"Nothing Is Fair Or Good Alone"

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Last Updated on June 28, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 324

Context: Emerson's poetry often reflects the same philosophical idealism found in his essays. He sees the universe as a unity, the handiwork of the Deity, which reflects all of the qualities of God: omniscience, omnipotence, and complete benevolence. Since the universe partakes of the qualities of its maker, one will, if he views it wholly, or as wholly as man can in this life, see that it is good. But one must, as Emerson stated in his first great essay, Nature, see nature in all its aspects–as commodity, beauty, language, and discipline–not merely as a part of them. If we will look at the wholeness of nature, not just at a part, we shall behold its grandeur; if we can yield ourselves to "the perfect whole," we shall behold the beauty in the parts. Emerson offers examples to show his point. If one brings a songbird home in a cage, the song is not equal to what it was when the bird was part of earth, river, and sky. Seashells, lovely in their usual seashore environment, fetched home and placed upon a shelf, become "poor, unsightly, noisome things" which "left their beauty on the shore." The young girl, seen as one of a throng of young girls, is lovely and fairylike; but when the bridegroom finds her in their new home she is "A gentle wife, but fairy none." The quotation being considered, appearing early in the poem, is actually the author's thesis:

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Little thinks, in the field, yon red-cloaked clown
Of thee from the hill-top looking down;
The heifer that lows in the upland farm,
Far-heard, lows not thine ear to charm;
The sexton, tolling his bell at noon,
Deems not that great Napoleon
Stops his horse, and lists with delight,
Whilst his files sweep round yon Alpine height;
Nor knowest thou what argument
Thy life to thy neighbor's creed has lent.
All are needed by each one;
Nothing is fair or good alone.

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