'The Sphynx' by Ralph Waldo Emerson
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The Sphynx is drowsy,
Her wings are furled,
Her ear is heavy,
She broods on the world.?
"Who'll tell me my secret
The ages have kept?
? I awaited the seer,
While they slumbered and slept;?
The fate of the manchild,
The meaning of man;
Known fruit of the unknown,
Out of sleeping a waking,
Out of waking a sleep,
Life death overtaking,
Deep underneath deep.
Erect as a sunbeam
Upspringeth the palm;
The elephant browses
Undaunted and calm;
In beautiful motion
The thrush plies his wings;
Kind leaves of his covert!
Your silence he sings.
The waves unashamed
In difference sweet,
Play glad with the breezes,
Old playfellows meet.
The journeying atoms,
Firmly draw, firmly drive,
By their animate poles.
Sea, earth, air, sound, silence,
Plant, quadruped, bird,
By one music enchanted,
One deity stirred,
Each the other adorning,
Night veileth the morning,
The vapor the hill.
The babe by its mother
Lies bathed in joy,
Glide its hours uncounted,
The sun is its toy;
Shines the peace of all being
Without cloud in its eyes,
And the sum of the world
In soft miniature lies.
But man crouches and blushes,
Absconds and conceals,
He creepeth and peepeth,
He palters and steals;
Jealous glancing around,
An oaf, an accomplice,
He poisons the ground.
Out spoke the great mother
Beholding his fear,
At the sound of her accents
Cold shuddered the sphere;?
Who has drugged my boy's cup,
Who has mixed my boy's bread?
Who with sadness and madness
Has turned the manchild's head?"?
I heard a poet answer
Aloud and cheerfully,
"Say on, sweet Sphynx! thy dirges
Are pleasant songs to me.
Deep love lieth under
These pictures of time,
They fade in the light of
Their meaning sublime.
The fiend that man harries,
Is love of the Best;
Yawns the Pit of the Dragon
Lit by rays from the Blest.
The Lethe of Nature
Can't trance him again,
Whose soul sees the Perfect,
Which his eyes seek in vain.
Man's spirit must dive;
To his aye-rolling orbit
No goal will arrive.
The heavens that draw him
With sweetness untold,
Once found, ?for new heavens
He spurneth the old.
Pride ruined the angels,
Their shame them restores,
And the joy that is sweetest
Lurks in stings of remorse.
Have I a lover
Who is noble and free,?
I would he were nobler
Than to love me.
Now follows, now flies,
And under pain, pleasure,
Under pleasure, pain lies.
Love works at the centre,
Forth speed the strong pulses
To the borders of day.
Dull Sphynx, Jove keep thy five wits!
Thy sight is growing blear,
Rue, myrrh, and cummin for the Sphynx,
Her muddy eyes to clear."
The old Sphynx bit her thick lip,?
"Who taught thee me to name?
I am thy spirit, yoke-fellow!
Of thine eye I am eyebeam.
Thou art the unanswered question;
Couldst see thy proper eye,
Alway it asketh, asketh,
And each answer is a lie.
So take thy quest through nature,
It through thousand natures ply,
Ask on, thou clothed eternity,?
Time is the false reply."
Uprose the merry Sphynx,
And crouched no more in stone,
She melted into purple cloud,
She silvered in the moon,
She spired into a yellow flame,
She flowered in blossoms red,
She flowed into a foaming wave,
She stood Monadnoc's head.
Thorough a thousand voices
Spoke the universal dame,
"Who telleth one of my meanings,
Is master of all I am."
Editor 1 Interpretation
The Enigmatic Sphinx: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation of Ralph Waldo Emerson's Poem
The Sphinx, in Greek mythology, is a creature with the head of a human and the body of a lion, known for her riddles and enigmas. In Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem, "The Sphinx," the Sphinx becomes a metaphor for the ultimate mystery of life, the human condition, and the questions that define us as human beings. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the meaning of Emerson's poem, its structure, language, and themes, and its relevance to contemporary readers.
A Poem of Questions
"The Sphinx" is a short but powerful poem that consists of twelve lines. Each line is a question, creating a series of enigmas that invite the reader to ponder the mysteries of existence. The poem begins with a rhetorical question:
"What is it that roars thus loud and clear,
whose voice is like the voice of a seer?"
The question sets the tone of the poem and establishes the Sphinx as a symbol of wisdom and mystery. The Sphinx's voice is compared to that of a seer, someone who can perceive the unseen and the unknown.
The following lines continue to ask questions that challenge the reader's assumptions and beliefs. For instance, the third line asks:
"What shakes the earth, and what cause can make the solid mountain tops to quake?"
The question suggests that there are forces beyond human control that can shake the very foundations of the earth. The mountain tops, which are often associated with strength and stability, are portrayed as vulnerable to these forces.
The poem's final lines return to the Sphinx's voice and its enigmatic nature:
"What voice did on my spirit fall, Peschiera! when thy fortress wall
I paced at midnight's solemn hour, When all was still, beneath the power Of the bright stars? Was it the tone Of a dear friend, that was unknown?"
The questions here are personal and intimate, as if the speaker is asking for answers to his own deepest questions. The reference to Peschiera and the fortress wall adds a historical and geographical dimension to the poem, but the questions remain universal and timeless.
