Emersons Nature Essay, Research Paper
Critical Analyzation Of Emerson s Nature
Ralph Waldo Emerson was a profound writer and speaker of the 19th century. As a poet and an essayist he was able to invoke new ideas and thoughts that soon made him the central figure in the Transcendentalist movement. Emerson created a revolution that influenced other great writers such as Thoreau, and Whitman. Thus making Ralph Waldo Emerson one of the most important writers in American literature. Emerson was a visionary, and because of this, he resisted social conformity. Breaking beyond these boundaries gave him the ability to make his own assumptions on how the world worked. This newfound awareness led to his first major achievement. The essay Nature was an extensive subject for Emerson, thus creating the basis for his whole transcendental spirituality. Through the poetic and evocative ideas within Emerson s language, he speaks of the 7 facets of the relationship between humans and nature: Commodity, beauty, language, discipline, idealism, spirit and prospects. His belief is that the spirit is there to encompass nature, and by understanding self-transcendence nature can reveal spirituality to us. As part of nature, Emerson believes we are born into this original relationship between one another. However, because of the ongoing strive for power in everyday life we are disconnected and individualized from it. Because most of us look at nature only with our own desires in mind, we do not really see nature. At least not how Emerson would like us to see it. He wants us to look at nature as if we were little children. Adults are generally corrupt; children are innocent and able to have a direct relation with God’s design. “The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”
Emerson poses a way to find a personal connection to the beauty and spirituality throughout nature. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Emerson states, emphasizing the word also. He continues with, Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Emerson wants to recover the immediate relationship that our ancestors once had with the world. He believes we need to find the answers to the questions of how we should live. In God, every end is converted into a new means. Thus the use of commodity, regarded by itself, is mean and squalid. But it is to the mind an education in the doctrine of use, namely that a thing is good only so far as it serves. By interacting with Nature people learn not only what is practical but also what is good. “The moral law lies at the center of nature and radiates to the circumference…. The moral influence of nature upon every individual is that amount of truth which it illustrates to him. What a searching preacher of self-command is the varying phenomenon of Health!” For Emerson, the soul and nature are perfectly complementary.
In the opening chapters of Nature he describes the different things nature provides to the consciousness. Commodity is the material things that nature provides us. Emerson’s view of nature is something like the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve were moral, they existed in a perfect harmony with nature. But after the first sin humanity was morally corrupted and now we are no longer able to be in harmony with nature. Nature exists to provide to the human needs: “Nature, in its ministry to man, is not only the material, but is also the process and the result. All the parts incessantly work into each other’s hands for the profit of man. . . . the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man.” Human values are built into nature; what we feel is good to us is naturally good.
In chapter three, Emerson moves on to Beauty, which he argues that our aesthetics are derived from nature. “Primary forms” such as the mountains, the sky, the trees, the animals, all “gives us a delight in and for themselves. The entire circuit of natural forms, the totality of nature.” Emerson’s approach to being one with nature is extremely visual; this is closely related to why he stresses the importance of everyone to have individual vision. Emerson seems careful in explaining that beauty is not just an elaborate painting or a pretty picture. Instead Every natural action is graceful, nature is the norm, and within nature that is where we gain our subconscious knowledge of beauty. Beauty also needs to be perceived intellectually, to reflect on the truth placed within. “A nobler want of man is served by nature, namely, the love of Beauty.” The purpose of beauty in nature is to connect us with nature’s true organization. The concept of nature providing us with beauty is easily grasped, however, according to Emerson nature also provides us with language, which he focuses on in chapter four.
In a famous, and difficult opening statement he summarizes his position. Nature is the vehicle of thought, and in a simple, double, and Threefold degree. Words are signs of natural facts. Particular natural facts are symbols of particular spiritual facts. Nature is the symbol of spirit. The first point is a theory of language, which makes the distinction that words are not things, but signs standing for things. Emerson believes words are signifiers; things are what are being signified. The important distinction is between the two words, signifier and signified. It sounds basic until he further explains that even those words, which express a moral or intellectual fact , will be found. If traced back far enough he believes there will be some material or physical appearance in representation. He implies that when we use metaphors directly related in nature, they are more powerful because our language is grounded in relation to something. Loosing grounded imagery can makes us speak for an effect instead of a meaning. So, as the generations go on words manipulate and change. Now he gets extreme. First, he claims that people are able to intellectually understand the moral-spiritual analogy. “The corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language.” Second, he claims that people are able to practically utilize the moral-spiritual analogy, “the power over nature as an interpreter of the will, is in a degree lost.” Emerson goes on to believe that everything in nature had its correlative in mind, that nature is the externalization of the soul.
