Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. Emerson wrote a poetic prose, ordering his essays by recurring themes and images. His poetry, on the other hand, is often called harsh and didactic.
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Most Famous Ralph Waldo Emerson Poems
ALL day the waves assailed the rock,
I heard no church-bell chime;
The sea-beat scorns the minster clock
And breaks the glass of Time.
You shall not be overbold
When you deal with arctic cold,
As late I found my lukewarm blood
Chilled wading in the snow-choked wood.
How should I fight? my foeman fine
Has million arms to one of mine:
East, west, for aid I looked in vain,
East, west, north, south, are his domain.
Miles off, three dangerous miles, is home;
Must borrow his winds who there would come.
Up and away for life! be fleet!–
The frost-king ties my fumbling feet,
Sings in my ears, my hands are stones,
Curdles the blood to the marble bones,
Tugs at the heart-strings, numbs the sense,
And hems in life with narrowing fence.
Well, in this broad bed lie and sleep,
The punctual stars will vigil keep,
Embalmed by purifying cold,
The winds shall sing their dead-march old,
The snow is no ignoble shroud,
The moon thy mourner, and the cloud.
Softly,–but this way fate was pointing,
‘T was coming fast to such anointing,
When piped a tiny voice hard by,
Gay and polite a cheerful cry,
Chic-chicadeedee! saucy note
Out of sound heart and merry throat,
As if it said, ‘Good day, good sir!
Fine afternoon, old passenger!
Happy to meet you in these places,
Where January brings few faces.’
This poet, though he live apart,
Moved by his hospitable heart,
Sped, when I passed his sylvan fort,
To do the honours of his court,
As fits a feathered lord of land;
Flew near, with soft wing grazed my hand,
Hopped on the bough, then, darting low,
Prints his small impress on the snow,
Shows feats of his gymnastic play,
Head downward, clinging to the spray.
Here was this atom in full breath,
Hurling defiance at vast death;
This scrap of valour just for play
Fronts the north-wind in waistcoat gray,
As if to shame my weak behaviour;
I greeted loud my little saviour,
‘You pet! what dost here? and what for?
In these woods, thy small Labrador,
At this pinch, wee San Salvador!
What fire burns in that little chest
So frolic, stout, and self-possest?
Henceforth I wear no stripe but thine;
Ashes and jet all hues outshine.
Why are not diamonds black and gray,
To ape thy dare-devil array?
And I affirm, the spacious North
Exists to draw thy virtue forth.
I think no virtue goes with size;
The reason of all cowardice
Is, that men are overgrown,
And, to be valiant, must come down
To the titmouse dimension.’
‘T is good-will makes intelligence,
And I began to catch the sense
Of my bird’s song: ‘Live out of doors,
In the great woods, on prairie floors.
I dine in the sun; when he sinks in the sea,
I too have a hole in a hollow tree;
And I like less when Summer beats
With stifling beams on these retreats,
Than noontide twilights which snow makes
With tempest of the blinding flakes.
For well the soul, if stout within,
Can arm impregnably the skin;
And polar frost my frame defied,
Made of the air that blows outside.’
With glad remembrance of my debt,
I homeward turn; farewell, my pet!
When here again thy pilgrim comes,
He shall bring store of seeds and crumbs.
Doubt not, so long as earth has bread,
Thou first and foremost shalt be fed;
The Providence that is most large
Takes hearts like thine in special charge,
Helps who for their own need are strong,
And the sky dotes on cheerful song.
Henceforth I prize thy wiry chant
O’er all that mass and minster vaunt;
For men mis-hear thy call in spring,
As ‘t would accost some frivolous wing;
Crying out of the hazel copse, Phe-be!
And, in winter, Chic-a-dee-dee!
I think old Caesar must have heard
In northern Gaul my dauntless bird,
And, echoed in some frosty wold,
Borrowed thy battle-numbers bold.
And I will write our annals new,
And thank thee for a better clew,
I, who dreamed not when I came here
To find the antidote of fear,
Now hear thee say in Roman key,
Paean! Veni, vidi, vici.
Thanks to the morning light,
Thanks to the seething sea,
To the uplands of New Hampshire,
To the green-haired forest free;
Thanks to each man of courage,
To the maids of holy mind,
To the boy with his games undaunted,
Who never looks behind.
