Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Rhodora

from: Emerson, Ralph Waldo.  Early Poems of Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York, Boston, Thomas Y. Crowell & Company: 1899. Introduction by Nathan Haskell Dole. 

The beauty is its own excuse for Being

On being asked, whence is the flower.

In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals fallen in the pool
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that, if eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for Being;
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask; I never knew;
But in my simple ignorance suppose
The self-same power that brought me there, brought you.

What is the meaning of the poem The Rhodora?

The official name of the poem is "The Rhodora, On Being Asked, Whence Is the Flower", and was written by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1834.

Emerson uniquely describes a wonderful and insightful spiritual connection with nature in a primitive, deified manner. The focus of the poem is to showcase to Emerson's audience that a person has the embedded ability to share and experience a kindred relationship with God through the beauty of Nature.

The Rhodora is presented as a flower as beautiful as the rose, but which remains humble and does not seek broader fame.

What is a Rhodora flower?

Rhodora FlowerThe Rhodora can be described as a scrawny deciduous shrub that usually grows to 3-4 feet in height.  The well-known attraction to The Rhodora are it lavender flowers. The northern version of the shrubbery the lavender flowers are quite showy.

Where is the setting of the poem The Rhodora?

The narrator of the famous poem by Emerson is located outside in the springtime in the New England area and has found a beautiful Rhodora, "Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook," and is reflecting on the ability to bring beauty to such a dismal location and setting.

Who was The Rhodora written for?

Emerson’s first wife, Ellen TuckerMany poetic experts have chimed in on who was the inspiration for The Rhodora. Some are quite complex. I disagree. Emerson, while seeming complex to many, was rather a simplistic person, which carried forward to his writing.

The Rhodora described the love of his life. His wife.

Emerson detested the ordinary and status quo. Roses? Not his cup of tea. Those were for the masses. Emerson sought that which was unique.

When it came to describing his wife, the Rhodora plant encompassed all that he felt of her, including the lavender petals. Is there a more calming scent in nature than lavender? I say not.

Emerson describes his wife as stunningly beautiful through his eyes, and similar to items of immense value, she is hard to find. He gives her a grand compliment as a writer that she has a calming influence on his life. Points out she is only known by a certain few, those who seek out her uniqueness, her beauty, and her calming influence.

Such a woman is rare indeed.

How does The Rhodora connect to the beliefs of Emerson?

Since Emerson was a Transcendentalist, it makes sense that he would believe nature is emblematic of the true Spirit of God. The Rhodora, as a comparison, is viewed and beheld as a natural entity converted into the spirit and thought, which then formed Emerson's new perception of nature.

How does The Rhodora compare to the beauty of nature?

The Rhodora plant grows in solitude, away from other flowers and plants that are considered by many to be immensely beautiful. This coincides with Emerson's distaste for the rose. He preferred that which was unique and rare to find.

Emerson's “The Rhodora” contemplates the beauty of a simple flower and its effect on its surroundings. In the poem, it is stated that nature is beautiful and needs no excuse for being; instead, it should be valued and, in a way, worshipped for what it brings to the human mind, eyes, and senses.

Example: the lavender scent of The Rhodora gives calmness to those who come upon it.

What is the red bird in the poem The Rhodora?

The red bird is the Northern Cardinal.

"Red Bird" was a common nickname for the Northern Cardinal. In the poem, Emerson writes that the red-bird might come to a pool of water “his plumes to cool,” meaning to cool his feathers — or "splash about." 

I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods
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