"Beauty Is Its Own Excuse For Being"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: This poem reveals Emerson's interest in the philosophy of Plato, who said that Beauty is closely connected with Truth and Goodness. The poet, walking through the woods in May, comes upon a secluded rhodora, whose fresh beauty is enjoyed only by "the desert and the sluggish brook." In the second stanza, Emerson explores an old question: why is the beauty of the flower "wasted on the earth and sky"? A "sage" might ask why the rhodora was created at all since its beauty serves no useful function. This problem is connected to the question in the poem's subtitle: "On Being Asked, Whence Is the Flower?" Beauty, according to Plato and Emerson, serves a useful function merely by existing, for true beauty contains "spiritual and moral" elements. The lovely flower exists alongside mankind as part of God's creation, a creation whose divine origin precludes any need for a justification of its existence. Emerson advises the rhodora how to answer critical "sages":

Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,
Then Beauty is its own excuse for being:
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask, I never knew:
But, in my simple ignorance, suppose
The selfsame Power that brought me there brought you.