Cities of proud hotels,
Houses of rich and great,
Vice nestles in your chambers,
Beneath your roofs of slate.
It cannot conquer folly,
And the light-outspeeding telegraph
Bears nothing on its beam.
The politics are base,
The letters do not cheer,
And ’tis far in the deeps of history—
The voice that speaketh clear.
Trade and the streets ensnare us,
Our bodies are weak and worn,
We plot and corrupt each other,
And we despoil the unborn.
Yet there in the parlor sits
Some figure of noble guise,
Our angel in a stranger’s form,
Or woman’s pleading eyes;
Or only a flashing sunbeam
In at the window pane;
Or music pours on mortals
Its beautiful disdain.
The inevitable morning
Finds them who in cellars be,
And be sure the all-loving Nature
Will smile in a factory.
Yon ridge of purple landscape,
Yon sky between the walls,
Hold all the hidden wonders
In scanty intervals.
Alas, the sprite that haunts us
Deceives our rash desire,
It whispers of the glorious gods,
And leaves us in the mire:
We cannot learn the cipher
That’s writ upon our cell,
Stars help us by a mystery
Which we could never spell.
If but one hero knew it,
The world would blush in flame,
The sage, till he hit the secret,
Would hang his head for shame.
But our brothers have not read it,
Not one has found the key,
And henceforth we are comforted,
We are but such as they.
Still, still the secret presses,
The nearing clouds draw down,
The crimson morning flames into
The fopperies of the town.
Within, without, the idle earth
Stars weave eternal rings,
The sun himself shines heartily,
And shares the joy he brings.
And what if trade sow cities
Like shells along the shore,
And thatch with towns the prairie broad
With railways ironed o’er;—
They are but sailing foambells
Along Thought’s causing stream,
And take their shape and Sun-color
From him that sends the dream.
For destiny does not like
To yield to men the helm,
And shoots his thought by hidden nerves
Throughout the solid realm.
The patient Dæmon sits
With roses and a shroud,
He has his way, and deals his gifts—
But ours is not allowed.
He is no churl or trifler,
And his viceroy is none,
Of genius sire and son;
And his will is not thwarted,—
The seeds of land and sea
Are the atoms of his body bright,
And his behest obey.
He serveth the servant,
The brave he loves amain,
He kills the cripple and the sick,
And straight begins again;
For gods delight in gods,
And thrust the weak aside;
To him who scorns their charities,
Their arms fly open wide.
When the old world is sterile,
And the ages are effete,
He will from wrecks and sediment
The fairer world complete.
He forbids to despair,
His cheeks mantle with mirth,
And the unimagined good of men
Is yeaning at the birth.
Spring still makes spring in the mind,
When sixty years are told;
Love wakes anew this throbbing heart,
And we are never old.
Over the winter glaciers,
I see the summer glow,
And through the wild-piled snowdrift
The warm rose buds below.
Roving, roving, as it seems,
Una lights my clouded dreams;
Still for journeys she is dressed;
We wander far by east and west.
In the homestead, homely thought;
At my work I ramble not;
If from home chance draw me wide,
Half-seen Una sits beside.
In my house and garden-plot,
Though beloved, I miss her not;
But one I seek in foreign places,
One face explore in foreign faces.
At home a deeper thought may light
The inward sky with chrysolite,
And I greet from far the ray,
Aurora of a dearer day.
But if upon the seas I sail,
Or trundle on the glowing rail,
I am but a thought of hers,
Loveliest of travellers.
So the gentle poet’s name
To foreign parts is blown by fame;
Seek him in his native town,
He is hidden and unknown.
I mourn upon this battle-field,
But not for those who perished here.
Behold the river-bank
Whither the angry farmers came,
In sloven dress and broken rank,
Nor thought of fame.
Their deed of blood
All mankind praise;
Even the serene Reason says,
It was well done.
The wise and simple have one glance
To greet yon stern head-stone,
Which more of pride than pity gave
To mark the Briton’s friendless grave.
Yet it is a stately tomb;
The grand return
Of eve and morn,
The year’s fresh bloom,
The silver cloud,
Might grace the dust that is most proud.
Yet not of these I muse
In this ancestral place,
But of a kindred face
That never joy or hope shall here diffuse.
