Love
Ralph Waldo Emerson


I was as a gem concealed;
Me my burning ray revealed."
Koran

Love

Every promise of the soul has innumerable fulfilments; each
ofnt. Nature, uncontainable, flowing, forelooking, in the first
sentiment of kindness anticipates already a benevolence which shall
lose all particular regards in its general light. The introduction
to this felicity is in a private and tender relation of one to one,
which is the enchantment of human life; which, like a certain divine
rage and enthusiasm, seizes on man at one period, and works a
revolution in his mind and body; unites him to his race, pledges him
to the domestic and civic relations, carries him with new sympathy
into nature, enhances the power of the senses, opens the imagination,
adds to his character heroic and sacred attributes, establishes
marriage, and gives permanence to human society.

The natural association of the sentiment of love with the
heyday of the blood seems to require, that in order to portray it in
vivid tints, which every youth and maid should confess to be true to
their throbbing experience, one must not be too old. The delicious
fancies of youth reject the least savour of a mature philosophy, as
chilling with age and pedantry their purple bloom. And, therefore, I
know I incur the imputation of unnecessary hardness and stoicism from
those who compose the Court and Parliament of Love. But from these
formidable censors I shall appeal to my seniors. For it is to be
considered that this passion of which we speak, though it begin with
the young, yet forsakes not the old, or rather suffers no one who is
truly its servant to grow old, but makes the aged participators of
it, not less than the tender maiden, though in a different and nobler
sort. For it is a fire that, kindling its first embers in the narrow
nook of a private bosom, caught from a wandering spark out of another
private heart, glows and enlarges until it warms and beams upon
multitudes of men and women, upon the universal heart of all, and so
lights up the whole world and all nature with its generous flames.
It matters not, therefore, whether we attempt to describe the passion
at twenty, at thirty, or at eighty years. He who paints it at the
first period will lose some of its later, he who paints it at the
last, some of its earlier traits. Only it is to be hoped that, by
patience and the Muses' aid, we may attain to that inward view of the
law, which shall describe a truth ever young and beautiful, so
central that it shall commend itself to the eye, at whatever angle
beholden.

And the first condition is, that we must leave a too close and
lingering adherence to facts, and study the sentiment as it appeared
in hope and not in history. For each man sees his own life defaced
and disfigured, as the life of man is not, to his imagination. Each
man sees over his own experience a certain stain of error, whilst
that of other men looks fair and ideal. Let any man go back to those
delicious relations which make the beauty of his life, which have
given him sincerest instruction and nourishment, he will shrink and
moan. Alas! I know not why, but infinite compunctions embitter in
mature life the remembrances of budding joy, and cover every beloved
name. Every thing is beautiful seen from the point of the intellect,
or as truth. But all is sour, if seen as experience. Details are
melancholy; the plan is seemly and noble. In the actual world -- the
painful kingdom of time and place -- dwell care, and canker, and
fear. With thought, with the ideal, is immortal hilarity, the rose
of joy. Round it all the Muses sing. But grief cleaves to names,
and persons, and the partial interests of to-day and yesterday.

The strong bent of nature is seen in the proportion which this
topic of personal relations usurps in the conversation of society.
What do we wish to know of any worthy person so much, as how he has
sped in the history of this sentiment? What books in the circulating
libraries circulate? How we glow over these novels of passion, when
the story is told with any spark of truth and nature! And what
fastens attention, in the intercourse of life, like any passage
betraying affection between two parties? Perhaps we never saw them
before, and never shall meet them again. But we see them exchange a
glance, or betray a deep emotion, and we are no longer strangers. We
understand them, and take the warmest interest in the development of
the romance. All mankind love a lover. The earliest demonstrations
of complacency and kindness are nature's most winning pictures. It
is the dawn of civility and grace in the coarse and rustic. The rude
village boy teases the girls about the school-house door; -- but
to-day he comes running into the entry, and meets one fair child
disposing her satchel; he holds her books to help her, and instantly
it seems to him as if she removed herself from him infinitely, and
was a sacred precinct. Among the throng of girls he runs rudely
enough, but one alone distances him; and these two little neighbours,
that were so close just now, have learned to respect each other's
personality. Or who can avert his eyes from the engaging,
half-artful, half-artless ways of school-girls who go into the
country shops to buy a skein of silk or a sheet of paper, and talk
half an hour about nothing with the broad-faced, good-natured
shop-boy. In the village they are on a perfect equality, which love
delights in, and without any coquetry the happy, affectionate nature
of woman flows out in this pretty gossip. The girls may have little
beauty, yet plainly do they establish between them and the good boy
the most agreeable, confiding relations, what with their fun and
their earnest, about Edgar, and Jonas, and Almira, and who was
invited to the party, and who danced at the dancing-school, and when
the singing-school would begin, and other nothings concerning which
the parties cooed. By and by that boy wants a wife, and very truly
and heartily will he know where to find a sincere and sweet mate,
without any risk such as Milton deplores as incident to scholars and
great men.

