Ralph Waldo Emerson on Nature: Transcendentalism | My Paper Hub
Ralph Waldo Emerson on Nature:
Ralph Waldo Emerson on Nature:
is characterized by belief in individuality, simplicity, idealism, civil
disobedience, intuition, spirituality, and nature’s importance (Michaud 76). In
his articles on nature, Emerson seeks to enlighten people on the ways in which
their focus on the historical facts and tales has hindered them from attaining
of an original and personal religion and insight. This insight, he believes,
can only be attained when people connect to nature (Michaud 79). Emerson
equally envisions nature as one which can be categorized into four uses. These
include beauty, discipline, commodity, and language (Emerson). Through these
distinctions, he shows how humans make use of nature to attain their goals
which include the sharing of information, attaining pleasure, and comprehension
of their world (Emerson). In this paper, we show how Emerson achieves his
transcendentalism goals in the essay “Nature” by portraying nature as one enabling
people to gain a dualistic perspective of the world.
the first chapter of his essay, Emerson treats the existing society in terms of
nature (Barke 883). Nature, in turn, is treated in terms of that which is
Supernatural. This approach enables Emerson to interpret even those items which
can be experienced through the physical senses as distinct kinds of revelation.
Emerson portrays the human senses as ones which are essential to explain
humans’ bond with nature (Barke 883). He claims that while the vibrations or
motions present in the world can be experienced through touching, smelling,
hearing, seeing, and tasting, one can generalize them as pleasure or pain
depending on the nature of their revelation. He further holds that facts can be
understood in the light of ideas. In one such instance, he describes an
illuminating experience in the woods. During the particular experience, Emerson
describes feeling elevated to an infinite space and claims that the elevation
stirs freedom from his selfishness (Robinson 83). He explores the transformation his vision
goes through. In the precise moment, he no longer views the world in a typical
manner. He is engulfed by the world
around him and explores this state by describing his existence at that moment
as ‘nothing’ (Emerson). He feels that he can see everything thus referring to
himself as a transparent eyeball. While he views the simplest of the senses as
nature’s way of revealing its mysteries, he acknowledges that these revelations
are limited by our ability to experience these senses (Barke 884). For instance, the senses are characterized by
confinement to various inherent restrictions. In this significant instant, one
can see the unification of the spiritual and natural worlds through Emerson’s
words. Emerson becomes one with nature
and can only describe himself as a particle of God. This school of thought is
also evident when he describes himself using the same words which he would use
to explain the existence of vegetables (Emerson). In so doing he portrays freedom from the
physical reality which he exists in, while he is still deeply immersed into it.
equally emphasizes the ability to envision objects in terms of a higher
dimension. Emerson’s essay builds logical operations around the customary
unity-diversity pair (Barke 881). Emerson holds that it is possible to reach
the heights of transcendentalism by relying on the experience attained at lower
stages (Michaud 80). He views natural things as ones translating in an
ascending order into the spiritual (Michaud 79). This translation is viewed to be existent in
the very nature of all material. The circle is therefore only complete when one
has gone through the physical into the spiritual. As such, the mind is viewed
as supreme. In line with this argument, Emerson views things as ones ascending
from particulars to the general. For
instance, while tables and chairs can be viewed as particulars, furniture can
be used as a general term applied to them.
In this way, furniture becomes a higher term to refer to these items.
The ascending process in Emerson’s essays is completed when the particulars are
assigned generalized terms like beings or entities (Barke 881). At the highest point, the overall term is considered
overly comprehensive in that it covers everything (Michaud 80). Emerson, consequently, views the world and
everything existing in it as one which is understandable as an assortment of
means with the intention of carrying out a single purpose (Barke 881). The purpose, according to Emerson is situated
in an eventual dimension which is positioned beyond the one which people can
see at any particular moment. By applying this approach in an effort to
interpret the world, Emerson views it as
a set of instrumentalities, which he labels commodities (Barke 882). Nature
can, therefore, be explained in terms of Super Nature.
