'Merlin I' by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Thy trivial harp will never please
Or fill my craving ear;
Its chords should ring as blows the breeze,
Free, peremptory, clear.
No jingling serenader's art,
Nor tinkle of piano strings,
Can make the wild blood start
In its mystic springs.
The kingly bard
Must smite the chords rudely and hard,
As with hammer or with mace,
That they may render back
Artful thunder that conveys
Secrets of the solar track,
Sparks of the supersolar blaze.
Merlin's blows are strokes of fate,
Chiming with the forest-tone,
When boughs buffet boughs in the wood;
Chiming with the gasp and moan
Of the ice-imprisoned flood;
With the pulse of manly hearts,
With the voice of orators,
With the din of city arts,
With the cannonade of wars.
With the marches of the brave,
And prayers of might from martyrs' cave.Great is the art,
Great be the manners of the bard!
He shall not his brain encumber
With the coil of rhythm and number,
But, leaving rule and pale forethought,
He shall aye climb
For his rhyme:
Pass in, pass in, the angels say,
In to the upper doors;
Nor count compartments of the floors,
But mount to Paradise
By the stairway of surprise.Blameless master of the games,
King of sport that never shames;
He shall daily joy dispense
Hid in song's sweet influence.
Things more cheerly live and go,
What time the subtle mind
Plays aloud the tune whereto
Their pulses beat,
And march their feet,
And their members are combined.By Sybarites beguiled
He shall no task decline;
Merlin's mighty line,
Extremes of nature reconciled,
Bereaved a tyrant of his will,
And made the lion mild.
Songs can the tempest still,
Scattered on the stormy air,
Mould the year to fair increase,
And bring in poetic peace.He shall not seek to weave,
In weak unhappy times,
Efficacious rhymes;
Wait his returning strength,
Bird, that from the nadir's floor,
To the zenith's top could soar,
The soaring orbit of the muse exceeds that journey's length!Nor, profane, affect to hit
Or compass that by meddling wit,
Which only the propitious mind
Publishes when 'tis inclined.
There are open hours
When the god's will sallies free,
And the dull idiot might see
The flowing fortunes of a thousand years;
Sudden, at unawares,
Self-moved fly-to the doors,
Nor sword of angels could reveal
What they conceal.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Literary Criticism and Interpretation of "Merlin I" by Ralph Waldo Emerson

As a renowned essayist, poet, and lecturer of the 19th century, Ralph Waldo Emerson is an iconic figure in American literature. His works have been praised for their profound philosophical insights, lyrical language, and unconventional style. Among his many poems, "Merlin I" stands out as a masterpiece of visionary imagination, mystical symbolism, and psychological depth. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, symbols, and literary devices used by Emerson to create a timeless masterpiece of poetry.

Background and Context

Before diving into the poem itself, it is important to understand the context in which it was written. "Merlin I" was published in 1847, a period of great change and upheaval in American society. The country was experiencing rapid industrialization, urbanization, and territorial expansion, which brought about new challenges, opportunities, and conflicts. At the same time, there was a growing sense of disillusionment, alienation, and fragmentation among many intellectuals, artists, and spiritual seekers who felt that the materialistic and mechanistic values of modern civilization were dehumanizing and destructive.

Emerson was among those who sought to transcend the limitations of contemporary culture and find a deeper, more meaningful way of living. His philosophy of transcendentalism emphasized the importance of intuition, individualism, nature, and spiritual insight as means of discovering the divine essence of the self and the universe. "Merlin I" reflects this worldview by presenting a visionary journey into the realm of the imagination, where the poet encounters the legendary figure of Merlin, a symbol of magic, wisdom, and transformation.


One of the main themes of "Merlin I" is the search for spiritual enlightenment and creative inspiration in a world that values conformity, materialism, and rationality. The poem opens with the poet's lament for the loss of his creative powers:

O! what bard shall dare
To sing the source of charms divine,
The dear, the pure, the ever-fair,
That round the loved Adonis shine!

For him the Loves their laws resign,
And own the magic of their might,
He moves the god, he rules the light,
He charms the hours to swifter flight,
And brings each circling day in view.

Here, the poet invokes the mythological figure of Adonis, who represents beauty, love, and fertility, as a source of inspiration and wonder. However, he feels powerless to express the fullness of this divine beauty, and wonders if any bard can do justice to it. This sense of inadequacy reflects the poet's struggle to reconcile his own creative vision with the demands of the world around him.

As the poem progresses, the poet embarks on a mystical journey through time and space, guided by the spirit of Merlin. Along the way, he encounters various symbols and archetypes that represent the different aspects of his psyche and the universe. These include the cypress tree, which symbolizes death and mourning; the rose, which symbolizes love and beauty; the moon, which symbolizes the feminine and the unconscious; and the star, which symbolizes the divine and the eternal.

Through these encounters, the poet gains a deeper understanding of himself and the cosmos, and realizes that his creative power comes not from his rational mind, but from his intuitive and imaginative faculties. He learns that the key to unlocking his creative potential is to embrace his own unique vision and voice, and to trust in the mysterious and transformative power of the imagination.


