Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Consisting of sixteen lines, “The Rhodora” is one of Emerson’s most admired poems. The major theme in this poem, a work written two years before Nature, can be found in many of his later works as well as in the Romantic literature of his time. As indicated by the subtitle, “On Being Asked, Whence Is the Flower?” the poem has a philosophical import concerning the existence of the flower.
A spiritual communication between humankind and nature appears at the very beginning (represented by sea winds, a favorite theme in Emerson’s works), when the speaker states that the sea winds in May “pierced our solitudes.” A common image in Romantic poetry, the wind often connotes inspiration. In this regard, the opening statement may also imply that the poet was inspired by the muse through his communication with nature, thereby beginning his creative process—an act which corresponds with the growing season of May in the outside world, as is mentioned in the poem.
Freed from solitude by the sea winds, the speaker notices the Rhodora—a rather obscure flower—blooming in the woods in a somewhat private location ordinarily unlikely to catch one’s attention. The presence of this flower, the spelling of which is capitalized throughout the poem to emphasize its significance as the symbol of beauty, is described as pleasing to both land and water. The service that the Rhodora offers to the world almost involves self-sacrifice, as is reflected in the description of the pleasure that its fallen petals were able to give to the pool: “The purple petals, fallen in the pool! Made the black water with their beauty gay.”
After examining the objects on land and water, Emerson proceeds to note the creature in the sky, the...
(The entire section is 725 words.)
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