A Moment in Time

Ralph Waldo Emerson's poetry is a bit too didactic for my taste - I wouldn't call most of it poetry. Generally speaking, Emerson seems to think a poem is an essay with shorter lines.

Nevertheless, there's something wonderful about his poem describing a camping trip he took with some pals in 1858. Not only do his pals include James Russell Lowell and Louis Agassiz. It also leaves us with a very precise description of a piece of American landscape as it existed in a very particular moment in time. Technology has progressed as far as the B&O railroad and the Erie Canal. The Civil War is less than three years away. Their landscape is about to change in ways even these forward-looking people can't imagine.

There are omens, however. One very specific one appears toward the end of their journey, when two of their buddies, having made a beer run, or its mid-19th-Century equivalent, paddle back to camp waving a newspaper.

From: The Adirondacs

Two of our mates returning with swift oars.
One held a printed journal waving high
Caught from a late-arriving traveller,
Big with great news, and shouted the report
For which the world had waited, now firm fact,
Of the wire-cable laid beneath the sea,
And landed on our coast, and pulsating
With ductile fire. Loud, exulting cries
From boat to boat, and to the echoes round,
Greet the glad miracle.

It's the first trans-Atlantic cable.