The American poet-philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson has well brought out the problem of complexes in human beings in his poem ‘The Mountain and The Squirrel.’ The poem depicts a mountain carrying forests on its back but cannot crack a nut. Whereas a squirrel that can crack a nut cannot carry forests. Therefore, none is superior or inferior in this world. All creatures serve as spokes in the wheel of life. God merely acts as the hub holding everything together.

About the poet

Ralph Waldo Emerson was a well-known American poet who lived from 1803 to 1882. He was born in Boston and received his education at Harvard University. He traveled to England, where he was influenced by the Romantic poets Wordsworth and Coleridge, as well as the English thinker Thomas Carlyle. He was a philosopher who was held in high regard in the United States. He was a notable Transcendentalist in the United States. He was a supporter of America’s anti-slavery effort.


The poem tells readers that every creature in this world has an important place in God’s creation. Though the squirrel is not as big as a mountain, it is energetic and can run around freely. The mountain has its own natural location. It holds up forests with trees that feed on a tiny squirrels.

Line 1-3

The Mountain and the Squirrel
Had a quarrel,
And the former called the latter ‘Little Prig’.

The speaker begins by stating the basic premise of the piece. There is a mountain and a squirrel and they got into a fight of some kind. It is easy enough to assume a setting for this piece as the mountain is a location in itself. There are likely forests covering and surrounding it and many places for the squirrel to live and hide.

A reader should immediately notice that Emerson used the word “quarrel” to describe the fight. This makes it seem less serious than if he had chosen to actually say fight or argument. It is a temporary upset to their normally well-balanced relationship.

Line 4-9

Bun replied,
‘You are doubtless very big;
But all sorts of things and weather
Must be taken in together,
To make up a year
And a sphere.

In the fifth line, the speaker uses “Bun” to refer to the squirrel. It is replying to the mountain in a very clear and well-spoken way. He selects his words carefully. The squirrel starts by acknowledging that the mountain is “very big.”

It has a presence the squirrel cannot deny. Additionally, he adds that “You,” the mountain are only one of many things which much be “taken in together.” The squirrel is attempting to set aside their differences and come to terms with the fact that they will not always get along. One cannot hope to live in peace with every type of being, sentient or not.

Line 10-14

And I think it no disgrace
To occupy my place.
If I’m not so large as you,
You are not so small as I,
And not half so spry.

In the next lines, the squirrel lays out his argument. The basis of the quarrel is also revealed here. He does not see anything wrong with his occupying one “place” on the mountain. Just as the mountain is large, with a large role to play, the squirrel is small with an equal role to play. Both must exist. In order to come to terms with the mountain, the squirrel lays out their respective advantages and disadvantages.

First, the mountain is much larger than he is— something he accepts as the truth. But, the squirrel is much more “spry.” It can move quickly from place to place in a way the mountain never dreamed of.

Line 15-19

I’ll not deny you make
A very pretty squirrel track;
Talents differ; all is well and wisely put;
If I cannot carry forests on my back,
Neither can you crack a nut.’

He continues on the same track in the next set of lines. The squirrel is attempting to appease the mountain while also showing his own advantages. They are equals in the world if not in size, speed, and abilities. First, he compliments the mountain. This is another slightly backhanded compliment as the mountain is said to be a “pretty squirrel track.”

The mountain is beautiful and a perfect place for a squirrel to roam. He admits their talents are different. The mountain is able to carry forests on its back but it cannot “crack a nut.” There is something about its inability to complete such a simple task that lends the ending of the poem a less than forgiving tone. It is clear the squirrel still holds a grudge against the mountain for its attempt to drive the squirrel from its back.