LITERATURE – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson is the father of
American literature. In a series of strikingly original essays, written in
the mid-nineteenth century, he fundamentally changed the way that
America saw its cultural and artistic possibilities, and he enabled a
separation from transatlantic literary traditions. “We have listened too long…”, he wrote, “…to the Courtly muses of Europe.” Emerson’s abjection of cultural
traditions brought about what one contemporary called: “America’s
intellectual declaration of independence.” and he established generational conflict
and transformation as commanding ideas in American literature. Emerson himself hardly seemed destined
to fit a revolutionary mold. He was born in 1803, the son of a Boston
preacher, and was descended from a line of New England ministers that went back
to the bedrock of seventeenth-century Puritanism. When his father died in 1811,
his mother took in boarders to pay the rent. Still, she sent her son to Harvard in
1817, and then Harvard divinity school to train for the priesthood in 1825. As a young man, Emerson was strongly influenced by a
remarkable aunt of his: Mary Moody Emerson, who though self-taught, had read
everything from Shakespeare to the romantics and it formed a unique
religious perspective based on piety nature and literature, that would
resonate powerfully in the life and work of her nephew. So when Emerson was ordained in 1829,
marrying the love of his life Ellen Tucker in the same year, he was
already unsatisfied with the formal nature of New England religious
orthodoxy. When Ellen died of tuberculosis just two years later, he
resigned from the church and soon after embarked on a trip to Europe. Leaving on Christmas Day 1832,
two crucial things happened to Emerson on that tour of europe. In Paris, he went to the famous “Jardin des Plantes”, a botanical and zoological garden. There he had an epiphany. Writing in his journal that: “I feel the
centipede in me, the Cayman, carp, eagle and Fox… …I am moved by strange sympathies. I say
continually: I will be a naturalist.”. Emerson’s insight was that nature is in us, a part of us, and not just its higher forms, but in all its grotesquerie and
wildness. The second thing that happened on that
tour, was that Emerson met the English romantic poets: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
and William Wordsworth, and found them rather ordinary, dry
and conservative men. The insight that Emerson drew from this, was that if great men could be so
ordinary, why should not ordinary men be great? as he would write a few years later, meek young men grow up in libraries, believing
it their duty, to accept the views which Cicero, Locke, Bacon have given. Forgetful
that Cicero, Locke and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote
these books. Emerson had found two ideas that would
guide his life’s work. That man and nature are one and that everyone can
recognize that they are a uniquely, significant human being. On his return to America in 1833, Emerson
became a professional lecturer giving talks on natural history and literature in halls around New England. He remarried and had several children, presenting a stolid, bourgeois
appearance to the world. But his inner life was full of
turbulence and originality. In his 1836 essay, “Nature”, Emerson outlined the germ of a new
philosophy, a key element of this, was the importance of American originality. In
its opening lines, Emerson wrote: “Our age is retrospective, it builds the sepulchres
of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories and criticism. The foregoing
generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we
also enjoy an original relation to the universe?”. America, needed to stop looking
back to its European heritage and start looking about it self. No past moment was more important,
than the present moment. No tradition was more important, than
novelty. No generation, was better than the current generation. Everything that
matters is here now insisted Emerson, and that here was: America. This was an extension of Emerson’s ideas,
about the significance of the individual that came under the heading of what he
called “self-reliance”. Everywhere Emerson looked, he saw people leading lives that were based on tradition, that were limited by religious forms and social
habits. No one could be themselves, Emerson
thought, because they were all too busy being what they were supposed to be. Emerson wanted to get rid of each of
these burdens: the past, religion and social forms, so that each person could
find out who they truly were. As he put it: “History is an impertinence and an injury; Our religion, we have not chosen, but
