It's 4 words that I read somewhere, probably on a bumper sticker or something. I've used that quote in art projects and just general writing and such many times. I didn't know who was being "quoted" at first, but eventually I looked it up and saw that it is R W Emerson. Ok, so I did that much of my homework, but I never actually read the poem from start to finish. I gave it my own interpretation, mostly being a positive spin such as when the Earth, Mother Nature, I guess, is happy or content, She laughs. That laughter becomes the beauty that Earth spills forth...flowers, and streams, and trees, and bees... You get the idea, right? Well, today I looked up the poem again. I READ it, all of it. And I am surprised at what it actually means, at least my interpretation of it. In this writing, this outpouring of Emerson's creativity, Earth is not quite so jovial. She is, in fact laughing AT us. She is cracking up at the fact that we as humans think we are all powerful, in control, beyond harm, and oh so important... Masters of our world, and owners of all things. She "laughs in flowers" over our graves, at our vanity, and our insistence on calling the world around us "ours", devaluing it as merely a possession. She laughs when I say "MY garden is so pretty", because she knows that regardless of my existence, her garden will still exist, and with the flora of Her choosing. It makes me remember that our time here, our space that we carve out for ourselves here, is merely borrowed, in the grand scheme of things. Borrowed. I know there are many other issues being addressed in this writing, politics and such, that I know little about. But for me, it was a bit sobering and humbling to finally understand the depth of it, beyond the superficial "pretty" words that have been plucked from such a profound piece of literature, and that I have been using so frivolously in my own creativity.
So, if I haven't bored you yet with my "way deeper than usual" chatter, below is this poem, in its entirety, for your reading pleasure. I, having done my literature homework for the day, am going outside into THE garden to paint a little of Earth's laughter...
BY RALPH WALDO EMERSON
Bulkeley, Hunt, Willard, Hosmer, Meriam, Flint,
Possessed the land which rendered to their toil
Hay, corn, roots, hemp, flax, apples, wool, and wood.
Each of these landlords walked amidst his farm,
Saying, “’Tis mine, my children’s and my name’s.
How sweet the west wind sounds in my own trees!
How graceful climb those shadows on my hill!
I fancy these pure waters and the flags
Know me, as does my dog: we sympathize;
And, I affirm, my actions smack of the soil.”
Where are these men? Asleep beneath their grounds:
And strangers, fond as they, their furrows plough.
Earth laughs in flowers, to see her boastful boys
Earth-proud, proud of the earth which is not theirs;
Who steer the plough, but cannot steer their feet
Clear of the grave.
They added ridge to valley, brook to pond,
And sighed for all that bounded their domain;
“This suits me for a pasture; that’s my park;
We must have clay, lime, gravel, granite-ledge,
And misty lowland, where to go for peat.
The land is well,—lies fairly to the south.
’Tis good, when you have crossed the sea and back,
To find the sitfast acres where you left them.”
Ah! the hot owner sees not Death, who adds
Him to his land, a lump of mould the more.
Hear what the Earth say:--
“Mine and yours;
Mine, not yours.
Shine down in the old sea;
Old are the shores;
But where are old men?
I who have seen much,
Such have I never seen.
“The lawyer’s deed
To them and to their heirs
Who shall succeed,
“Here is the land,
Shaggy with wood,
With its old valley,
Mound and flood.
But the heritors?--
Fled like the flood's foam.
The lawyer and the laws,
And the kingdom,
Clean swept herefrom.
“They called me theirs,
Who so controlled me;
Yet every one
Wished to stay, and is gone,
How am I theirs,
If they cannot hold me,
But I hold them?”
When I heard the Earth-song
I was no longer brave;
My avarice cooled
Like lust in the chill of the grave.