'Dæmonic Love' by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Man was made of social earth,
Child and brother from his birth;
Tethered by a liquid cord
Of blood through veins of kindred poured,
Next his heart the fireside band
Of mother, father, sister, stand;
Names from awful childhood heard,
Throbs of a wild religion stirred,
Their good was heaven, their harm was vice,
Till Beauty came to snap all ties,
The maid, abolishing the past,
With lotus-wine obliterates
Dear memory's stone-incarved traits,
And by herself supplants alone
Friends year by year more inly known.
When her calm eyes opened bright,
All were foreign in their light.
It was ever the self-same tale,
The old experience will not fail,—
Only two in the garden walked,
And with snake and seraph talked.

But God said;
I will have a purer gift,
There is smoke in the flame;
New flowerets bring, new prayers uplift,
And love without a name.
Fond children, ye desire
To please each other well;
Another round, a higher,
Ye shall climb on the heavenly stair,
And selfish preference forbear;
And in right deserving,
And without a swerving
Each from your proper state,
Weave roses for your mate.

Deep, deep are loving eyes,
Flowed with naphtha fiery sweet,
And the point is Paradise
Where their glances meet:
Their reach shall yet be more profound,
And a vision without bound:
The axis of those eyes sun-clear
Be the axis of the sphere;
Then shall the lights ye pour amain
Go without check or intervals,
Through from the empyrean walls,
Unto the same again.

Close, close to men,
Like undulating layer of air,
Right above their heads,
The potent plain of Dæmons spreads.
Stands to each human soul its own,
For watch, and ward, and furtherance
In the snares of nature's dance;
And the lustre and the grace
Which fascinate each human heart,
Beaming from another part,
Translucent through the mortal covers,
Is the Dæmon's form and face.
To and fro the Genius hies,
A gleam which plays and hovers
Over the maiden's head,
And dips sometimes as low as to her eyes.

Unknown, — albeit lying near, —
To men the path to the Dæmon sphere,
And they that swiftly come and go,
Leave no track on the heavenly snow.
Sometimes the airy synod bends,
And the mighty choir descends,
And the brains of men thenceforth,
In crowded and in still resorts,
Teem with unwonted thoughts.
As when a shower of meteors
Cross the orbit of the earth,
And, lit by fringent air,
Blaze near and far.
Mortals deem the planets bright
Have slipped their sacred bars,
And the lone seaman all the night
Sails astonished amid stars.

Beauty of a richer vein,
Graces of a subtler strain,
Unto men these moon-men lend,
And our shrinking sky extend.
So is man's narrow path
By strength and terror skirted,
Also (from the song the wrath
Of the Genii be averted!
The Muse the truth uncolored speaking),
The Dæmons are self-seeking;
Their fierce and limitary will
Draws men to their likeness still.

The erring painter made Love blind,
Highest Love who shines on all;
Him radiant, sharpest-sighted god
None can bewilder;
Whose eyes pierce
The Universe,
Path-finder, road-builder,
Mediator, royal giver,
Rightly-seeing, rightly-seen,
Of joyful and transparent mien.
'Tis a sparkle passing
From each to each, from me to thee,
Sharing all, daring all,
Levelling, misplacing
Each obstruction, it unites
Equals remote, and seeming opposites.
And ever and forever Love
Delights to build a road;
Unheeded Danger near him strides,
Love laughs, and on a lion rides.
But Cupid wears another face
Born into Dæmons less divine,
His roses bleach apace,
His nectar smacks of wine.
The Dæmon ever builds a wall,
Himself incloses and includes,
Solitude in solitudes:
In like sort his love doth fall.
He is an oligarch,
He prizes wonder, fame, and mark,
He loveth crowns,
He scorneth drones;
He doth elect
The beautiful and fortunate,
And the sons of intellect,
And the souls of ample fate,
Who the Future's gates unbar,
Minions of the Morning Star.
In his prowess he exults,
And the multitude insults.
His impatient looks devour
Oft the humble and the poor,
And, seeing his eye glare,
They drop their few pale flowers
Gathered with hope to please
Along the mountain towers,
Lose courage, and despair.
He will never be gainsaid,
Pitiless, will not be stayed.
His hot tyranny
Burns up every other tie;
Therefore comes an hour from Jove
Which his ruthless will defies,
And the dogs of Fate unties.
Shiver the palaces of glass,
Shrivel the rainbow-colored walls
Where in bright art each god and sibyl dwelt
Secure as in the Zodiack's belt;
And the galleries and halls
Wherein every Siren sung,
Like a meteor pass.
For this fortune wanted root
In the core of God's abysm,
Was a weed of self and schism:
And ever the Dæmonic Love
Is the ancestor of wars,
And the parent of remorse.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Dæmonic Love: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Have you ever loved someone so much that it felt like a force greater than yourself was at work? That the love you felt was otherworldly and almost dangerous in its intensity? Ralph Waldo Emerson certainly knew that feeling, and he captured it masterfully in his poem "Dæmonic Love".

About the Poet

Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet who lived from 1803 to 1882. He was a leading figure in the transcendentalist movement, which emphasized the importance of individualism, intuition, and spiritual experience. Emerson's poetry often explores these themes, as well as nature, self-reliance, and the divine. He is considered one of the most influential writers of the 19th century, and his work continues to inspire and challenge readers today.

The Poem

"Dæmonic Love" was first published in 1847, and it consists of fourteen stanzas of varying length. The poem is written in free verse, meaning that it doesn't follow a specific rhyme or meter pattern. This style allows Emerson to experiment with the form and structure of the poem, and to convey a sense of spontaneity and improvisation.