One of the most striking aspects of "Merlin I" is the rich and complex symbolism that Emerson employs to convey his vision of the world. Each symbol represents a particular aspect of reality, and together they create a tapestry of meaning that transcends the literal level of the poem. Some of the key symbols in the poem are:

Each symbol is imbued with a range of associations and meanings, and together they create a multi-layered poetic language that invites the reader to explore the mysteries of the universe and the self.

Literary Devices

Emerson's poetry is renowned for its use of imaginative language, unconventional syntax, and innovative metaphors. In "Merlin I", he employs a range of literary devices to create a hypnotic and visionary effect. One of the most prominent devices is the repetition of certain words and phrases, such as "O!" and "For him", which create a rhythmic and incantatory quality that draws the reader into the poet's vision. Another device is the use of paradoxical and ambiguous statements, such as "That each, who seems a separate whole, / Should move his rounds, and fusing all / The skirts of self again, should fall / Remerging in the general soul", which challenge the reader's assumptions and expand their understanding of reality.

Emerson also uses imagery and metaphor to create vivid and memorable images, such as the following lines:

And, lo! an alligator swims
The waters of thy inland sea,

And, on his back, a phœnix flams
Her scarlet wings, eternally.

Here, the alligator and the phoenix represent the opposing forces of death and rebirth, and the cyclical nature of existence. The image of the phoenix flapping her scarlet wings on the back of the alligator creates a surreal and otherworldly effect that evokes the mysterious and transformative power of the imagination.


In conclusion, "Merlin I" is a remarkable work of poetry that combines visionary imagination, mystical symbolism, and philosophical insight to create a profound and inspiring vision of the world. Through the poet's journey with Merlin, Emerson explores the themes of creative inspiration, spiritual enlightenment, and the transformative power of the imagination. He employs a range of literary devices, such as symbolism, metaphor, and repetition, to create a hypnotic and visionary effect that draws the reader into his poetic world. Ultimately, "Merlin I" invites us to embrace our own unique vision and voice, and to trust in the mysterious and transformative power of the imagination, as a means of discovering the divine essence of the self and the universe.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Merlin I: An Enchanting Journey Through Time

Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the most celebrated poets and essayists of the 19th century, wrote a series of poems inspired by the legendary wizard Merlin. Among these, Poetry Merlin I stands out as a masterpiece of poetic imagination, blending myth, history, and philosophy into a spellbinding narrative. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, symbols, and language of this poem, and discover why it still resonates with readers today.

The poem begins with a vivid description of Merlin's birth and upbringing, which sets the tone for the rest of the story. We learn that Merlin is not an ordinary mortal, but a child of magic and mystery, born in a cave and raised by a fairy queen. This opening scene establishes the theme of otherworldliness, which pervades the poem and creates a sense of wonder and awe. Emerson's use of archaic language and syntax, such as "thee" and "thou," adds to the sense of timelessness and grandeur.

As Merlin grows up, he discovers his powers of prophecy and enchantment, which he uses to help his people and his king. However, he also becomes aware of the limitations of his powers, and the fragility of human life. This leads him to question the nature of reality and the meaning of existence, as he ponders the mysteries of death and destiny. Here, Emerson introduces the theme of existentialism, which was a major concern of the Romantic poets and thinkers of his time. Merlin's quest for knowledge and wisdom reflects the human desire to understand the universe and our place in it.

The poem then takes us on a journey through time and space, as Merlin travels to different lands and epochs, witnessing the rise and fall of civilizations, and the triumphs and tragedies of humanity. He meets with kings and warriors, poets and philosophers, and learns from their experiences and insights. This part of the poem is rich in historical and cultural references, which show Emerson's erudition and his fascination with the diversity of human cultures. It also highlights the theme of cultural relativism, as Merlin learns to appreciate the different values and beliefs of different peoples, and to see beyond his own biases and prejudices.

One of the most striking features of the poem is its use of symbolism and imagery, which create a rich tapestry of meanings and associations. For example, the image of the "wandering star" that guides Merlin's path suggests the idea of destiny and fate, as well as the cosmic order that governs the universe. The image of the "golden cup" that Merlin seeks represents the quest for knowledge and enlightenment, as well as the elusiveness of truth and the dangers of obsession. The image of the "enchanted forest" that Merlin enters symbolizes the realm of the unconscious and the mysterious, as well as the dangers and temptations of the unknown.

Another aspect of the poem that deserves attention is its use of language and form, which reflect Emerson's mastery of poetic techniques and his innovative spirit. The poem is written in blank verse, which gives it a natural and flowing rhythm, and allows for a wide range of expression and variation. Emerson also uses a variety of poetic devices, such as alliteration, assonance, and repetition, to create musical effects and reinforce the meaning of his words. For example, the repetition of the phrase "I am Merlin" throughout the poem emphasizes the continuity and identity of the protagonist, as well as his sense of purpose and destiny.

In conclusion, Poetry Merlin I is a remarkable poem that combines myth, history, and philosophy into a powerful and enchanting narrative. Its themes of otherworldliness, existentialism, cultural relativism, and the quest for knowledge and wisdom are still relevant today, and its use of symbolism, imagery, language, and form is a testament to Emerson's poetic genius. This poem invites us to embark on a journey of discovery and imagination, and to explore the mysteries of the universe and the human soul. As Merlin himself says, "I am the voice of the ages, the prophet of the dawn, the seer of the future, the bard of the past."

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