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Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Good-Bye"

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Bidding the "proud world" adieu, the speaker in Emerson's poem uses his announcement to criticize certain aspects of worldliness that he has come to disdain.

In Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Good-Bye," the speaker chides false pride and flattery of the world, as he announces his retirement from life's vicissitudes; he plans to withdraw to his sylvan home as a hermit and contemplate the ways of God.

First Stanza: "Good-bye, proud world! I'm going home"

The speaker in Emerson's little drama bids the world "Good-Bye" and then claims that he is going home. The world is not his home, and it is not his friend nor is he a friend of the world. He has wandered for many years among the worldly crowds and finds them weary.

The speaker likens himself to a "river-ark on the ocean brine," tossing on the sea like the "driven foam." But now he has determined that he will no longer remain a part of this madness; he has determined to say good-bye to this proud world because he is now "going home."

Second Stanza: "Good-bye to Flattery's fawning face"

In the second stanza, the speaker catalogues a number of his complaints with the world: he disdains the flattery, calling it "Flattery's fawning face." He dislikes "Grandeur with his wise grimace" and "upstart Wealth's averted eye."

The speaker is also happy to say good-bye to "supple Office, low and high" while he deplores crowded halls that he has experienced in both court and street. He finds distasteful the people with "frozen hearts and hasting feet." Thus, he is quite pleased to be saying, "Good-bye, proud world! I'm going home."

Third Stanza: "I am going to my own hearth-stone "

The speaker uses the final two stanzas to dramatize the opposite atmosphere, the place to which he is thankfully retiring, the place he calls home. He proclaims, "I am going to my own hearth-stone / Bosomed in yon green hills alone." This speaker is fortunate enough to already possess a wooded retreat to which he can withdraw from the busy world. He goes on to dramatize his home as a "secret nook in a pleasant land / Whose grove the frolic fairies planned."

The happy speaker imparts the image of a place that is other-worldly, almost a dream paradise that hardly seems any part of the world from which he is retreating. In this place where nature is "green, the livelong day" and where "echo the blackbirds roundelay," the very ground has escaped the busy trod of "vulgar feet." This place is so grand and pristine as to be "sacred to thought and God."

Fourth Stanza: "O, when I am safe in my sylvan home"

In the final stanza, the speaker waxes ever more spiritual, as he again relays his scorn for the pride of "Greece and Rome" and derides "the lore and pride of man." He scoffs at both the "sophist schools and the learned clan."

Unlike mankind's secular machinations, he finds holy the "evening star," and he closes by posing a rhetorical question, "For what are they all, in their high conceit, / When man in the bush with God may meet?" He avers that meeting God in a natural setting profits the soul in ways that immersion in the activities of the world cannot.

Reading of Emerson'a "Good-Bye"

Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Major Poetry

Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Major Poetry
Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Major Poetry

This volume contains "Good-Bye," the poem featured in this commentary.

 

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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