about nature and universe, including the existence and fate of humanity. She challenges human to unravel these mysteries. She wants to know the reality of existence, nature and also human
Who’ll tell me my secret,
The ages have kept?
I awaited the seer,
While they slumbered and slept;
The fate of the man-child;
The meaning of man;
known fruit of the unknown
Daedalian plan (Poems 5-12)
The “Sphinx” expresses some paradoxes of the relationship between unity and variety in nature. In different stanzas this notion is revealed. So in stanza four this unity is shown through the relation between the breezes and the waves:
The waves, unashamed,
In differences sweet,
Play glad with the breezes,
Old playfellows meet. (poems 25-28)
Also, the notion –“unity and variety”−appears in the images of stanza five: “Sea, earth, air, sound, silence / By one music enchanted /One deity stirred” (۳۳, ۳۵, ۳۶). As it was mentioned earlier, the Sphinx is the united Spirit in the world that connects things to each other; also each substance has the same quality as the other substance in the existence and everything will be explained by another one, if it is “sea”, “earth” or completely different thing like “sound” and “silence”. Consequently, the poem shows that different things like sound, silence, air etc. although they are apparently varied but their real existence is one truth.
The poet understands that each entity has an opposite example that completes it and their true essence is one reality: “And under pain, pleasure / Under pleasure pain lies” (۹۹-۱۰۰). Emerson in his writings declares that the essence of all the substances in the universe is one truth, ‘the Over-Soul’. He affirms that the same quality of opposite things is also ‘the Over-Soul’. When someone learns about this doctrine he feels more joy since he learns that joy and sadness, “pain and pleasure” are the same. He knows that all the differences reach to unity, so it is not necessary to be worry about anything. The new identity that he considers for himself makes him free from greedy and also brings more joy to his life.
۳.۲.۲.۲. Exploration of Universal Truth through Intuition
The poet like the Sphinx speaks about the mysteries of the relationship of the whole to the particular and of the spiritual to the physical when “the soul sees the perfect, / Which his eyes seek in vain” (۷۹-۸۰). His eyes are not able to find the reality that he can see with his soul since the eyes watches the difference and the soul understands the whole. In “The Sphinx” the poet searches deeply into the universe to find the underlying unity hidden in the world which is not visible to the eyes as he concludes that through his eyes he cannot find any “goal”: “Man’s spirit must dive; / to his aye-rolling orbit / No goal will arrive ;”( ۸۲-۸۴). He uses his intuition to see the primary unitary reality in the universe. Consequently, man gains new insights and discovers the unity that is hidden behind duality, in spite of the alternation in the universe.
Stanza ten and eleven shows that man is not able to see the unity behind multiple things except when he uses his intuition. Wayne explains that lines eighty three and eighty four state that man should use his intuition to understand the united spirit of the world: “The clairvoyant soul of the poet plunges deep into “the aye-rolling orbit / No goal will arrive”—that is, he relies upon an affirmative intuition of the underlying unitary reality not visible to the eye” (Critical Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson 248). The eye-rolling orbit refers to the eye of human that cannot see the truth; consequently he is not able to find his goal that is the truth. Also, in lines seventy nine and eighty the poem reveals that the soul of man can find the truth but his eyes not: “Whose soul sees the perfect / which his eyes seek in vain. Consequently, through his inner power, or intuition the poet is able to recognize “air, sound, silence, plant, bird” have the same united reality. He understands through intuition that the pain and pleasure are the same and finds the secret behind the appearance. Wayne notes that the untold heavenly sweetness of this vision draws the poet to new heights of insight (248):
Now follows, now flies;
And under pain, pleasure–
Under pleasure, pain lies.
Love works at the centre,
Heart heaving alway; (poems 97-102)
This notion enriches human’s knowledge of his life and identity, to ignore the surface and go deep into the realization of the meaning of the world. Man uses his intuition not his eyes to understand the identity of everything that is behind the surface of the world. He learns that the opposite notions of the world have one identity. This knowledge is the initiation of finding the true identity for man and other living beings in the world.
۳.۲.۲.۳. Man is the answer to the question
The Sphinx says that man is the answer to the proposed riddle. Also, she asserts that he is also the original riddle. He is both the question and the answer.
