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B.A.  Honrus    
 
SUBJECT:  English  Poetry  
TOPIC:  Brahma  –  by  Ralph  Waldo  Emerson  
LESSON  MAP:  2.6.C.1  
Duration:  31:36  min  

 
 

 
 

 
 
 

Ralph  Waldo  Emerson  


THE  POET,  RALPH  WALDO  EMERSON  
Born   in   1803   Emerson   was   brought   up   in   Boston,   Massachusetts.   His  
ancestors  had  been  in  America  for  seven  generations,  dating  back  to  one  of  the  
early  emigrants  from  old  to  New  England,  many  of  them  including  his  father  
was   a   clergyman.   Though   poor   he   was   given   a   proper   education   by   his  
widowed   mother   and   aunt   and   he   graduated   from   Harvard   and   became   a  
clergy  man  of  a  Boston  church  but  by  1832  he  resigned  because  he  could  not  
conduct  religious  ritual  in  which  he  did  not  believe.  
 
He   was   the   leading   light   of   the   Transcendentalists.   Transcendentalism    
encouraged   individualism   and   self   reliance.   He   established   a   reputation   as   a  
sound  and  original  thinker,  orator  and  author  and  eventually  became  known  
throughout  the  nation  as  the  ‘Sage  of  Concord.’  
 
Emerson   was   brought   up   amidst   poverty,   lacked   the   basic   comforts   of   life   and  
it   was   under   the   presence   of   toil   and   want   that   Emerson   realized   truth   and  
mutual   faith   as   the   greatest   ideals   of   human   life.   He   never   undervalued   the  
influence   of   books   in   his   life   and   in   his   essay   ‘American   Scholar’   he  
acknowledged   the   indebtedness   to   books.   The   Bible’   shaped   his   mind,  
citations   from   the   Bible   direct   and   oblique   are   strewn   all   over   his   writings.  
Nature   too   influenced   Emerson;   he   perceived   the   benign   influence   of   nature  
on   all   sensitive   and   responsive   minds.   Nature   according   to   Emerson   did   not  
imply  just  natural  phenomenon  but  it  also  embraced  all  the  manifestations  of  
human  nature  and  all  shades  of  human  relationship.  The  essays  of  Emerson  on  
the  whole  are  a  remarkable  evidence  of  their  author’s  continuous  struggle  to  
understand  the  nature  of  human  life.    
 
INTRODUCTION  
 
"Brahma"  is  a  lyric     in  which  the  poet  assumes  the  persona  of  the  Hindu  god  
Brahma.   Emerson   completed   the   poem   in   1856,   and   the   Atlantic  
Monthly  published   it   in   1857.  .Emerson   based   "Brahma"   on   ideas   he   read   in  
the  literature  of  Hinduism,  including  the  Upanishads  (which  express  the  views  
 
 
of   Hindu   teachers)   and   the   Bhagavad-­‐Gita,   a   poem   centering   on   ethics,   the  
immortality   of   the   soul,   and   other   subjects.   In   Hinduism,   many   important  
words   begin   with   the   letters  b,  r,  a,  h,   and  m.  Three   of   them  
are  Brahma,  Brahman,  and  Brahmin.  Their  definitions  are  as  follows:  
Brahma:     is   the   god   of   creation.    
Brahman:   is   the   essence,   or   "soul,"   of   the   universe.      
Brahmin:  is  name  of  the  caste  (social  class)  to  which  Hindu  priests  belong.  
 
THE  POEM  
 
If   the   red   slayer   think   he   slays,    
    Or   if   the   slain   think   he   is   slain,    
They   know   not   well   the   subtle   ways    
   I  keep,  and  pass,  and  turn  again.  
Far   or   forgot   to   me   is   near;    
    Shadow   and   sunlight   are   the   same,    
The   vanished   gods   to   me   appear,    
   And  one  to  me  are  shame  and  fame.  
They   reckon   ill   who   leave   me   out;    
    When   me   they   fly,   I   am   the   wings;    
I   am   the   doubter   and   the   doubt,    
   And  I  the  hymn  the  Brahmin  sings.  
The   strong   gods   pine   for   my   abode,    
    And   pine   in   vain   the   sacred   Seven;    
But   thou,   meek   lover   of   the   good!    
   Find  me,  and  turn  thy  back  on  heaven.  
 
