Ralph Waldo Emerson
How Emerson’s Quote Has Changed My Life
Have you ever heard of Gary Vaynerchuk? Well, if not Vaynerchuk is a famous motivational speaker and investor who achieved the American Dream. Almost every day of the week Vaynerchuk is always trying to inspire and encourage people to try something different. Likewise, a quote written by Ralph Waldo Emerson states, “The power which resides in him is new nature, and none but he knows what that he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.” This quote is stating that you will not know what you like nor what you are good at until you have tried. Throughout this essay I will be showing how this quote represents myself, the significance of the quote, how this quote will relate to myself in the future and lastly a moment in my life that I had tried something new.
A quote written from Ralph Waldo proclaims that, “The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.” The quote is resembling a, “hidden talent,” that a person may have but may not know that he/she has. What Waldo is trying to explain, is go and try new things, because you may not know if you like it or your good at it until you’ve tried it. The power, that he’s trying to explain is a talent and or gift that you may hold. Furthermore, he addresses the talent being new nature. He is using new nature, as something that a person may not be familiar with. With that, he says none but he knows, meaning the person that has this power, only he may know he has that ability until he has tried it. Throughout the countless amount of quotes Waldo had written, there is still one theme; trying new things can further your success, and you have to be independent and make decisions for yourself, never to rely on others. The power and wisdom that Emerson had while writing these quotes and or books is unexplainable.
Truly listening to my surroundings and peoples stories, made me put a certain perspective on life and the person I am. My main goal as a person, is just to be kind; kindness truly goes a long way with so many people. So many people wanted to be the next, “millionaire,” but my long term goal is to just be kind and grateful for everything that I have. Another key trait that I also have is optimism. I try and surround myself with people that are humble, have good personalities and are realistic. Optimism is not just about hoping that you are going to do good, its gaining confidence that you will succeed. This will also relate to how people will do in the future. If you’re a person that just expect help from everyone else but themself is going to be in a world of hurt later on in life. Waldo states, that you have to try new things, and he said you have to help yourself; and if you rely on others, you are going to be stuck. Like before, Gary Vaynerchuk made a great point in one of his video clips, he said, “The quickest tell that if you’re a winner or a loser is complaining.” He said, “If you are complaining you have no shot to make it long term.” I seek this quote as truth, because if your happy and never complaining, you are not going to care if your poor or rich, you’re going to be happy the way you are and going to have to accept it, because those were your choices. Going off the person that I am, in school it will not change. I go to school to learn new things, meet new people and further education to see how this topic/subject will help me in the future. This quote also reveals about who I am as a person, because I truly am devoted to meet new people and try new things. For example, this past year, I had decided to join new clubs like FBLA. Through this experience, I had realized that I wanted to do a job that was business related instead of agriculture, which was new and was something I liked. Through realization about Ralph Waldos quote, new thing may lead to a bright future.
One moment that changed my life and future in relation to Emerson’s quote of trying something new was a decision based upon the school that I had gone to. In the second to last month of my middle school years, I was faced with a hardship of leaving unbreakable bonds with friends or creating a path for my career. Almost every night I went home from school with a different opinion. Every night at the dinner table, my parents would talk about how much information and hands-on learning Nonnewaug does, rather than being stuck at a desk all day. The thoughts about leaving the people I grown up with, played sports with, and cherished some of my valuable memories were making it that much harder to choose. Throughout the days, which felt like months this decision was haunting me, which would I chose. As I walked off the bus one day, the casual grabbing the mail had become a habit, and I saw a letter addressed to me at the top. Of course, out of curiosity I had to open it to see what it was. As I opened it, my eyes become wider, and the hair on my neck had begun to stick up; and at this moment I had realized it was decision day. As I walked into the house my brain was on overload. Thoughts from everywhere were popping up. I was pacing back and forth around the house, with emotions sad but happy I began to think. This is where Ralph Emerson’s quote comes into play, trying something not everyone does, and taking the path less traveled. After another long, stressful talk I checked of on the piece of paper that I would be attending Nonnewaug High School. Even after having the paper sent in I still had some try of stress that, I did not know anyone, I had no idea about where my classes where, but on the first day of highschool, that stress had gone away. The kids there were so kind and helpful of letting us know where are classes where. Although I did not know anyone, the first day I went to advisory and met one of my best friends Ryan Ng. He had told me that he was from Newtown and also interested in the ag program like I was. Later on I met a couple more kids, until 6th period Biology. I walked in sat and a seat, and across from me was future to being my best friend. Jim introduced himself to me, and asked me if I played any sports and I played baseball and basketball, he said likewise. Right away I felt like, a new bond made been created. Every day after that we began to talk, and he had introduced me to his friend group, and of course it will never be the same as my old school, but it was pretty close. Relating this back to Emerson’s quote, is about a power that you may have until you have tried. Granted committing to a different school is not a power by no means, but Emerson is saying that you have to try new things to see if it either fits you or you like it. Thinking about it now makes me realize what an opportunity I got getting into the school, and also great relationships that you build throughout life.
