John Jay Chapman, whose admiration of Emerson did not prevent him from offering unflattering criticism of his poetry, nonetheless considered “The Rhodora” to be among “that class of poetry which . . . is poetry because it is the perfection of statement.” Whether or not one agrees with the poet’s sentiment is irrelevant, Chapman appears to say; the piece itself is so finely composed and its argument so convincingly made, that it must be admired. This poem is also a fine example of what Chapman was referring to when he said,
[Emerson’s] worship of the New England landscape amounts to a religion. His poems do that most wonderful thing, make us feel that we are alone in the fields and with the trees,—not English fields nor French lanes, but New England meadows and uplands.
Bliss Perry, in his 1931 essay titled “The Mystic and the Poet,” notes that “The Rhodora” is one chance encounter in nature. “In such poems,” he writes “there is little attempt to generalize or to enforce any doctrine.” Perry notes that Matthew Arnold failed to understand a similar poem of Emerson’s (“The Titmouse”) simply because Arnold had never seen such an animal himself, and a similar response could be made to those who do not appreciate Emerson’s celebration of a common New England shrub in this poem.
Arnold, an Englishman, while a great admirer of Emerson’s overall contribution to...
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