courage and trust in others. He is reminding us that we should not be afraid to face danger, but we should also be cautious and wise in our actions.
The third stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful, as Emerson asks, "And, loving, humility? / Bummed the poor house with aching heart? / And done thy business with an eye to God?" Here, he is asking us if we have ever shown humility and compassion towards others, even when it is difficult. He is reminding us that we should not be selfish or greedy, but should instead be kind and generous to those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
The final stanza of the poem is a call to action, as Emerson urges us to "Know thyself, thy native worth; / And, knowing, bow to heaven lowly." Here, he is reminding us that we should be aware of our own strengths and weaknesses, and that we should always strive to improve ourselves. He is also reminding us that we should be humble and respectful towards God and the universe, recognizing that we are only a small part of a much larger whole.
Overall, "Forebearance" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that encourages us to live our lives with wisdom, patience, and compassion. It reminds us that we should appreciate the beauty of the world around us, and that we should treat all living things with respect and reverence. It also reminds us that we should be courageous and trusting in the face of danger, and that we should be humble and compassionate towards others, especially those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
Emerson's use of language in the poem is also worth noting. His use of rhetorical questions throughout the poem is particularly effective, as it forces the reader to reflect on their own experiences and actions. The repetition of the phrase "And done thy business with an eye to God?" in the third stanza is also powerful, as it emphasizes the importance of living our lives with a sense of purpose and meaning.
In conclusion, "Forebearance" is a timeless poem that continues to resonate with readers today. Its message of wisdom, patience, and compassion is as relevant now as it was when it was first written. As we navigate the challenges of our modern world, we would do well to remember Emerson's words and strive to live our lives with the same sense of purpose and meaning that he espoused.
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