The power men possess to annoy me, I give them by a weak curiosity
Why should we assume the faults of our friend, or wife, or father, or child, because they sit around our hearth, or are said to have the same blood? All men have my blood, and I have all men’s. Not for that will I adopt their petulance or folly, even to the extent of being ashamed of it. But your isolation must not be mechanical, but spiritual, that is, must be elevation. At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door, and say, “Come out unto us.” But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me, I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act. “What we love that we have, but by desire we bereave ourselves of the love.”
Speaking of Curiosity…
If you google for the last sentence of this excerpt, “What we love that we have, but by desire we bereave ourselves of the love,” you’re likely to come up with this passage from the Essay. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that it’s a quote from Friedrich Schiller. Schiller lived from 1759 to 1805, a generation before Emerson. A friend to Goethe and admired by Beethoven, he was thought in some circles to be one of the greatest playwrights of all time. Beethoven used Schiller’s poem An die Freude or Ode to Joy as the basis of his own “Ode to Joy,” the fourth movement of his ninth symphony.
Now I know it’s Schiller, but I still couldn’t find a primary printed source of “What we love that we have, but by desire we bereave ourselves of the love.” I’m in a bit of a frump over that, which ends up making both the point of the highlighted Emerson quote, and the Schiller. I am just curious enough to get partway there with my “weak curiosity;” no buckling down and consulting a reference librarian on this one, and I must confess to a little curious dread over if readers will think that’s lame. And I dare myself not to care, to be joyfully occupied elsewhere, though I could easily go from loving what I have to “bereaving” myself of that love because I did not tie up the loose ends.
Regret is powerful. Self bereavement bites. And I choose to crown curiosity as more powerful than either. I’m delighted to have re-discovered the factoid about Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. I’m encouraged that poetry inspires music. Even Schiller’s poem’s relative modern obscurity encourages me: because I know Beethoven’s Ode to Joy I know a poem’s ancestor. Nice, yes? That poetry has ancestors is where I will stake my independent claim to learning from this passage.
Do you think Emerson would approve?
- Schiller’s 1785 poem, An die Freude, in the original German, alongside a somewhat graceless English transition
- Ode to Joy, on YouTube, simultaneously showing English and German lyrics.