“Ode, Inscribed to W. H. Channing” alludes frequently to historical people and events. The William Henry Channing to whom the ode is inscribed was a nineteenth century author and Unitarian minister, like his more famous uncle, William Ellery Channing. The younger Channing, a vigorous opponent of slavery, apparently occasioned this ode by urging his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson to join the cause in some formal or active way. The abolition issue was dividing increasing numbers of people. Daniel Webster, whom Emerson once greatly admired and probably had in mind all the while he wrote the ode, had turned against the Abolitionists in an effort to preserve the Union. Also, the Mexican War had just begun. This ode is Emerson’s explanation of his reasons for remaining aloof and a proclamation of his strong feelings regarding the issues.
Addressing Channing as the “evil time’s sole patriot,” the poet begins with an explanation of why he cannot leave his “honied thought” and study: “The angry Muse/ Puts confusion in my brain (lines 10 through 11). The “evil time” is riven by “the priest’s cant” and “statesman’s rant” and by politics (“politique”) that are at best fraudulent. Anyone who chatters (“prates”) about improved “arts and life” (line 14) should behold his country’s raids into Mexico. Anyone who praises the “freedom-loving mountaineer” of the North should know that the poet has found, by the banks and in the valleys of its rivers, the agents (“jackals”) of the slave owners (in search of fugitive slaves).
The fifth stanza cites New Hampshire as...
(The entire section is 661 words.)