Thursday, December 07, 2006

Emerson's "Nature"

Nature
from Essays: Second Series (1844)

The rounded world is fair to see,
Nine times folded in mystery:
Though baffled seers cannot impart
The secret of its laboring heart,
Throb thine with Nature's throbbing breast,
And all is clear from east to west.
Spirit that lurks each form within
Beckons to spirit of its kin;
Self-kindled every atom glows,
And hints the future which it owes.
Essay VI Nature
There are days which occur in this climate, at almost any season of the year, wherein the world reaches its perfection, when the air, the heavenly bodies, and the earth, make a harmony, as if nature would indulge her offspring; when, in these bleak upper sides of the planet, nothing is to desire that we have heard of the happiest latitudes, and we bask in the shining hours of Florida and Cuba; when everything that has life gives sign of satisfaction, and the cattle that lie on the ground seem to have great and tranquil thoughts. These halcyons may be looked for with a little more assurance in that pure October weather, which we distinguish by the name of the Indian Summer. The day, immeasurably long, sleeps over the broad hills and warm wide fields. To have lived through all its sunny hours, seems longevity enough. The solitary places do not seem quite lonely. At the gates of the forest, the surprised man of the world is forced to leave his city estimates of great and small, wise and foolish. The knapsack of custom falls off his back with the first step he makes into these precincts. Here is sanctity which shames our religions, and reality which discredits our heroes. Here we find nature to be the circumstance which dwarfs every other circumstance, and judges like a god all men that come to her. We have crept out of our close and crowded houses into the night and morning, and we see what majestic beauties daily wrap us in their bosom. How willingly we would escape the barriers which render them comparatively impotent, escape the sophistication and second thought, and suffer nature to intrance us. The tempered light of the woods is like a perpetual morning, and is stimulating and heroic. The anciently reported spells of these places creep on us. The stems of pines, hemlocks, and oaks, almost gleam like iron on the excited eye. The incommunicable trees begin to persuade us to live with them, and quit our life of solemn trifles. Here no history, or church, or state, is interpolated on the divine sky and the immortal year. How easily we might walk onward into the opening landscape, absorbed by new pictures, and by thoughts fast succeeding each other, until by degrees the recollection of home was crowded out of the mind, all memory obliterated by the tyranny of the present, and we were led in triumph by nature.
These enchantments are medicinal, they sober and heal us. These are plain pleasures, kindly and native to us. We come to our own, and make friends with matter, which the ambitious chatter of the schools would persuade us to despise. We never can part with it; the mind loves its old home: as water to our thirst, so is the rock, the ground, to our eyes, and hands, and feet. It is firm water: it is cold flame: what health, what affinity! Ever an old friend, ever like a dear friend and brother, when we chat affectedly with strangers, comes in this honest face, and takes a grave liberty with us, and shames us out of our nonsense. Cities give not the human senses room enough. We go out daily and nightly to feed the eyes on the horizon, and require so much scope, just as we need water for our bath. There are all degrees of natural influence, from these quarantine powers of nature, up to her dearest and gravest ministrations to the imagination and the soul. There is the bucket of cold water from the spring, the wood-fire to which the chilled traveller rushes for safety, — and there is the sublime moral of autumn and of noon. We nestle in nature, and draw our living as parasites from her roots and grains, and we receive glances from the heavenly bodies, which call us to solitude, and foretell the remotest future. The blue zenith is the point in which romance and reality meet. I think, if we should be rapt away into all that we dream of heaven, and should converse with Gabriel and Uriel, the upper sky would be all that would remain of our furniture.