This year I strive to do bigger and better things. In years past, I have struggled with a few different things including organizational skills and better work ethic. In sophomore year, I was very unorganized, and forgetful. I used to forget something was due until the second to last day, and I could never be able to find anything inside my backpack, I had just thrown stuff in there. This upcoming year, I plan to try out a couple different clubs, for a couple different reasons. One being that it may help me create and build relationships with different people. On the same note, I will be able to experience better leadership and development skills that I will need in the future. Lastly, it will help me out in my senior year, because I will be able to write down different extracurricular activities I had done. This past year, I was disappointed in my work ethic, for some reason it had slowed down a lot since freshman year, so by realizing that I want to go home, study hard for tests and quizzes, hand my work in on time and create a great transcript that colleges can look at. Furthermore, I want to make an impact on sometimes life, it does not have to change their life around, but I want to help people that look like they can be headed down the wrong path, or someone that’s in a tough time. It’s hard, when someone and even myself was in a tough time losing multiple family members this year, but truly with support of friends and family you know that you will always have someone to count on. Although, many kids have awful home life’s, hearing some of them talk about it makes me realize that I’m luckier than most people, knowing that I have so many people that can count on me and I can do the same. So in conclusion this year, the organizational skills and work ethic are going to change; and lastly I want to make an impact on someone who needs help in some sort of way.
In conclusion, Emerson’s quote truly showed me that trying new things, shows that you’re a willing person, and make a difference in your life. Sometimes it’s good to listen to others and get feedback, but other times you have to trust yourself. Some decisions will help you in the future and you always have to be optimistic and willing like Emerson said. Through experiences like my story, I am better understanding of why so many people regret so many things they did not due and telling others to try something new.
A Character Analysis of Huckleberry Finn in the Poet by Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The Poet”, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, is a short essay describing Emerson’s thoughts on what he believes makes up a poet both in character and in his place in society. Rather than describe a man who simply has the talent for writing poems, Emerson takes the idea of a poet to a different level, contending that a true poet delves deeper into the soul than the average man and therefore is able to speak what others are thinking and feeling but are afraid or unable to say. For this reason, it can be argued that the poet Emerson describes may not be, in all actuality, a poet, but could be a character such as Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.
Emerson’s poet is not a poet in the typical sense of the word. He is a seeker of truth, who struggles to understand humanity and the world around him. This is true for the character of Huckleberry Finn. From the beginning of the story, Mark Twain makes it clear to the reader that Huck Finn does not come from a high class, or even a middle class, background. He is the lowest member of white society. He is described as uneducated, dirty, with no mother and a drunken father who disappears for months on end, often leaving Huck homeless and hungry. This lack of a “proper education” actually has some benefits for Huck because it means he does not live under the conforms of his society. Being a very curious child, he is constantly in search of truths and, although he struggles with some of the preconceptions taught to him by members of the properly educated society, he comes to his own conclusions. The answers he finds are true in their context but would shock most of his community.
Emerson opens the second paragraph with the statement “The breadth of the problem is great, for the poet is representative.” By this he means that the poet represents all men and can be seen as the idyllic man by the American people. Emerson’s poet lives a life outside of society’s bounds, sometimes isolated, but closer to truth than any normal man could ever be. In a way, Huck Finn also lives his life outside of society’s rigid bounds by refusing to give up his independent spirit, even when the Widow Douglas attempts to clean him up, educate him, and in her words “reform” him.
