'Threnody' by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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The south-wind brings
Life, sunshine, and desire,
And on every mount and meadow
Breathes aromatic fire,
But over the dead he has no power,
The lost, the lost he cannot restore,
And, looking over the hills, I mourn
The darling who shall not return.I see my empty house,
I see my trees repair their boughs,
And he, -the wondrous child,
Whose silver warble wild
Outvalued every pulsing sound
Within the air's cerulean round,
The hyacinthine boy, for whom
Morn well might break, and April bloom,
The gracious boy, who did adorn
The world whereinto he was born,
And by his countenance repay
The favor of the loving Day,
Has disappeared from the Day's eye;
Far and wide she cannot find him,
My hopes pursue, they cannot bind him.
Returned this day the south-wind searches
And finds young pines and budding birches,
But finds not the budding man;
Nature who lost him, cannot remake him;
Fate let him fall, Fate can't retake him;
Nature, Fate, men, him seek in vain.And whither now, my truant wise and sweet,
Oh, whither tend thy feet?
I had the right, few days ago,
Thy steps to watch, thy place to know;
How have I forfeited the right?
Hast thou forgot me in a new delight?
I hearken for thy household cheer,
O eloquent child!
Whose voice, an equal messenger,
Conveyed thy meaning mild.
What though the pains and joys
Whereof it spoke were toys
Fitting his age and ken;-
Yet fairest dames and bearded men,
Who heard the sweet request
So gentle, wise, and grave,
Bended with joy to his behest,
And let the world's affairs go by,
Awhile to share his cordial game,
Or mend his wicker wagon frame,
Still plotting how their hungry ear
That winsome voice again might hear,
For his lips could well pronounce
Words that were persuasions.Gentlest guardians marked serene
His early hope, his liberal mien,
Took counsel from his guiding eyes
To make this wisdom earthly wise.
Ah! vainly do these eyes recall
The school-march, each day's festival,
When every morn my bosom glowed
To watch the convoy on the road;-
The babe in willow wagon closed,
With rolling eyes and face composed,
With children forward and behind,
Like Cupids studiously inclined,
And he, the Chieftain, paced beside,
The centre of the troop allied,
With sunny face of sweet repose,
To guard the babe from fancied foes,
The little Captain innocent
Took the eye with him as he went,
Each village senior paused to scan
And speak the lovely caravan.From the window I look out
To mark thy beautiful parade
Stately marching in cap and coat
To some tune by fairies played;
A music heard by thee alone
To works as noble led thee on.
Now love and pride, alas, in vain,
Up and down their glances strain.
The painted sled stands where it stood,
The kennel by the corded wood,
The gathered sticks to stanch the wall
Of the snow-tower, when snow should fall,
The ominous hole he dug in the sand,
And childhood's castles built or planned.
His daily haunts I well discern,
The poultry yard, the shed, the barn,
And every inch of garden ground
Paced by the blessed feet around,
From the road-side to the brook;
Whereinto he loved to look.
Step the meek birds where erst they ranged,
The wintry garden lies unchanged,
The brook into the stream runs on,
But the deep-eyed Boy is gone.On that shaded day,
Dark with more clouds than tempests are,
When thou didst yield thy innocent breath
In bird-like heavings unto death,
Night came, and Nature had not thee,-
I said, we are mates in misery.
The morrow dawned with needless glow,
Each snow-bird chirped, each fowl must crow,
Each tramper started,- but the feet
Of the most beautiful and sweet
Of human youth had left the hill
And garden,-they were bound and still,
There's not a sparrow or a wren,
There's not a blade of autumn grain,
Which the four seasons do not tend,
And tides of life and increase lend,
And every chick of every bird,
And weed and rock-moss is preferred.
O ostriches' forgetfulness!
O loss of larger in the less!
Was there no star that could be sent,
No watcher in the firmament,
No angel from the countless host,
That loiters round the crystal coast,
Could stoop to heal that only child,
Nature's sweet marvel undefiled,
And keep the blossom of the earth,
Which all her harvests were not worth?
Not mine, I never called thee mine,
But nature's heir,- if I repine,
And, seeing rashly torn and moved,
Not what I made, but what I loved.
Grow early old with grief that then
Must to the wastes of nature go,-
'Tis because a general hope
Was quenched, and all must doubt and grope
For flattering planets seemed to say,
This child should ills of ages stay,-
By wondrous tongue and guided pen
Bring the flown muses back to men. -
Perchance, not he, but nature ailed,
The world, and not the infant failed,
It was not ripe yet, to sustain
A genius of so fine a strain,
Who gazed upon the sun and moon
As if he came unto his own,
And pregnant with his grander thought,
