Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Discussions of the central meaning of “The Rhodora” usually point to passages from Emerson’s first book, Nature (1836). The poem’s discussion of the speaker’s “simple ignorance” (Reason) versus the sages’ wisdom (Understanding) is explained by material from the chapters entitled “Language” and “Idealism” in Nature. In the former, Emerson writes, “That which, intellectually considered, we call Reason, considered in relation to nature, we call Spirit. Spirit is the Creator.” In the latter chapter he writes, “The understanding adds, divides, combines, measures, and finds everlasting nutriment and room for its activity in this worthy scene.” Thus, the understanding deals with things of the material world. Emerson follows this sentence with, “Meantime, Reason transfers all these lessons into its own world of thought, by perceiving the analogy that marries Matter and Mind.” Thus, Reason deals with things of the realm of Spirit and connects things of the material world with the realm of the Spirit.
Another important passage from Nature is in the chapter entitled “Beauty,” in which Emerson writes, “Beauty, in its largest and profoundest sense, is one expression for the universe. God is the all-fair. Truth, and goodness, and beauty, are but different faces of the same All,” words that imply that beauty is one of the faces of God. Thus, beauty need not be defended or explained: It is a...
(The entire section is 444 words.)
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The speaker’s belief in a divine power that guides the events of the world is evident in the final two lines: “But, in my simple ignorance, suppose / The self-same Power that brought me there brought you.” The speaker is responding to the question of why the rhodora is in such a secluded place. He is satisfied with the answer that God guides the flower’s place in the world, just as He guides the speaker’s. This conclusion reveals a belief that the world is ordered according to a divine plan, and the speaker’s role is merely to accept his place in that plan. He is appreciative of the lessons he learns from nature; presumably, he seeks the wisdom of nature because of his belief that it is ordered by God.
The speaker is subtle in his spiritual assertions; the poet does not use the word “God.” Instead, he capitalizes “Power” to let the reader know that he means a divine power. The speaker also capitalizes “Beauty,” indicating that the beauty is of divine origin. When the speaker says “Beauty is its own excuse for being,” he makes the claim that the beauty to which he refers requires no justification nor does it need a forum in which to be appreciated. That it is divine makes it inherently significant, even unseen in the middle of the woods. By extension, the speaker has the same significance, because he, too, is divinely directed.
The speaker happens upon a “fresh” rhodora...
(The entire section is 648 words.)