The Rarity of the Beautiful

  • Harold Schweizer


Accidental, ungrounded, inexplicable, unjustified, such is the phenomenology of the beautiful in Emerson’s poem “The Rhodora.” The flower is a gratuitous rarity; it is easy to miss, hard to justify, its charm is wasting away in the arc of our lives’ passage from the material to the immaterial. The poem is an apology for the rarity of a common shrub — and of the poem about it — but Emerson presents this apology not just in the service of the flower and of the poem but also as an aesthetic justification of human existence. Although common as shrubs, we too have considerable rarity.


Human Existence Century Prose Good Deed Black Water Common Shrub 
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  1. 2.
    See Lawrence Buell, Emerson ( Cambridge: The Belknap Press, 2003 ), 201.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Barry Tharaud, “Introduction: Emerson Bicentenary Essays,” Nineteenth-Century Prose 30, 1/2 (Spring/Fall 2003): 33.Google Scholar
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    See R.A. Yoder, Emerson and the Orphic Poet in America ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978 ), 83.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Saundra Morris, “Poetry and Poetics” in Emerson in Context ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013 ), 80.Google Scholar
  5. 16.
    See Yoder, 82; see Richard Tuerk, “Emerson and the Wasting of Beauty: ‘The Rhodora,’” American Tri Quarterly 4, 1 (March 1990): 7.Google Scholar

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© Harold Schweizer 2016

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  • Harold Schweizer

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