When Emerson discusses the liberating feeling that a poem can invoke in the reader he says, “If the imagination intoxicates the poet, it is not inactive in other men. The metamorphosis excites in the beholder an emotion of joy. The use of symbols has a certain power of emancipation and exhilaration for all men.” He goes on to call poets “liberating gods”. He is clearly referencing society’s lack of imagination and the lack of motivation to search for deeper meaning. As pointed out by these lines, most people are content to live in the strictly structured confinement they have created for themselves, never venturing out and never daring to question anything. To Emerson, the poet is the man who “liberates” other men from this prison-like society. His poems allow the mind to wander beyond the individual’s selfish thoughts, to find enjoyment in life. Huck is much like this poet in that he questions the morals and rules society has imposed upon him, choosing to follow his own path instead. Huck is able to see the hypocrisy of the general public and the contradictory rules and boundaries they have set for themselves. He cannot grasp the notion of slavery as a “civilized” concept, and cannot comprehend how people can commit heinous acts but go unpunished, while minor frivolous acts, if committed by the wrong person, can lead to execution.
Furthermore, Huck’s decision to escape from civilization, with Jim the slave, and try to create a home in the wilderness, where he feels most secure, is comparable to Emerson’s description of the poet’s closeness to nature. Emerson suggests that most people living in conformity are unfamiliar with nature’s “living” power. Nature is everywhere but most people cannot truly appreciate it the way a poet does. Thus, Emerson calls him a “namer” and “language maker”, imparting on him the task of interpreting nature for the rest of men. Huck, just like the poet Emerson seeks, is more comfortable in nature than he is in civilization.
When Emerson states, “So in regard to other forms, the intellectual men do not believe in any essential dependence of the material world on thought and volition. Theologians think it a pretty air-castle to talk of the spiritual meaning of a ship or a cloud, of a city or a contract, but they prefer to come again to the solid ground of historical evidence;” he is talking about man’s connection between the spiritual world and the physical, concrete world, or the ideal world vs. the real world. Most men fall into one of two categories. They are either intellectuals, who see the material world and the world of thoughts as two separate entities, or theologians who view the two as intertwined. Huckleberry Finn, although he does not realize it himself, is able to effortlessly link the two, as a true poet can. The people in Huck’s community, such as the Widow, who try to force him to obey the rules and behave conventionally, keep their thoughts hidden, as they believe them to be unrelated to the material world. Huck cannot accept this lifestyle and chooses to speak his mind, believing that what we think and what we do are directly connected. He views his surroundings practically as well as logically which is what Emerson claims a poet must always do. Emerson’s poet is always aware of his surroundings both intellectually and artistically.
Additionally, Huck Finn does not fill his observations with judgments and preconceived notions. The images of the things he sees are completely honest and realistic. He describes to the reader what he sees truthfully, as he sees it, rather than describing it the way it ought to be described. This makes him the “sayer” and poet that Emerson is searching for.
Emerson ends “The Poet” with a call for anybody that believes himself to be a true poet to come forth. He leaves us with the impression that such a poet has not existed yet in America, but the probability of such a man existing is probable. His descriptions of the man he is looking for fall in line with Mark Twain’s description of Huckleberry Finn and therefore, Huckleberry Finn can very well be the poet Emerson is searching for.
Emerson and His Transcendentalism Ideas
One of the core elements of Emerson’s transcendental ideas that can be found in contemporary American psyche is the intuitive belief. He postulates the encouragement to act freely rather than automatically following popular opinion and put a special emphasis on originality, as the saying goes “be the original thinker, not the follower”. It means that people should use their faculty of mind to think about something and make a decision by relying on their own capacities. They do not have to conform to what society perceived as true because it might be the opposite and conformity really limits one’s mind to go beyond than it can go. In addition, one of the things worth noted in his Self Reliance is “to believe your thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men.” – that is genius (Emerson ). In order to seek for truth, one must not only use their senses and imagination but also in need of the contemplation of soul. Hence, the basic ideas of transcendentalism have become a part in America’s evolution as a strong country.
Transcendentalism reflects well in the concept of the American Dream. It is a concept coined a historian named James Truslow Adam which he described it as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.’ This means that everyone should get equal opportunity to be successful in their life and their success is attained by their own capabilities, not by their lineage or status in the society. The basic notion of American Dream lies deeply in the tenets of American Declaration of Independence (Kenton). It is “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Anyone can live their live to the fullest and gained utmost happiness depends on how he or she defines it and according to self-reliance. Thus, in contemporary America, achieving American Dream is associated with those who are able to own house, work in a high position and enjoy access to healthcare and education.
In the intellectual field, Emerson becomes a great model and is responsible for the birth of many American writers that centres transcendentalism as their main concern. The transcendentalism movement is one of the literary independence that proved America has created a uniquely new body of literature. This also showed a clear distinction of something new and free from any European association. Those prominent figures are Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Frederick Henry Hedge and others. Emerson’s great admirer, Thoreau has put self reliance into practice where he lived alone at some moment without interjection of society. In his book, Walden, he wrote about simplicity of things, the nature and about life that is wasted due to conformity to society and the pursuit of worldly materials.
