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Ralph waldo emerson nature essay summary
Books of course are an important part of "The American Scholar," and Emerson gives a description of what he calls "the theory of books." "The scholar of the first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again. It came into him--life; it went out from him--truth." But once the book is written, says Emerson, there "arises a grave mischief. The sacredness which attaches to the act of creation,--the act of thought,--is instantly transferred to the record." The book is now regarded as perfect, untouchable, unimprovable, and what might have been a guide becomes a tyrant, leading the young people in libraries to read and admire the books of others when they would be better off writing their own. By overvaluing the finished book and underrating the act of book writing, we become mere bookworms, a book-learned class who value books as such. "Hence, the restorers of readings, the emendators, the bibliomaniacs of all degrees." "The American Scholar" makes a major protest against what has called the burden of the past and what Harold Bloom has called the anxiety of influence. Books "are for nothing but to inspire," Emerson declares. "I had better never see a book than to be warped by its attraction clean out of my own orbit, and made a satellite instead of a system." Books must not be overestimated. They can too easily intimidate us and make us forget that "the one thing in the world of value, is, the active soul." Another way to keep the great work of past writers in proper perspective is to read actively and not passively. "There is then creative reading, as well as creative writing." The most valuable part of the text may be what the reader brings to it. "When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion." Emerson is set against any suggestion that we should worship the great books of the past. We can learn from them, of course, but "the man has never lived that can feed us ever." The human spirit, fluid and restless and charged with heat and energy, will always be breaking out with new experiences, and Emerson draws on personal observation from his Italian trip of 1833 to make a bold metaphor of the human mind as "one central fire which flaming now out of the lips of Etna, lightens the capes of Sicily; and now out of the throat of Vesuvius, illuminates the towers and vineyards of Naples."
In December 1839 Emerson gave two lectures on literature as part of a series called "The Present Age," much of the material of which went into a paper called "Thoughts on Modern Literature," published in the in October 1840 and reprinted in (1893). Here Emerson lists, in order of importance, three classes of literature. "The highest class of books are those which express the moral element; the next, works of imagination; and the next, works of science." Though he calls "the first literary genius of the world, the highest in whom the moral is not the predominating element," he insists that 's work "leans on the Bible: his poetry supposes it." By contrast, "the Prophets do not imply the existence of or ." is secondary, the prophets of the Bible are primary. These views compensate and balance those in the Divinity School address. Indeed seems to have been intended by Emerson as a sort of corrective of some of his early views and various misinterpretations of them. One of the best things in "Thoughts on Modern Literature" is a long and very specific treatment of the problem of subjectivity. Defending the subjectivism of the age, Emerson is at great pains to distinguish true subjectivism (the right of each single soul, each subject "I" to "sit in judgment on history and literature, and to summon all facts and parties before its tribunal") from narrow-minded insistence on one's own personality or mere "intellectual selfishness." "A man may say , and never refer to himself as an individual," says Emerson in a phrase that prefigures his concept of the representative poet.
Critical Essays on Ralph Waldo Emerson by Ralph La …
Waldo Emerson was not a practicing literary critic in the sense that and were, and he was not a theorist as , or Friedrich Ernst Schleiermacher were. Yet he was for America what was for England, the major spokesman for a new conception of literature. From his early essays on English literature and his important first book, (1836), to his greatest single literary essay, "The Poet" (1844), to his late essays on "Poetry and Imagination" and "Persian Poetry" in 1875, Emerson developed and championed a concept of literature as literary activity. The essence of that activity is a symbolizing process. Both reader and writer are involved in acts of literary expression which are representative or symbolic. Emerson's position is an extreme one, and in (1965) René Wellek has said that "the very extremity with which he held his views makes him the outstanding representative of romantic symbolism in the English-speaking world." Emerson's romantic symbolism, biographical and ethical in intent, poetic in expression, is an attitude that still stirs debate and still can have a liberating and encouraging effect on the modern reader. Emerson always cared more for the present than the past, more for his reader than for the text in hand or the author in question. Poets, he said, are "liberating gods"; and Emerson at his best is also a liberator. "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 those books."
