These quatrains are, he says, “exceptional” in Emerson. They are that, and something more: they are exceptional in literature. One would have to search far to find anything in English equal to them in their own kind. They have the cleanness and radiance of the couplets of Simonides. They may look easy, but as a matter of fact the ethical epigram is an extremely difficult genre, and to attain this union of gravity and simplicity requires the nicest art. Less epigrammatic in tone but even more exquisitely finished are the lines entitled Days, pre-eminent in his works for what may truly be called a haunting beauty:
Daughters of Time, the hypocritic Days,And as his verse, so is his prose. Though in one sense, so far as he writes always with two or three dominant ideas in his mind, he is one of the most consistent and persistent of expositors, yet he is really himself only in those moments of inspiration when his words strike with almost irresistible force on the heart, and awake an echoing response: “This is true; this I have myself dimly felt.” Sometimes the memorable paragraph or sentence is purely didactic; sometimes it is highly metaphorical, as is the case with the closing paragraph of the Conduct of life:
Muffled and dumb like barefoot dervishes,
And marching single in an endless file,
Bring diadems and faggots in their hands.
To each they offer gifts after his will,
Bread, kingdoms, stars, and sky that holds them all.
I, in my pleached garden, watched the pomp,
Forgot my morning wishes, hastily
Took a few herbs and apples, and the Day
Turned and departed silent. I, too late,
Under her solemn fillet saw the scorn.
There is no chance, and no anarchy, in the universe. All is system and gradation. Every god is there sitting in his sphere. The young mortal enters the hall of the firmament; there is he alone with them alone, they pouring on him benedictions and gifts, and beckoning him up to their thrones. On the instant, and incessantly, fall snowstorms of illusions. He fancies himself in a vast crowd which sways this way and that, and whose movement and doings