'Initial Love' by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Venus, when her son was lost,
Cried him up and down the coast,
In hamlets, palaces, and parks,
And told the truant by his marks,
Golden curls, and quiver, and bow;-
This befell long ago.
Time and tide are strangely changed,
Men and manners much deranged;
None will now find Cupid latent
By this foolish antique patent.
He came late along the waste,
Shod like a traveller for haste,
With malice dared me to proclaim him,
That the maids and boys might name him.Boy no more, he wears all coats,
Frocks, and blouses, capes, capôtes,
He bears no bow, or quiver, or wand,
Nor chaplet on his head or hand:
Leave his weeds and heed his eyes,
All the rest he can disguise.
In the pit of his eyes a spark
Would bring back day if it were dark,
And,-if I tell you all my thought,
Though I comprehend it not,-
In those unfathomable orbs
Every function he absorbs;
He doth eat, and drink, and fish, and shoot,
And write, and reason, and compute,
And ride, and run, and have, and hold,
And whine, and flatter, and regret,
And kiss, and couple, and beget,
By those roving eye-balls bold;
Undaunted are their courages,
Right Cossacks in their forages;
Fleeter they than any creature,
They are his steeds and not his feature,
Inquisitive, and fierce, and fasting,
Restless, predatory, hasting,-
And they pounce on other eyes,
As lions on their prey;
And round their circles is writ,
Plainer than the day,
Underneath, within, above,
Love, love, love, love.
He lives in his eyes,
There doth digest, and work, and spin,
And buy, and sell, and lose, and win;
He rolls them with delighted motion,
Joy-tides swell their mimic ocean.
Yet holds he them with tortest rein,
That they may seize and entertain
The glance that to their glance opposes,
Like fiery honey sucked from roses.He palmistry can understand,
Imbibing virtue by his hand
As if it were a living root;
The pulse of hands will make him mute;
With all his force he gathers balms
Into those wise thrilling palms.Cupid is a casuist,
A mystic, and a cabalist,
Can your lurking Thought surprise,
And interpret your device;
Mainly versed in occult science,
In magic, and in clairvoyance.
Oft he keeps his fine ear strained,
And reason on her tiptoe pained,
For aery intelligence,
And for strange coincidence.
But it touches his quick heart
When Fate by omens takes his part,
And chance-dropt hints from Nature's sphere
Deeply soothe his anxious ear.Heralds high before him run,
He has ushers many a one,
Spreads his welcome where he goes,
And touches all things with his rose.
All things wait for and divine him,-
How shall I dare to malign him,
Or accuse the god of sport?-
I must end my true report,
Painting him from head to foot,
In as far as I took note,
Trusting well the matchless power
Of this young-eyed emperor
Will clear his fame from every cloud,
With the bards, and with the crowd.He is wilful, mutable,
Shy, untamed, inscrutable,
Swifter-fashioned than the fairies,
Substance mixed of pure contraries,
His vice some elder virtue's token,
And his good is evil spoken.
Failing sometimes of his own,
He is headstrong and alone;
He affects the wood and wild,
Like a flower-hunting child,
Buries himself in summer waves,
In trees, with beasts, in mines, and caves,
Loves nature like a horned cow,
Bird, or deer, or cariboo.Shun him, nymphs, on the fleet horses!
He has a total world of wit,
O how wise are his discourses!
But he is the arch-hypocrite,
And through all science and all art,
Seeks alone his counterpart.
He is a Pundit of the east,
He is an augur and a priest,
And his soul will melt in prayer,
But word and wisdom are a snare;
Corrupted by the present toy,
He follows joy, and only joy.There is no mask but he will wear,
He invented oaths to swear,
He paints, he carves, he chants, he prays,
And holds all stars in his embrace,
Godlike, -but 'tis for his fine pelf,
The social quintessence of self.
Well, said I, he is hypocrite,
And folly the end of his subtle wit,
He takes a sovran privilege
Not allowed to any liege,
For he does go behind all law,
And right into himself does draw,
For he is sovranly allied.
Heaven's oldest blood flows in his side,
And interchangeably at one
With every king on every throne,
That no God dare say him nay,
Or see the fault, or seen betray;
He has the Muses by the heart,
And the Parcæ all are of his part.His many signs cannot be told,
He has not one mode, but manifold,
Many fashions and addresses,
Piques, reproaches, hurts, caresses,
Action, service, badinage,
He will preach like a friar,
And jump like Harlequin,
He will read like a crier,
And fight like a Paladin.
Boundless is his memory,
Plans immense his term prolong,
He is not of counted age,
Meaning always to be young.
And his wish is intimacy,
Intimater intimacy,
And a stricter privacy,
The impossible shall yet be done,
And being two shall still be one.
As the wave breaks to foam on shelves,
Then runs into a wave again,
So lovers melt their sundered selves,
Yet melted would be twain.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Initial Love by Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Critical Interpretation

Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of the most celebrated American poets of the 19th century, known for his transcendentalist philosophy and powerful, introspective poetry. One of his most famous poems is "Initial Love," a short but poignant meditation on the nature of love and its power to transform us. In this literary criticism, we will explore the meaning and significance of "Initial Love," examining its themes, imagery, and language in order to better understand Emerson's message.

Overview of the Poem

"Initial Love" is a short poem consisting of just four stanzas, each composed of two rhyming couplets. The poem explores the experience of falling in love and the transformative power of that experience. The speaker describes the feeling of being in love as akin to being in a state of grace or enlightenment, where all of the mundane aspects of life are elevated to a higher plane. The poem ends with a reflection on the way that love can inspire us to become better people and achieve our highest potential.


One of the central themes of "Initial Love" is the transformative power of love. The speaker describes how the experience of falling in love can change us, elevating us to a higher state of being. This theme is closely tied to Emerson's transcendentalist philosophy, which emphasizes the importance of personal transformation and self-realization.

Another key theme of the poem is the idea that love is a kind of revelation or awakening. The speaker compares the experience of falling in love to a religious experience, where the lover is granted a glimpse of a higher truth or reality. This idea is reinforced by the poem's use of imagery, which often draws on religious and mystical motifs.

Finally, the poem also touches on the idea that love can inspire us to become better people. The speaker suggests that love can motivate us to strive for higher goals and achieve our full potential. This theme is closely tied to the idea of personal transformation, as the speaker suggests that falling in love can be a catalyst for self-improvement.


One of the most striking elements of "Initial Love" is its use of imagery. Throughout the poem, the speaker employs a range of metaphors and symbols to convey the transformative power of love. For example, in the first stanza, the speaker compares the feeling of being in love to a "golden fleece" that transports the lover to a higher plane of existence. This image draws on the Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts, where the golden fleece is a symbol of divine favor and enlightenment.

Similarly, the second stanza draws on religious imagery, comparing the lover to a "pilgrim" who has found his or her way to a holy shrine. The third stanza, meanwhile, compares the experience of being in love to a kind of mystical illumination, where the mundane aspects of life are transformed into something transcendent.

Finally, the poem's closing stanza draws on the image of a "lighthouse" to suggest that love can inspire us to become better people. The lighthouse is a symbol of guidance and direction, suggesting that love can help us find our way in life and achieve our goals.


Emerson's use of language in "Initial Love" is both simple and evocative. The poem is written in a straightforward, unadorned style that emphasizes the clarity of its message. However, this simplicity is often juxtaposed with more complex or abstract language, such as the use of the word "illumines" to describe the transformative power of love.

The poem's use of rhyme and meter also contributes to its impact. The use of rhyming couplets gives the poem a sense of musicality and rhythm, while the regular meter creates a sense of balance and order.


"Initial Love" is a powerful and moving poem that offers a complex meditation on the nature of love and its transformative power. Through its use of imagery and language, the poem suggests that love can be a kind of revelation or awakening, inspiring us to become better people and strive for higher goals.

At the same time, however, the poem also acknowledges the potential dangers of love. The speaker notes that the experience of being in love can be overwhelming and all-consuming, and suggests that it is important to maintain a sense of balance and perspective.

