‘Each and All’ is an interesting nature poem that asks readers to see the world in a new light. Emerson depicts everything from birds to trees to the sky and the sea as connected to one another. The bird’s song is no longer as meaningful if the creature is trapped inside a cage, just as shells are no longer beautiful once they’ve been removed from their natural environment.
Each and All Ralph Waldo EmersonLittle thinks, in the field, yon red-cloaked clown,Of thee from the hill-top looking down;The heifer that lows in the upland farm,Far-heard, lows not thine ear to charm;The sexton, tolling his bell at noon,Deems not that great NapoleonStops his horse, and lists with delight,Whilst his files sweep round yon Alpine height;Nor knowest thou what argumentThy life to thy neighbor's creed has lent.All are needed by each one;Nothing is fair or good alone.I thought the sparrow's note from heaven,Singing at dawn on the alder bough;I brought him home, in his nest, at even;He sings the song, but it pleases not now,For I did not bring home the river and sky; —He sang to my ear, — they sang to my eye.The delicate shells lay on the shore;The bubbles of the latest waveFresh pearls to their enamel gave;And the bellowing of the savage seaGreeted their safe escape to me.I wiped away the weeds and foam,I fetched my sea-born treasures home;But the poor, unsightly, noisome thingsHad left their beauty on the shore,With the sun, and the sand, and the wild uproar.The lover watched his graceful maid,As 'mid the virgin train she stayed,Nor knew her beauty's best attireWas woven still by the snow-white choir.At last she came to his hermitage,Like the bird from the woodlands to the cage; —The gay enchantment was undone,A gentle wife, but fairy none.Then I said, "I covet truth;Beauty is unripe childhood's cheat;I leave it behind with the games of youth:" —As I spoke, beneath my feetThe ground-pine curled its pretty wreath,Running over the club-moss burrs;I inhaled the violet's breath;Around me stood the oaks and firs;Pine-cones and acorns lay on the ground;Over me soared the eternal sky,Full of light and of deity;Again I saw, again I heard,The rolling river, the morning bird; —Beauty through my senses stole;I yielded myself to the perfect whole.
Explore Each and All
‘Each and All’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson describes the interconnectivity of the natural world and how all things are related.
In the first lines of the poem, Emerson connects seemingly unrelated images and makes a clear statement to the reader about how important it is to understand the world as a whole. The rest of the poem is primarily made up of three examples that seek to do just that. The first is concerned with a bird trapped in the speaker’s home, the second with seashells he collected from the beach, and the third with a woman who, after getting married, loses her beauty.
The main theme of this poem is nature. The poet is highly interested in depicting all elements of the natural world as connected to one another and proving how one natural element depends on the next in order to be exactly what it is. Beauty comes from the connection of all living and non-living things, he suggests.
Structure and Form
‘Each and All’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a fifty-one-line poem that is written in block form. This means that the poem contains no line breaks. Instead, all the lines are contained within a single stanza. The poet chose to use the rhyme scheme of AABBCCDD, and so on in this poem. For example, “clown” and “down” are the first two end words, followed by “farm” and “charm” in lines three and four.
Throughout this poem, the poet uses a few different literary devices. They include:
- Caesura: an intentional pause in the middle of a line of verse. For example, “Stops his horse, and lists with delight.”
- Half-rhyme: in among the full rhymes Emerson uses, he also makes use of half-rhymes. These occur when the poet uses words that only partially rhyme, like “one” and “alone” at the ends of lines eleven and twelve.
- Anaphora: the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “The” and “He” are both used several times throughout the text. The word “I” also starts a number of line.
- Imagery: the use of particularly interesting descriptions that help make a scene more interesting or easier to imagine. For example, “The bubbles of the latest wave / Fresh pearls to their enamel gave.”
Little thinks, in the field, yon red-cloaked clown,
Of thee from the hill-top looking down;
The heifer that lows in the upland farm,
Far-heard, lows not thine ear to charm;
The sexton, tolling his bell at noon,
Deems not that great Napoleon
Stops his horse, and lists with delight,
Whilst his files sweep round yon Alpine height;
Nor knowest thou what argument
Thy life to thy neighbor’s creed has lent.
All are needed by each one;
Nothing is fair or good alone.
In the first lines of ‘Each and All,’ Emerson begins by describing three different images, none of which seem particularly connected. First, there is a “red-cloaked clown” second, readers hear about a cow or heifer mooing in the field (mooing without an interest in whether or not “you” hear it); and third, Emerson describes a “sexton” or someone who looks after a church or churchyard tolling the church bell at noon. As he works and focuses on his life, he doesn’t think about “Napoleon.”
