I serve you not, if you I follow, Shadowlike, o’er hill and hollow; And bend my fancy to your leading, All too nimble for my treading. When the pilgrimage is done, And we ’ve the landscape overrun, I am bitter, vacant, thwarted, And your heart is unsupported. Vainly valiant, you have missed The manhood that should yours resist,— Its complement; but if I could, In severe or cordial mood, Lead you rightly to my altar, Where the wisest Muses falter, And worship that world-warming spark Which dazzles me in midnight dark, Equalizing small and large, While the soul it doth surcharge, Till the poor is wealthy grown, And the hermit never alone,— The traveller and the road seem one With the errand to be done,— That were a man’s and lover’s part, That were Freedom’s whitest chart.
Emerson is one of the best-loved figures in nineteenth-century American literature. Though he earned his central place in our culture as an essayist and philosopher, since his death his reputation as a poet has grown as well. Known for challenging traditional thought and for his faith in the individual, Emerson was the chief spokesman for the Transcendentalist movement. His poems speak to his most passionately held belief: that external authority should be disregarded in favor of one’s own experience. From the embattled farmers who “fired the shot heard round the world” in the stirring “Concord Hymn,” to the flower in “The Rhodora,” whose existence demonstrates “that if eyes were made for seeing, / Then Beauty is its own excuse for being,” Emerson celebrates the existence of the sublime in the human and in nature.