A Poem of Structure
The structure of "The Sphinx" is simple but effective. Each line is a question, and the rhyme scheme is ABAB. The repetition of the Sphinx's voice and the use of rhetorical questions create a sense of urgency and mystery. The poem's brevity and intensity make it a powerful statement that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.
A Poem of Language and Themes
Emerson's language in "The Sphinx" is rich and metaphorical. The use of imagery and alliteration creates a sense of rhythm and musicality. The Sphinx is portrayed as a creature of power and wisdom, whose voice can shake the earth and whose questions can challenge our very existence.
The themes of the poem are existential and philosophical. The Sphinx becomes a symbol for the ultimate mystery of life, the enigma of existence, and the questions that define us as human beings. The poem asks us to ponder the meaning of our lives, the nature of reality, and the limits of our knowledge.
A Poem of Relevance
"The Sphinx" is a poem that transcends time and place. Its questions are universal and timeless, and its themes continue to resonate with contemporary readers. In a world where uncertainty and complexity are the norm, the poem reminds us of the power of questions and the mystery of existence. As Emerson himself wrote, "It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question."
"The Sphinx" is a remarkable poem that captures the mystery and enigma of existence. Its questions challenge our assumptions and beliefs, and its language and imagery create a sense of wonder and awe. The poem invites us to ponder the ultimate mystery of life and to embrace the power of questions. As a literary work, "The Sphinx" stands as a testament to the enduring power of poetry to inspire and enlighten.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
The Sphynx: A Poem of Mystery and Enigma
Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the most celebrated poets of the 19th century, was known for his philosophical musings and his ability to capture the essence of human experience in his poetry. One of his most enigmatic works is the poem "The Sphynx," which explores the themes of mystery, knowledge, and the human quest for understanding.
The poem begins with a description of the Sphynx, a mythical creature with the head of a human and the body of a lion. The Sphynx is known for its riddles, which it poses to travelers who pass by its lair. Those who fail to answer the riddles are devoured by the Sphynx, while those who succeed are allowed to pass unharmed.
Emerson uses the Sphynx as a metaphor for the mysteries of life and the universe. The Sphynx's riddles represent the questions that humans ask about the world around them, and the answers to those riddles represent the knowledge that humans seek in order to understand the mysteries of existence.
The first stanza of the poem sets the tone for the rest of the work:
"The Sphynx is drowsy, Her wings are furled; Her ear is heavy, She broods on the world."
This stanza suggests that the Sphynx is in a state of contemplation, perhaps pondering the mysteries of the universe. The fact that her wings are furled and her ear is heavy suggests that she is not actively seeking answers, but rather waiting for them to come to her.
The second stanza describes the Sphynx's lair:
"Who'll tell me my secret, The ages have kept? I awaited the seer, While they slumbered and slept;"
This stanza suggests that the Sphynx is waiting for someone to come and answer her riddles, someone who has the knowledge and insight to understand the secrets of the universe. The fact that the Sphynx has been waiting for ages suggests that the answers to her riddles are not easily found, and that only a select few have the ability to solve them.
The third stanza describes the Sphynx's riddles:
"The fate of the man-child; The meaning of man; Known fruit of the unknown; Dædalian plan;"
These lines suggest that the Sphynx's riddles are not simple questions, but rather complex and profound inquiries into the nature of existence. The fate of the man-child and the meaning of man are questions that have puzzled philosophers and thinkers for centuries, while the known fruit of the unknown and the Dædalian plan suggest that the answers to these questions are not easily found.
The fourth stanza describes the Sphynx's victims:
"Why so sad? Be still, my heart, These friendly feet, And thou, melodious harp, Whose tones once so sweet Were wont in happy times To give response to all my rhymes, Now, if thou wouldst not rue Bitter tears for thy untimely silence, tell To what bright star, uncalled and distant, hence Thou steer'st now thy course, and with what winged speed."
These lines suggest that those who fail to answer the Sphynx's riddles are doomed to a sad fate, one that is marked by silence and regret. The fact that the harp, which once gave response to all the Sphynx's rhymes, is now silent suggests that those who fail to answer the riddles are unable to find meaning or purpose in their lives.
The fifth stanza describes the Sphynx's purpose:
"The Sphynx is gone; Her lair is here; But the Sphynx was a symbol And a sign to the seer."
These lines suggest that the Sphynx is not just a mythical creature, but a symbol of the mysteries of life and the universe. The fact that the Sphynx is gone suggests that the answers to the riddles have been found, but the lair remains as a reminder of the quest for knowledge and understanding.
In conclusion, "The Sphynx" is a poem that explores the themes of mystery, knowledge, and the human quest for understanding. Emerson uses the Sphynx as a metaphor for the mysteries of life and the universe, and the Sphynx's riddles represent the questions that humans ask about the world around them. The fact that the Sphynx has been waiting for ages suggests that the answers to her riddles are not easily found, and that only a select few have the ability to solve them. The poem suggests that those who fail to answer the Sphynx's riddles are doomed to a sad fate, one that is marked by silence and regret. Ultimately, the Sphynx is not just a mythical creature, but a symbol of the mysteries of life and the universe, and the lair remains as a reminder of the quest for knowledge and understanding.
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