A TOUR THROUGH THE ESSAYS OF RALPH WALDO EMERSON


by Gösta Ågren



History


History is thought, a

pattern that conceals the

true story, where

the swallow grows bloody

from flying through the

murky bombast and

facts stand like a higher

race above the souls'

morasses, and the annals

challenge in vain. The object

of this wild conversation is

the community, a magic behemoth,

a togetherness with no other shield

against the fire than ashes.



Self-reliance


The sunrise resembles

a religious idea; so

helpless is our existence.

Sometimes the sparse death

thickens to war. Then

the names sink away in

their own mass. Outside

society awaits bondage,

where the slaves' sick hearts

at last pound themselves

apart. But in here the freedom has shrunk to

decrees, and words are now so

clear, they signify only

sound. The silence is silenced

by music, but here

too you must

decide.



Compensation


God is a simplification

and the word soul says plainly

that human beings are only

symbolic, as if

there were houses without

emptiness. Alas,

nothing is compensated

in the eternal accounts. The

murdered are chosen,

the whipped still

burn. A rival overturned

Theagenes' victory statue, and came

finally first to the finish, crushed

beneath its weight.



Spiritual laws


That which is limitless cannot

be seen. It surrounds you

with its emptiness, which

slowly dissolves you like

a carnivorous flower

its prey. Only the quest

sustains you. Without

ideals no one can keep


their memories pure. Without

certainty and actions

the laws of matter take

over and turn

this wild event

into something lost.



Love


Love is a message

from the skin. Hands

begin to long for their meaning.

A story awaits, but

the one who has nothing

to lose does not dare

to losing that,

too. Only the one who has everything

to gain, is not afraid

of his courage. He has been

pitiable. Now

he turns

against himself. The heart pounds

like a helpless child,

but he writes his

bad poems. They cry

as wordless

cranes cry

in spring.



Friendship


Words of command

remain like a direction

in the silence. We must

obey or refuse

to obey. There is

no choice.

When words are clumsy

and hesitant like unfamiliar

footsteps on parquet,

they say something. When

they are handsome as enemies

they hide something. Do not

play with them: they are

laden. Only

friendly words say

nothing special.

They contain only

friendly words.



Prudence

 

Between the high years we glimpse

the ocean. Yet we must

arrange our life in a line,

for the present is merely something

constant; everything else

changes. We have control

of memories and plans,

two branches without a trunk,

but both require courage, great

as fear, and the steady

rhythm of the heart, that does not

constitute a symbol but is

a gymnast in the world of

the senses, whose only routine

consists in keeping the powerful

tree running.



Heroism


Heroism is a state

of cruelty, the hawk's sudden

line towards earth. Then all

that is cowardly risks fading, as though

history were something different

from life, and the days merely

sand beneath the weight of years.

But when the hero flees to the deed,

beside himself with contempt, trembling

like an engine with fear,

cowardice protects the seed as though

it were a sensitive emotion

in the sea of weeds, and thereby

keeps the escape route open for

the true route.



The oversoul


The soul is a daydream

outside our name, a garden

for the god, where mind

and will hysterically

degrade. Afterwards, the present

is too big; we dare not

fall asleep. Who can sleep

with a god in his soul,

an oversoul, that uses

us to be, and is itself

free? We should be operated on,

but no knife cuts him

apart, and never will

the spiritual heal

its victims. We ourselves

must

wake.



Circles


The circle has no centre:

it is a demented cell

that swallows everything, even

the emptiness that assails

feelings and days,

and the forgetfulness that

preserves everything. For

the essayist the circle is


life, but for the poet only

a horizon without habitations,

where people conceal themselves

by being, and the everyday

is inscrutable as a ritual,

the meaninglessness

a strange

freedom.



The intellect


The intellect is a room without

years and walls. You have to imagine

them. Well-worn footprints

point to principles, but

they are old now, prisons

waiting for their prey.

