Sunday, November 10, 2013

Analysis of "Teach me I am forgotten by the dead" by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Original poem reprinted online here: "Teach me I am forgotten by the dead" by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Originally read: May 25, 2013
More information about the Poet: Ralph Waldo Emerson

This poem is a set of rhetoric lines that interweave, counter, and support each other.  Now, why am I not reading an essay?  Well, this is sort of an essay in a way due to the overly rhetorical nature, but there's some play in here that kept me interested on the rhetorical strategies as though the speaker is logically trying to argue with a concept.

The first two lines "Teach me I am forgotten by the dead, An that the dead is by herself forgotten" is a play on logic where both sides forget each other, but have the knowledge of forgetting each other. These lines are curious though -- the logic is referencing the dead or a conflict of the "soul"

The speaker lays out his argument by casting away the big reasons, "murder, steal, or fornicate, / Nor with ambition break the peace of towns," What this line also does is buffer the sort of ludicrous conditions set in the beginning.    Because the focus is not about death, rather something else. 

And the "But I would bury my ambition / The hope & action of my sovereign soul / In miserable ruin." This is a tricky line which is the key to the poem.  Past me saw this line as a form of repression in which the speaker is the one in control and can repress the negatives because of his soul -- sort of a free will ideal.

Presently, I'm not sure about how the rhetoric of this line works.  Butting up against such big negatives, my assumption is that when the speaker compares his ambition to the negatives he's trying to show the logical fallacy of lumping ambitions together -- "murder, steal, or fornicate," lumped in with "hope & action" could be chastised as similar.

As the poem further progresses there are jabs on the spiritual, "Nor a hope / should ever make a holiday for me" this could be seen as a jab on religion but also self-importance.  Praise "x." 

Then the jabs continue with the repetition of "I would not,"  "I would not be the fool of accident / I would not have a project seek an end / That needed aught."  Past me noted that the short line has a certain bite and power behind it because the speaker is trying to define his beliefs -- "fool of accident" reversed is the "scholar of purpose"  and the "project seek an end" reversed is "project seeks to explore limitlessness."   These are more arguments of control and free will as I see it.

I don't understand these lines though, but I'll try:

     Beyond the handful of my present means
     The sun of Duty drop from his frimament
     To be a rushlight for each petty end

The mood of these lines have a very cynical twist to them if I get this correctly.  Duty is capitalized which is more of the idea of "destiny" -- it's the duty to fufill what is needed, also "his" if referring to "a higher being" is lower cased so the focus is on "Duty."  Also note that the speaker is putting himself in the conversation as limited.

And through these limitations he's still able to choose, "I would not harm my fellow men / On the low argument, 'twould harm myself."  The last lines could be seen as anti-violence/war, but the focus here is on the thought process of the speaker.  Regardless of how "high" he thinks, the low argument -- the simple argument, the argument based on a selfish personal reason: logically, I'd harm myself.  I thought this through, and I know -- not because of some Duty in some higher spiritual sense.

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