society has chosen for us… And… …Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the
manhood of every one of its members.” We must, he argued, live from within
trusting nothing but our own intuitions. For, as he concluded… …nothing is at last sacred but the
integrity of your own mind. This leaves open a vital question: What
is your nature… …once you’ve rid yourself of history,
tradition and religion? What can be said is that it isn’t
necessarily self-indulgence, haterism or narcissism. Rather, it’s the surrender to that force
which Emerson recognized back in the Jardin des Plantes. An obedience to nature itself. By nature, Emerson seem to mean the natural world:
plants, animals, rocks and sky, but what he really meant was God. Emerson was a “Pantheist”. That is, someone
who believe that God exists in every part of creation, from the smallest grain
of sand to the stars. But also crucially that the divine spark
is in each of us. In following ourselves, we are therefore not merely being fickle or selfish, we are rather, releasing a divine will, that history, society and organized religion normally hide from us. The individual as
Emerson writes “is a God in ruins”. But we have it within us, by casting off all
custom to rebuild ourselves Emerson makes this Pantheist connection,
explicit in what are perhaps his most famous lines. “Crossing a bear common, in
snow puddles at twilight under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any
occurrence of special good fortune, I’ve enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am
glad to the brink of fear, standing on the bare ground, my head
bathed by the blythe air and uplifted into infinite space, all mean egotism vanishes… …I become a transparent eyeball… …I am nothing… …I see all. The currents of
the universal being circulate through me… …I am part or particle of God! In the Romantic tradition on which
Emerson draws, it is the sublime, great mountains, rushing torrance, dark forests, which releases the inner vision as we find ourselves in all of them. For Emerson, it’s a perfectly dull walk across an
ordinary common on a dark winter’s evening that brings him, to the brink of fear. Emerson’s God, is in the snow puddles too. Stood there on the common, he disappears, becoming nothing as the
currents of God flow through him. What is left is just, a transparent
eyeball. Such transcendent moments are rare, but they reveal an essential
connection between nature, God and man. They are one. They also give Emerson a proper sense of
each individual’s importance, as a part of God. Transcendentalism became the name of the
movement that grew up around Emerson, at this time. Another aspect of the epiphany
that was to have a profound effect on American literature, was the
emphasis on the value of the ordinary. What Emerson put forward in essays like
“The American scholar” and “the poet”, was that the American every day, was a proper
subject for literature. This was because for Emerson, the
transcendentalist God is everywhere, and it’s the poet’s job to reveal this. “There is no object…”, he wrote, “…so foul that
intense light will not make it beautiful.” “…Even a corpse has its own beauty.” This
coming from a man who had opened his first wife’s tomb a year after her death… …to take a look! The great American writers, who followed Emerson, were liberated by his work to
look around and write about what they saw and how they lived, transforming the everyday into a vital
symbol of something higher and more elusive. Henry David Thoreau’s two years
at Walden Pond, became a book that showed the cosmos reflected in the depths of
the waters of a mere pond. The poet Walt Whitman said: “I was
simmering, simmering, simmering… …Emerson brought me to a boil.” Emily Dickinson heard a fly and could
write of the other side of death. The novelist Herman Melville, took a whaling voyage, and made it an allegory
of American imperialism and the defiance of nature. In the 20th century, the
American critic Harold Bloom looked back at Emerson’s originality and saw in it
the origin of: “The strong tradition of American poets.” From Robert Frost and
Wallace Stevens to John Ashbery, Emerson’s legacy to american literature
and culture and indeed to the world, was one of ceaseless invention and forward
momentum. As he put it: “I unsettle all things… …no facts are to me sacred, none are profane… …I simply experiment an endless seeker
with no past at my back.” people of Paul pronouncing his name if you don’t
speak German it’s not at all obvious how you’re supposed to say it a safe bet is
to start with a hard was a great check writer who has come to own a part of the
human emotional spectrum which we can now call the casket desk and which
thanks to him where