I have been told, that in some public discourses of mine my
reverence for the intellect has made me unjustly cold to the personal
relations. But now I almost shrink at the remembrance of such
disparaging words. For persons are love's world, and the coldest
philosopher cannot recount the debt of the young soul wandering here
in nature to the power of love, without being tempted to unsay, as
treasonable to nature, aught derogatory to the social instincts.
For, though the celestial rapture falling out of heaven seizes only
upon those of tender age, and although a beauty overpowering all
analysis or comparison, and putting us quite beside ourselves, we can
seldom see after thirty years, yet the remembrance of these visions
outlasts all other remembrances, and is a wreath of flowers on the
oldest brows. But here is a strange fact; it may seem to many men,
in revising their experience, that they have no fairer page in their
life's book than the delicious memory of some passages wherein
affection contrived to give a witchcraft surpassing the deep
attraction of its own truth to a parcel of accidental and trivial
circumstances. In looking backward, they may find that several
things which were not the charm have more reality to this groping
memory than the charm itself which embalmed them. But be our
experience in particulars what it may, no man ever forgot the
visitations of that power to his heart and brain, which created all
things new; which was the dawn in him of music, poetry, and art;
which made the face of nature radiant with purple light, the morning
and the night varied enchantments; when a single tone of one voice
could make the heart bound, and the most trivial circumstance
associated with one form is put in the amber of memory; when he
became all eye when one was present, and all memory when one was
gone; when the youth becomes a watcher of windows, and studious of a
glove, a veil, a ribbon, or the wheels of a carriage; when no place
is too solitary, and none too silent, for him who has richer company
and sweeter conversation in his new thoughts, than any old friends,
though best and purest, can give him; for the figures, the motions,
the words of the beloved object are not like other images written in
water, but, as Plutarch said, "enamelled in fire," and make the study
of midnight.

"Thou art not gone being gone, where'er thou art,
Thou leav'st in him thy watchful eyes, in him thy loving
heart."

In the noon and the afternoon of life we still throb at the
recollection of days when happiness was not happy enough, but must be
drugged with the relish of pain and fear; for he touched the secret
of the matter, who said of love, --

"All other pleasures are not worth its pains";

and when the day was not long enough, but the night, too, must
be consumed in keen recollections; when the head boiled all night on
the pillow with the generous deed it resolved on; when the moonlight
was a pleasing fever, and the stars were letters, and the flowers
ciphers, and the air was coined into song; when all business seemed
an impertinence, and all the men and women running to and fro in the
streets, mere pictures.

The passion rebuilds the world for the youth. It makes all
things alive and significant. Nature grows conscious. Every bird on
the boughs of the tree sings now to his heart and soul. The notes
are almost articulate. The clouds have faces as he looks on them.
The trees of the forest, the waving grass, and the peeping flowers
have grown intelligent; and he almost fears to trust them with the
secret which they seem to invite. Yet nature soothes and
sympathizes. In the green solitude he finds a dearer home than with
men.

"Fountain-heads and pathless groves,
Places which pale passion loves,
Moonlight walks, when all the fowls
Are safely housed, save bats and owls,
A midnight bell, a passing groan, --
These are the sounds we feed upon."

