Tuesday, August 22, 2006

pigs are said to see the wind: Emerson 8/22/1823

From the Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson

August 22, 1823.

"Have lights when other men are blind
As pigs are said to see the wind"

Friday noon, Warren's Hotel.

After a delightful walk of twenty miles, I reached this inn before noon, and in the near recollection of my promenade through Roxbury, Newton, Needham, Natick, do recommend the same, particularly as far as the Lower Falls in Newton, to my friends who are fond of fine scenery.

To this stage of mine errantry no adventure has befallen me; no, not the meeting with a mouse. I both thought and talked a little with myself on the way, and gathered up and watered such sprigs of poetry as I feared had wilted in my memory. I thought how History has a two­ fold effect, viz., intellectual pleasure and moral pain. And in the midst of a beautiful country I thought how monotonous and uniform is Nature; but I found now as ever that, maugre all the flights of the sacred muse, the profane solicitudes of the flesh elevated the Tavern to a high rank among my pleasures.

WORCESTER; evening, 8 o'clock.

I reached Worcester one half hour ago, having walked forty miles without difficulty. Every time I traverse a turnpike, I find it harder to conceive how they are supported; I met but three or four travellers between Roxbury and Worcester. The scenery all the way was fine, and the turnpike, a road of inflexible principle. swerving neither to the right hand nor the left, stretched on before me, always in sight. A traveller who has nothing particular to think about is apt to make a very lively personification of his Road and to make the better companion of it. The Kraken, thought I, or the Sea-Worm, is three English miles long; but this land worm of mine is some forty. and those of the hugest.

This extract comes the Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes (Houghton Mifflin, 1909) Of it, The Edward Emerson says: "This, though written in a pocket note-book, is inserted in its proper place in this journal."


Ralph Waldo Emerson was 19 when he wrote this, a year out of Harvard. He was then earning his way by teaching young Boston ladies in a school that his brother William had started and left to Waldo when he departed to study in Germany. Edward Emerson says he was distressed in these months by a feeling of inadequacy as a teacher (in most things he felt less able than his accomplished brothers) and worried about his health (most of his family suffered from consumption and he himself had symptoms of it).

During a summer break from teaching, he took a solitary walk to the Connecticut River to visit the new Amherst College. On August 22, he had only just begun this trek.

The quotation that heads the entry comes from William Butler's comic epic, Hudibras. You can find the full text at exclassics.com. As Emerson says, his mind has turned to this and other "sprigs of poetry" and Butler's mock-heroic style clearly infects him as he writes. At bottom I quote the (very long) sentence in which "pigs are said to see the wind" appears. Notice that Emerson -- consciously or not - re-phrases Butler's first line (it reads: "Had Lights where better eyes were blind").

Notice too that Emerson addresses a hypothetical reader in this entry. He may have intended to share his notes on this expedition with friends and family after his return. That might be why he put it in a pocket notebook and not the journal volume he was keeping at the time.

Those who have seen Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest will be familiar with Kraken (as the character, Ragetti -- played by Mackenzie Crook -- says, pronounced Krawken or Kroken, not Krayken). {Source of image: wikipedia - Colossal octopus by Pierre Denys de Montfort.}

The issue of Notes and Queries for July 30, 1853, has a discussion of pigs that are said to see the wind. The author asks whether it simply means pigs are sharp-sighted or that they have the privilege of seeing what is invisible. He inclines to the latter folk belief and quotes an authority to that effect. He adds: "The version I have always heard of it is --
"Pigs can see the wind 'tis said,
And it seemeth to them red."
Here is the run-on sentence out of Butler's Hudibras:
To turn your zealous frauds, and force,
To fits of conscience and remorse;
To be convinc'd they were in vain,
And face about for new again;
For truth no more unveil'd your eyes, 1085
Than maggots are convinc'd to flies
And therefore all your lights and calls
Are but apocryphal and false,
To charge us with the consequences
Of all your native insolences, 1090
That to your own imperious wills
Laid Law and Gospel neck and heels;
Corrupted the Old Testament,
To serve the New for precedent
T' amend its errors, and defects, 1095
With murther, and rebellion texts;
Of which there is not any one
In all the Book to sow upon
And therefore (from your tribe) the Jews
Held Christian doctrine forth, and use; 1100
As Mahomet (your chief) began
To mix them in the Alchoran:
Denounc'd and pray'd, with fierce devotion,
And bended elbows on the cushion;
Stole from the beggars all your tones, 1105
And gifted mortifying groans;
Had Lights where better eyes were blind,
As pigs are said to see the wind
Fill'd Bedlam with predestination,
And Knights-bridge with illumination: 1110
Made children, with your tones, to run for't,
As bad as bloody-bones, or LUNSFORD:
While women, great with child, miscarry'd,
For being to malignants marry'd
Transform'd all wives to DALILAHS 1115
Whose husbands were not for the Cause;
And turn'd the men to ten horn'd cattle,
Because they came not out to battle
Made taylors' prentices turn heroes,
For fear of being transform'd to MEROZ: 1120
And rather forfeit their indentures,
Than not espouse the Saints' adventures.

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