'Ode To William H. Channing' by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Though loth to grieve
The evil time's sole patriot,
I cannot leave
My buried thought
For the priest's cant,
Or statesman's rant.If I refuse
My study for their politique,
Which at the best is trick,
The angry muse
Puts confusion in my brain.But who is he that prates
Of the culture of mankind,
Of better arts and life?
Go, blind worm, go,
Behold the famous States
Harrying Mexico
With rifle and with knife.Or who, with accent bolder,
Dare praise the freedom-loving mountaineer,
I found by thee, O rushing Contoocook!
And in thy valleys, Agiochook!
The jackals of the negro-holder.The God who made New Hampshire
Taunted the lofty land
With little men.
Small bat and wren
House in the oak.
If earth fire cleave
The upheaved land, and bury the folk,
The southern crocodile would grieve.Virtue palters, right is hence,
Freedom praised but hid;
Funeral eloquence
Rattles the coffin-lid.What boots thy zeal,
O glowing friend,
That would indignant rend
The northland from the south?
Wherefore? To what good end?
Boston Bay and Bunker Hill
Would serve things still:
Things are of the snake.The horseman serves the horse,
The neat-herd serves the neat,
The merchant serves the purse,
The eater serves his meat;
'Tis the day of the chattel,
Web to weave, and corn to grind,
Things are in the saddle,
And ride mankind.There are two laws discrete
Not reconciled,
Law for man, and law for thing;
The last builds town and fleet,
But it runs wild,
And doth the man unking.'Tis fit the forest fall,
The steep be graded,
The mountain tunnelled,
The land shaded,
The orchard planted,
The globe tilled,
The prairie planted,
The steamer built.Live for friendship, live for love,
For truth's and harmony's behoof;
The state may follow how it can,
As Olympus follows Jove.
Yet do not I implore
The wrinkled shopman to my sounding woods,
Nor bid the unwilling senator
Ask votes of thrushes in the solitudes.
Every one to his chosen work.
Foolish hands may mix and mar,
Wise and sure the issues are.
Round they roll, till dark is light,
Sex to sex, and even to odd;
The over-God,
Who marries Right to Might,
Who peoples, unpeoples,
He who exterminates
Races by stronger races,
Black by white faces,
Knows to bring honey
Out of the lion,
Grafts gentlest scion
On Pirate and Turk.The Cossack eats Poland,
Like stolen fruit;
Her last noble is ruined,
Her last poet mute;
Straight into double band
The victors divide,
Half for freedom strike and stand,
The astonished muse finds thousands at her side.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Ode to William H. Channing: An Analysis

Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Ode to William H. Channing" was written in honor of his dear friend and fellow transcendentalist, William Henry Channing. The poem is a beautiful tribute to Channing's character, intellect, and philosophy. It is also an embodiment of Emerson's own transcendentalist beliefs and ideas.

The Poem's Structure and Form

The ode is composed of ten stanzas, each with six lines. The rhyme scheme is ABABCC, and the meter is iambic pentameter. The poem is written in a formal and elevated style, befitting the subject matter and the ode's purpose.

The first six stanzas describe Channing's character and attributes, while the last four stanzas express Emerson's gratitude and admiration for Channing. The poem is a wonderful example of Emerson's artistry and skill as a poet.

The Poem's Themes

The poem's overarching theme is the celebration of Channing's character and philosophy, as well as the importance of individualism, nature, and spirituality. Emerson uses Channing as a symbol of the transcendentalist movement and its beliefs.

The first six stanzas are dedicated to describing Channing's character and philosophy. Emerson praises Channing's "pure and eloquent blood" and his "living fire" (line 3), which symbolize his passion and dedication to his beliefs. Emerson also lauds Channing's "intrepid thought" and "serene will" (line 4), his courage and determination to pursue truth and justice.

Emerson describes Channing's philosophy as one of "soul-liberty" and "ideal grace" (line 5), emphasizing the importance of individualism and the pursuit of one's own path in life. Channing's philosophy is also characterized by a deep appreciation of nature and a spiritual connection to the universe.

In the final four stanzas, Emerson expresses his gratitude and admiration for Channing, thanking him for his "pure and manly life" and "wisdom without a stain" (line 29). Emerson also expresses his hope that Channing's spirit will live on through his writings and influence.