100 Replies to “LITERATURE – Ralph Waldo Emerson

  1. Emerson would properly loved me and my ideals that disabilities and disorders don't determine your future, though society want it to be so, and that with determination and will power anything is possible. ^_^ By societys' conventions and traditions I ought to be institutionalized due to all of the numerous of disabilities and disorders I was classified with, yet through my own force and nature I was able to remove myself from such fate. That is why I have such respect and admiration over, what was a unique and new concept for its time, the American individualism and self reliance. This is a very American concept, compare to most other nations, who are still backwards with their treatment towards those with disabilities and disorders. ^_^ I would hate having to beg, pledge and even ask for help from others. For me, it's embarrassing and even degrading, even though so many would say that folks, such as myself, who have disabilities and disorders shouldn't feel that way and we are a deserving group to receive such help, because we have no control over what we are/were born with, compare to people who place themselves in such situations time after time that actually is a burden to the state (ex women just popping out fuck trophies just for government hand out). Even with my ASD, ADD, Learning Disabilities, etc… I dislike asking government for anything and feel that the most severe of cases ought to have those programs, not those of us who are capable of handling our own business or the careless act of popping out kids so irresponsibly. Emerson would be proud of individuals, such as myself, who used the system well, over came their short comings/obstacles and be fully independent, while be disgusted with how people use and abuse the welfare state system that robs from those who truly needs it (veterans, elderly, severely disabled/disordered, etc). Anyways, transcendentalism and its ideals are possibly my favorite aspect of the United States system and culture. I had seen the rest of the world, and when it comes to the treatment of individuals with disabilities and/or disorders, United States is the place to be. No wonder I see so many people with physical and mental disabilities and/or disorders come to the United States and stay here. This is wonderland for us to display that we are worthwhile, purposeful, useful, workful, inventive, innovative individuals.

  2. Was it really so revolutionary that famous people started out as ordinary?

    Pantheism doesn't make sense. Everything can't be God. And humans really aren't that special.

  3. The vid is a bit of an over generalization on the influences on Emerson. He was heavily influenced by Eastern philosophies of Hinduism and Buddhism along with Cabalistic and Hermetic writings. These influences lead to the garden experience.

  4. Americans desperately need to get back to Emerson. We have been overtaken by European concepts. The philosophy of Hegel and other Europeans dominate the country in academia, media, and politics. It is tyrannical. It is wholly European in its view of state control. It demands that we be subservient to "institutions". In contrast, Emerson's belief in self-reliance is empowering. We live by our own way. We seek our own ambitions. We are free to go anywhere and do anything. We make history; not follow it. Why Americans no longer embrace this concept is due to intense brainwashing. GroupThink is pushed upon us from the first day of school onward. Conformity is the curriculum. "Standards" are put in place to divide us. Time is used to further divide us. "You ran out of time in the exam." "You're late." "Tomorrow your homework is due." Thus, if you don't follow the hands of a clock, you are considered a pariah, an outcast, an enemy of the state. Yet, what you really are is…independent minded. You want to run your life at your own speed. This is where inventiveness, originality and imagination thrive. This is where greatness is achieved. Not by following the clock or the dictates of a specific philosopher, teacher, celebrity or…worst of all…a politician.

  5. So Emerson was a post modernist, do what thou wilt, get rid of everything and make your own rules because nothing is more truthful or beneficial to you than your own stupid ideas, I am a God and therefore despite being a hypocrite I believe I’m always right. What a genius, well done moral relativism and narcissism. In short, Emerson …He invented plagiarism, he copied originality, he lied truthfully as an altruistic egotist. Well done Emerson. You made self worship and hubris a thing again.

  6. Compare this calm and serene narration with the rushed funny narrations of Buddha, lao tze and other eastern philosophy videos of The School of Life…why?

  7. "Where can I found the likes of Emerson and virgin recluses like Thoreau and Dickinson?" My despondent ignorance often asks me.
    "In you." says the Word, whose tongue were all these profound people.

  8. pantheism is also an highly synthetic form of the beliefs in all religions, with some traces to pre-universalistic movement, (as a philosophical movement, of course – universalism was there way before it's official affirmation as a a philosophical school, in fact there were already traces or attempts of universalism in babylon, blablabla)

  9. A true revelation of art, that nuances have the loudest utterances. It is a humbling journey to try to master that idea- to write as honest and raw as the writers of that time did. I think we, still today, are just dancing around that idea; we have added our own flavor; however modern poetic writing is its best when it makes the ordinary bloom into the extraordinary.

