By Ralph Waldo Emerson

January 1867 Issue

It is time to be old,
To take in sail: —
The god of bounds,
Who sets to seas a shore,
Came to me in his fatal rounds.
And said, “No more!
No further spread
Thy broad ambitious branches, and thy root;
Fancy departs: no more invent,
Contract thy firmament
To compass of a tent.
There’s not enough for this and that,
Make thy option which of two;
Economize the failing river,
Not the less adore the Giver,
Leave the many and hold the few.
Timely wise accept the terms.
Soften the fall with wary foot;
A little while
Still plan and smile,
And, fault of novel germs,
Mature the unfallen fruit.

“Curse, if thou wilt, thy sires,
Bad husbands of their fires,
Who, when they gave thee breath,
Failed to bequeath
The needful sinew stark as once,
The Baresark marrow to thy bones,
But left a legacy of ebbing veins,
Inconstant heat and nerveless reins, —
Amid the Muses, left thee deaf and dumb,
Amid the gladiators, halt and numb.”

As the bird trims her to the gale,
I trim myself to the storm of time,
I man the rudder, reef the sail,
Obey the voice at eve, obeyed at prime:
“Lowly faithful, banish fear,
Right onward drive unharmed;
The port, well worth the cruise, is near,
And every wave is charmed.”

Summary of Terminus

  • Popularity of “Terminus”: This concise and attractive piece by the American legend Ralph Waldo Emerson first appeared in the Atlantic in 1867. It was later included in his poetic collection, May-Day, and Other Pieces, which also appeared the same year. The poems published in this collection were widely appreciated for the presentation of philosophical ideas of Emerson. This poem also features Terminus, whose advice resonates in the ears of every old person in the world. That is where lies in the reason for the popularity of the poem.
  • “Terminus” As a Representative of Departure from the World: The poem opens in the voice of the old speaker, who is an anonymous old man. He states that the god “of bounds” has told him to be ready for the departure from this world, saying that the old man should restrict his ambitions and stop spreading his tentacles here and there. However, the old man has not named the god; rather, the name is given in the title of the poem, Terminus. The old man further states that god advised him to curtail his activities and other preoccupations to be ready to depart from this world. He tells him that he should now soften his walk, smile at others, take an option, and then move to the next.
    He also tells him that although he can choose to feel enraged at his degradation, he must accept his status and position as an old man and be ready to depart. The old man, then, responds to him that he is ready to obey the voice and give the final touches to his departure. That is why Terminus again speaks to him that all those who pay heed to his advice to be ready to depart feel fear but ultimately come to their destination.
  • Major Themes in “Terminus”: Death, a departure from this world, and keeping a low profile in this world are the major themes of this poem. Although the poet has used Grecian mythology to point out the theme of death, he has given two major lessons through the delineation of death. The first is that it is inevitable when a person gets old, he must leave this world. Second, a person must be ready to depart and curtail his activities before departure. Also, when a person is to depart from this world, he must not spread his activities. He should keep a low profile and become a good person, softening his voice and keeping his foot within limits. Using the simile of a bird, a person must not cross the limits when there is a gale. That is how Emerson highlights his philosophy of transcendentalism in this poem.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in Terminus

Ralph Waldo Emerson used various literary devices to enhance the intended impact of his poem. Some of the major literary devices are analyzed below.

  1. Allusion: It means to use references from society, history, or culture to stress the main idea. The poet used allusion to Grecian mythology, such as Terminus and Muses.
  2. Alliteration: It means to use initial consonants in successive words. The poem shows the use of consonant sounds, such as /w/ in “with wary” or /s/ in “sinew stark” and /r/ in “rudder reef.”.”
  3. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /i/ in “Economize the failing river” and the sound of /o/ in “The god of bounds.”
  4. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /b/ and /r/ in “Thy broad ambitious branches, and thy root” and again the sound of /b/ and /r/ in “Bad husbands of their fires.”
  5. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. Ralph Waldo Emerson has used imagery in this poem, such as “The god of bounds”, “Economize the failing river” and “Bad husbands of their fires.”
  6. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between objects different in nature. The poet used the extended metaphor of death as the departure.
  7. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. The poem shows symbols such as shore, bounds, branches, roots, and tent to show the impact of old age and coming of death.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in Terminus

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: It means the type of language. The poem shows good use of poetic and formal language.
  2. Free Verse: It means to use verses without any metrical pattern and rhyme scheme. This is a free-verse poem.
  3. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form written in lines. There are three stanzas with each having a different number of verses.
  4. Tone: It means the voice of the text. The poem shows a depressive, reassuring, and suggestive tone.

Quotes to be Used

The following lines are useful to quote when motivating people to reassure them that goal is nearing.

“Lowly faithful, banish fear,
Right onward drive unharmed;
The port, well worth the cruise, is near,
And every wave is charmed.”