Behold there in the wood the fine madman! He is a palace of
sweet sounds and sights; he dilates; he is twice a man; he walks with
arms akimbo; he soliloquizes; he accosts the grass and the trees; he
feels the blood of the violet, the clover, and the lily in his veins;
and he talks with the brook that wets his foot.

The heats that have opened his perceptions of natural beauty
have made him love music and verse. It is a fact often observed,
that men have written good verses under the inspiration of passion,
who cannot write well under any other circumstances.

The like force has the passion over all his nature. It expands
the sentiment; it makes the clown gentle, and gives the coward heart.
Into the most pitiful and abject it will infuse a heart and courage
to defy the world, so only it have the countenance of the beloved
object. In giving him to another, it still more gives him to
himself. He is a new man, with new perceptions, new and keener
purposes, and a religious solemnity of character and aims. He does
not longer appertain to his family and society; _he_ is somewhat;
_he_ is a person; _he_ is a soul.


And here let us examine a little nearer the nature of that
influence which is thus potent over the human youth. Beauty, whose
revelation to man we now celebrate, welcome as the sun wherever it
pleases to shine, which pleases everybody with it and with
themselves, seems sufficient to itself. The lover cannot paint his
maiden to his fancy poor and solitary. Like a tree in flower, so
much soft, budding, informing love-liness is society for itself, and
she teaches his eye why Beauty was pictured with Loves and Graces
attending her steps. Her existence makes the world rich. Though she
extrudes all other persons from his attention as cheap and unworthy,
she indemnifies him by carrying out her own being into somewhat
impersonal, large, mundane, so that the maiden stands to him for a
representative of all select things and virtues. For that reason,
the lover never sees personal resemblances in his mistress to her
kindred or to others. His friends find in her a likeness to her
mother, or her sisters, or to persons not of her blood. The lover
sees no resemblance except to summer evenings and diamond mornings,
to rainbows and the song of birds.

The ancients called beauty the flowering of virtue. Who can
analyze the nameless charm which glances from one and another face
and form? We are touched with emotions of tenderness and
complacency, but we cannot find whereat this dainty emotion, this
wandering gleam, points. It is destroyed for the imagination by any
attempt to refer it to organization. Nor does it point to any
relations of friendship or love known and described in society, but,
as it seems to me, to a quite other and unattainable sphere, to
relations of transcendent delicacy and sweetness, to what roses and
violets hint and fore-show. We cannot approach beauty. Its nature
is like opaline doves'-neck lustres, hovering and evanescent. Herein
it resembles the most excellent things, which all have this rainbow
character, defying all attempts at appropriation and use. What else
did Jean Paul Richter signify, when he said to music, "Away! away!
thou speakest to me of things which in all my endless life I have not
found, and shall not find." The same fluency may be observed in every
work of the plastic arts. The statue is then beautiful when it
begins to be incomprehensible, when it is passing out of criticism,
and can no longer be defined by compass and measuring-wand, but
demands an active imagination to go with it, and to say what it is in
the act of doing. The god or hero of the sculptor is always
represented in a transition _from_ that which is representable to the
senses, _to_ that which is not. Then first it ceases to be a stone.
The same remark holds of painting. And of poetry, the success is not
attained when it lulls and satisfies, but when it astonishes and
fires us with new endeavours after the unattainable. Concerning it,
Landor inquires "whether it is not to be referred to some purer state
of sensation and existence."

In like manner, personal beauty is then first charming and
itself, when it dissatisfies us with any end; when it becomes a story
without an end; when it suggests gleams and visions, and not earthly
satisfactions; when it makes the beholder feel his unworthiness; when
he cannot feel his right to it, though he were Caesar; he cannot feel
more right to it than to the firmament and the splendors of a sunset.

Hence arose the saying, "If I love you, what is that to you?"
We say so, because we feel that what we love is not in your will, but
above it. It is not you, but your radiance. It is that which you
know not in yourself, and can never know.

