"Hast Thou Named All The Birds Without A Gun?"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The question the poet asks is one of a series in the poem which results in a poetic definition of the man who is noble of soul. Emerson wrote this line, of course, at a time when both amateur birdwatchers and professional ornithologists still clung to the notion that the identification of a bird was truly done, as they said, only down the barrel of a shotgun. Emerson, ahead of his time, and in keeping with his idea that the creatures and things of Nature are best seen in their environment, suggests that the good man simply observes the bird, as he observes the wild wood-rose and leaves it on its stalk. Such a person, adds Emerson, is the kind who has courage and knows how to respect nobility of character, and as such is the sort of man the poet will value as a friend. The quotation is the opening line of the poem:

Hast thou named all the birds without a gun?
Loved the wood-rose, and left it on its stalk?
At rich men's tables eaten bread and pulse?
Unarmed, faced danger with a heart of trust?
And loved so well a high behavior,
In man or maid, that thou from speech refrained,
Nobility more nobly to repay?
O, be my friend, and teach me to be thine!