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Intro to Emerson and Thoreau. American Transcendentalism. Nature:. Central question: why does NATURE exist? What is it’s relationship to ME, if it is NOT ME ? Emerson wants an “original relation to the universe” (27). How does the poet get this?

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intro to emerson and thoreau

Intro to Emerson and Thoreau

American Transcendentalism

  • Central question: why does NATURE exist? What is it’s relationship to ME, if it is NOT ME?
  • Emerson wants an “original relation to the universe” (27). How does the poet get this?
  • Insight v. tradition/ Revelation v. history
  • Anthropocentric with ecocentric moments?
  • Idea of correspondences: inner and outer, part and whole, microcosm and macrocosm, mind/spirit and world
the poet s perception
The Poet’s Perception

When we speak of nature in this manner, we have a distinct but most poetical sense in the mind. We mean the integrity of impression made by manifold natural objects. It is this which distinguishes the stick of timber of the wood-cutter, from the tree of the poet. The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men's farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title.

“Standing on the bare ground, -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, -- all mean egotism vanishes. 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.”
transparent eye ball passage
Transparent eye-ball passage

1. What is Emerson proposing happens in the woods? (try to paraphrase as much of the passage as you can)

2. What do you notice about the language of this passage? Is Emerson using any poetic devices? (or in other words, think about the style of this passage, how it is written)

  • Based on your reading of the passage, come up with ONE detailed question to ask about the passage.
  • In what ways is the passage ecocentric? In what ways is it anthropocentric?
nature a radical new imagination of woods and wilderness correspondences
Nature—A radical new imagination of woods and wilderness: Correspondences

The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them. The waving of the boughs in the storm, is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is not unknown. Its effect is like that of a higher thought or a better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking justly or doing right. (28)

nature a radical new imagination of woods and wilderness correspondences1
Nature—A radical new imagination of woods and wilderness: Correspondences

Yet it is certain that the power to produce this delight, does not reside in nature, but in man, or in a harmony of both. It is necessary to use these pleasures with great temperance. For, nature is not always tricked in holiday attire, but the same scene which yesterday breathed perfume and glittered as for the frolic of the nymphs, is overspread with melancholy today. Nature always wears the colors of the spirit. To a man laboring under calamity, the heat of his own fire hath sadness in it. Then, there is a kind of contempt of the landscape felt by him who has just lost by death a dear friend. The sky is less grand as it shuts down over less worth in the population. (29)

nature s multiple uses
Nature’s Multiple Uses

1. Commodity – food, air, water, earth – physical uses. Everything humans build comes from nature.

2. Beauty – idea of nature as cosmos. Love for things in and of themselves.

a) Perceiving nature causes delight; we love it just for being beautiful.

b) Nature also has spiritual beauty. Connection between noble acts and beautiful scenery.

c)Nature has intellectual beauty – absolute order; contemplation leads man to great creation.

3. Spirit- nature also reveals spirit, the “ineffable.” Physical nature is compared to the shadow which indicates the sun behind it.

spirit in nature
Spirit in Nature:

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. But it differs from the body in one important respect. It is not, like that, now subjected to the human will. Its serene order is inviolable by us. It is, therefore, to us, the present expositor of the divine mind. It is a fixed point whereby we may measure our departure. As we degenerate, the contrast between us and our house is more evident. We are as much strangers in nature, as we are aliens from God. We do not understand the notes of birds. The fox and the deer run away from us; the bear and tiger rend us. We do not know the uses of more than a few plants, as corn and the apple, the potato and the vine. Is not the landscape, every glimpse of which hath a grandeur, a face of him? Yet this may show us what discord is between man and nature, for you cannot freely admire a noble landscape, if laborers are digging in the field hard by. The poet finds something ridiculous in his delight, until he is out of the sight of men. (50)

nature how do we know nature perceive it study it
Nature—How do we know nature? Perceive it? Study it?

“When I behold a rich landscape, it is less to my purpose to recite correctly the order and superposition of the strata, than to know why all thought of multitude is lost in a tranquil sense of unity. I cannot greatly honor minuteness in details, so long as there is no hint to explain the relation between things and thoughts; no ray upon the metaphysics of conchology, of botany, of the arts, to show the relation of forms of flowers, shells, animals, architecture, to the mind, and build science upon ideas.” (51)

“The problem of restoring the world original and eternal beauty, is solved by the redemption of the soul… The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is, because man is disunited with himself. He cannot be a naturalist, until he satisfies all the demands of the spirit.” (54)

nature build therefore your own world
Nature— “Build therefore, your own world”

“Every spirit builds itself a house; and beyond its house a world; and beyond its world, a heaven. Know then, that the world exists for you.” (55)

emerson some big take aways
Emerson— some big take-aways
  • How does one know nature?
  • Emerson’s view of science & relation of science to nature.
  • What is the relationship of the poet to nature?
  • Emerson’s relation to religion; what is relation of spirit to nature?
  • Tradition vs. insight: relation of American literature to nature/the land.
from emerson to thoreau
From Emerson to Thoreau…
  • If Emerson is arguably the most important 19th century American literary figure, Thoreau is arguably the most important 19th century American environmental figure.
  • What are the stereotypes we have of Thoreau?
thoreau emerson s earthy opposite
Thoreau: Emerson’s “Earthy Opposite”?
  • Heavily influenced by Emerson
  • Split visions of Thoreau: an ecological saint? Or the wannabe who lived in Emerson’s backyard?
  • Walden never claims to be an experiment in wilderness living….so what is it?
what is walden1
What is Walden?
  • Based on the journals Thoreau kept during his stay at Walden Pond.
  • Kept a journal from 1837-1861.
  • Spent 2 years in a cabin at Walden Pond that he built himself (1845-1847).
  • Walden is not published until 1854: nine years of writing and revisions! Walden is thus a highly constructed literary piece – not a direct nature essay or a simple journal.
two big reading questions for tuesday
Two big reading questions for Tuesday:
  • What does Thoreau have to say about the railroad?
  • Buell argues that Walden actually illustrates the development of an ecological perspective over the course of the book: the later chapters show a more eco-centric perspective than the earlier chapters. It is as if Thoreau became more environmentally aware while working on the text. Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not? What evidence (through close reading) do you have to support your answer?