This agrees well with that high philosophy of Beauty which the
ancient writers delighted in; for they said that the soul of man,
embodied here on earth, went roaming up and down in quest of that
other world of its own, out of which it came into this, but was soon
stupefied by the light of the natural sun, and unable to see any
other objects than those of this world, which are but shadows of real
things. Therefore, the Deity sends the glory of youth before the
soul, that it may avail itself of beautiful bodies as aids to its
recollection of the celestial good and fair; and the man beholding
such a person in the female sex runs to her, and finds the highest
joy in contemplating the form, movement, and intelligence of this
person, because it suggests to him the presence of that which indeed
is within the beauty, and the cause of the beauty.

If, however, from too much conversing with material objects,
the soul was gross, and misplaced its satisfaction in the body, it
reaped nothing but sorrow; body being unable to fulfil the promise
which beauty holds out; but if, accepting the hint of these visions
and suggestions which beauty makes to his mind, the soul passes
through the body, and falls to admire strokes of character, and the
lovers contemplate one another in their discourses and their actions,
then they pass to the true palace of beauty, more and more inflame
their love of it, and by this love extinguishing the base affection,
as the sun puts out the fire by shining on the hearth, they become
pure and hallowed. By conversation with that which is in itself
excellent, magnanimous, lowly, and just, the lover comes to a warmer
love of these nobilities, and a quicker apprehension of them. Then
he passes from loving them in one to loving them in all, and so is
the one beautiful soul only the door through which he enters to the
society of all true and pure souls. In the particular society of his
mate, he attains a clearer sight of any spot, any taint, which her
beauty has contracted from this world, and is able to point it out,
and this with mutual joy that they are now able, without offence, to
indicate blemishes and hindrances in each other, and give to each all
help and comfort in curing the same. And, beholding in many souls
the traits of the divine beauty, and separating in each soul that
which is divine from the taint which it has contracted in the world,
the lover ascends to the highest beauty, to the love and knowledge of
the Divinity, by steps on this ladder of created souls.

Somewhat like this have the truly wise told us of love in all
ages. The doctrine is not old, nor is it new. If Plato, Plutarch,
and Apuleius taught it, so have Petrarch, Angelo, and Milton. It
awaits a truer unfolding in opposition and rebuke to that
subterranean prudence which presides at marriages with words that
take hold of the upper world, whilst one eye is prowling in the
cellar, so that its gravest discourse has a savor of hams and
powdering-tubs. Worst, when this sensualism intrudes into the
education of young women, and withers the hope and affection of human
nature, by teaching that marriage signifies nothing but a housewife's
thrift, and that woman's life has no other aim.

But this dream of love, though beautiful, is only one scene in
our play. In the procession of the soul from within outward, it
enlarges its circles ever, like the pebble thrown into the pond, or
the light proceeding from an orb. The rays of the soul alight first
on things nearest, on every utensil and toy, on nurses and domestics,
on the house, and yard, and passengers, on the circle of household
acquaintance, on politics, and geography, and history. But things
are ever grouping themselves according to higher or more interior
laws. Neighbourhood, size, numbers, habits, persons, lose by degrees
their power over us. Cause and effect, real affinities, the longing
for harmony between the soul and the circumstance, the progressive,
idealizing instinct, predominate later, and the step backward from
the higher to the lower relations is impossible. Thus even love,
which is the deification of persons, must become more impersonal
every day. Of this at first it gives no hint. Little think the
youth and maiden who are glancing at each other across crowded rooms,
with eyes so full of mutual intelligence, of the precious fruit long
hereafter to proceed from this new, quite external stimulus. The
work of vegetation begins first in the irritability of the bark and
leaf-buds. From exchanging glances, they advance to acts of
courtesy, of gallantry, then to fiery passion, to plighting troth,
and marriage. Passion beholds its object as a perfect unit. The
soul is wholly embodied, and the body is wholly ensouled.

"Her pure and eloquent blood
Spoke in her cheeks, and so distinctly wrought,
That one might almost say her body thought."

