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THE HUMBLEBEE 1
RALPH WALDO EMERSON
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was born in Boston. He was descended from a long line of New England clergymen. As a boy, he was so poor that he and his brother attended school on alternate days because they had only one coat between them. Despite his poverty, he managed to graduate from Harvard. He became a clergyman and preached for a time in Cotton Mather's church. His belief did not wholly accord with that of the church, so he gave up preaching, and spent the rest of his life in writing and lecturing.
His Essays, such as the one on Self-Reliance, are his most popular works, but he also wrote some exquisite verse. His most enjoyable poetry has some phase of nature for its subject. This was his poetic creed:
“In the deep heart of man a poet dwells
Who all the day of life his summer story tells.”
Halleck’s History of American Literature, pp. 178–193, 283.
BURLY dozing humblebee !
Thou animated torrid zone! 1 This poem is used by permission of, and arrangement with, Houghton Mifflin Com. pany, authorized publishers of Emerson's works. a Porto Rico.
Zig-zag steerer, desert-cheerer,
Insect lover of the sun,
When the south wind, in May days,
Hot midsummer's petted crone,
Of gulfs of sweetness without bound
Aught unsavory or unclean,
Wiser far than human seer,
STUDY HINTS How many different names does the poet give to the bee? Which do you think suits it best? Explain this allusion and its fitness, “Epicurean of June.” What does the last line of the second stanza mean? What does it show? What does he emphasize in order to make May seem attractive? Compare his treatment of May with Lowell's of June (p. 198). Does each poet tend to increase our enjoyment of those months? What, then, is one use of poetry? How does the hum of the bee change from May to midsummer? How many of the flowers and plants mentioned by Emerson have you actually seen? From which have you seen the humblebee “sipping only what is sweet”? Why is he called “wiser far than human seer”? Is it possible for us to determine what we shall see and “sip"? What does Emerson like best in the bee? What does his hum in summer tell the poet? What is your impression of the poet? What words give you this impression ? Memorize at least one stanza.
SUGGESTIONS FOR ADDITIONAL READINGS
AN EPITAPH ON SALATHIEL PAVY
A Child of Queen Elizabeth's Chapel
Ben Jonson (15737-1637) was born in London. He rose from the humble trade of a bricklayer to the position of a popular playwright at the court of James I. He was also the author of some exquisite lyrics, such as, “Drink to me only with thine eyes.” He was an intimate friend of Shakespeare. See also:
Halleck's New English Literature, pp. 199–205, 219.
[In Elizabethan days boys acted the female parts in the plays. Ophelia, Portia, Miranda, and Lady Macbeth were all impersonated by boys. The parts of old men were also occasionally played by boys. Salathiel Pavy, the subject of this epitaph, was, as Jonson tells us, a boy who acted such parts.
In the tragedy of Hamlet, Shakespeare makes a reference to boy actors (see Halleck's New English Literature, p. 166) that shows how popular they had become.]
WEEP with me, all you that read
This little story;
Death's self is sorry.
In grace and feature,