The Problem "The Passive Master Lent His Hand"

Michael Collier

"The Passive Master Lent His Hand"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: In the second half of "The Problem," Emerson elaborates on his theory of universal inspiration by the Oversoul. The Deity teaches the bird to build its nest, the fish to "outbuild her shell," the pine tree to grow new leaves. The Parthenon, the Pyramids, and "England's abbeys" are all kin: "For out of Thought's interior sphere / These wonders rose to upper air;/ And Nature gladly gave them place,/ Adopted them into her race,/ And granted them an equal date/ With Andes and with Ararat." "The word by seers or sibyls told" exists alongside (and has equal authority with) the "accent of the Holy Ghost." Emerson is uplifted by the works of such great Christian writers as Augustine and Taylor, "And yet, for all his faith could see,/ I would not the good bishop be." Emerson shows that the artist and the architect are only tools in the hands of the Deity:

These temples grew as grows the grass;
Art might obey, but not surpass.
The passive Master lent his hand
To the vast soul that o'er him planned;
And the same power that reared the shrine
Bestrode the tribes that knelt within.
Ever the fiery Pentecost
Girds with one flame the countless host,
Trances the heart through chanting choirs,
And through the priest the mind inspires.