As most of these transcendentalists worked as teachers, this has simultaneously contribute in modelling America’s education system and still relevant to contemporary American psyche. Take Bronson Alcott as an example. He managed to inculcate transcendentalism ideas into a teaching pedagogy called Maxims of Education. This outline incorporates 58 teaching method such as “to teach, by the exercise of reason, to teach, to improve the science of instruction and of mind and to teach with independence” (Alcott). He believed that teachers play important roles in assisting their students to think for themselves as a need in the future. Thus, his words in the maxims are ideals and to kept in mind by teachers. Based on his guidelines, he hoped that future American should be able to think creatively, able to express their own thoughts and able to use their intuitive nature to guide them in searching for the truth.
The Ideas of Transcendentalism and Its Development
During the 18th century in the north, several philosophical movements were beginning to occur. One in particular happening during the market revolution was the Transcendentalism movement. It involved the combination of European Romanticism and the lifestyles of the United States. Just like other movements happening, this one started with one person and grew by people agreeing with that one person, in this case Ralph Waldo Emerson. Those who continued to follow this movement created artwork, wrote poems, and had ideas made for this term. Transcendentalism has more than one understanding and has evolved since then.
During the market revolution, civilization was evolving with more and more ideas every day. With that beginning, it was “encouraging the identification of American Freedom” (Froner 268). Emerson is known to be the father of transcendentalism and wrote about alongside Henry David Thoreau. Emerson believed that one could have their own “judgment over existing social traditions and institutions” (Froner 268). One could have more freedom to think whatever they wanted to instead of having to think thoughts they are influenced to follow and spread to others. Emerson helped shaped the becoming of others and the nation’s self-identity.
One of Emerson’s writings includes “The American Scholar,” where he “urged Americans to stop looking to Europe for inspiration,” but instead do what they want to do for themselves (ushistory.org). Transcendentalists believed that God also had his part, but anyone could freely think what they wanted to about him. Emerson believed that God was in fact “revealed through nature” (pbs.org). In the first section of his essay, he states that “the first in time and the first in importance of the influences upon the mind is that of nature” (Emerson). Nature was to be seen as a big key during this time period. Nature was connected to everything man. Meaning without nature a person could be lost. Which is where the phrase manifest destiny became in to play.
Manifest Destiny also came about during the 18th century and its ideas was that the “United States is destined by God” (Ushistory.org Editors). More than how transcendentalists saw God, manifest destiny made it look like anyone could do anything with the power of God and believing in him. The first person to mention this phrase was John Sullivan. Sullivan worked as an editor for two newspapers columns and had mentioned this was the expansion towards the “new frontier” was going to occur (Ushistory.org Editors).
Others who contributed to transcendentalism were Henry David Thoreau and Alexis de Tocqueville. Tocqueville, being from France, has a piece called “American Democracy” in which he states five key things Americans go by from what he saw happening in the American society. Love of equality, absence of tradition, individualism (just like transcendentalism and manifest destiny), tyranny of the majority, and the importance of free association were the five characterized features.
Henry David Thoreau was another who followed into what Emerson had said, he had “admired” Emerson for his great work (Ushistory.org). He is also known as another original thinker alongside Emerson. Thoreau’s idea was focusing more on the nature part. He is also known as one of the original thinkers of transcendentalism. His book “Walden”, he discusses himself being more in the wild and living with it. He then goes on to question “whether it is of the devil or of God” making one wonder that they did think of the two during their time period (UShistory.org). Like many other movements, this one had other ideas made by ones who did not quite look at it the same way. As events occurred, the subject of transcendentalism had been seen as another thing to some.
One like Immanuel Kant, believed to have built the system, was to understand that “the mind was not a blank slate that is written upon by the empirical world…” (“Immanuel Kant”). He talked how this dealt with ethics and that everything was constructed by our environment and what happens due to our actions. Another who was not in fact a man to follow transcendentalism was Margaret Fuller. Fuller, who wrote “Woman in the Nineteenth Century” where she “sought to apply to women the transcendentalist idea that freedom meant a quest for personal development…” (Froner). John Muir was also inspired by the transcendentalists of the “pre-civil war era…” (Froner) like Thoreau. He had considered that “forests were God’s first temples” (Froner).
As many things’, transcendentalism led to artwork was another big thing during this time period. One in particular was the one involving the Hudson River school. One of the members, Asher B. Durand, made a painting called “Kindred Spirits”. The painting symbolized the group who followed transcendentalism. In the painting you can see two men on a cliff, nature surrounding them. The men were said to be speaking “the wilderness is yet a fitting place to speak of God” (“Nature Transformed”). Nature is where everything is calm, and one can find themselves. To them, it was their reality.
Transcendentalism has changed very much since then.
- Froner, Eric. “Give me Liberty! An American History.” Brief fifth Edition. W.W. Norton & Company, pp. 268.
- History.com Editors. “Manifest Destiny.” A&E Television Networks. April 5, 2010, November 15, 2019. Accessed December 3, 2019.
- “New England Transcendentalism, Ralph Waldo Emerson And Kantian or Transcendental Idealism.” Emerson and Kantian Transcendental Idealism, www.age-of-the-sage.org/transcendentalism/emerson/idealism_kant.html. Accessed December 3, 2019.
- Ushistory.org. “Transcendentalism%2C An American Philosophy.” U.S. History Online Textbook. //www.ushistory.org/us/26f.asp 2019. Accessed December 4, 2019.
- “God In America.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/godinamerica/people/ralph-waldo-emerson.html. Accessed December 4, 2019.
- Crossman, Ashley. “Why Democracy in America Is Considered an Essential Book on the U.S.” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 20 Apr. 2019, www.thoughtco.com/democracy-in-america-3026749. Accessed December 4, 2019.
- “Immanual Kant.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, www.iep.utm.edu/kantmeta/. Accessed December 5, 2019.
- The Roots of Preservation: Emerson, Thoreau, and the Hudson River School, Nature Transformed, TeacherServe®, National Humanities Center, nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/nattrans/ntwilderness/essays/preserva.htm.
Emerson and Individual Growth (‘self-reliance’ and ‘The American Scholar)
‘Self-Reliance’ and Trusting Our Own Thoughts
“Self-Reliance” reflects on, often dismissed, individual insights. Ralph Waldo Emerson believes it is important that we recognize and encourage individuals to trust in their own thoughts more than those from other people (such as famous writers). He believes someone mature and trusting in their original thoughts, rather than those conforming to society, are heading towards greatness. Throughout the essay he argues that trusting oneself before others is the most important realization one can have and the most beneficial for oneself. Toning oneself down for others only encourages and brings about mediocrity and discourages authenticness. However, self-reliance has the ability to “revolutionize” society if we so allow.
He acknowledges that, while they may not be positive characteristics for someone to possess, or the best example of having self-reliance; self-reliance is often stronger in males as they are often more independent and prone to being judgemental with a lack of respect. While that may not be the most flattering example it does ring true. He continues on to note that we can also see a good example of self-reliance in children, since the world has yet to shape them and their mindsets. Children and babies freely think, believe and feel and do not focus on outside sources to tell them how they should react to something. As a result, this is the best example we can learn from in regards to self-reliance and wanting to fully trust our gut and our own thoughts.
‘The American Scholar’ and The Importance of Nature and Books
Meanwhile, “The American Scholar” breaks down and explores what Emerson believes influences a scholar. He discusses the effect that nature, history and actions have on the “thinking man” and explores their responsibilities. He believes that we should allow nature to teach us. We should acknowledge the similarities between it and our minds, like how each possess and strives for order. This is seen in our minds by the way they sort through the constant information we are learning and the importance it has to past knowledge we have stored. Emerson believes that nature and the human mind mirror one another and fall parallel.
Emerson also expresses the influence and importance books/history have on us. He says that while they “contain the learning of the past” they can also “pose a great danger.” Books are, inevitably, somewhat biased and based on society’s standards at the time of writing. They can also keep scholars from forming their own thoughts and opinions due to something, like respect, for the writers of the past. However, like stated prior, books do hold an importance outside of keeping society educated. It is important to inspire and be inspired by others, though one should not allow their work to be influenced by past writers. This is what has the capability of creating new, possibly important, works. Overall, educating yourself and reading past works/learning history is beneficial as long as you do not let it influence the way you believe and act.
Emerson concludes the essay by addressessing the scholar’s societal obligations. He believes that developing a strong self-trust is the most important task and that working through hardships and self-sacrificing leads to great knowledge. Along with the same ideas that one must be self-reliant, original and brave in their thoughts. This conclusion coincides with what is said through the whole of “Self-reliance.”
As a result, these essays work together to inform Emerson’s audience and encourage individual growth by bringing clarity to the challenges that are presented to us in regards to knowledge, personalities and distinction in our specific fields of work and daily life. He is constant in his push for individuality and explaining the importance it has on oneself and the society around them. Pushing for this diversity and ever-growing knowledge encourages the audience to want to be self-reliant. It lets the audience know that their own thoughts have value and can have an impact on the world around them. It lets them know that they are capable of inspiring others and that as long as they are self-aware and can acknowledge and critique themselves, they can and will do great things.
Emerson’s stance strives for and leads to a diverse world with vast knowledge and the desire for change. He lets his audience know that it is okay to go a different path than what is expected and that, that is often times better for us and the world around us. He does not judge what one does, but rather lets them know that they have other options they might not have seen or considered prior. Emerson encourages individual growth by explaining what it means to him and the benefits it gives us and our world.
Analysis of the Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Views on Perfectibility
In his analysis of the adolescent United States, Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville suggests that the egalitarian culture of America radically transforms the idea of perfection. “The idea of perfectibility is therefore as old as the world; equality did not give birth to it, but gives it a new character”. In other words, the vision of perfectibility is not founded in tandem with the nation, but it is rediscovered and reimagined in the light of a new world.
The great “Seer” of this vision in America is Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson proposes that people are only complete when they retreat into nature. Nature unifies. It shows the ideal self. “Xenophanes complained in his old age, that, look where he would, all things hastened back to Unity…. A leaf, a drop, a crystal, a moment of time is related to the whole, and partakes of the perfection of the whole”. For Emerson, unity is perfection, and it must be discovered, not built. Perfectibility is never far from reach. In order to obtain it, people only have to let go of the restrictions society and history impose on them. “As a plant upon the earth, so a man rests upon the bosom of God; he is nourished by unfailing fountains, and draws at his need inexhaustible power”.
Emerson’s perfection is a passive, interior process. Several times, he harkens back to the Christian idea that children have more access to truth because of their innocence. The ideal person, the “Aboriginal Self” trusts themselves. “Insist on yourself,” Emerson writes. The use of the word “aboriginal” is intentional, connoting the American Indians that preceded the European Americans. “What a contrast between the well-clad, reading, writing, thinking American…. and the naked New Zealander, whose property is a club, a spear, a mat and an undivided twentieth of a shed to sleep under! But compare the two men and you shall see that the white man has lost his aboriginal strength”. No wealth or material resources are necessary for perfection. If anything, they make it more difficult. De Tocqueville writes, “But for equality, they have an ardent, insatiable, eternal, invincible passion; they want equality in freedom, and, if they cannot get it, they still want it in slavery”.
Perfectibility, for Emerson, implies not just self-realization, but in a distinctly American way, equality. The unity and universality he emphasizes are strongly connected to equality. If they are a prerequisite for perfection, then so is equality. “Every rational creature has all nature for his dowry and estate…. He is entitled to the world by his constitution”. Emerson uses aristocratic language, dowry and estate, to describe the birthright of all people, nature. This birthright comes from man’s “constitution.” Emerson connects the written document to man’s essence. It is self-evident, written in the soul, as the Constitution is written in paper. His American identity ripples through his beliefs on perfectibility. Emerson’s transcendentalism comes with a strong distaste for elitism. “How does Nature deify us with a few and cheap elements! Give me health and a day, and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous”. Nature is accessible to all. Emerson’s belief in universality extends to society. “You must take the whole society to find the whole man. Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all…. In the divided or social state these functions are parceled out to individuals…. The Fable implies that the individual, to possess himself must sometimes return from his own labor to embrace all the other laborers”.
Emerson wants to remind people of their divinity. His idealism calls for empowerment, a freedom from the restrictions of the past, an equitable perfection. He simultaneously calls for the new, “An original relation to the universe”, and a return to a time without the corruption of history. He wants to both be original and return to the original. This is only possible if his vision of perfectibility is timeless. “The sea, the mountain-ridge, Niagara, and every flower-bed pre-exist, or super-exist”. Instead of progress, he calls for restoration of the infinite, nature. According to an anonymous poet that influenced Emerson, “Genius is the activity which repairs the decays of things”. Later, Emerson himself says, “But nature has a higher end, in the production of new individuals, than security, namely ascension, or the passage of souls into higher forms”. For Emerson, perfectibility means transcendence, stripping oneself of history and all restrictions so they can see what is real and timeless. “I want very much to put faith in human perfectibility; but until men should have changed in nature and have been completely transformed, I shall refuse to believe in the longevity of a government whose task is to hold together forty diverse peoples spread over an area equal to half of Europe,” says de Tocqueville. Emerson, like Tocqueville, believes that people must change their nature, or embrace their true nature, to improve the world. Individuals must transcend division and embrace harmony. Unlike de Tocqueville, he sees perfection not only as attainable, but readily available, there for the taking. Go to nature. “Go into solitude”. Open your eyes.
In his essay “Man the Reformer,” Emerson writes: “Love would put a new face on this weary old world in which we dwell as pagans and enemies too long, and it would warm the heart to see how fast the vain diplomacy of statesman, the impotence of armies, and navies, and lines of defence, would be superseded by this unarmed child. Love will creep where it cannot go, will accomplish that by imperceptible methods, being its own lever, fulcrum, and power, which force could never achieve”. Emerson personifies love as a child, suggesting that perfection is humanity’s natural state. Returning doesn’t require force, in fact the child is unarmed. Again, people simply have to go to nature. Emerson is not just optimistic about achieving an “original relationship with the universe,” he expects it. “One day all men will be lovers; and every calamity will be dissolved in the universal sunshine”. For the United States, he predicts a similar rejuvenation. “Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close… Who can doubt that poetry will revive and lead in a new age”.
America’s new relationship to the universe will transform the people, it will create unity, it will allow for perfection. Emerson’s new age, his vision of perfectibility, is distinctly American and, by extension, egalitarian, open to all. Latent in the call for unity is a reaffirmation of the principle that “all men are created equal.” He believed that, as a nation, Americans must rediscover their soul. Rather than progress, he wanted restoration. Rather than building a future, he wanted to discover it. Forget the restrictions of the Old World, history, conformity, elitism, and find the truth firsthand, in nature. “Every rational creature has all nature for his dowry and estate.” Emerson’s radical commitment to the rights of all people, a right to the world itself, informs his beliefs, and envelops his philosophy that is nature, including humanity, is perfect, and should be viewed as if for the first time.
My General Response to Thoreau’s and Emerson’s Environmental Ideas
Thoreau appears to write with a stronger stance on opposing materialism and conforment; I consequently tend to disagree with him more compared to Emerson. I personally believe that material objects are vital to a fulfilling, efficient life and are a sign of success; one is absolutely on top of their life if they are able to afford a sports car or a new luxury watch. They should be congratulated as they indeed are hardworking individuals and contribute to their society. In addition, Thoreau also encourages us to abandon our possession and live introverted lives. To my mind, this is unproductive and unfulfilling. Similarly to Emerson, Thoreau also encouraged his readers to live their lives as rebels, which will likely result in social ridicule and distress.
On the other hand, I agree with his analysis that “…on the chopping sea of civilized life…indeed who succeeds” as this conveys that one is forced along whatever path society dictates. He stresses that this will will make powerless over their own life and that they must take personal responsibility. Even through I am against his conforment views, I find his opinion that those who conform to their society will ultimately lose their individuality to be correct. For example, many people will abandon their beliefs or desires so live fake lives (a homosexual man may stay hidden in order to avoid ridicule or anger). He also uses the quote “building castles in the air” as a metaphor of one’s aspirations and dreams. Although he is encouraging us to follow our dreams, this metaphor conveys that Thoreau is suggesting that we must have stability and foundations. Finally, Thoreau stated that one may “have some pleasant thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse.” I partially agree with this statement as wealth and success do not always correlate with happiness although it is also evident that happiness will remain more difficult to achieve in a “poorhouse”.
Emerson and Thoreau both demonstrate strong and similar views; both encourage their readers to leave society and pursue nature for self reflection and truth. They also motivate their readers to live a more simple life, arguing that this will lead to a more satisfying and enjoyable life, with Thoreau stating “I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.” Emerson appears to be more symbolic in his work and writes with a bigger emphasize on God and the spiritual connections one can acquire through nature: “the rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate him from what he touches.” On the other hand, Thoreau objects more to materialism and is more political in his views on life: “It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look.” Both Emerson and Thoreau conclude that people that conform to society, which they consider a mistake, lose their individuality and personal desires.
The Main Suggestions and Ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Nature”
First of all, Emerson states that one must occasionally leave society in order to pursue and appreciate nature: “…a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society”. Emerson reports that in nature, he feels immersed, one with God and that all objects in nature are spiritually connected.