It seems as if the day was not wholly profane, in which we have given heed to some natural object. The fall of snowflakes in a still air, preserving to each crystal its perfect form; the blowing of sleet over a wide sheet of water, and over plains, the waving rye-field, the mimic waving of acres of houstonia, whose innumerable florets whiten and ripple before the eye; the reflections of trees and flowers in glassy lakes; the musical steaming odorous south wind, which converts all trees to windharps; the crackling and spurting of hemlock in the flames; or of pine logs, which yield glory to the walls and faces in the sittingroom, — these are the music and pictures of the most ancient religion. My house stands in low land, with limited outlook, and on the skirt of the village. But I go with my friend to the shore of our little river, and with one stroke of the paddle, I leave the village politics and personalities, yes, and the world of villages and personalities behind, and pass into a delicate realm of sunset and moonlight, too bright almost for spotted man to enter without noviciate and probation. We penetrate bodily this incredible beauty; we dip our hands in this painted element: our eyes are bathed in these lights and forms. A holiday, a villeggiatura, a royal revel, the proudest, most heart-rejoicing festival that valor and beauty, power and taste, ever decked and enjoyed, establishes itself on the instant. These sunset clouds, these delicately emerging stars, with their private and ineffable glances, signify it and proffer it. I am taught the poorness of our invention, the ugliness of towns and palaces. Art and luxury have early learned that they must work as enhancement and sequel to this original beauty. I am over-instructed for my return. Henceforth I shall be hard to please. I cannot go back to toys. I am grown expensive and sophisticated. I can no longer live without elegance: but a countryman shall be my master of revels. He who knows the most, he who knows what sweets and virtues are in the ground, the waters, the plants, the heavens, and how to come at these enchantments, is the rich and royal man. Only as far as the masters of the world have called in nature to their aid, can they reach the height of magnificence. This is the meaning of their hanging-gardens, villas, garden-houses, islands, parks, and preserves, to back their faulty personality with these strong accessories. I do not wonder that the landed interest should be invincible in the state with these dangerous auxiliaries. These bribe and invite; not kings, not palaces, not men, not women, but these tender and poetic stars, eloquent of secret promises. We heard what the rich man said, we knew of his villa, his grove, his wine, and his company, but the provocation and point of the invitation came out of these beguiling stars. In their soft glances, I see what men strove to realize in some Versailles, or Paphos, or Ctesiphon. Indeed, it is the magical lights of the horizon, and the blue sky for the background, which save all our works of art, which were otherwise bawbles. When the rich tax the poor with servility and obsequiousness, they should consider the effect of men reputed to be the possessors of nature, on imaginative minds. Ah! if the rich were rich as the poor fancy riches! A boy hears a military band play on the field at night, and he has kings and queens, and famous chivalry palpably before him. He hears the echoes of a horn in a hill country, in the Notch Mountains, for example, which converts the mountains into an Aeolian harp, and this supernatural tiralira restores to him the Dorian mythology, Apollo, Diana, and all divine hunters and huntresses. Can a musical note be so lofty, so haughtily beautiful! To the poor young poet, thus fabulous is his picture of society; he is loyal; he respects the rich; they are rich for the sake of his imagination; how poor his fancy would be, if they were not rich! That they have some high-fenced grove, which they call a park; that they live in larger and better-garnished saloons than he has visited, and go in coaches, keeping only the society of the elegant, to watering-places, and to distant cities, are the groundwork from which he has delineated estates of romance, compared with which their actual possessions are shanties and paddocks. The muse herself betrays her son, and enhances the gifts of wealth and well-born beauty, by a radiation out of the air, and clouds, and forests that skirt the road, — a certain haughty favor, as if from patrician genii to patricians, a kind of aristocracy in nature, a prince of the power of the air.
The moral sensibility which makes Edens and Tempes so easily, may not be always found, but the material landscape is never far off. We can find these enchantments without visiting the Como Lake, or the Madeira Islands. We exaggerate the praises of local scenery. In every landscape, the point of astonishment is the meeting of the sky and the earth, and that is seen from the first hillock as well as from the top of the Alleghanies. The stars at night stoop down over the brownest, homeliest common, with all the spiritual magnificence which they shed on the Campagna, or on the marble deserts of Egypt. The uprolled clouds and the colors of morning and evening, will transfigure maples and alders. The difference between landscape and landscape is small, but there is great difference in the beholders. There is nothing so wonderful in any particular landscape, as the necessity of being beautiful under which every landscape lies. Nature cannot be surprised in undress. Beauty breaks in everywhere.
But it is very easy to outrun the sympathy of readers on this topic, which schoolmen called natura naturata, or nature passive. One can hardly speak directly of it without excess. It is as easy to broach in mixed companies what is called "the subject of religion." A susceptible person does not like to indulge his tastes in this kind, without the apology of some trivial necessity: he goes to see a wood-lot, or to look at the crops, or to fetch a plant or a mineral from a remote locality, or he carries a fowling piece, or a fishing-rod. I suppose this shame must have a good reason. A dilettantism in nature is barren and unworthy. The fop of fields is no better than his brother of Broadway. Men are naturally hunters and inquisitive of wood-craft, and I suppose that such a gazetteer as wood-cutters and Indians should furnish facts for, would take place in the most sumptuous drawingrooms of all the "Wreaths" and "Flora's chaplets" of the bookshops; yet ordinarily, whether we are too clumsy for so subtle a topic, or from whatever cause, as soon as men begin to write on nature, they fall into euphuism. Frivolity is a most unfit tribute to Pan, who ought to be represented in the mythology as the most continent of gods. I would not be frivolous before the admirable reserve and prudence of time, yet I cannot renounce the right of returning often to this old topic. The multitude of false churches accredits the true religion. Literature, poetry, science, are the homage of man to this unfathomed secret, concerning which no sane man can affect an indifference or incuriosity. Nature is loved by what is best in us. It is loved as the city of God, although, or rather because there is no citizen. The sunset is unlike anything that is underneath it: it wants men. And the beauty of nature must always seem unreal and mocking, until the landscape has human figures, that are as good as itself. If there were good men, there would never be this rapture in nature. If the king is in the palace, nobody looks at the walls. It is when he is gone, and the house is filled with grooms and gazers, that we turn from the people, to find relief in the majestic men that are suggested by the pictures and the architecture. The critics who complain of the sickly separation of the beauty of nature from the thing to be done, must consider that our hunting of the picturesque is inseparable from our protest against false society. Man is fallen; nature is erect, and serves as a differential thermometer, detecting the presence or absence of the divine sentiment in man. By fault of our dulness and selfishness, we are looking up to nature, but when we are convalescent, nature will look up to us. We see the foaming brook with compunction: if our own life flowed with the right energy, we should shame the brook. The stream of zeal sparkles with real fire, and not with reflex rays of sun and moon. Nature may be as selfishly studied as trade. Astronomy to the selfish becomes astrology; psychology, mesmerism (with intent to show where our spoons are gone); and anatomy and physiology, become phrenology and palmistry.