The poem begins with an invocation to the "demon" of love, which Emerson describes as a "winged and uncontrolled thing". He then goes on to explore the power and intensity of this kind of love, which he compares to a "thunderbolt" or a "whirlwind".

Throughout the poem, Emerson uses vivid and often startling imagery to convey the overwhelming nature of dæmonic love. He describes it as a "fierce and restless flame", a "vortex of flame and ruin", and a "serpent wreathed around the heart". These images suggest that dæmonic love is not only intense, but also destructive and potentially dangerous.

Emerson also suggests that dæmonic love is not limited to romantic relationships, but can also be felt towards nature, art, and even ideas. He writes, "The same fury / in the tempests and in me". This suggests that the same force that drives storms and natural disasters is also present in the human experience of love.

At the same time, Emerson acknowledges the risks and challenges of dæmonic love. He writes, "I have known love's good, / And all was ruin". This suggests that even though dæmonic love may be exhilarating and transformative, it can also lead to pain and destruction.


So what does this poem mean, exactly? As with any work of art, there are many possible interpretations, but here are a few that I find compelling.

First of all, I think that "dæmonic love" represents a kind of passion that goes beyond reason and control. It is a force that can take over a person's life, leading them to do things they wouldn't normally do, or to feel things they wouldn't normally feel. This kind of love can be both exhilarating and terrifying, as it threatens to overwhelm the individual and disrupt their sense of self.

At the same time, I think that dæmonic love can also be seen as a kind of creative force. When we are in the grip of this kind of passion, we may be driven to create art or music, to explore new ideas or ways of being, or to connect with the natural world in a deeper way. In this sense, dæmonic love can be a source of inspiration and growth, even if it comes with risks and challenges.

Finally, I think that dæmonic love can be seen as a reflection of the human relationship with the divine. Emerson was a deeply religious person, and he believed that the divine could be found not only in organized religion, but also in nature, art, and human relationships. In this poem, he suggests that the same force that drives storms and natural disasters is also present in the human experience of love. This suggests that love, like nature, is an expression of the divine, and that we can find spiritual meaning and insight in our relationships with others.


In conclusion, "Dæmonic Love" is a powerful and evocative poem that explores the intensity and complexity of human passion. Through vivid imagery and free verse, Emerson captures the overwhelming nature of dæmonic love, while also acknowledging its risks and challenges. At the same time, the poem suggests that this kind of love can be a source of inspiration, growth, and spiritual insight. Whether you read it as a love poem, a meditation on the human relationship with the divine, or an exploration of the creative power of passion, "Dæmonic Love" is a work of art that continues to speak to readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Dæmonic Love: A Poem of Passion and Power

Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of the most celebrated poets of the 19th century, known for his transcendentalist philosophy and his ability to capture the essence of the human experience in his writing. One of his most intriguing works is the poem "Dæmonic Love," a powerful and passionate exploration of the darker side of love and desire. In this analysis, we will delve into the themes, imagery, and language of this classic poem, and explore what makes it such a timeless and compelling work.

The poem begins with a striking image: "The demons of the air together / Swarm and surge o'er me and mine." This opening line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, establishing a sense of danger and intensity that will pervade the entire work. The use of the word "dæmonic" is also significant, as it suggests a supernatural or otherworldly force at work in the poem. This is not a love that is purely human or rational, but something more primal and instinctual.

As the poem continues, we see the speaker grappling with this intense and overwhelming love. He describes it as a "fierce unrest" that consumes him, a force that he cannot resist or control. The language here is vivid and visceral, with images of flames and storms that suggest the destructive power of this love. The speaker is both drawn to and repelled by this force, torn between the ecstasy it brings and the fear of what it might do to him.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its use of imagery. Emerson employs a wide range of metaphors and symbols to convey the intensity of the speaker's emotions. For example, he compares his love to a "wild bird" that cannot be tamed or contained, and to a "fiery steed" that carries him away. These images suggest a sense of wildness and unpredictability, as well as a sense of movement and energy that propels the speaker forward.

Another powerful image in the poem is that of the "black abyss" that the speaker sees when he looks into his lover's eyes. This image suggests a sense of danger and darkness, as well as a sense of depth and mystery. The speaker is drawn to this abyss, even as he fears what might be lurking within it. This image also suggests a sense of the unknown, as if the speaker is exploring uncharted territory in his love.

Throughout the poem, Emerson also employs a range of poetic techniques to convey the intensity of the speaker's emotions. For example, he uses repetition to emphasize certain phrases and ideas, such as the repeated use of the word "fierce" to describe the speaker's love. He also uses alliteration and assonance to create a sense of rhythm and musicality in the poem, such as in the line "And the winds are his clarions, / And the fires his singing choir."

One of the most intriguing aspects of the poem is its exploration of the darker side of love. Emerson does not shy away from the more dangerous and destructive aspects of passion, but instead embraces them as an essential part of the human experience. The speaker's love is not a safe or comfortable one, but one that is fraught with risk and uncertainty. This is a love that can lead to madness or ruin, but it is also a love that is worth pursuing despite the dangers.

In conclusion, "Dæmonic Love" is a powerful and passionate poem that explores the darker side of love and desire. Through vivid imagery, poetic language, and a fearless exploration of the unknown, Emerson captures the intensity and complexity of human emotion. This is a poem that speaks to the primal instincts within us all, and reminds us that love is not always safe or rational, but is always worth pursuing.

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