Ralph Waldo Emerson

Give All to Love by Ralph Waldo Emerson

In ‘Give All to Love’ Emerson addresses themes of love, relationships, eternity, and transcendence. This piece is one of the best representatives of Emerson’s transcendental beliefs. In poetry specifically, transcendentalism is connected to the transcendence of the poet and the reader’s spirit. 

This is accomplished through the poet’s voice which usually asserts a love for expression and self-realization, as discovered through a natural landscape. Personal freedom was also crucial to this set of spiritual beliefs. All of these beliefs can be taken from ‘Give All to Love’. 

Give All to Love by Ralph Waldo Emerson


Summary of Give All to Love 

Give All to Love’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a concise, passionate poem that speaks on the transcendent power of love. 

The speaker addresses the reader, asking them to consider their life and give everything they have physically and mentally, over to love. This is the only pursuit worth anything, they say. As the poem develops it is made clear that the speaker believes by doing this one will reach a heightened spiritual plane. They will touch the eternal and live in a way that others are unable. 


Structure of Give All to Love 

Give All to Love’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a six stanza poem that’s separated into uneven sets of lines. The first stanza contains six, the second: eleven, the third and fourth: eight, the fifth: nine, and the sixth has seven. Emerson did not choose to structure this poem with a specific rhyme scheme.



Transcendentalism focused on the internal spirit and the importance of intuition as a source of knowledge, in this case, the importance of love. This was made all the more necessary as it pushed back against a rise in dependence on logic and black-and-white morality. These ideas came to be a spiritual way of understanding and relating to one’s life.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Transcendentalism is the focus on nature. The participants in the movement were opposed to industrialism as it was a distraction from the pleasure an individual can receive from nature. They believed that nature was the only place in which they could learn who they were at the deepest level. Transcendentalists believed that the institutions of society corrupted this pure self. 


Poetic Techniques in Give All to Love

Within ‘Give all to Love’ Emerson makes use of several poetic techniques. These include alliteration, personification, and enjambment. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For instance, “high” and “hope” in stanza two and “reward” and “return” in stanza three. 

Personification occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. Love is immediately personified in the second stanza of ‘Give All to Love’. Emerson’s speaker refers to was a “brave master” that should be allowed enough room to flourish. It should also be followed “utterly”. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transitions between lines five and six in the second stanza and lines six and seven in the third stanza. 


Analysis of Give All to Love 

Stanza One 

Give all to love; 

Obey thy heart; 

Friends, kindred, days, 

Estate, good-fame, 

Plans, credit and the Muse,— 

Nothing refuse. 

In the first stanza of ‘Give All to Love,’ the speaker begins by making use of the line that later came to be used as the title of the poem. He tells the reader very directly that they need to “Give all to love”. The “all” in this statement is outlined in the rest of the stanza. It includes “thy heart” and all parts of one’s personal life. Friends, memories, one’s money and belongings, “good-fame” as well as plans and credit. They should all be sacrificed, if need be, for love. “Nothing” should one refuse to give to “love”. 


Stanza Two

’T is a brave master; 

Let it have scope: 

Follow it utterly, 

Hope beyond hope: 

High and more high 

It dives into noon, 

With wing unspent, 

Untold intent: 

But it is a god, 

Knows its own path 

And the outlets of the sky. 

The second stanza makes use of personification in order to cast “love” as a benevolent master that always knows best. One should follow this master wherever it goes. It is later compared to some kind of flying creature, a god that “knows its own path / and the outlet of the sky”. It should “have scope” over one’s life or control. 

From these lines of ‘Give All to Love,’ the speaker’s opinion about love, its goodness and the power one should allow it to exert over one’s life are made very clear. These thoughts connect directly to the transcendental belief system. 


Stanza Three 

It was never for the mean; 

It requireth courage stout. 

Souls above doubt, 

Valor unbending, 

It will reward,— 

They shall return 

More than they were, 

And ever ascending. 

The third stanza of ‘Give All to Love’ is a bit shorter at only eight lines. Here, the speaker adds that the only souls that are going to be able to follow this kind of master are those that are courageous. It requires a sacrifice that many are going to be unable to make. One’s valor must be “unbending”. This is the only way one will be led to “reward”. 

If one does everything the speaker as so far set out, and they follow love unquestioningly, they will “return” from the journey “More than they were, / And ever ascending”. One will transcend the normal bounds of mundane life and become spiritual more than their counterparts. 


Stanza Four 

Leave all for love; 

Yet, hear me, yet, 

One word more thy heart behoved, 

One pulse more of firm endeavor,— 

Keep thee to-day, 

To-morrow, forever, 

Free as an Arab 

Of thy beloved. 

The first line of the fourth stanza is a rephrasing of the title. Here, he suggests that one should “Leave all for love”. But, there is also a reminder of caution that one must be firm in their endeavor to give themselves over to love. It is not to one beloved that one should tie themselves but to “Love” itself. One should remain “free as an Arab,” an autonomous individual.


Stanza Five 

Cling with life to the maid; 

But when the surprise, 

First vague shadow of surmise 

Flits across her bosom young, 

Of a joy apart from thee, 

Free be she, fancy-free; 

Nor thou detain her vesture’s hem, 

Nor the palest rose she flung 

From her summer diadem. 

In the fifth stanza of ‘Give All to Love,’ the speaker adds that with this love one should feel strongly and purely, but not to do anything to keep the maiden from being “fancy-free”. She is free, as the intended listener of the poem is free. One shouldn’t try to “detain her vesture’s hem,” or hang onto her by the edge of her clothes. 


Stanza Six 

Though thou loved her as thyself, 

As a self of purer clay, 

Though her parting dims the day, 

Stealing grace from all alive; 

Heartily know, 

When half-gods go,

The gods arrive.

There is a chance, the speaker adds in the sixth stanza, that one will be separated from the person they love. She may “part” from you. But, one should remember that it is the experience of transcendence, the purity of love, and the joy that brings that is the source of one’s happiness. This will lead one to a higher spiritual plane and bring one closer to a divine force or presence. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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