Romeo, if dead, should be cut up into little stars to make
the heavens fine. Life, with this pair, has no other aim, asks no
more, than Juliet, -- than Romeo. Night, day, studies, talents,
kingdoms, religion, are all contained in this form full of soul, in
this soul which is all form. The lovers delight in endearments, in
avowals of love, in comparisons of their regards. When alone, they
solace themselves with the remembered image of the other. Does that
other see the same star, the same melting cloud, read the same book,
feel the same emotion, that now delight me? They try and weigh their
affection, and, adding up costly advantages, friends, opportunities,
properties, exult in discovering that willingly, joyfully, they would
give all as a ransom for the beautiful, the beloved head, not one
hair of which shall be harmed. But the lot of humanity is on these
children. Danger, sorrow, and pain arrive to them, as to all. Love
prays. It makes covenants with Eternal Power in behalf of this dear
mate. The union which is thus effected, and which adds a new value
to every atom in nature, for it transmutes every thread throughout
the whole web of relation into a golden ray, and bathes the soul in a
new and sweeter element, is yet a temporary state. Not always can
flowers, pearls, poetry, protestations, nor even home in another
heart, content the awful soul that dwells in clay. It arouses itself
at last from these endearments, as toys, and puts on the harness, and
aspires to vast and universal aims. The soul which is in the soul of
each, craving a perfect beatitude, detects incongruities, defects,
and disproportion in the behaviour of the other. Hence arise
surprise, expostulation, and pain. Yet that which drew them to each
other was signs of loveliness, signs of virtue; and these virtues are
there, however eclipsed. They appear and reappear, and continue to
attract; but the regard changes, quits the sign, and attaches to the
substance. This repairs the wounded affection. Meantime, as life
wears on, it proves a game of permutation and combination of all
possible positions of the parties, to employ all the resources of
each, and acquaint each with the strength and weakness of the other.
For it is the nature and end of this relation, that they should
represent the human race to each other. All that is in the world,
which is or ought to be known, is cunningly wrought into the texture
of man, of woman.

"The person love does to us fit,
Like manna, has the taste of all in it."

The world rolls; the circumstances vary every hour. The angels
that inhabit this temple of the body appear at the windows, and the
gnomes and vices also. By all the virtues they are united. If there
be virtue, all the vices are known as such; they confess and flee.
Their once flaming regard is sobered by time in either breast, and,
losing in violence what it gains in extent, it becomes a thorough
good understanding. They resign each other, without complaint, to
the good offices which man and woman are severally appointed to
discharge in time, and exchange the passion which once could not lose
sight of its object, for a cheerful, disengaged furtherance, whether
present or absent, of each other's designs. At last they discover
that all which at first drew them together,---- those once sacred
features, that magical play of charms, -- was deciduous, had a
prospective end, like the scaffolding by which the house was built;
and the purification of the intellect and the heart, from year to
year, is the real marriage, foreseen and prepared from the first, and
wholly above their consciousness. Looking at these aims with which
two persons, a man and a woman, so variously and correlatively
gifted, are shut up in one house to spend in the nuptial society
forty or fifty years, I do not wonder at the emphasis with which the
heart prophesies this crisis from early infancy, at the profuse
beauty with which the instincts deck the nuptial bower, and nature,
and intellect, and art emulate each other in the gifts and the melody
they bring to the epithalamium.

Thus are we put in training for a love which knows not sex, nor
person, nor partiality, but which seeks virtue and wisdom everywhere,
to the end of increasing virtue and wisdom. We are by nature
observers, and thereby learners. That is our permanent state. But
we are often made to feel that our affections are but tents of a
night. Though slowly and with pain, the objects of the affections
change, as the objects of thought do. There are moments when the
affections rule and absorb the man, and make his happiness dependent
on a person or persons. But in health the mind is presently seen
again, -- its overarching vault, bright with galaxies of immutable
lights, and the warm loves and fears that swept over us as clouds,
must lose their finite character and blend with God, to attain their
own perfection. But we need not fear that we can lose any thing by
the progress of the soul. The soul may be trusted to the end. That
which is so beautiful and attractive as these relations must be
succeeded and supplanted only by what is more beautiful, and so on
for ever.