In chapter five Emerson moves onto the thought of discipline, believing Science is the sensual-intellectual discipline. He thinks this because science forces our minds to believe in the order of nature. Nature is a discipline of the understanding in intellectual truths. Our dealing with sensible objects is a constant exercise in the necessary lessons of difference, of likeness, of order, of being and seeming, of progressive arrangement; of ascent from particular to general; of combination to one end of manifold forces.” He then proceeds to talk about the sensual-intellectual discipline. He feels that it is not absolute, like pure poetry. However, thoughts of reason even in primitive culture can prove that nature is ordered rationally. So, with the understanding of discipline within nature, one could hear God’s words in nature, and could learn to respond to them.
Moving from practical discipline to theoretical idealism Emerson presents idealism as the true religion. Making these statements was a direct attack on Christianity, which claims that the Bible is God’s true scripture. With this thought in mind Emerson wants you to believe that poetry would be able to transform matter: “This transfiguration which all material objects undergo through the passion of the poet”. Naturally, today this power occurs only in the imagination, however, if we were truly morally virtuous, it could possibly occur in perception.
Furthermore, Emerson writes about the inner reality of nature and spirit. Religiously, nature “is the organ through which the universal spirit speaks to the individual, and strives to lead back the individual to it.” Religion is able to give reason when there is something rather than nothing. For example, the ultimate question; why we are here. “Spirit creates; that behind nature, throughout nature, spirit is present; one and not compound, it does not act upon us from without, that is, in space and time, but spiritually, or through ourselves: therefore, that spirit, that is, the Supreme Being, does not build up nature around us, but puts it forth through us.” Accordingly, nature is produced in the human mind by the action of self or God. So, spiritual awareness would theoretically provide you with divinity.
Emerson seems to feel that our technological power over nature is inconsequential compared with our true poetic power over nature. Technology “is such a resumption of power,”the miracles performed in the Bible, such as the miracles of Christ, are not really miraculous at all. Christ had reached this power of nature, and so his speeches were poetical and had divine power. Emerson further states that we can all perform miracles and exert “a power which exists not in time or space, but an instantaneous in-streaming causing power.” We can command nature to do our bidding, because nature is human will. Emerson feels that when our souls are saved, then we will have powers equal to those of God, and he will be able to work miracles. Instead of existing in nature as we know it, he will exist in the idealism of heaven. “Every spirit builds itself a house; and beyond its house a world; and beyond its world, a heaven.” The world will become paradise; evil will vanish as the soul becomes pure. “A correspondent revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit.” When you have perfected your soul, you will be divine. “The kingdom of man over nature . . . a dominion such as now is beyond his dream of God, — he shall enter without more wonder than the blind man feels who is gradually restored to perfect sight.”
Out of all that Nature had to offer I feel that Emerson’s insistence on the close links between nature and language has important relationship to present time. Our verbal language is based on nature, language will always become separate from nature. I agree with Emerson s thoughts on language. That the strong, natural, material roots of words will be forgotten, and lesser writers will go on imitating and repeating words they do not really understand. “Hundreds of writers may be found in every long-civilized nation. “Who for a short time believe, and make others believe, that they see and utter truths, who do not of themselves clothe one thought in its natural garment, but who feed unconsciously upon the language created by the primary writers of the country, those, namely, who hold primarily on nature.” So the function of the intellect, or of the true poet, is to master the language. The poet is he who can reconnect the word supercilious with the raised eyebrow, who can make us see again, but freshly, that the word “consider” means study the stars [con sidere]. “The moment our discourse rises above the ground line of familiar facts, and is inflamed with passion or exalted by thought, it clothes itself in images.” Thus Emerson’s conception of language as based in nature leads him to outline the task of the poet as the renewal of language, the reattachment of language to nature, of words to things. In that sense nature is in itself a language, giving the writer or poet the job of explaining what nature has to say. Being an artist, this has helped me to realize certain truths about myself, which I believe Emerson intended at the least.
Overall Nature is Emerson’s testament to his belief that ideas, forms, and laws (what Emerson sums up as spirit) are more important than physical, phenomenal, material things (what Emerson calls nature). Both exist, of course, but spirit or mind exists prior to nature, and the natural world is, for Emerson, a product of spirit. “It is the uniform effect of culture on the human mind, not to shake our faith in the stability of particular phenomena, as of heat, water, azotes [nitrogen]; but to lead us to regard nature as a phenomenon, not a substance; to attribute necessary existence to spirit; to esteem nature as an accident and an effect, not to be mistaken as the final truth or reality.
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