Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Apology

"The Apology" by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a celebration of individualism and personal wisdom, offering a nuanced take on the act of apologizing and what it means to live authentically.

What You Will Learn from "The Apology" poem by Emerson

  1. Embrace Individual Flaws: The poem encourages accepting one's imperfections as intrinsic parts of one's character rather than sources of shame, highlighting self-awareness as a virtue.
  2. Trust Personal Wisdom: It values personal experience as a source of wisdom, promoting the idea that individual insight often trumps societal norms or expectations.
  3. Assert Individuality: Emerson’s work reaffirms the importance of nonconformity and staying true to oneself, suggesting that authenticity should be celebrated over fitting into prescribed roles or opinions.

Summary of the poem 'The Apology':

"The Apology" by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a poem in which the speaker expresses regret for the mistakes and shortcomings of his past. He acknowledges that he has not always lived up to his own ideals, and that he has sometimes acted out of fear or weakness rather than courage and conviction. However, he also expresses a sense of hope and renewal, recognizing that each new day presents an opportunity for growth and change. Throughout the poem, the speaker emphasizes the importance of honesty and self-awareness, and encourages readers to embrace their own imperfections and strive towards a more authentic and meaningful existence.

The Apology

Think me not unkind and rude,
That I walk alone in grove and glen;
I go to the god of the wood
To fetch his word to men.

Tax not my sloth that I
Fold my arms beside the brook;
Each cloud that floated in the sky
Writes a letter in my book.

Chide me not, laborious band,
For the idle flowers I brought;
Every aster in my hand
Goes home loaded with a thought.

There was never mystery,
But 'tis figured in the flowers,
Was never secret history,
But birds tell it in the bowers.

One harvest from thy field
Homeward brought the oxen strong;
A second crop thine acres yield,
Which I gather in a song.

Expanded takeaways from "The Apology."

  1. Acknowledgment of Flaws: Emerson opens by recognizing his flaws and the criticism he may face from others. This sets a tone of humility and self-awareness, suggesting that one must be conscious of and apologize for one’s limitations, not out of shame but as self-recognition.
  2. Value of Individual Wisdom: Despite the apology, there is a strong undercurrent of valuing one's wisdom over popular opinion. Emerson suggests that the wisdom gained through personal experience is just as valuable, if not more so, than that which is socially accepted or externally imposed.
  3. Nonconformity: Consistent with Emerson’s broader philosophy, the poem extols the virtues of nonconformity and self-reliance. He implies that apologizing for one’s unique perspective or way of being is unnecessary as long as one remains true and faithful to oneself.
  4. The Paradox of Apology: There’s a paradox within the poem—apologizing for one's unique traits and understanding is, in itself, a reaffirmation of one's distinct nature. In essence, by apologizing for not fitting a mold, one asserts the importance of being an individual.
  5. Acceptance of Life’s Dualities: The poem may also be read as an embrace of the dualities of life. Emerson seems to accept that wisdom and folly are intertwined, and that understanding comes from the acceptance and balance of these extremes.
A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere.
Ralph Waldo Emerson Self Reliance

Ralph Waldo Emerson left the ministry to pursue a career in writing and public speaking. Emerson became one of America's best known and best-loved 19th-century figures.
More About Emerson

Emerson Quotes

"Every man has his own courage, and is betrayed because he seeks in himself the courage of other persons."
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” 
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson left the ministry to pursue a career in writing and public speaking. Emerson became one of America's best known and best-loved 19th-century figures.
More About Emerson