Additionally, Emerson’s attempt to view nature
in terms of Super Nature presents other possibilities. It creates the need for bridges which connect
both terms. This bridge, which is seen to exist between this realm and the
realm beyond, is established with clarity in the chapter on discipline (Barke
884). In the aforementioned chapter, Emerson enquires, “To what end is
nature?”(Emerson). The question enables
him to develop the chapter making a recurrent connection between unity and
diversity. Emerson views our
experiential existence as one involving a variety of things. These things
double as a variety of means which function to achieve one end (Barke
884). According to Barke (889),
Emerson’s articulation which sees people’s daily experiences as ones with some
unitary end in a realm beyond, provided the framework for transcendentalizing
movements which were transformed to John Dewey’s Instrumentalism. The chapter
equally contains traces of Emerson’s attempt to escape from guilt through
transcendence. One such instance is in Emerson’s references to one’s separation
from a friend (Barke 884). In his article, he envisions an ideal friend who,
through his interaction, increases one's admiration for God’s resources. Upon
the departure, the friend is no longer physical. However, the unconscious
effect which was previously existent remains and it is modified into sweet and
solid wisdom. This passage is, in
essence, a rewording for the death of a close friend. In line with the beliefs
guiding transcendence, the ultimate transformation is evident as Emerson
focuses on the condition of the living and explores it in terms of those who
have died (Barke 893). The world of the living is portrayed to be the world of
conditions. As a result, the transcending of these conditions is equated to the
world of the departed. In the same light, Emerson transforms such things as
snow from their physical image to their spiritual image (Emerson). This can be seen in the way he develops his
references to snow. At first, snow is referred to in a way that people would
physically interact with. However,
towards the end of the chapter, he views snow as a spiritual thing whose
physical characteristics are attributable to its manifestation in a world of
conditions. Emerson’s claim of an
intangible world which is accessed through an intangible spirit realm
establishes unity between religion and science (Barke 893). This is mainly due
to the support which science offers to his conviction of a unified cosmos which
manifests a distinct energy. Emerson
therefore, held that one could not study nature’s development and processes
without gaining additional insight into the supernatural laws which regulated
the realms beyond, that is, the moral and spiritual realm.
similarly achieves his goals through his enlightenment on the strides which
humans have taken through history in ‘Prospects,’ his final chapter (Emerson).
These steps, he explains, have been intended to affirm the final supernatural
oneness. In his attempt to fortify
transcendence, Emerson transforms the physical world from a lifeless material
into energy. This gives the world an extensive religious scope (Barke 891).
Creation, as energy, is an object of perception. In this light, Emerson
portrayed creation as a cycle of interactions and energies which was changing
and flexible as opposed to unmovable and static. Defining creation as
phenomenon enabled the writer to unify the body and the spirit through event
hence revealing matter and soul in nature’s process as languages of a central
evolving unity. Religion was therefore established as an enactment of idealism.
Consequently, one does not have to see or understand their world. On the
contrary, he called people to build their own world (Robinson 87). Emerson
feels that if one builds their world they are empowered to align their life
with the unadulterated idea in their mind. The aforementioned idea then leads a
revolution in the spirit flood causing the things which one find disagreeable,
such as prisons and snakes, to vanish (Barke 891). Evidently, Emerson views these disagreeable
appearances as temporary. In his school of thought, he envisions the kingdom of
man as one which has power over nature. In this regard, he views an advancing
spirit as one which can not only create its own beauty but also carry this
beauty and reality with it in whatever environment it visits (Emerson). In the
same light, Emerson shows transcendence through his claim that the principle of
unity stems from the universal spirit.
He sees the universe as one having one single matter (Emerson). This matter is however multifaceted in that
it appears in such forms as stars, fire, trees, water, and man. The deepest
expression of the universe, according to Emerson, is the harmony in its action. As such, natural processes are viewed as
versions of moral sentences.
Emerson has attained his goal in his attempt to portray nature as one enabling
people to gain a dualistic perspective of the world. This has been accomplished
by applying the transformation principle in his essay, thus allowing him to
build a bridge between the disparate realms in existence. Emerson, therefore,
treats the things which are in existence in the perceivable realm in terms of
the spirit realm beyond. In this light, the writer has explored nature as an
encryption of vital laws which shape the foundation for human experience
(Robinson 83). Despite their manifestation,
Emerson felt that the core laws could not be explained and claimed that one had
to experience them (Robinson 85). The writer also views natural things as ones
translating in an ascending order into the spiritual. People’s experiences,
therefore, have some unitary end in a realm beyond and nature is consequently
the origin of moral discipline.
Moreover, he envisions the kingdom of man as one which has power over
nature. Finally, the moral sentence guiding natural processes is seen to lie at
the core of nature and can be perceived in the physical materials, existing
relations, and processes.
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