The Poem

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In the six-stanza poem “Give All to Love,” Ralph Waldo Emerson connects the finite cycles of natural order with the infinite eternal order through individual feelings and experiences that are governed by love. The persona of the poem advises the audience to withhold nothing and to “Give all to love.”

The first stanza explains what “all” entails in the context of this poem. It encompasses the entire reality of an individual’s experiences: relationships with friends and relatives, the turn of events, ownership of property, recognition and renown, plans for the future, and encouraging sources of inspiration. When love guides one’s actions and interactions, human relations and transactions define the very existence and identity of an individual—enfolding both the material and spiritual aspects of reality. In this stanza, the “Muse” suggests a harmonious link between memories of the past and the promising dreams of the future through the poetic language of love.

Love is decribed as a brave “master” and “a god” in the second stanza, connoting a powerful force in the individual’s struggles in life. Love functions as the supreme authority, “utterly” controlling the choices of an individual; as a result, this individual’s life expands in “scope.” Because love “Knows its own path,” it offers new possibilities that unfold new heights, which reach out to the “outlets of the sky,” displaying hope beyond hope.

The third stanza describes the character of the individual who is willing to give all to love; such giving is not possible for a weak individual, who is “mean,” in the sense of lacking in personal strength. This stanza attributes a heroic quality of “Valor unbending” and “courage stout” to one who is willing to take on the challenges posed by the demands of love in an uphill struggle to rise to greater heights.

The opening line of the next stanza, “Leave all for love,” is a reminder to pursue the ascending path with “One word more” of caution, which requires “firm endeavor” in preserving the autonomy of an individual. An Arab remains “free” even though his experience of love makes him “cling with life to the maid,” yet this love relationship does not compromise the freedom of the beloved. Emerson shows that even though all relations within the natural order are finite and temporal, the individual’s autonomy can connect the natural and the spiritual dimensions of human life. This connection bridges the finite and the infinite through feeling and choices of an individual. Although the Arab’s separation from the beloved maid “dims the day,” the transcending heights revealed by love point to a fuller and better form of spiritual satisfaction as the individual draws closer to divine presence and eternity.

Forms and Devices

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In this poem, Emerson uses six strophes of varied lengths with no uniform rhyme scheme to contextualize the theme of love in its varying patterns. He addresses love from a transcendentalist perspective and goes beyond cultural barriers by using the image of an Arab. The poem begins with the personification of love as a leader and a master who guides the individual on an ascending course in all relationships. The “path” represents both the natural and the spiritual journey of an individual enriched by wise choices and rewarding experiences. The last line of the poem evokes a contrast between “half-gods” and “gods” to highlight the varying levels of ascent that progress from demigods to the real gods. Love is “a god” that guides the individual’s heart to discover a unique path and new knowledge. Consequently, horizons widen and the person’s experience has an expanding “scope” of personal fulfillment....

(This entire section contains 519 words.)

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The ascent symbolizes a unique individual experience because it involves spontaneity and “untold intent” of love. At the same time, love adds a heroic dimension and determination to the individual’s pursuit in rising “high and more high,” aiming for the sky. Thus, the ascent also symbolizes various levels of knowledge that are inspired by love and refined through experience.

The allusion to an Arab empowers Emerson to defy the conventional attitude toward love as a strictly romantic experience that seeks a union of lovers, depriving them of their individuality. In his essay “Self-Reliance,” Emerson explains how social “conformity and consistency” are barriers to an individual’s self-fulfillment. Here, he departs from the established tradition to emphasize the autonomy of an individual as a precondition for the sovereignty of love. The Arab knows that when the heartbeat and the pulse of the maiden’s autonomous being promises “a joy apart from thee,” then the heroics of love must gracefully accept the separation. While this separation symbolizes the temporal constraints in the natural order, its transcendent scope symbolizes the love for a Creator who is eternal and infinite and whose presence is manifest in individual experiences.

“Stealing grave from all alive” is an image that sets up the contrast between the living and the dead as well the sorrow of the Arab and the “joy” of the maid. This separation may be caused by another lover, or it may be interpreted as the death of the maid, which echoes the limits of the natural order; however, it also represents a moment of “joy” on the ascending path as it reaches the infinite and the eternal. The reference to gods validates higher levels of experiences that are free of finite limits. In the final stanza, the maid is a metaphor for a powerful relationship at two levels—human and divine: At the human level she can be “loved as thyself,” and appears as “a self of purer clay.” However, her ascent marks a separation between humans as a reminder of a stronger divine presence. The path of love rises above the limitations of time, where “half-gods” abide, allowing the individual to witness the presence of real gods in the eternal realm.


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