Brought the old order into doubt.
Awhile his beauty their beauty tried,
They could not feed him, and he died,
And wandered backward as in scorn
To wait an Æon to be born.
Ill day which made this beauty waste;
Plight broken, this high face defaced!
Some went and came about the dead,
And some in books of solace read,
Some to their friends the tidings say,
Some went to write, some went to pray,
One tarried here, there hurried one,
But their heart abode with none.
Covetous death bereaved us all
To aggrandize one funeral.
The eager Fate which carried thee
Took the largest part of me.
For this losing is true dying,
This is lordly man's down-lying,
This is slow but sure reclining,
Star by star his world resigning.O child of Paradise!
Boy who made dear his father's home
In whose deep eyes
Men read the welfare of the times to come;
I am too much bereft;
The world dishonored thou hast left;
O truths and natures costly lie;
O trusted, broken prophecy!
O richest fortune sourly crossed;
Born for the future, to the future lost!The deep Heart answered, Weepest thou?
Worthier cause for passion wild,
If I had not taken the child.
And deemest thou as those who pore
With aged eyes short way before?
Think'st Beauty vanished from the coast
Of matter, and thy darling lost?
Taught he not thee, - the man of eld,
Whose eyes within his eyes beheld
Heaven's numerous hierarchy span
The mystic gulf from God to man?
To be alone wilt thou begin,
When worlds of lovers hem thee in?
To-morrow, when the masks shall fall
That dizen nature's carnival,
The pure shall see, by their own will,
Which overflowing love shall fill,-
'Tis not within the force of Fate
The fate-conjoined to separate.
But thou, my votary, weepest thou?
I gave thee sight, where is it now?
I taught thy heart beyond the reach
Of ritual, Bible, or of speech;
Wrote in thy mind's transparent table
As far as the incommunicable;
Taught thee each private sign to raise
Lit by the supersolar blaze.
Past utterance and past belief,
And past the blasphemy of grief,
The mysteries of nature's heart,-
And though no muse can these impart,
Throb thine with nature's throbbing breast,
And all is clear from east to west.I came to thee as to a friend,
Dearest, to thee I did not send
Tutors, but a joyful eye,
Innocence that matched the sky,
Lovely locks a form of wonder,
Laughter rich as woodland thunder;
That thou might'st entertain apart
The richest flowering of all art;
And, as the great all-loving Day
Through smallest chambers takes its way,
That thou might'st break thy daily bread
With Prophet, Saviour, and head;
That thou might'st cherish for thine own
The riches of sweet Mary's Son,
Boy-Rabbi, Israel's Paragon:
And thoughtest thou such guest
Would in thy hall take up his rest?
Would rushing life forget its laws,
Fate's glowing revolution pause?
High omens ask diviner guess,
Not to be conned to tediousness.
And know, my higher gifts unbind
The zone that girds the incarnate mind,
When the scanty shores are full
With Thought's perilous whirling pool,
When frail Nature can no more,-
Then the spirit strikes the hour,
My servant Death with solving rite
Pours finite into infinite.
Wilt thou freeze love's tidal flow,
Whose streams through nature circling go?
Nail the star struggling to its track
On the half-climbed Zodiack?
Light is light which radiates,
Blood is blood which circulates,
Life is life which generates,
And many-seeming life is one,-
Wilt thou transfix and make it none,
Its onward stream too starkly pent
In figure, bone, and lineament?Wilt thou uncalled interrogate
Talker! the unreplying fate?
Nor see the Genius of the whole
Ascendant in the private soul,
Beckon it when to go and come,
Self-announced its hour of doom.
Fair the soul's recess and shrine,
Magic-built, to last a season,
Masterpiece of love benign!
Fairer than expansive reason
Whose omen 'tis, and sign.
Wilt thou not ope this heart to know
What rainbows teach and sunsets show,
Verdict which accumulates
From lengthened scroll of human fates,
Voice of earth to earth returned,
Prayers of heart that inly burned;
Saying, what is excellent,As God lives, is permanentHearts are dust, hearts' loves remain,Heart's love will meet thee again.Revere the Maker; fetch thine eye
Up to His style, and manners of the sky.
Not of adamant and gold
Built He heaven stark and cold,
No, but a nest of bending reeds,
Flowering grass and scented weeds,
Or like a traveller's fleeting tent,
Or bow above the tempest pent,
Built of tears and sacred flames,
And virtue reaching to its aims;
Built of furtherance and pursuing,
Not of spent deeds, but of doing.
Silent rushes the swift Lord
Through ruined systems still restored,
Broad-sowing, bleak and void to bless,
Plants with worlds the wilderness,
Waters with tears of ancient sorrow
Apples of Eden ripe to-morrow;
House and tenant go to ground,
Lost in God, in Godhead found.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Threnody by Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Deep Dive into Grief and Loss