Ah, brother of the brief but blazing star!
What hast thou to do with these
Haunting this bank’s historic trees?
Thou born for noblest life,
For action’s field, for victor’s car,
Thou living champion of the right?
To these their penalty belonged:
I grudge not these their bed of death,
But thine to thee, who never wronged
The poorest that drew breath.
All inborn power that could
Consist with homage to the good
Flamed from his martial eye;
He who seemed a soldier born,
He should have the helmet worn,
All friends to fend, all foes defy,
Fronting foes of God and man,
Frowning down the evil-doer,
Battling for the weak and poor.
His from youth the leader’s look
Gave the law which others took,
And never poor beseeching glance
Shamed that sculptured countenance.
There is no record left on earth,
Save in tablets of the heart,
Of the rich inherent worth,
Of the grace that on him shone,
Of eloquent lips, of joyful wit;
He could not frame a word unfit,
An act unworthy to be done;
Honour prompted every glance,
Honour came and sat beside him,
In lowly cot or painful road,
And evermore the cruel god
Cried, ‘Onward!’ and the palm-crown showed.
Born for success he seemed,
With grace to win, with heart to hold,
With shining gifts that took all eyes,
With budding power in college-halls,
As pledged in coming days to forge
Weapons to guard the State, or scourge
Tyrants despite their guards or walls.
On his young promise Beauty smiled,
Drew his free homage unbeguiled,
And prosperous Age held out his hand,
And richly his large future planned,
And troops of friends enjoyed the tide,–
All, all was given, and only health denied.
I see him with superior smile
Hunted by Sorrow’s grisly train
In lands remote, in toil and pain,
With angel patience labour on,
With the high port he wore erewhile,
When, foremost of the youthful band,
The prizes in all lists he won;
Nor bate one jot of heart or hope,
And, least of all, the loyal tie
Which holds to home ‘neath every sky,
The joy and pride the pilgrim feels
In hearts which round the hearth at home
Keep pulse for pulse with those who roam.
What generous beliefs console
The brave whom Fate denies the goal!
If others reach it, is content;
To Heaven’s high will his will is bent.
Firm on his heart relied,
What lot soe’er betide,
Work of his hand
He nor repents nor grieves,
Pleads for itself the fact,
As unrepenting Nature leaves
Her every act.
Fell the bolt on the branching oak;
The rainbow of his hope was broke;
No craven cry, no secret tear,–
He told no pang, he knew no fear;
Its peace sublime his aspect kept,
His purpose woke, his features slept;
And yet between the spasms of pain
His genius beamed with joy again.
O’er thy rich dust the endless smile
Of Nature in thy Spanish isle
Hints never loss or cruel break
And sacrifice for love’s dear sake,
Nor mourn the unalterable Days
That Genius goes and Folly stays.
What matters how, or from what ground,
The freed soul its Creator found?
Alike thy memory embalms
That orange-grove, that isle of palms,
And these loved banks, whose oak-boughs bold
Root in the blood of heroes old.
From The Persian Of Hafiz I
Butler, fetch the ruby wine,
Which with sudden greatness fills us;
Pour for me who in my spirit
Fail in courage and performance;
Bring the philosophic stone,
Karun’s treasure, Noah’s life;
Haste, that by thy means I open
All the doors of luck and life.
Bring me, boy, the fire-water
Zoroaster sought in dust.
To Hafiz revelling ’tis allowed
To pray to Matter and to Fire.
Bring the wine of Jamschid’s glass
That shone, ere time was, in the Néant.
Give it me, that through its virtue
I, as Jamschid, see through worlds.
Wisely said the Kaiser Jamschid,
This world’s not worth a barleycorn.
Bring me, boy, the nectar cup,
Since it leads to Paradise.
Flute and lyre lordly speak,
Lees of wine outvalue crowns.
Hither bring the veiled beauty
Who in ill-famed houses sits:
Lead her forth: my honest name
Freely barter I for wine.
Bring me, boy, the fire-water,
Drinks the lion—the woods burn.
Give it me, that I storm heaven,
Tear the net from the arch-wolf.
Wine, wherewith the Houris teach
Angels the ways of Paradise.
On the glowing coals I’ll set it,
And therewith my brain perfume.