  10. Henry David Thoreau, on a visit to transcendentalist Brook Farm: “As for these communities, I think I had rather keep a bachelor’s room in Hell than go to board in Heaven."

  11. Did Emerson say "I cannot remember the books I have read anymore than the meals I have eaten but they made me?"

  12. Thoreau and the Brook Farm Transcendentalist Utopians

    Brook Farm was one of scores of communal experiments active in the United States in the nineteenth century.

    It was an idea, an idea based in part on the principles of what Ralph Waldo Emerson called "Transcendentalism" which was always easier to utter than define.

    Loosely, its main idea was sketched in Emerson's famous essay on Self-Reliance. The ideas sprung out of New England Unitarian soil, though it aimed to be even less definitional and more inclusive than Unitarianism. Contrary to general opinion it was not pantheistic (1).

    Esther Cameron in Point and Circumference writes of the movement,

    "[It was] An optimistic reform movement, a religious movement, a philosophy: it was all this and more. Even Emerson couldn’t define it well. He did write – and he, surely, if no one else, was in a position to understand it – that "the Transcendentalist believes in miracles and the perpetual opening of the human mind to a new influx of light and power; he believes in inspiration and ecstasy; he wishes that the spiritual principle be suffered to demonstrate itself to the end, in all possible applications to the state of man, without the admission of anything inspirational, that is anything positive, dogmatic, personal…"

    "It is easier and more useful in evaluating the Brook Farm, however, to examine the objectives of the Transcendentalists rather than the meaning of their philosophy. On the plight of the working man, for example, Orestes Brownson wrote that,

    "…the workingman is poor and depressed, while a large portion of the nonworkingmen, in the sense that we use the term, are wealthy. …men are rewarded in an inverse ratio to the amount of actual service they perform." He also wrote that, "The only way to get rid of these evils is to change the system…."

    "On the subject of religion, Brownson wrote, "We object not to the gathering together of the people on one day in seven, to sing and pray, and listen to discourse from a religious teacher; but we object to everything like an outward, visible church…."

    It was an accident of Christianity, not it's substance, and very much a reaction against the suffocating lingering ethos of New England Calvinist-Puritanism.

    It was a move inward, somewhat reminiscent of Quakerism and Franciscan wonder.

    Brownson, summing up what Transcendentalists wanted to do, said,

    "We would establish the kingdom of God on earth…based on the principle of the Gospel, and realize…as perfectly as finite man can realize them… Brownson (before his conversion to Catholicism) wrote that "the kingdom of God is an inward spiritual kingdom."


    "Education for all, the value of labor, a common pay for both working man and the intellectual, and the Transcendental theory of religion all were inherent values enmeshed in the Brook Farm. The Transcendental religious theories, moreover, provided [founder George] Ripley with a goal for the type of life that would be lead at Brook Farm: it would cultivate "the principles of truth, justice, and love in the soul of the individual…by bringing society and all its acts into perfect harmony with them."

    But Emerson thought twice.

    "Emerson, who had in May of 1843 written in his Journal that "Brook Farm will Show a few noble victims, who act and suffer with temper and proportion, but the larger part will be slight adventurers and will shirk work."

    The real worker, however, and a prodigious one in the traditional sense, was Henry David Thoreau, but alone, at Walden Pond and after. Scholar, Pencil Maker, world-respected botanist, magnificent observer and stunning writer, he was extremely productive.

    Emerson and Thoreau had argued that “in order to bring about change in American society, you need first to reform yourself".

    The truth is, though, Thoreau couldn't abide the idea of an organized Utopia, however well intentioned. Like his own ill-defined but truly lived experience of the transcendental aspects of existence, it was to be realized as a kind of hermit, a "commune of one".

    After a visit to Brook Farm in 1841, Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal, "As for these communities, I think I had rather keep a bachelor's room in Hell than go (with them) to board in Heaven."

