Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 523

In this poem, Emerson celebrates the authority and power of love, which is manifest in an individual’s quest for perfection in all relationships. In other words, by submitting to a grand design of love, the individual’s surroundings transform into beneficial transactions, and personal relations change into investments in the continuum of time. When love governs the individual’s faith and vision for the future, personal property is guarded through wise decisions, while family ties extend from generation to generation and friendships are formed through mutual respect.

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In the first stanza, the individual is advised to “obey” the heart because it represents the faculty that understands the language of love. This language empowers the individual to submit to love with an open mind, refusing “Nothing” within one’s circle of relations and transactions. This dedicated compliance to love echoes Emerson’s essay on “Self-Reliance” and his philosophical statement “Trust thy heart” in pursuing the individual path towards perfection, as well as “Accept the place divine presence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.”

Emerson was a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School and well versed in Christian doctrine and scriptures, but he was equally knowledgeable about Eastern religions and belief systems. While Emerson draws upon the Christian tradition to emphasize love as a divine attribute present within the natural and the spiritual realms, he also underscores the transcendentalist concept of a Creator who transcends cultural and finite barriers. The overarching presence of love unfolds a unique path for a unified reality. In his poem “Each and All” Emerson describes the unifying connections within God’s creation that come together in the persona’s consciousness as “a perfect whole.”

In “Give All to Love,” Emerson seems to depart from the Western literary tradition that usually refers to three different categories of love: Eros, the love between man and woman; Philo, communal love; and Agape, the love for God. Under the supreme authority of love, all these forms of love become intertwined in an individual’s quest for perfection and fulfilling relations. Surpassing the pantheistic approach, Emerson shows how love is instrumental in revealing the divine presence in a pantheistic manner, for it acknowledges a transcendent Creator who guides the individual on an ascending path.

Emerson’s transcendental approach to love is similar to the Muslim Sufi poets who celebrate love in their poetry. Emerson admired these poets and refers to them in his translations and verses. He also dedicated a long poem to Saՙ: “Spin the ball, I reel, I burn.” The Sufi poets connect the natural experience of love to the eternal order through the mystical quest to rise higher in pursuit of a transcendental Creator. For the Sufis, the Arab’s intensity of love for the maid would mark an important phase in an unfettered ascent that strives to reach the “sky,” or the heights of eternity. An individual who fails to experience the divine presence through love in the natural order, with its temporal constraints, circumvents the experience of rising to the spiritual order that is available to humans through feelings and heroic choices.

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