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Nicholson & Lee, eds. The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. 1917.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)

78. Ode to Beauty

WHO gave thee, O Beauty,

The keys of this breast,—

Too credulous lover

Of blest and unblest?

Say, when in lapsed ages

Thee knew I of old?

Or what was the service

For which I was sold?

When first my eyes saw thee,

I found me thy thrall,

By magical drawings,

Sweet tyrant of all!

I drank at thy fountain

False waters of thirst;

Thou intimate stranger,

Thou latest and first!

Thy dangerous glances

Make women of men;

New-born, we are melting

Into nature again.

Lavish, lavish promiser,

Nigh persuading gods to err!

Guest of million painted forms,

Which in turn thy glory warms!

The frailest leaf, the mossy bark,

The acorn’s cup, the raindrop’s arc,

The swinging spider’s silver line,

The ruby of the drop of wine,

The shining pebble of the pond,

Thou inscribest with a bond,

In thy momentary play,

Would bankrupt nature to repay.

Ah, what avails it

To hide or to shun

Whom the Infinite One

Hath granted His throne?

The heaven high over

Is the deep’s lover;

The sun and sea,

Informed by thee,

Before me run,

And draw me on,

Yet fly me still,

As Fate refuses

To me the heart Fate for me chooses.

Is it that my opulent soul

Was mingled from the generous whole;

Sea-valleys and the deep of skies

Furnished several supplies;

And the sands whereof I’m made

Draw me to them, self-betrayed?

I turn the proud portfolios

Which hold the grand designs

Of Salvator, of Guercino,

And Piranesi’s lines.

I hear the lofty paeans

Of the masters of the shell,

Who heard the starry music

And recount the numbers well;

Olympian bards who sung

Divine Ideas below,

Which always find us young,

And always keep us so.

Oft, in streets or humblest places,

I detect far-wandered graces,

Which, from Eden wide astray,

In lonely homes have lost their way.

Thee gliding through the sea of form,

Like the lightning through the storm,

Somewhat not to be possessed,

Somewhat not to be caressed.

No feet so fleet could ever find,

No perfect form could ever bind.

Thou eternal fugitive,

Hovering over all that live,

Quick and skilful to inspire

Sweet, extravagant desire,

Starry space and lily-bell

Filling with thy roseate smell,

Wilt not give the lips to taste

Of the nectar which thou hast.

All that’s good and great with thee

Works in close conspiracy;

Thou hast bribed the dark and lonely

To report thy features only,

And the cold and purple morning

Itself with thoughts of thee adorning;

The leafy dell, the city mart,

Equal trophies of thine art;

E’en the flowing azure air

Thou hast touched for my despair;

And, if I languish into dreams,

Again I meet the ardent beams.

Queen of things! I dare not die

In Being’s deeps past ear and eye;

Lest there I find the same deceiver,

And be the sport of Fate for ever.

Dread Power, but dear! if God thou be,

Unmake me quite, or give thyself to me!