As it was stated earlier the Sphinx asks some questions about the mystery of the world, nature and human being. Ultimately, a poet answers to the Sphinx’s question. The meaning of the world is in an involvement in the “Eterne alternation” of nature. The answer is the Sphinx that is the energy which is the active soul in the world (248). Also, man is the riddle as the Sphinx states: “Thou are the unanswered question” (۱۱۳). Moreover, the sphinx is human energy that enquires what man asks through nature as she declares that that she is the poet’s spirit:
I am thy spirit, yoke-fellow,
Of thine eye I am eyebeam
Thou art the unanswered question;
Couldst see thy proper eye,
Always it asketh, asketh;
And each answer is a lie.
So take thy quest through nature,
It through thousand natures ply;
Ask on, thou clothed eternity;
Time is the false reply. (Poems 111-120)
The human’s real existence cannot be seen because the Sphinx says that she is the poet’s eyebeam when he looks: “Of thine eye I am eyebeam” (۱۱۲). The poem illustrates that the object of human quest, the wholeness he seeks, is present in the energy by which the quest is done as it was said that the Sphinx is the poet’s Spirit (248). Consequently, the poet is present in every detail of the world. Indeed, Individual and the world are interrelated. The viewer is present in all it sees or the question and answer is one. In this way a united spirit embraces the poet and world. Understanding this unity gives a new identity to human and other things. Man is the omnipresent energy of the world or the universal reality of it. All humans and generally every creature are sacred to the person that has this insight.
۳.۲.۲.۴. Opposite notions find the same essence
The Sphinx declares that man is the answer to the question since she said earlier that man’s spirit is the Sphinx herself. Besides, she says that man himself is the original riddle: “Thou are the unanswered question” (۱۱۳). The lines reiterate some lines of the poem “Brahma” since Emerson makes no difference between the opposite notions as their real substance is the s
ame, if they are “shadow and sunlight”, “slayer and slain” or in the poem “The Sphinx” the question and answer. In “Brahma” it is declared the slayer and slain are the same:
If the red slayer thinks he slays
Or if the slain think he is slain
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep and pass and turn again. (1-2)
Also, the Sphinx in “The Sphinx” asserts that contrasting notions are similar and she reveals that man is both the answer and the question.
As it was mentioned above, the poet found that man is the answer to the questions. Afterwards, the Sphinx asserts that she is the poet’s spirit and indeed his real essence, “I am thy spirit yoke-fellow / Of thine eye I am eyebeam” (۱۱۱-۱۱۲). The poet uses the image of “eyebeam” that reminds the reader of Emerson’s subjective perspective of the “transparent eyeball” that is uttered at the beginning of Nature. The idea considers man as a transferring object of the truth that sees the sublime. Here in the poem as man’s real essence is that universal truth, the Sphinx, in this way he gains a new identity. He is considered as a sacred creature since he is the Sphinx spirit. Consequently, he is able to regard himself the most important thing in the universe and relies on himself. Although, when man knows that the real character inside himself is because of the truth that “circulate through” him (Collected Works 1:54), it will lessen his pride since his identity has come from a higher grace power.
۳.۲.۳. Unity in “Xenophanes”
The poem “Xenophanes” was written in 1834. It can be said this poem very clearly reflects
Emerson’s doctrine of unity. The name of the poem refers to Xenophanes of Elca, the philosopher and rhapsodist (570-480 B.C.) and his idea about unity in the world. He complained in his old age that he saw the same thing in the various forms and everything came back to unity in his view. Also his doctrine Eva kai Iii IIav, the one and the all, was also represented in other Emerson’s poem, “Each and all”. The doctrine states that a united spirit connects all the creatures to each other. It also explains that each entity is related to this united truth. Xenophanes taught the Unity of God and nature. He said, “There is one God, the greatest among gods and men, that is not comparable to mortals, neither in form nor thought” (Parkinson and shanker, 6: 142).
Arthur. K. Rogers in his book titled, The Student’s History of Philosophy, notes that what Xenophanes taught was “that what we name God is the one immutable and comprehensive material universe which holds within it and determines all those minor to which an enlightened philosophy will reduce the many deities of the popular faith.” (qtd. in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson 325).
The poet use capital letter for the word “Nature” to points to God since Emerson uses it also in his essay “Nature” to reveal this idea. The poem states that Nature gives many forms and shapes to different things. Then through the poem it is shown that despite the presence of multiple substances in the world, the reality of all of them is one united spirit.
۳.۲.۳.۱. Variety resolves into Unity
The poem shows that various things have the same substance.
Unity is the underlying theme of the poem. Everything is in fact originated from one truth. The substances in the world are apparently different but their reality is one essence.