Essay, Research Paper
An Analysis of the Poems and Writings by Ralph Waldo Emerson
The thoughts and feelings of Ralph Waldo Emerson are uplifting, empowering and can make one feel like their actions matter in a world surrounded by cynicism and despair. His poem “Give all to love” hints briefly at the pain he experienced in his life and his views on love and the human experience. It also demonstrates the style of writing of the transcendentalists.
In order to understand Emerson’s writing one must first understand the man. Emerson is a deeply spiritual man, owing mainly to his background. He was a Unitarian minister, until he realized that Unitarianism was yet another box or construct out of which he needed to break. Influenced by such schools of thought as English romanticism, Neoplatonism, and Hindu philosophy, Emerson is noted for his skill in presenting his ideas eloquently and in poetic language. Emerson was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Seven of his ancestors were ministers, and his father, William Emerson, was minister of the First Church (Unitarian) of Boston. Emerson graduated from Harvard University at the age of 18 and for the next three years taught school in Boston. In 1825 he entered Harvard Divinity School, and the next year he was sanctioned to preach by the Middlesex Association of Ministers. Despite ill health, Emerson delivered occasional sermons in churches in the Boston area. In 1829 he became minister of the Second Church (Unitarian) of Boston. That same year he married Ellen Tucker, who died 17 months later. In 1832 Emerson resigned from his pastoral appointment because of personal doubts about administering the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. On
Christmas Day, 1832, he left the United States for a tour of Europe. He stayed for some time in England, where he made the acquaintance of such British literary notables as Walter Savage Landor, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas Carlyle, and William Wordsworth. His meeting with Carlyle marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship. After nearly a year in Europe Emerson returned to the United States. In 1834 he moved to Concord,Massachusetts, and became active as A lecturer in Boston.
Emerson’s marriage with Ellen Tucker, and her later death formed the basis of his poem “Give all to Love”. He was hurt greatly by her death and all his later writings showed her effect on him.
Emerson’s style was influenced by English romanticism, neoplatonism, and Hindu schools of thought. He was known as the father of transcendentalism. Emerson describes transcendentalism as idealism over materialism. One of his major accomplishments was in exposing the world to Walt Whitman’s poetry Emerson has been accredited with inventing the American Religion In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his 1842 lecture The Transcendentalist:
“The Transcendentalist adopts the whole connection of spiritual doctrine. He believes in miracle, in the perpetual openness of the human mind to new influx of light and power; he believes in inspiration, and in ecstasy. He wishes that the spiritual principle should be suffered to demonstrate itself to the end, in all possible applications to the state of man, without the admission of anything unspiritual; that is, Anything positive, dogmatic, personal. Thus, the spiritual measure of inspiration is the depth of the thought, and never, who said it? And so he resists all attempts to palm other rules and measures on the spirit than its own….”It is well known to most of my audience, that the Idealism of the present day acquired the name of Transcendental, from the use of That term by Immanuel Kant, of Konigsberg, who replied to the skeptical philosophy of Locke, which insisted that there was nothing in the intellect which was not previously in the experience of the senses, by showing that there was a very important class of ideas, or imperative forms, which did not come by experience, but through which experience was acquired; that these were intuitions of the mind itself; and hedenominated them Transcendental forms. The extraordinary profoundness and precision of that man’s thinking have given vogue to his nomenclature, in Europe and America, to that extent, that whatever belongs to the class of intuitive thought, is popuparly called at the present day Transcendental….”Ralph Waldo Emerson The Transcendentalist, 1842.
Emerson invented a philosophy appropriate to his time. He did not believe in looking back on others accomplishments but in original ideas and philosophys. He was considered by many to be a philosophical poet. This quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson on his own views on modern thinking shows how he pities those who rely on others ideas.
“Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, Which Bacon, have given; forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote these books…”Hence, instead of Man Thinking, we have the bookworm. Hence the book-learned class, who value books, as such; not as related to nature and the human constitution, but as making a sort of Third Estate with the world and the soul. Hence the restorers of reading, the emendators, the bibliomaniacs of all degrees…”
Emerson’s poem “Give all to Love” is perhaps his most eloquent and heart felt piece. In it he describes how one should give all his heart and efforts to the one he loves. Emerson believes that love requires courage and devotion. “Love is a God,” says Emerson and should be given free reign upon the soul”. He goes on to say that one should leave all else for love, and that it will reward you for your efforts”. However, Emerson also warns that if the object of your love desires another or to be free from your love, then you should let them free to love another”. For Emerson says that “When half gods go the gods arrive”. Emerson is referring to earlier in the poem when he says that love is a god. This is an excellent example of Emerson’s use of symbolism. He means by this that the one who is willing to leave you for another never really loved you, and when she departs you will find your true love. In Emerson’s essay “Love” he describes love as being equivalent to God. Emerson’s description of love and the benefits and sacrifices it entails strikes at the heart and truly shows his understanding and knowledge of the human condition and emotion.
While “Give all to Love” is mys favorite Emerson and the the one closest to my heart I also enjoy many of his other poems. They as well greatly reflect his style and views on life and the human experience. His poem “Hamatyreya” talks of the trancendentalist views of nature and shows Emerson’s love the nature and deep respect for life of all kinds. In “Water” the belief that nature is eternal and civilization but fleeting is shown well in this quote “ In perfect time and measure With a face of golden pleasure Elegantly destroy”. In “Bacchus” Emerson speaks of the freedow and joy possible in the boundless wilderness. All of Emerson’s poems clearly show his transcendentalist views and love of nature. Emerson deserves the title as the father of transcendentalism, and in no other writers is the transcendentalist style more evident then in Emerson’s.