"The Poet" by Emerson is a difficult essay to follow, without a doubt. It needs time and patience, best broken down paragraph by paragraph, to understand it.
Emerson explains how the poet fits into the world, what he offers to the world and what he can expect in return.
Though people are drawn by the appearance of something, they often do not appreciate it and truly see it beyond one dimension. When something in this world is perceived, it should not be done in one dimension, or two or even eight. The truth lies hidden deeply within us. The poet tries to share what he sees, but in doing so is often isolated from the company of other men. He is only half of himself; the remainder is his poetic expression.
Emerson is unsure why poets need their work interpreted, but some men do not understand the poet's work, which is to look at the beauty and complexities of nature and describe them to men. The poet does not exaggerate or create nature's beauty for it has been there since creation, and poetry was written before time began. And as men try to describe the world, something is unavoidably lost with man's "touch."
The poet, simply put, sees the world as most men are unable to. Poetry is thoughts that are alive and passionate. The poet shares his experience and the lives of all are better for it. The poet tells the truth of the world and men await the poet's arrival for direction.
Nature keeps the poet honest which can bring us hope, writes Emerson. The universe is a reflection of the soul. All men are poets in their way, regardless of each man's place in life or his social standing. As man is separated from God by the ugliness of life, it is the poet that reattaches man to nature and God. The poet perceives all things of the world; he creates his own language to express what he perceives. The poet is a speaker that describes nature, but Emerson, transcendentalist that he is, bows to the strength, knowledge and beauty of nature. Nature is in all things, including all men.
Emerson goes on to explain that poets love all aspects of nature. Too often they partake of wine, narcotics or tobacco. These may help them escape the confines of the body, but only a few may escape the deterioration brought on by their use. In any event, nature cannot be tricked. Nature is accessible to those who are clearly attuned with it: not by taking wine in a golden chalice, but (as Milton says) by taking water in a wooden bowl.
The poet is the "translator of nature into thought." Emerson, however, is still searching for the consummate poet. It is important to note that in saying this, he reveals that he does not see himself as that poet who can perfectly convey the beauty and power of nature to man. He offers advice to poets to avoid self-doubt and keep trying. Their potential for great works is limitless. Though a poet may be sometimes perceived as a fool by others, one day all of nature will open itself to him: the "ideal" will be real to him, falling over him like summer rain, and nature's beauty will surround him.