You have to go as

a stranger would go

into your brain and there

declare all the accumulated

commands invalid and expand

it to a lifetime without

the altar, a chapel where

you can think as though

everything was sacred.



Art


How could decorative

messages compete with

Altmira's bulls? They stand

in the darkness, sketches


of the body's drama. Art

is magic, but the light

in the museums glows as if

they had nothing


to hide, and the young

rebel against rules

as if form possessed

meaning. When the artist


fought the pictorial creature

in faltering torchlight

he was wild and pure

as arrogance. The journey


was towards the inner creature,

his real strength.,

that waited for him,

patient as his shadow.



The poet


The seventeenth century was everywhere

but some still escaped

as though they were

in disguise, and only

needed to think in a

hitherto unknown way

in order to become empty

and pure as strangers.


In their poems form protected

many weak

lines, but suddenly

a verse could vibrate,

desperate as a wing

seeking its bird.



Experience


What we leave undone

is a part of our action.

Without the dreamed ship

the bark boat would capsize.

Without all that we merely

pass by we would never

get there. Even

the boredom is laden


with existence. Its emptiness

is only a form of

patience. The work

waits like an adversary,

and the footsteps begin

to point again.



Character


The events are small, but

the chains endless. There is

a wildness in every name,

an I that wants to go and leave

the shackles behind. But flight


too is only a link:

the chain cannot be broken.

Where you go, into the latent,

you always meet

the same figure.



Manners


Long ago people saw

that seriousness threatens small talk,

and began to smile the silence

away. Many


also sought protection in

phrases, but phrases

are words, and cannot

be revoked. At last


fellowship became sheer

politeness. They understood

finally how important

it is.



Gifts


A giver tries to grow

greater, not with the help of

the recipients' gratitude

but by diminishing them


with his gifts. Fame

or beauty work in the same

way, even if all they give

is their aura! When


a gift has permeated

the inscrutable defence

and reached the entrails' warm

hatred, the recipient


convinces only by making

his face and voice

manage on their own.

He himself goes. His back


is stiff as a shield

and his clothes do not hide him,

they reveal him. At

the roadside another back


sprouts when wings unfold.

It shimmers like blue

metal. Only the beetle is

its own present.



Nature


The cattle's language has only

one word. They think with its

meaning, an older and

wilder pilgrimage than ours:

it can only continue

and the goal is the beginning.


October burns like

a palace. Fate is larger

than in May, all darkness

higher. We approach

the lower, ruling

layers, where conversations


are dark chambers,

the arguments without other logic

than their existence, and the bodies

simplified to pilgrims while

the cries merge to become

a single word.



Politics


The word power means

violence. The words of the laws

are not symbols but

real. In the ruins of Ctesiphon

the state remains, a rainbow

of concrete. We are


masses; we have no

other choice. When we seekingly

look around us, we meet

only Medusa's poor,

cold gaze, but turned to stone


we still manage to think

our dream, the only finished thing

in the crude sketch

in which we live.



Nominalist and Realist


Whoever denies the real

confirms its power. Revolt

is hard. Whoever affirms

reality drains it

if death encounters no resistance

it is merely a clump of dust

where we slowly gather.

With theories as wings

we fly with no other

direction than away. But here

on the tenth line I begin

to hesitate. The denier has

perceived that if everything exists,

nothing else exists;

the affirmer says deep withiin

that perbaps everything

is something else.



New England Reformers


There is an indifference,

empty and dead as strict

demeanour. It surrounds us,

a pain relief, which those

people who fight apparently

refuse. Yet they are

totally dependent on this

poverty. Without it


reality would

conquer them with its

limitless masses, where

the individual is only

a throat, turned

towards their teeth.



A resumé


Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote

his two volumes of essays

in order to become calm. Thoughts

are an unease that seeks rhythm.

They must be turned into waves

through the opinions; if

they harden to principles

they will be broken

apart on the shore's

reality. They are not

incorporeal: the metaphors

make hem visible, brutal

as walls or gentle

as sleepy hands,

but every time we sense

that the description

is incomplete.