Bring me wine, through whose effulgence
Jam and Chosroes yielded light:
Wine, that to the flute I sing
Where is Jam, and where is Kauss.
Bring the blessing of old times;
Bless the old departed Shahs;
Bring it me, the Shah of hearts.
Bring me wine to wash me clean,
Of the weather-stains of care,
See the countenance of luck.
While I dwell in spirit-gardens,
Wherefore sit I shackled here?
Lo, this mirror shows me all.
Drunk, I speak of purity,
Beggar, I of lordship speak.
When Hafiz in his revel sings,
Shouteth Sohra in her sphere.
Fear the changes of a day:
Bring wine which increases life,
Since the world is all untrue,
Let the trumpets thee remind
How the crown of Kobad vanished.
Be not certain of the world;
‘Twill not spare to shed thy blood.
Desperate of the world’s affair,
Came I running to the wine-house.
Give me wine which maketh glad,
That I may my steed bestride,
Through the course career with Rustem,
Gallop to my heart’s content.
Give me, boy, the ruby cup
Which unlocks the heart with wine,
That I reason quite renounce,
And plant banners on the worlds.
Let us make our glasses kiss,
Let us quench the sorrow-cinders:
To-day let us drink together.
Whoso has a banquet dressed,
Is with glad mind satisfied,
‘Scaping from the snares of Dews.
Alas for youth! ’tis gone in wind,—
Happy he who spent it well.
Give me wine, that I o’erleap
Both worlds at a single spring,
Stole at dawn from glowing spheres
Call of Houris to mine ear;
‘O happy bird! delicious soul!
Spread thy pinion, break the cage;
Sit on the roof of the seven domes,
Where the spirit takes repose.’
In the time of Bisurdschimihr,
Menutscheher’s beauty shined,
On the beaker of Nushirvan,
Wrote they once in eider times,
‘Hear the Counsel, learn from us
Sample of the course of things;
Earth, it is a place of sorrow,
Scanty joys are here below,
Who has nothing, has no sorrow.’
Where is Jam, and where his cup?
Solomon, and his mirror where?
Which of the wise masters knows
What time Kauss and Jam existed?
When those heroes left this world,
Left they nothing but their names.
Bind thy heart not to the earth,
When thou goest, come not back.
Fools squander on the world their hearts.
League with it, is feud with heaven;
Never gives it what thou wishest.
A cup of wine imparts the sight
Of the five heaven-domes with nine steps:
Whoso can himself renounce,
Without support shall walk thereon.
Who discreet is, is not wise.
Give me, boy, the Kaiser cup,
Which rejoices heart and soul;
Under type of wine and cup
Signify we purest love.
Youth like lightning disappears,
Life goes by us as the wind:
Leave the dwelling with six doors,
And the serpent with nine heads;
Life and silver spend thou freely,
If thou honorest the soul.
Haste into the other life;
All is nought save God alone.
Give me, boy, this toy of dæmons.
When the cup of Jam was lost,
Him availed the world no more.
Fetch the wine-glass made of ice,
Wake the torpid heart with wine.
Every clod of loam below us
Is a skull of Alexander;
Oceans are the blood of princes;
Desert sands the dust of beauties.
More than one Darius was there
Who the whole world overcame;
But since these gave up the ghost,
Thinkest thou they never were?
Boy, go from me to the Shah,
Say to him: Shah crowned as Jam,
Win thou first the poor man’s heart,
Then the glass; so know the world.
Empty sorrows from the earth
Canst thou drive away with wine.
Now in thy throne’s recent beauty,
In the flowing tide of power,
Moon of fortune, mighty king,
Whose tiara sheddeth lustre,
Peace secure to fish and fowl,
Heart and eye-sparkle to saints;
Shoreless is the sea of praise,—
I content me with a prayer.
From Nisami’s poet-works,
Highest ornament of speech,
Here a verse will I recite,
Verse as beautiful as pearls.
‘More kingdoms wait thy diadem,
Than are known to thee by name;
May the sovran destiny
Grant a victory every morn!’
Low and mournful be the strain,
Haughty thought be far from me;
Tones of penitence and pain,
Moanings of the tropic sea;
Low and tender in the cell
Where a captive sits in chains,
Crooning ditties treasured well
From his Afric’s torrid plains.
