Summary and Analysis of The Poet
About The Poet
First published in the 1844 edition of Essays, "The Poet" contains Emerson's thoughts on what makes a poet, and what that person's role in society should be. He argues that the poet is a seer who penetrates the mysteries of the universe and articulates the universal truths that bind humanity together. Hence, the true poet, who puts into words what others feel but cannot express, speaks for all men and women.
The epigraphs that open the essay are Emerson's. The "moody child" described in the first epigraph prefigures the essential qualities of the poet, who sees with a penetrating gaze deep into the true nature of things. The four lines of the second epigraph come from Emerson's "Ode to Beauty"; this fragment alludes to "Olympian bards" and continues the reference in the first poem to Apollo, the Greek god of music and poetry. These bards' words prompt listeners to recover a fresh vision of youth, similar to Emerson's wanting his fellow Americans to rediscover America's indigenous character rather than continue to rely on models from their European past.
Following the epigraphs, the essay falls into four major parts, and it will be easier to follow the discussion if you number the paragraphs in pencil. The first section outlines the character of the poet as an interpreter and a visionary (paragraphs 1-9). The second section deals with the relationship between the poet, language, and nature (paragraphs 10-18). Following this discussion, Emerson expands the notion of the poet-as-visionary and asserts that the poet, using the gift of imagination, can liberate humanity by enabling others to experience transcendental visions (paragraphs 19-29). In the concluding section (paragraphs 30-33), he returns to the theme of "The American Scholar" and reflects on the need for an American poetic genius to express the particular beauty of the continent and its peoples.