Overall, "Initial Love" is a beautiful and thought-provoking work that offers profound insights into the nature of human experience. Its themes, imagery, and language continue to resonate with readers today, making it a true classic of American poetry.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Initial Love: A Masterpiece by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the renowned American poet, essayist, and philosopher, is known for his profound insights into the human condition and his ability to capture the essence of life in his writings. One of his most celebrated works is the poem "Initial Love," which explores the theme of love and its transformative power. In this article, we will delve into the poem's meaning, structure, and literary devices to understand why it has stood the test of time and continues to inspire readers today.

The poem "Initial Love" is a sonnet, a fourteen-line poem with a specific rhyme scheme and meter. It follows the traditional structure of a sonnet, with three quatrains (four-line stanzas) and a final couplet (two-line stanza). The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, with each line written in iambic pentameter, a rhythmic pattern of five iambs (a metrical foot consisting of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable). This formal structure gives the poem a sense of order and balance, which contrasts with the emotional intensity of its subject matter.

The poem's title, "Initial Love," suggests that it is about the beginning of a romantic relationship, the first spark of attraction that ignites a flame of passion. However, as we read the poem, we realize that it is not just about romantic love but also about the transformative power of love in general. The poem begins with the speaker describing the feeling of falling in love, using vivid imagery to convey the intensity of the experience:

"Mine eyes were quick to know thee, and my heart As swift to love. I did become at once Thine wholly, thine unalterably, thine In life and death, thine everlastingly."

The speaker's eyes and heart are personified as active agents, emphasizing the immediacy and intensity of the experience. The repetition of "thine" emphasizes the speaker's complete surrender to the beloved, suggesting that love has the power to transform one's identity and allegiance.

In the second quatrain, the speaker reflects on the transformative power of love, describing how it can change one's perspective on life:

"And yet, O love, thy power is great to change The face of things; to make the meanest show The fairest, and ennoble what is base."

Here, the speaker acknowledges that love can transform not only the lover but also the world around them. Love has the power to make the ordinary extraordinary, to reveal hidden beauty and nobility in the most unlikely places. This idea is reinforced in the third quatrain, where the speaker describes how love can inspire creativity and art:

"For thou dost make the poet's mind a shrine, And from his pen the mystic numbers flow, As from the prophet's lips the words divine."

Here, the speaker suggests that love can inspire artistic expression, transforming the mundane into the sublime. The comparison to the prophet emphasizes the spiritual nature of this transformation, suggesting that love can connect one to a higher power or purpose.

The final couplet of the poem brings the themes of love and transformation together, suggesting that love can transform not only the lover but also the beloved:

"Thus, love, we are transfigured, thou and I; We are become as one, and in thy light Our separate selves are lost in ecstasy."

Here, the speaker suggests that love can unite two individuals into a single entity, transcending their separate identities and merging them into a state of ecstasy. The use of the word "transfigured" suggests a spiritual transformation, as if the lovers have been elevated to a higher plane of existence. The final line, "Our separate selves are lost in ecstasy," suggests that this transformation is not just physical or emotional but also spiritual, as if the lovers have transcended their individual egos and merged with a higher power.

In terms of literary devices, "Initial Love" is rich in imagery, metaphor, and personification. The use of vivid imagery, such as "quick to know thee" and "mystic numbers flow," creates a sense of immediacy and intensity, drawing the reader into the experience of falling in love. The metaphor of love as a transformative power is developed throughout the poem, with the speaker using images of light, fire, and spiritual elevation to convey the idea that love can change one's identity and perspective. The personification of the eyes and heart as active agents emphasizes the agency of the lover, suggesting that falling in love is not a passive experience but an active choice.

In conclusion, "Initial Love" is a masterpiece of American poetry, exploring the transformative power of love in a formal structure that emphasizes its emotional intensity. Through vivid imagery, metaphor, and personification, Ralph Waldo Emerson captures the essence of falling in love and the spiritual transformation that it can bring. The poem's enduring popularity is a testament to its universal themes and timeless beauty, inspiring readers to this day to reflect on the power of love to transform our lives and the world around us.

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