Throughout this poem, readers can find wonderful examples of imagery, personification, and more. Although it’s only four lines long, Emerson accomplishes a great deal within those lines. He sets out his speaker’s understanding of a star’s life and attitude while also discussing how human beings contend with mortality in ‘Teach me your mood, O patient stars!’
Teach me your mood, O patient stars! Ralph Waldo EmersonTeach me your mood, O patient stars!Who climb each night the ancient sky,Leaving on space no shade, no scars,No trace of age, no fear to die.
Explore Teach me your mood, O patient stars!
‘Teach me your mood, O patient stars!’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a thoughtful poem that connects a speaker’s interest in living a good life to his study of the stars.
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker addresses the stars, asking that they share their “mood” with him. He’d like to live as they do. They track through the night sky patiently and without making a fuss about life and death. They’re fearless and strong, unconcerned about when their lives are going to end. This is something the speaker envies. He, too, would like to live this kind of life.
Throughout ‘Teach me your mood, O patient stars!’ the poet engages with themes of life/death and nature. He looks to nature for the wisdom he doesn’t have. The stars provide him, through his personification of them, with an idealized way to live. He’s concerned, as all human beings are, with when his life is going to end and what the best way to live it is. Nature, in this case, the stars, shows him that his life doesn’t have to be filled with this kind of worry. He asks to learn from them and take on their mood at the beginning of the poem.
Structure and Form
‘Teach me your mood, O patient stars!’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a four-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABAB and contain eight syllables per line, something known as tetrameter. The arrangement of stressed in these lines vary, but they are mostly written in iambic tetrameter. This means that the eight syllables are divided into groups of two, the first beat of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed. The first line is a good exception to the rule.
Throughout ‘Teach me your mood, O patient stars!’ the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include, but are not limited to:
- Caesura: can be seen when the poet inserts a pause in the middle of a line. This can be done through meter or through the use of punctuation. For example, “No trace of age, no fear to die.”
- Apostrophe: occurs when the speaker addresses someone or something that cannot hear or respond to their words. In this case, the speaker is talking to the “patient stars,” requesting advice.
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “me” and “mood” in line one and “stars” and “sky” in lines one and two.
Teach me your mood, O patient stars!
Who climb each night the ancient sky,
In the first lines of ‘Teach me your mood, O patient stars!’ the speaker begins with the line that was later used as the title of the poem. He’s addressing his words to the “patient stars.” This is at once an example of personification and an apostrophe. The latter refers to an address made to something that cannot hear or respond. In this case, the speaker is talking to the stars, asking them for advice. By imbuing them with human qualities, like a “mood” or patience, the speaker is using personification.
This is furthered in the second line when he uses the word “climb” to describe their progress through the night sky. Other words, like ancient, suggest a specific atmosphere for this work. The speaker is in awe of the stars and the millennia they’ve held their position in the sky. They’re patient and understand the world in a way that the speaker is envious of. He knows he could learn a great deal from them. The final two lines reveal what it is the speaker is curious about.
Leaving on space no shade, no scars,
No trace of age, no fear to die.
As the stars move through space, they don’t leave a mark. They don’t leave scars or any remnants of their existence. This proves that they, unlike human beings, have “no fear to die.” They don’t need to make a mark on the world. They’re content to live as they live and die when it’s their time. It’s this “mood” or attitude that the speaker is interested in learning. He’d like to live his life the same way. It’s clear from this request that he thinks, in one way or another, that this would make him happier.
The mood is peaceful and contemplative. The reader will likely walk away from this piece with a feeling of peace, but with their own questions in regard to what is the best way to live one’s life. The stars provide an example of a fearless approach to death. What others might there be?
The tone is awe-filled and amazed. The speaker admits his admiration for the stars and the way they live and shares his wish that he, too, could live this kind of life. He’d like to be without fear of death, as they are.
It’s unclear who the speaker is in ‘Teach me your mood, O patient stars!’ It could be Emerson, or it could be an imagined persona who shares some of Emerson’s questions about life and death. Because they are anonymous, the reader might find themselves imagining their own questions for the stars.
Emerson wrote ‘Teach me your mood, O patient stars!’ in order to explore his, or his speaker’s, admiration for a fearless approach to death. Fear of death is universal, and it’s something that he would like to escape. The stars provide him with a template to do so.
The meaning is that it’s possible to live life fearlessly if you have the right approach to it and are willing to meet your end whenever it comes. The stars live such a life, and Emerson’s speaker is admittedly jealous of that fact.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Teach me your mood, O patient stars!’ should also consider reading other Ralph Waldo Emerson poems. For example: