LITERATURE Ralph Waldo Emerson – Free Ebook

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

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