Last Updated September 5, 2023.
This poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson is written from the perspective of the Hindu spirit, Brahma, as indicated by the title. Brahma is a sort of universal energy, and in this poem, he addresses the lack of understanding humans have of what he is and can do.
He begins by stating that any "slayer" who really believes that he is killing, and equally any "slain" person who truly believes he is dead, does not understand the "subtle ways" of Brahma, who stays, turns, and returns continually.
Brahma goes on to explain his universality in terms of opposites. To him, "shadow and sunlight" are the same thing, and gods thought "vanished" by others are visible to him.
Those who do not pause to consider Brahma have thought poorly and made bad decisions. Brahma explains that he is everything—he is doubt, and he is the one who doubts; he is the hymn sung by the Brahmins. It is Brahma who is encapsulated by every human experience, and Brahma who is praised by those who are seeking spirits.
The "strong gods," Brahma says, yearn to live where Brahma lives—which is to say, everywhere. At the end of the poem, Brahma urges the reader, a person who loves "the good," to seek out Brahma and pursue him, rather than "heaven." We can recognize the sentiment here from other transcendentalist poetry of Emerson's—he is urging the reader to seek satisfaction and, indeed, self-reliance on earth, in this life, rather than living for some far-off spiritual future.