Portrait of Channing

William Ellery Channing

My Symphony, 1871

To live content with small means.

To seek elegance rather than luxury,

    and refinement rather than fashion.

To be worthy not respectable,

    and wealthy not rich.

To study hard, think quietly, talk gently,

    act frankly, to listen to stars, birds, babes,

    and sages with open heart, to bear all cheerfully,

    do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never.

In a word, to let the spiritual,

    unbidden and unconscious,

    grow up through the common.

This is to be my symphony.

William Ellery Channing was a Transcendentalist poet, nephew of the Unitarian preacher Dr. William Ellery Channing. (His namesake uncle was usually known as “Dr. Channing,” while the nephew was commonly called “Ellery Channing,” in print.) The younger Ellery Channing was thought brilliant but undisciplined by many of his contemporaries. Amos Bronson Alcott famously said of him in 1871, “Whim, thy name is Channing.” Nevertheless, the Transcendentalists thought his poetry among the best of their group’s literary products.

It’s been reported that “My Symphony” may have been actually written by his cousin Wm Henry Channing a minister for a sermon. Their Uncle Wm Ellery Channing was one of the most influential ministers of his time. His sphere included the first several founding fathers and our first supreme court justice. His sermons and personal integrity inspired, the Transcendentalist movement.