Threnody, originally titled "In Memory of Edward Bliss Emerson," is a poem written by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1847 in memory of his young son who had died of scarlet fever at the age of five. It is a powerful and emotional piece that reflects Emerson's own grief and attempts to come to terms with the loss of his son. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, symbols, and language used in Threnody to gain a deeper understanding of this classic poem.


At its core, Threnody is a poem about grief and loss. Emerson uses his words to express the intense pain and sorrow he feels after the death of his son. The poem is divided into five stanzas, each of which explores a different aspect of grief.

The first stanza focuses on the physical impact of loss. Emerson describes the "ritual of death" and the "empty house" that once was filled with life. He speaks of the "silent room" that now stands as a testament to the absence of his son's presence. The stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, conveying the overwhelming sense of loss that Emerson is experiencing.

The second stanza delves into the emotional impact of grief. Emerson describes the feeling of being "lost in thought" and the sense of isolation that often accompanies grief. He speaks of the way that grief can consume a person, leaving them feeling empty and alone. The stanza is a powerful portrayal of the emotional toll that grief can take.

The third stanza explores the idea of memory and how it can be both a comfort and a source of pain. Emerson speaks of the memories he has of his son, which bring him both joy and sorrow. He describes the way that memories can be "like daggers," piercing the heart and causing pain. The stanza is a poignant reflection on the complexity of grief and the ways that it can be both beautiful and painful.

The fourth stanza is a meditation on the nature of death itself. Emerson speaks of death as a "great mystery" and considers the idea that death may be a transition into a new form of existence. He describes death as a "secret door" that leads to a new realm of understanding. The stanza is a philosophical exploration of the meaning of death and the possibility of an afterlife.

The final stanza is a reflection on the power of love to overcome grief. Emerson speaks of the way that love can transcend death and continue to exist even after a loved one has passed away. He describes the way that love can be a source of comfort and strength in the face of grief. The stanza is a beautiful reminder that, even in the midst of tragedy, love endures.


Throughout Threnody, Emerson uses a variety of symbols to convey his ideas about grief and loss. One of the most powerful symbols in the poem is the image of the "empty house." This symbol represents the absence of the poet's son and serves as a reminder of the pain and loss that he is experiencing.

Another important symbol in the poem is the concept of memory. Emerson describes memories as "ghosts" that haunt the mind, bringing both joy and pain. Memories are a symbol of the past and the way that it continues to influence the present, even after a loved one has passed away.

The image of the "silent room" is also a powerful symbol in the poem. This symbol conveys the sense of stillness and emptiness that accompanies grief. The silent room represents the absence of the poet's son and serves as a reminder of the way that grief can silence even the most vibrant of spaces.


Emerson's use of language in Threnody is both beautiful and poignant. His words are carefully chosen to convey the depth of his grief and the complexity of his emotions.

One of the most powerful examples of Emerson's language in the poem is his use of repetition. Throughout Threnody, he repeats certain phrases and images, such as the "empty house" and the "silent room," to create a sense of continuity and emphasis. This repetition serves to reinforce the central themes of the poem and to make them more powerful.

Emerson also uses vivid imagery to convey his ideas. For example, he describes memories as "phantoms," ghosts that haunt the mind and heart. This image is both beautiful and haunting, conveying the way that memories can be both comforting and painful.