Napoleon is used as a symbol for the broader world and the concerns of other people in different places. He’s an important person in history but isn’t relevant in the day-to-day life of the sexton.
The following lines help make sense of what these unrelated images have in common—they are all concerned with life and creation. Each part of the world and all people are connected to the next, with nothing being “fair or good alone.” Here, Emerson suggests that all things depend on one another to function. This is something that he’s aware “you” may not know about.
I thought the sparrow’s note from heaven,
Singing at dawn on the alder bough;
I brought him home, in his nest, at even;
He sings the song, but it pleases not now,
For I did not bring home the river and sky; —
He sang to my ear, — they sang to my eye.
The delicate shells lay on the shore;
The bubbles of the latest wave
Fresh pearls to their enamel gave;
And the bellowing of the savage sea
Greeted their safe escape to me.
I wiped away the weeds and foam,
I fetched my sea-born treasures home;
But the poor, unsightly, noisome things
Had left their beauty on the shore,
With the sun, and the sand, and the wild uproar.
The poet uses a first-person pronoun, “I,” at the beginning of line thirteen. It makes the poem more personal and brings in the speaker’s opinions to what readers are hearing about the world.
In the next few lines, the speaker talks about a bird that’s been separated from its home. He describes bringing the bird to his home and taking with him the bird’s nest. But the bird was not happy. It was separated from the “river and sky.” It needs these things to live its life the best it can. It’s only when the bird is in its natural habitat that its song appeals to both the ear and the eye.
The shells turned “poor” and “unsightly” to the speaker. But, the poet suggests, this is only because they are in an environment they don’t belong to. Their beauty was “left…on the shore.”
The poet transitions into another example of unity in nature being disrupted. This time, he describes taking shells from the seashore. Once home, their appearance changes substantially. They need the sun and sand, just as the bird needs the sky and trees, to be totally fulfilled.
The lover watched his graceful maid,
As ‘mid the virgin train she stayed,
Nor knew her beauty’s best attire
Was woven still by the snow-white choir.
At last she came to his hermitage,
Like the bird from the woodlands to the cage; —
The gay enchantment was undone,
A gentle wife, but fairy none.
The next part of the poem brings in an image of a “graceful maid” or a beautiful woman. The lover watched the woman he loved before marrying her (when she was still a virgin). It was her purity, the poem suggests, that made her as beautiful as she was. But the lover didn’t know this until he married her.
She came to his home like a bird coming into a cage from the woods, and the “gay enchantment” of her beauty was “undone.” She became his wife but was no longer the magical-seeming fairy she was before.
Then I said, “I covet truth;
Beauty is unripe childhood’s cheat;
I leave it behind with the games of youth:” —
As I spoke, beneath my feet
The ground-pine curled its pretty wreath,
Running over the club-moss burrs;
I inhaled the violet’s breath;
Around me stood the oaks and firs;
Pine-cones and acorns lay on the ground;
Over me soared the eternal sky,
Full of light and of deity;
Again I saw, again I heard,
The rolling river, the morning bird; —
Beauty through my senses stole;
I yielded myself to the perfect whole.
After having considered these images, and likely his whole life experience, the speaker says that he’s no longer a child. He isn’t going to be taken in by simple beauty any longer. He wants “truth” more than anything.
As he made this declaration, nature moved around him. The poet uses personification in these lines to describe the “violet’s breath” and the soaring sky. It’s a moment of clarity for the speaker in which he realizes that the natural world is “Full of light and of deity” and that one can find peace by understanding nature as a “whole.”
He yields himself to the idea that all things are connected and need one another to be beautiful or to simply exist as they are supposed to exist. The shell and bird from earlier on in the poem are the best examples.
The meaning is that all life and every element of nature is connected. The best example is the image of the seashell, which was removed from the beach, and the sea is no longer beautiful.
The message is that to fully understand the world, one needs to see all of nature as parts of the same whole. The speaker comes to this realization at the end of the poem.
‘Each and All’ is a block-form nature poem that speaks about a certain way of understanding the world. Emerson used 51 lines and a rhyme scheme of AABBCC.
Emerson’s Each and All’ is about the interconnectivity of the natural world. He’s seeking to describe how elements of nature that initially seem separate are actually entirely dependent on one another.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Ralph Waldo Emerson poems. For example:
- ‘Boston Hymn’ – a poem that warns Americans of their crimes against other human beings prior to the Emancipation Proclamation.
- ‘Give All to Love’ – a well-loved Emerson poem that addresses love, relationships, and transcendence.
- ‘The Mountain and The Squirrel’ – speaks on the strengths and weaknesses of two different characters.