Ralph Waldo Emerson

Fate by Ralph Waldo Emerson

‘Fate’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a poem that describes the nature of fate and how the poet thinks of it. The poet doesn’t care if one is born with luck. The person must possess the human qualities that make one a human being. Nobody remembers a person who lives for selfish needs. People remember that person who has stood courageously while facing the odds and didn’t merely live for fulfilling the self-centered purpose. The poet likes the person who cares more about humanity without thinking much about oneself.

Fate by Ralph Waldo Emerson


Summary of Fate

‘Fate’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson talks about the nature of fate and how it should be treated in one’s life.

‘Fate’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a beautiful poem on the nature of fate. How fate favors a person in comparison to others who are born with a blight. According to the poet, fame is the beauty of the rose. It is a melody that is born of melody. No matter how hard a man labors or an artist creates a specimen of art, it can never compass the deeds of one whom fate adores. Moreover, the poet guides who have fate in favor. Emerson likes one who is brave enough to think other than himself or herself. The person must become successful in life. But, he should not stop looking within, be brave as an eagle, and know the art of fighting back while facing the odds.


Structure of Fate

‘Fate’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a long poem consisting of 50 rhyming lines. There are both, internal rhyming and regular rhyming patterns. In some cases, the lines rhyme alternatively. Whereas, some lines rhyme altogether. It’s not that the poem has a singular objective to fulfill or talk about. The poet digresses from the topic for presenting an overview of fate and its workings in one’s life. Apart from that, the syllable count of each line of the poem isn’t regular. However, the poet uses the iambic meter and anapestic meter alternatively in the poem. There are some trochaic variations too in this poem.


Literary Devices

‘Fate’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson contains several literary devices that make the ideas concerning fate more appealing to the readers. Likewise, there is a polysyndeton in the second line of the poem. The “untaught strain” is a metaphor for fate. Thereafter, using another metaphor in “a melody born of melody” the poet describes the nature of fate. Moreover, the poet uses personification in this poem. The ideas such as “Toil”, “art”, and “Fate” are personified in the poem. Along with that, the poet uses allusion to the mythological characters such as “Jove”, “Juno”, and “Eumenides” here. One can also find the use of rhetorical questions or interrogations in the line “Unless he conquer and prevail?” However, the poet also uses several metaphors in the following sections. Here, one can find examples of synecdoche and metonymy too.


Analysis of Fate

Lines 1–4

That you are fair or wise is vain,

Or strong, or rich, or generous;

You must have also the untaught strain

That sheds beauty on the rose.

‘Fate’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson begins with a direct address to the readers. According to the poet, one can be fair or extremely wise. He or she can be strong, rich, or generous. The person must also have the “untaught strain” or luck working in his or her favor. In this way, the poet says, it doesn’t matter what qualities one has. If one is lucky that surpasses all those qualities. As luck is like beauty that makes the rose stand apart from all the flowers. Here, at first, the poet compares fate with the “untaught strain” or a quality that can be acquired. It’s like the beauty of the rose. Hence, it is out of human control.


Lines 5–11

There is a melody born of melody,

Which melts the world into a sea:

Toil could never compass it;

Art its height could never hit;

It came never out of wit;

But a music music-born

Well may Jove and Juno scorn.

In the next few lines of ‘Fate’, Ralph Waldo Emerson the poet refers to the “melody” that is born of another “melody”. The first melody is a reference to fate and the second one signals to God or divine power. This melody melts the ice on mountaintops, thus, responsible for the creation of the sea. No matter how much a person labors, he can’t get luck working in his favor. Even art or creativity can’t match fate’s height. Thereafter, personifying fate, the poet says, “it came never out of wit”. Fate, the sibling of music, is scorned by both the king and queen of gods namely Jove and Juno.


Lines 12–19

Thy beauty, if it lack the fire

Which drives me mad with sweet desire,

What boots it? what the soldier’s mail,

Unless he conquer and prevail?

What all the goods thy pride which lift,

If thou pine for another’s gift?

Alas! that one is born in blight,

Victim of perpetual slight:

Thereafter, in ‘Fate’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the poet talks about the beauty of “fate”. By referring to “fate” the poet to a lucky person. It’s a use of synecdoche. The poet says, if a lucky person lacks beauty, it doesn’t matter at all. As fate is the quality that drives the poet mad with the sweet desire for owning this quality. Moreover, the poet asks what is the source of fate or how a person gets this divine grace. One can’t know if a person is lucky or not unless he conquers and prevails. Moreover, the poet asks the person what is the meaning of having such a divine gift and still pining for another person’s gift.

