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Ralph W. Emerson (1803-1882) Nature Cecilia H. C. Liu American Literature I 11/8/2004 Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82) The center of the American transcendental movement Ordained a minister of the Second Church in Boston, shortly before marrying Ellen Tucker in 1829.

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ralph w emerson 1803 1882 nature

Ralph W. Emerson (1803-1882)Nature

Cecilia H. C. Liu

American Literature I


ralph waldo emerson 1803 82
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82)
  • The center of the American transcendental movement
  • Ordained a minister of the Second Church in Boston, shortly before marrying Ellen Tucker in 1829.
  • He resigned in 1832 after Tucker’s death from tuberculosis, troubled by theological doctrines such as the Lord's Supper, and traveled extensively in Europe, returning to begin a career of lecturing
  • Our age is spiritually dead. Previous generations interacted with God directly; but our age interacts with God only indirectly, by studying the past, that is, the Bible. But we can also experience God directly. To do so, we have to turn away from the past, that is, away from church doctrine, and toward nature. So Emerson starts with an explicit attack on the Christian fundamentalism of his day.
  • Nature is self-describing; it has no secrets.
  • Science tries to find a theory of God's plan or design for creation. The key to finding this plan is abstract thought:"the most abstract truth is the most practical."
  • Nature is "all that is separate from us"; it is "the NOT ME, that is, both nature and art, all other men and my own body."
chapter i nature
Chapter I: NATURE

1/ To have a direct relation with nature, with God's divine creation, simply go out and look at the stars

2/ The mind must be open to the appearances of nature in order to achieve true wisdom.

3/ The mind that is truly open to nature's own truth is poetic.

4/ "The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other."

5/ A relation of correspondence or analogy between human being and all natural beings

6/ What is essential is to be in harmony with nature. But to be in harmony with nature is to be in harmony with God's design: "Nature always wears the colors of the spirit."

  • Nature is a mirror of the moral state of the soul.
transparent eye ball
Transparent Eye-ball
  • The infinity of nature absorbs the finiteness of the human self. The finite self ascends to the divine perspective of God, it rises to the God's-Eye view of the world: "I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me;
transparent eye ball6
Transparent Eye-ball

