Forgetting the past is never an easy task. The poem “The Past” by Ralph Waldo Emerson describes how freeing letting go of the past can be. Everyone has a past and some may be proud of theirs while others might be ashamed. Either way it is inevitable the past must be exactly that, the past. The imagery of this poem is quite telling as the visualization of Emerson’s words makes one wonder what the poet was going through at this time in his life. Upon first reading the poem it might seem about death but as the reader digs deeper the words become clearer, what is done cannot be undone but it can be buried as if it were dead.
“The past” by Emerson delivers the strong message to let the past die so one can move on and let go of anything that may be holding them back. Emerson’s tone gives an emotional vibe throughout the whole twenty one lines. It gives the impression that he was going through his own problems when writing this powerful poem. “The debt is paid, The verdict said,” (1-2) creates a feeling of being judged. Whatever is done is done and will not be changed as he wrote “The plague is stayed, All fortunes made,” (4-5).
The poem almost creates sadness in the reader and it leaves them wondering what he may have done that was so bad or unforgiving. “The Past” was written around the mid eighteen hundreds. The wording Emerson uses makes this very clear. “Nor haughty hope, nor swart chagrin,” (8), what does that mean? In present English that would translate to not having arrogant hope to a dark past filled with humiliation or embarrassment. Writers are products of their time and Emerson tells his story so elegantly in this poem. As he writes “Sweet is death forevermore,” (7), it gives the impression of a bittersweet ending of some sort.
The reader must push the limits of their mind to really feel what Emerson was going through at this moment in time when religion was dominant in society. After reading this poem it may give the reader a spark of visualization among other senses. The later versus of the poem may give the reader a sense of death or hopelessness. “Flies-to the adamantine door Bolted down forevermore. ” (12-13) gives a description of an unbreakable door and may make the reader think of a coffin, when in fact it could be the burial of the past.
One of the strongest lines in the poem states “New- face or finish what is packed” (20) as if Emerson letting go of the past is making him a new man. The reader can feel a sense of liberation as if they are letting go of something themselves. “Alter or mend eternal fact” (21) is an immense ending to this poem. The reader has closure to a story that started off gloomy and depressing. When in all actuality the moral of this poem is the exact opposite. The poem lets the reader know letting go of the past can be vital to ones happiness. Every person has a past that can be a burden on them.
Some may wonder what could have been if a certain event in their life was different or if they could have changed something in their life. In all actuality their life may have turned out worse if that event did not happen. What does not kill someone only makes them stronger and there are great lessons to be learned from mistakes a person makes. Emerson shows his readers this point very intelligently in his poem “The Past”. Whatever act was done to produce this masterpiece created a lesson for all readers to take to heart. The past is best left behind to be forgiven and forgotten.