Emerson’s “Nature” essay discusses the important and unifying relationship between man and nature. Responsible for the fathering of transcendentalism, Emerson’s view is that God made nature for a man so that he could dominate over it.
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As such, God works through man while man can have an effect on nature. The relationship between man and nature thus aids in complete cycling of universal powers, where a man can be revitalized through his inner child while being excited by the powers that be. Emerson also defines nature as being uniquely designed to perfection while it can have a spiritual effect on man. Also, Emerson claims that art in the general sense is an extension of man’s relationship to nature, while it can be instructive to men in this sense.
Born as Ralph Waldo Emerson, he was a literary artist that has been attributed with sparking an entire branch of philosophy, transcendentalism (McAleer). Emerson generally opens the minds of the readers to unique concepts of life which are normally not discussed or simply forgotten (Richardson). He reveals how the conditions of society cater to human beings removed from the natural world while resultantly separating the natural ancient bond between humans and their natural surroundings. Emerson himself finds a deep peace within nature while expressing this as well as his experienced senses of unity and harmony in his “Nature” essay, which effectively began Emerson’s taking part in the beginnings of transcendentalism (Packer).
Emerson thought there to be a clear and immediate connection between God and human beings, in addition to a similar connection between human beings and the natural world. In his essay “Nature,” he describes the beauty of the natural world while emphasizing how all of this beauty is inherent, and furthermore that each individual perceives the natural beauty differently. The main component of Emerson’s work is this perceiving of the natural world.
Children are regarded as having an especially unique view in that they see nature as it really is, implying that the inherent qualities of nature are most obvious in youth and becoming clouded by the closed-mindedness that commonly occurs with age in the human experience. Emerson stresses the spiritual areas that are critical in the perfection of nature, suggesting Emerson believes that the world was designed by his believed God for the human race. In this belief, Emerson further suggests that man has control over it since it was built for man.
The language section also stands out as it discusses how people develop. Human beings, of course, have a language while the beings in the animal kingdom do not. Emerson suggests that nature plays a role in the development of language for people, as he says that words themselves are indications of facts in the natural world. Furthermore, nature as a whole is symbolic of our mental processes and general ways of interpreting things. Emerson continues to discuss how the man-made systems of languages have been applied to describing the natural world.
Emerson believes that one should make their own way through life and not choose a destiny that is predetermined by society or other factors. He had full faith in the philosophy that it is safe to trust oneself, while he says that conforming means one loses their uniqueness, identity, and perhaps even their potential in the human experience. Emerson advised that man embrace a more natural philosophy and be mindful of the natural world while acting as humans, rather than let society act as its own God. In this, human beings have nearly unlimited potential that Emerson feels is often not used (Richardson).
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Emerson defines the connection between nature and human beings a positive and helpful. He says that human beings release their inner child when out in nature, and this Emerson writes, “The observant child experiences nature in a much more fulfilling way than the arrogant adult” (Emerson p.10). Emerson suggests that is it this so-called “inner child” that is actually the undying life of ourselves that humans tend to only associate with youth because of its lack of developmental characteristics. On this topic, Emerson also writes “The sun illuminates only the eye of man, but shines into the eye and heart of the child. In the woods is perpetual youth” (Emerson p.10).
The overall unity that Emerson emphasizes is also his expression of the positive connection between human beings and nature. Certain aspects in nature, whether visual or otherwise immediately detected by the senses, or actions have the potential to rejuvenate and excite people, as Emerson writes “The movement of tree limbs during a windy storm and the gentle swaying of forests as a breeze passes by uplift one’s being” (Emerson p.11). Experiences such as this allow Emerson to feel as if universal powers are flowing through him, while he loses his human perspective and feels as if he is a particle of God. Through such actions, Emerson feels that people can become united with God’s powers and play a role in creation.
Overall, Emerson’s work reveals the potential of the experience’s humans have in nature. While nature and its beauty rejuvenate the inner child while stimulating senses in a way that society does not, people need to keep a close bond with nature. Art does this to some extent, while it can be defined as instructive for these processes, it is not a complete substitute. As such, Emerson stresses both a continued relationship to nature and a sense of individuality so that the individual can follow his more natural instincts.
Baym, Nina, The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Norton, 1995.
Emerson, Ralph, “Nature,” Duffield, 1909.
McAleer, John, Ralph Waldo Emerson: Days of Encounter, Brown and Company, 1984.
Packer, Barbara, The Transcendentalists, The University of Georgia Press, 2007.
Richardson, Robert, Emerson: The Mind on Fire, University of California Press, 1995.