Saturday, September 29, 2012

Classic Poetry - "The Rhodora" by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803 - 1882

A founder of  Transcendentalism and of a uniquely American philosophy emphasizing optimism, individuality and mysticism, Ralf Waldo Emerson was one of the most influential writers of the nineteenth century. Reams have been written about this gentle man; and he, himself, wrote voraciously. Go to to read more.

In classic Emerson form, The Rhodora is written in Iambic pentameter with AABBCDCD end rhymes. Also characteristic of his work, the poem explores the notion of a higher entity creating all things, large and small. Emerson also notes that beauty exists whether or not people observe or appreciate it. So, how does that sync with "beauty is in the eye of the beholder"?

Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense)

The Rhodora

On being asked, whence is the flower.
In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals fallen in the pool
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that, if eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for Being;
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask; I never knew;
But in my simple ignorance suppose
The self-same power that brought me there, brought you.


  1. I really, really like the second half of this. It's as lovely as the flower. I used to not believe "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" but it's been a couple of years since I've been a firm believer of it. Thanks for this Kim, it was a really enjoyable read.

  2. I enjoyed this too...a beautiful poem and I like that Emerson was so curious and questioning about our 'higher nature'. I have yet to master iambic pentameter but one day I'll get the hang of sonnets have almost gotten there but not quite. Thanks, Kim.

  3. Thank you Kim for sharing this poem and Emerson with us.

  4. Beauty simply is. Put this together with poems like Bryant's Thanatopsis, and the rest of the view becomes clear--nature knows all and we, as a bit of it, can't even come close. To be made by the same force is something mighty special!

  5. Delighted to learn more about Emerson! Although beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, I think that is in a context of widespread agreement among beholders of both natural and artistic beauty. I also think the phrase was originally intended to apply to physical beauty in people, and as to that fashions change and tastes differ. When it comes to beauty in nature, I think there are fewer differences of opinion. (And re art, it can take centuries before a consensus is arrived at.)

  6. Thank you Kim! This was beautiful~ Nature paints the best master pieces! :D

  7. So beautiful. I have the (probably very awful) tendency to dislike end-rhymes in poetry but here Emerson somehow makes them work!


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