Finally, Emerson's use of metaphor in the poem is also noteworthy. He describes death as a "secret door" and a "great mystery," using these metaphors to emphasize the unknowable nature of death and the possibility of an afterlife. These metaphors add depth and complexity to the poem, making it a powerful meditation on the meaning of life and death.


In conclusion, Threnody is a powerful and emotional poem that explores the themes of grief and loss. Through its use of symbols, language, and imagery, Emerson creates a moving portrait of the pain and sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one. The poem is a beautiful reminder of the power of love to endure even in the face of tragedy, and it continues to resonate with readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Threnody" is a classic poem that speaks to the human experience of grief and loss. Written in 1842, the poem is a reflection on the death of Emerson's young son, Waldo, who passed away at the age of five. In this 2000-word analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of "Threnody," and examine how Emerson uses poetry to express his emotions and connect with his readers.

The poem is divided into three sections, each with its own distinct tone and focus. The first section, which is the longest, is an expression of grief and mourning. Emerson begins by describing the physical and emotional pain he feels in the wake of his son's death. He writes, "The south-wind brings / Life, sunshine, and desire, / But the north-wind whips / Our life with its own scourge of wire." Here, Emerson uses the metaphor of the wind to convey the conflicting emotions he experiences. The south wind represents life and vitality, while the north wind symbolizes death and sorrow.

Throughout this section, Emerson uses vivid imagery to describe his grief. He writes of "the black shadow that fell / From the height of noon to the depth of hell," and of "the darkened room / Where weeping hours repose." These images create a sense of darkness and despair, and convey the depth of Emerson's sorrow.

Despite the overwhelming sadness of this section, there are moments of hope and beauty. Emerson writes of his son's "angel eyes," and of the "sweetness that was born of pain." These moments of light amidst the darkness suggest that even in the midst of grief, there is still beauty and meaning to be found.

The second section of the poem shifts focus from Emerson's personal grief to a broader meditation on the nature of death and the human experience of loss. Emerson writes, "The world is full of renunciations and farewells, / And grace is born of them, and beauty too." Here, he suggests that the experience of loss can lead to growth and transformation. He goes on to write, "We see but dimly through the mists and vapors; / Amid these earthly damps / What seem to us but sad, funeral tapers / May be heaven's distant lamps." This image of funeral tapers as distant lamps suggests that even in the midst of darkness and sorrow, there is still the possibility of light and hope.

The final section of the poem is a tribute to Emerson's son, and a celebration of the love and connection that exists between parent and child. He writes, "Thy love thou sendest oft / To greet me on my way; / And oft, sweet thoughts, dost thou / My little spirit sway." Here, Emerson suggests that even though his son is gone, he still feels his presence and love in his life. He goes on to write, "Thou art the same, and all thy forms and tricks / And sprightly sallies of thy prison-house, / Are forever new and fresh." This image of his son's spirit as forever new and fresh suggests that even though he is no longer physically present, his memory and spirit continue to live on.

One of the most striking aspects of "Threnody" is its use of language and imagery. Emerson's writing is rich with metaphor and symbolism, which creates a sense of depth and complexity. For example, he writes of "the black shadow that fell / From the height of noon to the depth of hell." This image of a shadow falling from the height of noon suggests the suddenness and intensity of his son's death, while the reference to hell creates a sense of darkness and despair.

Emerson also uses repetition and alliteration to create a sense of rhythm and musicality in his writing. For example, he writes, "The south-wind brings / Life, sunshine, and desire, / But the north-wind whips / Our life with its own scourge of wire." The repetition of the "s" sound in "south-wind" and "scourge" creates a sense of movement and energy, while the contrast between the south and north winds creates a sense of tension and conflict.

Another notable aspect of "Threnody" is its structure. The poem is divided into three sections, each with its own distinct tone and focus. This structure creates a sense of progression and development, as Emerson moves from personal grief to a broader meditation on death and loss, and finally to a celebration of his son's memory. The use of repetition and imagery also creates a sense of unity and coherence throughout the poem.

In conclusion, Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Threnody" is a powerful and moving poem that speaks to the human experience of grief and loss. Through his use of language, imagery, and structure, Emerson creates a sense of depth and complexity that captures the complexity of his emotions. The poem is a testament to the power of poetry to express the inexpressible, and to connect us with our deepest emotions and experiences.

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