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The Rhodora- Ralph Waldo Emerson- Poem Summary

Updated: Jul 21, 2023


The poem "The Rhodora” which is also known as ‘The Rhodora, On Being Asked, Whence Is the Flower” was written by the great American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson in the year 1834. It appeared in his collection called “Poems” in 1847. The whole poem is about the blossoming shrub Rhodora. He praises its beauty beyond the world-renowned beautiful flower ‘Rose’ he addresses it, “O rival of the rose!” Read and be merry.


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.

POEM SUMMARY: The Rhodora Poem Summary

The poet praises the beauty of the flower Rhodora with a lot of figurative speeches. He initiates by stating the season when the flower Rhodora blossoms. He says, in 'May' i.e. in spring when 'sea- winds' i.e. sea breezes by piercing our loneliness he found 'fresh' Rhodora in the woods. It lies there in the corner of a swamp spreading its leafless blossoms in order to please the desert-like dull brook it is in. He says that purple petals with their presence make even the black water of the damp or dull brook 'gay' i.e. happy. He even says that when the red bird comes there to cool its plumes (feathers) in the water, it would court the flower Rhodora as it cheapens the bird's impressive display with its extreme beauty and vibrant colour.

Now the poet speaks to the flower itself. He addresses it with its name 'Rhodora!' and says that if any of the sages ask it, why such beauty is wasted on the earth and sky? He asks it to answer that if eyes are meant to see, well then beauty has its own excuse to be present anywhere. He calls Rhodora the rival of the world's renowned beautiful flower Rose. He says he never thought of asking why Rhodora is here because he says he never knew its existence if not for now and the reason behind this unenlightened knowledge might be his ignorance. He then concludes by saying that maybe the same power that made him appear here to witness this bliss made it also appear there.

~ Literpretation Team for Education

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