The water understands
Civilization well;
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
Elegantly destroy.


“Water” appears in The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Vol 9 (Poems) of 12 Volumes, Fireside Edition, 1909.

The twelve line stanza showcases rhyme and repetition: “Measure/Pleasure, Joy/Destroy, Prettily/Wittily.” The main image in this poem is water. Water knows civilization, water has been a part of humanity and it’s evolution. Water is wet, it has cleaning and hydrating properties. It can be cold, but it can also be other temperatures before the water takes on a gaseous or solid form like water vapor or ice. Water used properly can bring entertainment and good health, but if used improperly or not managed, can have devastating effects. Tsunamis, hurricanes, and severe flooding are catastrophic water-based events, however; Emerson goes on to say, “With a face of golden pleasure / Elegantly destroy.” Water even in its worst form can be elegant.

Bibliography and Further Readings Centenary Edition – The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson –; Ralph Waldo Emerson, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH); Ralph Waldo Emerson Transcendentalism, American Transcendentalism Web.

Credits Composed by Cameron Slack, Fall 2018. Reading by Cameron Slack.



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

American Poetry and Poetics Copyright © 2017 by Mark C. Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book