Saturday, November 30, 2013

Analysis of "Good-by" by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Original poem reprinted online here: "Good-by" by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Originally read: June 6, 2013
More information about the Poet: Ralph Waldo Emerson

So the structure is as follows:

Sestet (ababcc)
Octave (aabbccdd)
Octave (aabbccdd)
Octave (aabbccdd)

I think the first two stanzas work as a reverse Italian sonnet where the  question being answered is in the first stanza, and to whom the question refers to is answered in the second stanza.  The last two stanzas of the poem work differently as though the content is for a different focus and expands in an ethereal way.

But first the reverse sonnet.  The first line of the first stanza is. "Good-by, proud world.  I'm going home."  And so there's the answer.  The speaker is saying good-by in the most distanced terms, "Thou'rt not my friend, and I'm not thine/  Long through thy weary crowds I roam;"  And by setting the distance the speaker metaphorizes his distance through the image of the foam being tossed around from the ocean.  Victimizing?  Reasoning?  At least the speaker is determined on leaving and going home.

The second stanza is the question.  What is he saying good-by to specifically.  And the whole stanza is a list.  Let's go individually then:

1) Flattery's fawning face -- the alliteration brings a sense of cynicism to this line.  Flattery won't be missed.

2) Grandeur, with his wise grimace -- the personification of Grandeur makes the concept of grandeur have a "wise grimace" which is an interesting adjective/noun combination.  It's like the Grandeur has been around for a while, but unhappy at the good-by.

3) upstart Wealth's averted eye --  the aversion could refer to poverty.

4) supple Office low and high -- I think this goes towards politics -- too much of it, regardless of rank?

5) crowded halls, to court, and street -- a more human image.  The synechdoche still separates the speaker from society.

6) The frozen hearts, and hasting feet -- still general description of society that the speaker is leaving behind, but note the contrast of images -- frozen and hasting -- as though society is at it's worst at both ends.

7) To those who go, and those who come -- Just like the previous line, note there's a distance and divisiveness with both images.

The poem is about death, or leaving.  But more importantly, the choice is up to the speaker rather than something happening to him.  The speaker is choosing to leave this particular atmosphere for something completely different, as described by the last two octaves.

The third stanza harkens back to nature with, "yon green hills, alone, / A secret nook in a pleasant land."  It's as though the speaker is bringing up the image too highly and note that the speaker takes this idea and tone and moves the image into the fantastical, "Whose groves the frolic faeries planned;" -- this place is untrodden also, "And vulgar feet have never trod" -- untouched, only for the speaker.

The lat stanza has an impactful first line, "Oh, when I am safe in my sylvan home."    The key word here is "safe."  The speaker is leaving one place to another to feel safe.  And in this safe place he is able to, "laugh at the lore and pride of man, / At sophist schools, and the learned clan;" Intellect?  Rhe hamartia of of man?  The speaker acts above this because -- he is the "man in the bush with God may meet."  He's meeting God, who knows everything, right?

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