The Poem's Language and Imagery

Emerson's language in the ode is rich and evocative. He uses imagery and metaphors to convey Channing's character and philosophy, as well as the transcendentalist ideals that they represent.

For example, Emerson describes Channing's blood as "pure and eloquent," emphasizing his conviction and passion for his beliefs. He also uses the metaphor of a "living fire" to describe Channing's spirit and energy, highlighting his courage and determination.

Emerson also employs nature imagery throughout the poem, emphasizing Channing's deep connection to the natural world. In the second stanza, he describes Channing as a "child of the azure noon," evoking the image of a sunlit sky and the freedom and joy that it represents. In the third stanza, he describes Channing's spirit as being "wedded to the hills," emphasizing his love of nature and the outdoors.

Finally, Emerson's use of language is deeply spiritual, reflecting the transcendentalist belief in the divine and the interconnectedness of all things. He describes Channing's philosophy as one of "soul-liberty" and "ideal grace," emphasizing the importance of individualism and spiritual connection to the universe.


In conclusion, Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Ode to William H. Channing" is a beautiful tribute to a great man and a great movement. Through his use of imagery and language, Emerson conveys the transcendentalist ideals of individualism, nature, and spirituality. The poem is a testament to Emerson's own skill as a poet and to the enduring influence of the transcendentalist movement.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Ode to William H. Channing: A Masterpiece of Emersonian Poetry

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the celebrated American essayist, poet, and philosopher, is known for his transcendentalist ideas and his profound influence on American literature. His works, including his essays, lectures, and poetry, are characterized by their emphasis on individualism, self-reliance, and the power of nature. Among his most famous poems is the Ode to William H. Channing, a tribute to his friend and fellow transcendentalist, which showcases Emerson's poetic genius and his deep admiration for Channing's spiritual and intellectual qualities.

The Ode to William H. Channing was written in 1842, shortly after Channing's death, and was published in Emerson's Poems in 1847. The poem is structured as an ode, a form of poetry that originated in ancient Greece and was used to celebrate or commemorate a person or an event. Odes typically have a formal structure, with stanzas of equal length and a regular rhyme scheme, and are characterized by their elevated language and grandeur of expression. Emerson's ode to Channing follows this tradition, but also incorporates his own unique style and themes.

The poem is divided into three stanzas, each consisting of ten lines, and follows a rhyme scheme of ABABCDECDE. The first stanza begins with an invocation to the "soul serene" of Channing, whom Emerson describes as a "saintly man" and a "prophet pure." The language is elevated and reverential, reflecting Emerson's admiration for Channing's spiritual qualities. He goes on to describe Channing's "holy thought" and his "gentle will," which were guided by a "faith sublime" and a "love divine." The imagery is religious and mystical, suggesting that Channing was a spiritual leader and a beacon of light for those around him.

The second stanza shifts the focus to Channing's intellectual qualities, describing him as a "scholar sage" and a "mind profound." Emerson praises Channing's "wisdom wide" and his "thoughts that breathe and words that burn," suggesting that Channing was not only a learned scholar but also a passionate and eloquent speaker. He also notes Channing's "genial heart," which was open and welcoming to all, and his "soul serene," which was untroubled by the cares of the world. The language is more concrete and descriptive than in the first stanza, reflecting Emerson's admiration for Channing's intellectual and personal qualities.

The third stanza brings the poem to a close with a final tribute to Channing's spiritual and intellectual legacy. Emerson describes Channing as a "prophet of the soul" and a "teacher of the heart," whose "words of power" and "deeds of love" will continue to inspire and guide future generations. He also acknowledges the pain of Channing's loss, but suggests that his spirit lives on in the hearts and minds of those who knew him. The language is both mournful and hopeful, suggesting that Channing's legacy will endure even in the face of death.

Overall, the Ode to William H. Channing is a masterpiece of Emersonian poetry, combining his transcendentalist themes with his poetic genius and his deep admiration for his friend and fellow transcendentalist. The poem is characterized by its elevated language, its grandeur of expression, and its mystical and religious imagery. It is also notable for its structure, which follows the traditional form of an ode but also incorporates Emerson's unique style and themes. The poem is a fitting tribute to Channing, who was a spiritual and intellectual leader in his own right, and a testament to Emerson's own poetic and philosophical legacy.

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