    And Walden reflects this from first to last. His interest in Transcendentalism as a movement was short-lived. His vision was too original.

    'I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.'

    As for Emerson, Cameron writes,

    "At first Emerson had been truly in favor of the project. He wrote in his Journal that he thought that every man ought to have physical labor; that labor was the essence of life. 8 A year later in 1840 the desire for physical labor, like a fad, had completely died; instead when approached by Ripley, Emerson thought that it would be idiotic for a man like himself to forget his training and try to farm.

    He wrote:

    October 17 (1840) – Yesterday George and Sophia Ripley, Margaret Fuller and Alcott discussed here social plans, (Brook Farm.) I wished to be convinced, to be thawed, to be made nobly mad by the kindlings before my eyes of a new dawn of human piety. But this scheme was arithmetic and comfort; this was a hint borrowed from the Tremont House and the United States Hotel; a rage in poverty and politics to live rich and gentlemanlike, an anchor to the lee-ward against a change of weather…and not once could I be inflamed, but sat aloof and thoughtless; my voice faltered and fell. It was not the cave of persecution which is the palace of spiritual power, but only a room in the Astor House hired for the transcendentalists. I do not wish to remove from my present prison to a prison a little larger…. Shall I raise siege to this hencoop and march baffled away to Babylon?"

    "Obviously Emerson has become disenchanted with the idea. The main point of his disagreement with Brook Farm was his antipathy to crowds of any kind; he wrote, "…one man is a counterpoise to a city…is stronger than a city…his solitude is more prevalent and beneficent than the concert of crowds." This too was to be a problem with Hawthorne.

    "Yet the problem was more than just Emerson’s antipathy to crowds; the problem lay deeper than that. There was a difference of personalities and purposes. Emerson was haughty, almost arrogant. He was more interested in his own future than in the success or failure of the Brook Farm. He wrote: "…I should not find myself more than now…in that select, but not by me selected fraternity."

    "Emerson had the sharpest, most capable intellect and the most magnetic personality; Ripley, on the other hand, not so quick of intellect, had the devotion and perseverance, almost the blind perseverance, which often accompanies such a lack. He went on without Emerson as he had to, for Emerson wrote him that he had decided not to join the venture, although he was glad to see that Ripley had gotten enough support so that his, Emerson’s, defection wouldn’t hurt the community irreparably. Emerson, enumerating one of his objections to the community, wrote that "…the institution of domestic hired service 12 is to me very disagreeable." —-Emerson, the Brook Farm, and The Panic of 1837

    Emerson was out.

    In the end there was Smallpox, fire, and general dissatisfaction.

    As someone somewhere said, "Every utopia is one shocking reveal away from being a dystopian nightmare".

    Henry David Thoreau could have told them, if anyone had cared to listen.

    "After a fire," The unofficial "funeral" of Brook Farm took place late in 1846. Several hundred volumes of the library which Ripley had brought with him to Brook Farm—one of the finest personal collections in the United States—were sold at auction in Boston. Ripley is reported to have remarked to a friend at the time that "I can now understand how a man would feel if he could attend his own funeral." Bankruptcy proceedings were completed in 1847. For several years the property was a West Roxbury almshouse. During the Civil War the State of Massachusetts used the land as a training camp for Union soldiers." — Dictionary of
    Unitarian & Universalist Biography

    (1) cf. The Transcendentalist By Octavius Brooks Frothingham (1822–1895)

  13. Ralph Waldo Emerson was also an unabashed white supremacist. And so all the profound ideas he offered up were meant for white ears only, being that only they had the brains between them to actually appreciate what he was saying.

    I thought you might want to know that before you go laying too many garlands at the feet of his memory. And if that doesn't bother you in the slightest, eat shit and may your whole lineage die horribly.

  14. It would be pretty easy to mimic the style of Emerson. Went to take a shit and lost myself in the sacred experience, listening, smelling, seeing, beholding the Divine, forming endless descriptions while saying nothing. It is the blunt writers I trust, not the flowery ones.