Emerson is the chief figure in the American literary movement called Transcendentalism, which was also a philosophical and religious movement. Transcendentalism is complex, drawing upon Platonic, Christian, Stoic, and Hindu thought, but its most immediate affinity is with German Idealism as worked out from Kant to Schelling. Indeed Emerson himself said in a lecture called delivered in December 1841, "What is popularly called Transcendentalism among us, is Idealism." He then described it: "As thinkers, mankind have ever divided into two sects, Materialists and Idealists; the first class founding on experience, the second on consciousness; the first class beginning to think from the data of the senses, the second class perceive that the senses are not final, and say, the senses gives us representations of things, but what are the things themselves, they cannot tell. The materialist insists on facts, on history, on the force of circumstances, and the animal wants of man; the idealist on the power of Thought and of Will, on inspiration, on miracle, on individual culture." Materialist criticism focuses on facts, on literary history, on the life and mind of the author and his or her intention, and on the text itself. Emerson's ethical and idealist criticism concentrates almost entirely upon the reader and his or her response to a text. Emerson is mainly concerned not with the fact of literary history but with the of literature, with its effects on the reader, and its power or lack of power to move us.
Ralph Waldo Emerson A Collection Of Critical Essays
The main purpose of is to recover for the present generation the direct and immediate relationship with the world that our ancestors had. "Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?," Emerson asks, with emphasis on the word "also." He goes on to inquire, "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?" He had already discussed the poetry of tradition in his English lecture series. is an inquiry into the conditions necessary for a modern literature of insight.
Emerson chose a line of inquiry that had been used before, by the Stoics, among others. In order to find answers to the question of how one should live, one should turn not to God, not to the state, not to society or to history for a starting point, but to nature. Man is part of nature, but by virtue of consciousness, he is also, and at the same time, apart from nature. Consciousness is subject: nature or world is object. They are separate, but as the German philosopher Schelling insisted, consciousness or spirit is subjective nature, nature is objective spirit. The opening chapters of describe the different things nature furnishes to consciousness. Passing quickly through "Commodity," in which nature is shown to be useful to human beings in all sorts of material ways, Emerson comes, in chapter three, to "Beauty," in which he argues that our aesthetics are derived from nature. "Primary forms" such as the sky, the mountain, the tree, the animal "give us a delight ." Nature is a sea of beautiful forms and the standard of beauty, our conception of beauty in the largest sense, is, says Emerson, "the entire circuit of natural forms,-the totality of nature." Cooperating with nature and complementing it as the source of beauty is the human eye, which is, says Emerson, "the best of artists." Emerson's approach to aesthetics is intensely visual, and this visual quality is so closely tied to his emphasis on subjectivity and his affirmation of the importance of individual vision that a recent writer, , equates Emerson's "I" with "eye" and "aye." Typically, too, Emerson is careful to explain that beauty is not simply a matter of beautiful pictures or pleasing landscapes. A higher though similar beauty marks noble human actions. From beautiful pictures we advance to consider beautiful (that is, virtuous) actions. Here, too, nature is the norm. "Every natural action is graceful."
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Critical Analysis of Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson …
The longest essay in is "Poetry and Imagination." It is a fully developed piece, longer in fact than the 1836 book, , and important as the last major restatement and reaffirmation of Emerson's conception of the literary process as one of symbolizing. "A good symbol is the best argument," he writes and explains why. "The value of a trope is that the hearer is one; and indeed Nature itself is a vast trope, and all particular natures are tropes.... All thinking is analogising, and 'tis the use of life to learn metonomy." If we are symbols and nature is symbol, then what is the reality behind or sustaining the symbols? Emerson's reply is "process." "The endless passing of one element into new forms, the incessant metamorphosis, explains the rank which the imagination holds in our catalogue of mental powers. The imagination is the reader of these [symbolic] forms. The poet accounts all productions and changes of Nature as the nouns of language, uses them representatively." The result is that "every new object so seen gives a shock of agreeable surprise." "Poetry," Emerson concludes, "is the only verity.... As a power, it is the perception of the symbolic character of things, and the treating them as representative," and he quotes to the same end.
Critical Analysis of Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson ..
Emerson had been an admirer of ancient Persian poetry since the mid 1840s, though he only published his essay on Persian poetry in the 1876 volume . Quoting freely from Firdousi, Saadi, Hafiz, Omar Chiam (Khayyám), and others, Emerson expressed his admiration and helped create an audience for the special qualities of Persian verse. Emerson delightedly describes the open avidity with which the ancient Persians approached poetry. "The excitement [the poems] produced exceeds that of the grape." He admired Hafiz's "intellectual liberty" and his unorthodox, unhypocritical stance. "He tells his mistress, that not the dervis, or the monk, but the lover, has in his heart the spirit which makes the ascetic and the saint." Emerson admires "the erotic and bacchanalian songs" of Hafiz, and he especially prizes the way "Hafiz praises wine, roses, maidens, boys, birds, mornings and music, to give vent to his immense hilarity and sympathy with every form of beauty and joy." In this interest in the great Persian poets, we glimpse the Dionysian side of Emerson, the side that appealed so deeply, for example, to the young Nietzsche. It is an important side, without which we run the risk of missing the real Emerson.
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