I am part or particle of God.“

  • In the wilderness there is something that is as beautiful as humanity. Emerson's idea of “self” in wilderness as an all-seeing spectator is very different than Thoreau's. For Thoreau, the self in wilderness is active.
chapter ii commodity
  • 1. Several classes of usefulness: "Commodity; Beauty; Language; and Discipline."
  • 2. Nature exists to serve human needs. Emerson's view of nature is Biblical. If we work on our Salvation, we can restore ourselves and the earth to that original state. We can become like Adam and Eve before the Fall, and we can restore the Earth to a perfect Garden of Eden.
chapter ii commodity 2
Chapter II: COMMODITY (2)
  • 3/ Nature exists to serve 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."
  • 4/ Technology is the arrangement of natural forces and causes for the benefit of humanity, to serve human needs: Emerson thinks that the true relation of humanity with nature is magical.
chapter ii commodity 3
Chapter II: COMMODITY (3)
  • 5/ There is no need to list all the benefits humanity gains from its technological or practical work. But these benefits are not ends in themselves: "A man is fed, not that he may be fed, but that he may work." The work Emerson has in mind is moral work on the soul.
  • Science reveals a theoretical correspondence (truth) with nature; religion reveals a moral correspondence (goodness).
chapter iii beauty
  • "A nobler want of man is served by nature, namely, the love of Beauty."
  • Nature refreshes humanity; it restores the human spirit.
  • The ultimate purpose of natural beauty is spiritual and moral; it is to raise us to harmony with nature's true organization, which is a divine moral order: natural law is divine law.
  • “A virtuous man is in unison with [nature‘s] works…”
  • The ultimate purpose of nature is to satisfy the human soul.
chapter iv language
  • 1. Words are signs of natural facts. 2. Particular natural facts are symbols of particular spiritual facts. 3. Nature is the symbol of spirit.
  • Natural signs are symbols of spiritual facts. Language reveals an analogy between nature and spirit, it shows that nature mirrors spirit.
  • There are two levels of perception: sensual and moral-spiritual.
the over soul
The Over-soul
  • There is both a universal soul in nature and yourself; this universal soul is Reason. Later Emerson will call this universal soul "the oversoul". Reason has no particular human identity, but it is nevertheless personal (God is a person). Reason in nature is Spirit. Spirit is a divine creative power in nature. Spirit is self-moving (Hegel); it is a vital life-force.
moral spiritual structure
Moral-spiritual structure
  • The moral-spiritual structure in nature really does correspond to the moral-spiritual structure of humanity.
  • There is a moral-spiritual analogy between humanity and nature. Other theologians have claimed that this analogy exists, so Emerson isn't very original so far.
the truth of the speech
The truth of the speech
  • Initially Emerson is just talking about speech in a vague way; but he will claim in the end that true speech directly commands nature, that true speech has magical power over nature. Emerson has in mind poetic speech, emotional speech.
  • If our desires were truly good, all we would have to do to satisfy them would be to say what they are. Wishes and dreams that are truly spoken would be true in reality just because of the truth of the speech. This is the power of poetical truth.
the world is a book written by god
The world is a book written by God
  • Pure poetic speech (the speech of the perfectly good person) is like a magical spell. Emerson knows that science has found that true speech is the mathematical formulation of the laws of nature, and that if we talk to nature by acting on it using mathematical laws, we are able to master nature; but such action is work, and is not yet pure poetical speech.
  • "A life in harmony with nature, the love of truth and of virtue, will purge the eyes to understand her [nature's] text. By degrees we may come to know the primitive sense of the permanent objects of nature, so that the world shall be to us an open book, and every form significant of its hidden life and final cause."
chapter v discipline
  • Scientific reasoning is a kind of moral-spiritual discipline; this discipline purifies the soul and so lets us master nature.
  • Science is sensual-intellectual discipline because it forces our minds to submit to the morally pure order in nature
  • Scientific discipline leads to technological mastery. Applied science transforms the world into an image of the human mind:
  • The rational scientific order of nature is also a rational moral and spiritual order.
  • Although we can speak technically and scientifically to nature, and it will listen and obey our speech, we can also speak poetically or spiritually to nature.
chapter vi idealism
  • True poetic speech is as powerful as the word of God that created the world; God's speech is poetry.
  • Thought moves our bodies, but pure thought moves the body of the world.
  • The fact that nature is mathematically ordered shows that physical things "are the thoughts of the Supreme Being;" here Emerson talks about the Platonic forms.
chapter vi idealism18
  • Religion and ethics affirm idealism. They lead to direct relations of humans with God.
  • Athletics, poetry, science, and religion, all affirm idealism. Idealism is true religion; nature is God's true scripture.
chapter vii spirit
  • Spirit is the inner reality of nature; religiously, nature "is the organ through which the universal spirit speaks to the individual, and strives to lead back the individual to it.“
  • We have mental power over our own bodies: our bodies respond directly to our will, as if by magic. The world is like our bodies: "The world proceeds from the same spirit as the body of man. It is a remoter and inferior incarnation of God, a projection of God in the unconscious."
chapter vii spirit 2
Chapter VII: SPIRIT (2)
  • Religion is able to say why there is something rather than nothing, that is, why there is a material world.
  • It tells us "that spirit creates… that spirit, … the Supreme Being, does not build up nature around us, but puts it forth through us."
  • Nature is produced in the human mind by the action of God: God's power enters the human soul, where it is transformed by human spiritual processes into the system of natural appearances.
chapter viii prospects
  • Science must become poetry: "a dream may let us deeper into the secret of nature than a hundred concerted experiments."
  • To gain poetic power over nature, to work miracles, we must restore our souls to their original condition.
  • You can do this work on your soul; you don't have to be a special person, everybody can achieve salvation.
chapter viii prospects22
Chapter VIII: Prospects
  • When our souls are saved and restored to their original condition, then we will have magical powers equal to those of God, and we will be able to work miracles.
  • Instead of existing in nature that has predators and diseases and evil, we will exist in heaven, for God's power pouring through a purified soul will produce heaven in us as it now produces nature in our unconsciousnesses: "Every spirit builds itself a house; and beyond its house a world; and beyond its world, a heaven."
some of emerson s quotes
Some of Emerson’s Quotes
  • A friend might well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.
  • It was a high counsel that I once heard given to a young person, "Always do what you are afraid to do."
  • "The only reward of virtue is virtue."
  • Life is eating us up. We all shall be fables presently. Keep cool: it will be all one a hundred years hence.
  • "The less a man thinks or knows about his virtues, the better we like him.“
  • "Every hero becomes a bore at last."
  • "The only way to have a friend is to be one."
  • "Men are what their mothers made them."
  • Commentary on Emerson's Nature:http://www.wpunj.edu/cohss/philosophy/COURSES/PHIL218/ENATURE.HTM
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson (American Transcendentalism Web) http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transcendentalism/authors/emerson/index.html
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Quotes http://killdevilhill.com/emerson.html