Sole estate his sire bequeathed–
Hapless sire to hapless son–
Was the wailing song he breathed,
And his chain when life was done.
What his fault, or what his crime?
Or what ill planet crossed his prime?
Heart too soft and will too weak
To front the fate that crouches near,–
Dove beneath the vulture’s beak;–
Will song dissuade the thirsty spear?
Dragged from his mother’s arms and breast,
Displaced, disfurnished here,
His wistful toil to do his best
Chilled by a ribald jeer.
Great men in the Senate sate,
Sage and hero, side by side,
Building for their sons the State,
Which they shall rule with pride.
They forbore to break the chain
Which bound the dusky tribe,
Checked by the owners’ fierce disdain,
Lured by ‘Union’ as the bribe.
Destiny sat by, and said,
‘Pang for pang your seed shall pay,
Hide in false peace your coward head,
I bring round the harvest-day.’
Freedom all winged expands,
Nor perches in a narrow place;
Her broad van seeks unplanted lands;
She loves a poor and virtuous race.
Clinging to a colder zone
Whose dark sky sheds the snow-flake down,
The snow-flake is her banner’s star,
Her stripes the boreal streamers are.
Long she loved the Northman well:
Now the iron age is done,
She will not refuse to dwell
With the offspring of the Sun;
Foundling of the desert far,
Where palms plume, siroccos blaze,
He roves unhurt the burning ways
In climates of the summer star.
He has avenues to God
Hid from men of Northern brain,
Far beholding, without cloud,
What these with slowest steps attain.
If once the generous chief arrive
To lead him willing to be led,
For freedom he will strike and strive,
And drain his heart till he be dead.
In an age of fops and toys,
Wanting wisdom, void of right,
Who shall nerve heroic boys
To hazard all in Freedom’s fight,–
Break sharply off their jolly games,
Forsake their comrades gay,
And quit proud homes and youthful dames,
For famine, toil, and fray?
Yet on the nimble air benign
Speed nimbler messages,
That waft the breath of grace divine
To hearts in sloth and ease.
So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, Thou must,
The youth replies, I can.
O, well for the fortunate soul
Which Music’s wings infold,
Stealing away the memory
Of sorrows new and old!
Yet happier he whose inward sight,
Stayed on his subtile thought,
Shuts his sense on toys of time,
To vacant bosoms brought.
But best befriended of the God
He who, in evil times,
Warned by an inward voice,
Heeds not the darkness and the dread,
Biding by his rule and choice,
Feeling only the fiery thread
Leading over heroic ground,
Walled with mortal terror round,
To the aim which him allures,
And the sweet heaven his deed secures.
Stainless soldier on the walls,
Knowing this,–and knows no more,–
Whoever fights, whoever falls,
Justice conquers evermore, Justice after as before,–
And he who battles on her side,
God, though he were ten times slain,
Crowns him victor glorified,
Victor over death and pain;
Forever: but his erring foe,
Self-assured that he prevails,
Looks from his victim lying low,
And sees aloft the red right arm
Redress the eternal scales.
He, the poor foe, whom angels foil,
Blind with pride, and fooled by hate,
Writhes within the dragon coil,
Reserved to a speechless fate.
Blooms the laurel which belongs
To the valiant chief who fights;
I see the wreath, I hear the songs
Lauding the Eternal Rights,
Victors over daily wrongs:
Awful victors, they misguide
Whom they will destroy,
And their coming triumph hide
In our downfall, or our joy:
They reach no term, they never sleep,
In equal strength through space abide;
Though, feigning dwarfs, they crouch and creep,
The strong they slay, the swift outstride:
Fate’s grass grows rank in valley clods,
And rankly on the castled steep,–
Speak it firmly, these are gods,
All are ghosts beside.
Your picture smiles as first it smiled,
The ring you gave is still the same,
Your letter tells, O changing child,
No tidings since it came.
Give me an amulet
That keeps intelligence with you,
Red when you love, and rosier red,
And when you love not, pale and blue.
Alas, that neither bonds nor vows
Can certify possession;
Torments me still the fear that love
Died in its last expression.
From The Persian Of Hafiz Ii
Of Paradise, O hermit wise,
Let us renounce the thought.
Of old therein our names of sin
Allah recorded not.