Emerson is using the stars as a symbol of the universe, suggesting that we perhaps foolishly take their perpetual presence for granted and they may subsequently “admonish” us. Because they are currently inaccessible, he describes that this makes them elusive towards people and we thus do not appreciate their guidance and beauty.
The connection is that Emerson appears to be encouraging us to break our habits in order to pursuit and have a more meaningful connection with nature. Encouraging us to leave our societies, Emerson remarks that “…a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society”. I cannot firmly identify accident but perhaps recurring accidents are needed in order to live a solitary live?
I personally believe that this is a connection to the fact that knowledge is indeed always present but is not immediately accessible as it must be seeken/learnt.
Emerson represents nature as a mirror; knowledge that lies within it can be reflected into one’s own consciousness. I believe that a “wise spirit” on the basis of the text it one that can discover universal truth and form a deeper connection with God through experiencing and venturing through nature. Emerson conveys that all elements of nature are shown to be pure, which may bring one back to their innocent times in childhood. In addition, he also reports that one must have curiosity and be open-minded in order to improve themselves as a person and to seek knowledge which it is a perpetual cycle.
The quote suggests that people take the sun, similar to the stars, for granted as it is continuously present. He stresses the people do not spiritually realize the influence it has over all life on earth. The sun “shining into the heart of the child” is a reference to the innocence and sense of adventure a child feels towards nature and the pursuit of knowledge. In comparison, the sun “illuminating only the eye of the man,” suggests that man might arrogantly believe in his own proficiency, rather than exploring nature for self-reflection and improvement.
Building from Emerson’s previous idea, the connotations with the phrase “spirit of infancy” is that of adventure and wonder, compared to the more logic and technological “era of manhood” where scientists, for instance, study nature factually, without taking into account spiritual study for self-reflection and enlightenment. Emerson describes a man with wisdom has both inward and outward senses and is able to retain his “spirit of infancy” into the “era of manhood.”
In Emerson’s personal faith, he profoundly believes that being outside with nature connects him with god and the universe; to him, truth is determined not solely by reason, but also by his own beliefs that are inspired by nature.
Emerson uses the “transparent eyeball” as a symbol of the union he feels with the universe and god, becoming spiritually one with nature. He also realizes that the more he reflects and learns, the less he knows. Although physically alone and isolated, Emerson describes how he becomes immersed and spiritually connected with nature, stating “I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the universe circulate through me.”
I believe Emerson is stressing to us to live our life to the “vibration” of our own drum because it is important to trust ourselves/make our own decisions and to not be influenced negatively by external factors. On the other hand, “beating” is diction that represents stability conveying that the majority of society is docile and followers rather than taking control of their own lifes. “Vibrating” also emphasizes that we must learn to be creative and live our live through challenges.
Emerson uses the metaphor of the “iron string” to demonstrate the power of our intuition and emotions. He believes that one will experience fulfillment if they are in touch with their “iron string.”
Emerson is comparing how society operates to that of a business. He explains that the rudiments of society are based on law and customs and that shareholders (leaders) benefit from employees (followers) working for them and not thinking outside the box. The quote: “It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs” is indeed correct and common in the modern world as society is creating masses of people that prefer to be docile rather than stepping up and taking control of their lives. Historically, this is evident in how advancements in humankind are undertaken by the few and misunderstood, and not by the many. A current global example is that certain societies oppose people from different ethics or sexual orientations.
I believe this quote and particularly the word “consistency” is used to emphasize one’s urge to fit in and to not appear strange. Whilst most societies want people to have “consistency” and to not step out of their status quo such as being homosexual, Emerson suggests that the great pioneers of human advancement such as Pythagoras and Jesus spoke their minds and were leaders, rather than followers.
Emerson is suggesting that proceeding with status quo, as most people do, never leads to innovation or change. He compares that thinking the same is like “studying a shadow on the wall”. He is alluding to some of the great pioneers of human advancements such as Newton and Pythagoras who thought outside the box and were misunderstood at the time.
I agree with Emerson’s stance on consistency as people who think or act differently are often ridiculed and misunderstood despite the fact that this can lead to the advancement of the human species. He also identifies correctly that the vast majority of people like to stick to what society perceives as normal and live a more docile life. The source of argument between parents and children is often due to a misunderstanding and difference between generations. For example, I often disagree with my parents over what they identify as me being ‘addicted’ to the internet. Perhaps I should be more open-minded in my response to their accusations and consider the obvious negatives of excessive internet usage.