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Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Good-bye"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Introduction and Text of "Good-bye"

In Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Good-bye," the speaker is chiding 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 the Divine Reality.

Good-bye

Good-bye, proud world! I'm going home:
Thou art not my friend, and I'm not thine.
Long through thy weary crowds I roam;
A river-ark on the ocean brine,
Long I've been tossed like the driven foam;
But now, proud world! I'm going home.

Good-bye to Flattery's fawning face;
To Grandeur with his wise grimace;
To upstart Wealth's averted eye;
To supple Office, low and high;
To crowded halls, to court and street;
To frozen hearts and hasting feet;
To those who go, and those who come;
Good-bye, proud world! I'm going home.

I am going to my own hearth-stone,
Bosomed in yon green hills alone, —
A secret nook in a pleasant land,
Whose groves the frolic fairies planned;
Where arches green, the livelong day,
Echo the blackbird's roundelay,
And vulgar feet have never trod
A spot that is sacred to thought and God.

O, when I am safe in my sylvan home,
I tread on the pride of Greece and Rome;
And when I am stretched beneath the pines,
Where the evening star so holy shines,
I laugh at the lore and the pride of man,
At the sophist schools, and the learned clan;
For what are they all, in their high conceit,
When man in the bush with God may meet?

Reading of "Good-Bye"

Commentary

Announcing his retirement from worldly pursuits, the speaker engages in criticism of the various vicissitudes of the "proud world," which has finds troubling and ultimately tiresome.

First Stanza: Retirement from the Weary World

Good-bye, proud world! I'm going home:
Thou art not my friend, and I'm not thine.
Long through thy weary crowds I roam;
A river-ark on the ocean brine,
Long I've been tossed like the driven foam;
But now, 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: List of Complaints

Good-bye to Flattery's fawning face;
To Grandeur with his wise grimace;
To upstart Wealth's averted eye;
To supple Office, low and high;
To crowded halls, to court and street;
To frozen hearts and hasting feet;
To those who go, and those who come;
Good-bye, proud world! I'm going home.

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: Selecting His Own Society

I am going to my own hearth-stone,
Bosomed in yon green hills alone, —
A secret nook in a pleasant land,
Whose groves the frolic fairies planned;
Where arches green, the livelong day,
Echo the blackbird's roundelay,
And vulgar feet have never trod
A spot that is sacred to thought and God.

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: A Place for the Divine Creator

O, when I am safe in my sylvan home,
I tread on the pride of Greece and Rome;
And when I am stretched beneath the pines,
Where the evening star so holy shines,
I laugh at the lore and the pride of man,
At the sophist schools, and the learned clan;
For what are they all, in their high conceit,
When man in the bush with God may meet?

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."

Unfriendly to humankind's secular machinations, this speaker 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.

Commemorative Stamp

Questions & Answers

Question: What is the poem "Good-Bye" by Ralph Waldo about?

Answer: In this poem, 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 like a hermit and contemplate the ways of the Divine Reality.

Question: Where is "home" in Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Good-Bye"?

Answer: "Home" in this poem refers more to a state of mind than to a place. While the speaker does seem to reveal that he will surround himself in a more natural setting, still his "home" is in his mind, heart, and soul--not in physical, worldly places, where many people go noisily about acquiring money and stature. He seeks peace, tranquility, and ultimately a true connection with the Divine Reality.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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