EMERSON  AS  BRAHMA  
.......In   his   poem,   Emerson   assumes   the   persona   of   the   creator   god,   Brahma.  
Speaking   as   Brahma,   he   says   he   contains   the   nature—that   is,   the   essence  
(Brahman)—of  everything  in  the  universe.  In  other  words,  he  is  both  "shadow  
and   sunlight"   (line   6),   "shame   and   fame"   (line   8),   and   "the   doubter   and   the  
doubt"   (line   11).   Moreover,   he   is   the   "slayer"   (line   1)   as   well   as   the   "slain"  
(line   2).   Thus,   shadow   and   sunlight   are   the   same   even   though   they   are  
different,  for  their  essences  are  unified  in  Brahma.  The  same  is  true  of  shame  
 
 
and   fame,   doubter   and   doubt,   slayer   and   slain,   and   all   other   things   in   the  
universe.    
 
THE  POEM  STANZAS  1  &  2  
.......Assuming  the  role  of  Brahma,  Emerson  presents  the  first  fourteen  lines  of  
the  poem  in  first-­‐person  point  of  view.  In  the  last  two  lines,  he  addresses  the  
reader,  using  second-­‐person  point  of  view.    
 
In  the  first  stanza,  Emerson  expresses  the  continuity  of  life.  He  says  that  if  a  
killer   thinks   he   has   killed   another   or   if   the   dead   think   that   they   are   truly   well,  
they  do  not  fully  realize  his  power;  for  he,  Brahma,  can  create,  destroy  and  re-­‐
create.   In   the   end   the   "red-­‐slayer",   or   the   Hindu   God   Krishna   (also   the  
Kshatriya,   the   brave   soldier),   and   his   victim   are   merged   in   the   unity   of  
Brahma.  When  Brahma  re-­‐creates  or  "turns  again,"  it  is  known  commonly  as  
the   concept   of   reincarnation   or   rebirth.   Thus,   the   continuity   of   life   is  
expressed  through  Brahma's  eyes.  
 
The   ultimate   unity   if   the   universe   is   expressed   through   the   second   stanza.  
Emerson  uses  such  opposites  such  as  shadow  and  sunlight,  good  and  evil,  in  
order   to   prove   this   philosophical   belief.   To   be   far   and   forgotten,   are   near   to  
him,   In   essence,   Emerson   states   that   all   opposites   are   reconciled   in   the  
ultimate   unity   of   the   universe.   This   is   proven   as   he   states   that   shadow   and  
sunlight   are   the   same   as   are   shame   and   fame.   Thus,   when   it   comes   down   to   it,  
the   universe   is   built   through   harmony   and   not   counteracting   forces   such   as  
good  and  evil.  
 
THE  POEM,  STANZAS  4  &  5  
In   the   third   Stanza,   Emerson   calls   upon   the   reader   to   do   something.   He  
states,   "Find   me   (Brahma),   and   turn   thy   back   on   heaven,   this   is   a   definite  
allusion   to   the   statement   in   the   eighteenth   chapter   .in   the   Bhagavad-­‐Gita  
which   says,   "Abandoning   all   religious   duties,   seek   me   as   thy   refuge.   I   will  
deliver  thee  from  all  sin."    In  the  last  stanza  he  states  that  the  sacred  seven,  
the  highest  priests,  and  the  strong  gods,  the  Hindu  gods  Indra,  Agni,  and  Yama,  
pray  to  him  in  vain  and  ask  for  his  asylum.  Thus,  he  is  saying  that  praying  to  
him  for  material  goods  will  not  accomplish  anything.  Thus,  the  request  that  he  
 
 
makes  is  for  the  reader  to  join  him  in  the  ultimate  unity  of  the  universe,  also  
known  as  the  Hindu  philosophy  of  Mukhti.  
 
CONCLUSION  
In   Ralph   Waldo   Emerson's   poem,   "Brahma",   the   overall   theme   is   the   divine  
relationship  and  continuity  of  life  and  the  unity  of  the  universe.  To  begin  with,  
this  is  explained  through  the  concept  of  re-­‐incarnation,  which  is  expressed  in  
the   first   stanza.   Second,   Emerson   clarifies   it   the   second   stanza   in   which   he  
states   that   the   universe   lives   in   harmony   and   not   opposing   forces   such   as  
good   and   evil.   Lastly,   Emerson   calls   upon   the   reader   to   abandon   praying   for  
material   thoughts   or   asking   him,   Brahma,   for   asylum   as   join   him   in   the  
ultimate   unity   of   the   universe.   In   writing   "Brahma,"   Emerson   boldly   crosses  
new   bounds   by   assuming   the   perspective   of   a   God   and   by   cleverly   mixing  
Eastern  and  Western  thought.