The Rhodora Poem by Emerson Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


“The Rhodora” is a poem written by Emerson. It is a lovely poem that brings out the beauty of the natural world. 

About the Poet:

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was an eminent American essayist and poet. He was a pioneer of the Transcendentalist movement. Famous works of his include “Self Reliance”, “Uriel”, and “The Rhodora”. 


The poem uses a complex structure, which is seemingly akin to an octave where the problem is introduced and a sestet, despite having 16 lines. According to Wikipedia, the poem “uses a sophisticated form of purposeful symmetry combining octaves, quatrains, and heroic couplets”.

Analysis and Summary:

In may, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,

I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,

Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,

To please the desert and the sluggish brook.

The purple petals fallen in the pool

Made the black water with their beauty gay;

Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,

And court the flower that cheapens his array.

Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why

This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,

Tell them, dear, that, if eyes were made for seeing,

Then beauty is its own excuse for Being;

Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!

I never thought to ask; I never knew;

But in my simple ignorance suppose

The self-same power that brought me there, brought you.


The poem begins with May, the month of flowers. The poet talks about the flower Rhodara found “in the woods”. He goes on to describe the beauty of the flower vividly, of its “leafless blooms” and “purple petals” that have the power to even “please the desert” and “Made the black water with their beauty gay”. This shrub, the poet says, is where the “red-bird” comes to rest “his plumes” and “court the flowers”. 

From here, the poet directly addresses the flower. He asks the flower to reply, should the sages ask as to why its “charm is wasted on the earth and sky”, that just like eyes were for seeing, beauty does not need a reason to exist— it is “its own excuse for being”. Calling the Rhodora a “rival of the rose”, the poet wonders why he hadn’t thought of asking it why it was there. The poet thus concludes the poem by stating that due to his “simple ignorance”, whatever force had brought him to that place had brought him to the beautiful Rhodora as well. 


Emerson, mentioned above belongs to the Transcendentalism movement– thus, this poem has features of the Romanticism movement it was part of. It hence gives importance to nature by bringing out the emotion and passion of the poet. Individualism can also be seen when the poet prefers “solitude” and the company of nature. 


This is a beautiful poem. It brings out the beauty of nature through the beauty of Rhodora.