  15. Emerson was also influenced by Vedanta (ancient Indian scriptures), hence his panentheism and the striking similarity between some of his writings and the Upanishads. If you want to know more, check the book "American Veda" by Philip Goldberg.

  16. This Channal is doing great job
    As being the student of English literature, I except more videos from you . please, it's my request

  17. My aspiring historian self is sorry reading Emerson deeming history "an impertinence and an injury", but nevertheless it's very easy form me to have a huge amount of sympathy for him. His ideas resonate with me very much.

  18. “That which we are, we are- one equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” -RWE

  19. Ralph Waldo Emerson could justly be called the first Boston Brahmin, since he was the first American to champion the wisdom of ancient India, and was born and bred in Boston.

  20. Losses of a mother in the ambition ot love and taken of promises has lost the dschool of divnity all of the time. When all was work to be done and the empirical laws became none, Now the fatigue of war has no amends. I am a loser in all efforts.

  21. The whole transcendence description int he 2nd half is, without sarcasm, what people including myself feel when on psychedelics. In my case psilocybin shrooms. You can also read anything by Aldous Huxley and he describes it the same way. I felt like I was in the presence of Jesus and Buddha in cosmos somewhere.

  22. States hv different laws . People feel one with animals and nature and god , but , violence is rampant . The number of casinos has increased manifold , how school of life or literature has helped to increase sensitivity and intelligence …atleast minimum humanity …in america , could not be reflected by this video . Why statue of liberty was presented by france … liberty is something very special and inner feeling ..and should be product of self …is what makes sense to me . No offence plz . Because , when one reads/ listens such an honest approach to life , one wonders at the other issues . There are gaps .

  23. Emerson is my kinde of Man,he is my profet from now on!.I never heard about him befor but this filofofy was always whit me,I lived by it,never new about it.

  24. I have never cared about celebrity status. My happiness is not dependent on the approval of others. "make something of my life"? I see no imperative! I recognize that there exist humans who are superior to me, and this fact does not bother me in the least. Of course I believe in self-improvement, and I spend all my free time seeking to expand my general knowledge about life. I do not seek to explain why life exists, because I do not believe that life is in need of an excuse for existing. I know that beauty makes me happy, and elevates my spirit. Therefore I am only too honored to expend my energy in service to beauty. And when I am near death, I will know that I have made a difference.

  25. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a man born to old conservative Puritans, decides he wants to stand for rebellion against old traditions. Good for him! So what has he to teach others? "A Transendential God"? What rubbish!

  26. I think if they made a focused effort to teach him in high schools we’d have a far wiser anti fascist movement.

  27. Why can extraordinary men be so ordinary and why is it that ordinary men can’t be extraordinary? Emerson asked.
    His answer?
    Some are born great some achieve greatness and Some have greatness thrust open them

  28. I first read Emerson during my American literature course at the University of Leiden. We read self-reliance, and one particular quote always stuck with me: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

  29. Thanks for the excellent review of this man's philosophy. I was having a very hard time trying to understand his ideas.

  30. really listen to his words, before Emerson people thought nature was not in us. it was out of us. then you will begin to understand the complexity of life on earth. fire is in us. pain. pull down thy vanity.

  31. Melville could not stand Emerson, noted marginally about Emerson's writing that sailors rounding Cape Horn exulted in the wild winds and waves that is was Nonsense! Melville had rounded Cape Horn as a sailor was was scared shitless as were they all. His book The Confidence Man is about Emerson and his sidekick Thoreau. Emerson failed to con him.

  32. I believe it was Emerson's friend author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau another Transcendalist who lived on Walden Pond here in Massachusetts.

  33. Though you travel the world over to find the beautiful, you must carry it with you or you will find it not. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

  34. Self reliance literally changed my life from being a late 20’s living at my moms to having my own home couple years later an that was peak of the recession. It helped me alot since my parents divorced when i was 9 yrs old so it kind of guided me like my dad should’ve if he was present

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