Apart from that, in the last two lines of this section, the poet refers to a person who is born out of luck. The poet compares him to the “victim of perpetual slight”. Here “slight” means small in degree or inconsiderable.


Lines 20–26

When thou lookest on his face,

Thy heart saith, “Brother, go thy ways!

None shall ask thee what thou doest,

Or care a rush for what thou knowest,

Or listen when thou repliest,

Or remember where thou liest,

Or how thy supper is sodden;”

In this section of ‘Fate’, Ralph Waldo Emerson remarks about the person of the previous section. According to the poet, when one looks at his face, he can understand his pain of not having luck. His heart tells others to go in their ways. Nobody will ask one about what one does or care about what one knows. Even nobody will listen to a person like him. He is born to blush unseen. No one will remember where he lies or how hard he works to earn his bread. In this way, Emerson creates a contrast between one whom fate favors and one whom it doesn’t.


Lines 27–33

And another is born

To make the sun forgotten.

Surely he carries a talisman

Under his tongue;

Broad are his shoulders, and strong;

And his eye is scornful,

Threatening, and young.

In these lines of ‘Fate’, Ralph Waldo Emerson refers to a person who is born to make the sun forgotten. So, in this case, the poet refers to a lucky person. Here, the “sun” is a reference to another person whom luck favors. However, the poet says the person carries a talisman or lucky charm under his tongue. For the grace of fate, his shoulders are broad and strong. It’s a symbolic reference to one’s pride in oneself. His eyes have a scornful look that makes him appear threatening yet young.


Lines 34–37

I hold it of little matter

Whether your jewel be of pure water,

A rose diamond or a white,

But whether it dazzle me with light.

Thereafter, in ‘Fate’, Ralph Waldo Emerson wisely says he regards it as “little matter”. He can have a precious jewel that is made of “pure water”. It can be as precious as “rose diamond” or as pure as “white”. What matters the most, is whether the person can dazzle the poet with his inner light. In this manner, the poet makes use of several symbols to present the qualities associated with these. Moreover, the last line contains an epigram.


Lines 38–44

I care not how you are dressed,

In the coarsest or in the best;

Nor whether your name is base or brave;

Nor for the fashion of your behavior;

But whether you charm me,

Bid my bread feed and my fire warm me,

And dress up Nature in your favor.

In these lines of ‘Fate’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the poet refers to the appearance of the person who is born with luck. He can be dressed in the coarsest or the roughest material. It’s a reference to a person who is born in a poor household. In contrast, it doesn’t also matter if that person was born in a best or rich family. Moreover, it doesn’t matter whether his name is base or lowly or sounds brave. His behavior, how fashionable it can be, should be able to charm the wise poet having a profound experience of life. That man should not think about himself alone. He must wish the best of all and bid the welfare of mankind. Here the poet says, “Bid my bread feed and my fire warm me”.

So, it’s a reference to the moral values that a person must possess if he is lucky or not. At last, the poet advises that fellow not to transgress his limits. He should “dress up Nature in” his favor. As going against it, has proven always disastrous.


Lines 45–50

One thing is forever good;

That one thing is Success, —

Dear to the Eumenides,

And to all the heavenly brood.

Who bides at home, nor looks abroad,

Carries the eagles, and masters the sword.

In the last few lines of the poem, ‘Fate’, the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson refers to that “thing” that is forever good. “That one thing is Success”. It’s dear to the Eumenides or the three furies who determine the fate of a person. Those three furies are namely Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. However, success is dear to the Eumenides. It is even dear to all heavenly angels. In this way, the poet refers to the person who surely becomes successful due to the favor of his luck.

In the last two lines, the poet refers to the person, “Who bides at home, nor looks abroad”. Here, “home” contains a metaphor. It can be a reference to the soul or happiness. Whatsoever, according to the poet, a person always has to look within for happiness or peace. There is nothing outside of it. Thereafter, the poet says, “(he) Carries the eagle and masters the sword”. Here, using the symbol of the eagle, the poet refers to courage. And, the “sword” stands for how one fights back using his inner power. Here, “sword” doesn’t refer to the negative connotations associated with it.


Historical Context

‘Fate’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson contains several elements of transcendentalism. Transcendentalism became a movement and organization with the founding of the Transcendental Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on September 8, 1836. New England intellectuals, including George Putnam, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Frederic Henry Hedge founded this club. However, in this poem, Emerson talks about the inherent goodness of people. He talks about looking at one’s soul for the betterment of society as a whole. In this way, Emerson infuses the transcendental elements while discussing the nature of fate.


Similar Poetry

Like ‘Fate’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson, here is a list of a few poems that present similar themes.

You can read about 10 of the Best Ralph Waldo Emerson Poems here.

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Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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