Who dear to God on earthly sod
No corn-grain plants,
The same is glad that life is had,
Though corn he wants.
Thy mind the mosque and cool kiosk,
Spare fast, and orisons;
Mine me allows the drink-house,
And sweet chase of the nuns.
O just fakeer, with brow austere,
Forbid me not the vine;
On the first day, poor Hafiz clay
Was kneaded up with wine.
He is no dervise, Heaven slights his service,
Who shall refuse
There in the banquet, to pawn his blanket
For Schiraz’s juice.
Who his friend’s shirt, or hem of his shirt,
Shall spare to pledge,
To him Eden’s bliss and Angel’s kiss
Shall want their edge.
Up, Hafiz; grace from high God’s face
Beams on thee pure;
Shy then not hell, and trust thou well,
Heaven is secure.
LONG I followed happy guides,
I could never reach their sides;
Their step is forth, and, ere the day
Breaks up their leaguer, and away.
Keen my sense, my heart was young,
Right good-will my sinews strung,
But no speed of mine avails
To hunt upon their shining trails.
On and away, their hasting feet
Make the morning proud and sweet;
Flowers they strew,—I catch the scent;
Or tone of silver instrument
Leaves on the wind melodious trace;
Yet I could never see their face.
On eastern hills I see their smokes,
Mixed with mist by distant lochs.
I met many travellers
Who the road had surely kept;
They saw not my fine revellers,—
These had crossed them while they slept.
Some had heard their fair report,
In the country or the court.
Fleetest couriers alive
Never yet could once arrive,
As they went or they returned,
At the house where these sojourned.
Sometimes their strong speed they slacken.
Though they are not overtaken;
In sleep their jubilant troop is near,—
I tuneful voices overhear;
It may be in wood or waste,—
At unawares ’t is come and past.
Their near camp my spirit knows
By signs gracious as rainbows.
I thenceforward and long after,
Listen for their harp-like laughter
And carry in my heart, for days,
Peace that hallows rudest ways.
Good Heart, that ownest all!
I ask a modest boon and small:
Not of lands and towns the gift,–
Too large a load for me to lift,–
But for one proper creature,
Which geographic eye,
Sweeping the map of Western earth,
Or the Atlantic coast, from Maine
To Powhatan’s domain,
Could not descry.
Is’t much to ask in all thy huge creation,
So trivial a part,–
A solitary heart?
Yet count me not of spirit mean,
Or mine a mean demand,
For ‘t is the concentration
And worth of all the land,
The sister of the sea,
The daughter of the strand,
Composed of air and light,
And of the swart earth-might.
So little to thy poet’s prayer
Thy large bounty well can spare.
And yet I think, if she were gone,
The world were better left alone.
Every day brings a ship,
Every ship brings a word;
Well for those who have no fear,
Looking seaward well assured
That the word the vessel brings
Is the word they wish to hear.
The water understands
It wets my foot, but prettily,
It chills my life, but wittily,
It is not disconcerted,
It is not broken-hearted:
Well used, it decketh joy,
Adorneth, doubleth joy:
Ill used, it will destroy,
In perfect time and measure
With a face of golden pleasure
Teach Me I Am Forgotten By The Dead
Teach me I am forgotten by the dead
And that the dead is by herself forgot
And I no longer would keep terms with me.
I would not murder, steal, or fornicate,
Nor with ambition break the peace of towns
But I would bury my ambition
The hope & action of my sovereign soul
In miserable ruin. Nor a hope
Should ever make a holiday for me
I would not be the fool of accident
I would not have a project seek an end
That needed aught
Beyond the handful of my present means
The sun of Duty drop from his firmament
To be a rushlight for each petty end
I would not harm my fellow men
On this low argument, ‘twould harm myself.
Glory Of Friendship
The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand,
nor the kindly smile nor the joy of companionship;
it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when
he discovers that someone else believes in him and is
willing to trust him.
AND when I am entombèd in my place,
Be it remembered of a single man,
He never, though he dearly loved his race,
For fear of human eyes swerved from his plan.
OH what is Heaven but the fellowship
Of minds that each can stand against the world
By its own meek and incorruptible will?
THE days pass over me
And I am still the same;
The aroma of my life is gone
With the flower with which it came.