But taking timely warning, and leaving many things unsaid on this topic, let us not longer omit our homage to the Efficient Nature, natura naturans, the quick cause, before which all forms flee as the driven snows, itself secret, its works driven before it in flocks and multitudes, (as the ancient represented nature by Proteus, a shepherd,) and in undescribable variety. It publishes itself in creatures, reaching from particles and spicula, through transformation on transformation to the highest symmetries, arriving at consummate results without a shock or a leap. A little heat, that is, a little motion, is all that differences the bald, dazzling white, and deadly cold poles of the earth from the prolific tropical climates. All changes pass without violence, by reason of the two cardinal conditions of boundless space and boundless time. Geology has initiated us into the secularity of nature, and taught us to disuse our dame-school measures, and exchange our Mosaic and Ptolemaic schemes for her large style. We knew nothing rightly, for want of perspective. Now we learn what patient periods must round themselves before the rock is formed, then before the rock is broken, and the first lichen race has disintegrated the thinnest external plate into soil, and opened the door for the remote Flora, Fauna, Ceres, and Pomona, to come in. How far off yet is the trilobite! how far the quadruped! how inconceivably remote is man! All duly arrive, and then race after race of men. It is a long way from granite to the oyster; farther yet to Plato, and the preaching of the immortality of the soul. Yet all must come, as surely as the first atom has two sides.
Motion or change, and identity or rest, are the first and second secrets of nature: Motion and Rest. The whole code of her laws may be written on the thumbnail, or the signet of a ring. The whirling bubble on the surface of a brook, admits us to the secret of the mechanics of the sky. Every shell on the beach is a key to it. A little water made to rotate in a cup explains the formation of the simpler shells; the addition of matter from year to year, arrives at last at the most complex forms; and yet so poor is nature with all her craft, that, from the beginning to the end of the universe, she has but one stuff, — but one stuff with its two ends, to serve up all her dream-like variety. Compound it how she will, star, sand, fire, water, tree, man, it is still one stuff, and betrays the same properties.
Nature is always consistent, though she feigns to contravene her own laws. She keeps her laws, and seems to transcend them. She arms and equips an animal to find its place and living in the earth, and, at the same time, she arms and equips another animal to destroy it. Space exists to divide creatures; but by clothing the sides of a bird with a few feathers, she gives him a petty omnipresence. The direction is forever onward, but the artist still goes back for materials, and begins again with the first elements on the most advanced stage: otherwise, all goes to ruin. If we look at her work, we seem to catch a glance of a system in transition. Plants are the young of the world, vessels of health and vigor; but they grope ever upward towards consciousness; the trees are imperfect men, and seem to bemoan their imprisonment, rooted in the ground. The animal is the novice and probationer of a more advanced order. The men, though young, having tasted the first drop from the cup of thought, are already dissipated: the maples and ferns are still uncorrupt; yet no doubt, when they come to consciousness, they too will curse and swear. Flowers so strictly belong to youth, that we adult men soon come to feel, that their beautiful generations concern not us: we have had our day; now let the children have theirs. The flowers jilt us, and we are old bachelors with our ridiculous tenderness.
Things are so strictly related, that according to the skill of the eye, from any one object the parts and properties of any other may be predicted. If we had eyes to see it, a bit of stone from the city wall would certify us of the necessity that man must exist, as readily as the city. That identity makes us all one, and reduces to nothing great intervals on our customary scale. We talk of deviations from natural life, as if artificial life were not also natural. The smoothest curled courtier in the boudoirs of a palace has an animal nature, rude and aboriginal as a white bear, omnipotent to its own ends, and is directly related, there amid essences and billetsdoux, to Himmaleh mountain-chains, and the axis of the globe. If we consider how much we are nature's, we need not be superstitious about towns, as if that terrific or benefic force did not find us there also, and fashion cities. Nature who made the mason, made the house. We may easily hear too much of rural influences. The cool disengaged air of natural objects, makes them enviable to us, chafed and irritable creatures with red faces, and we think we shall be as grand as they, if we camp out and eat roots; but let us be men instead of woodchucks, and the oak and the elm shall gladly serve us, though we sit in chairs of ivory on carpets of silk.
This guiding identity runs through all the surprises and contrasts of the piece, and characterizes every law. Man carries the world in his head, the whole astronomy and chemistry suspended in a thought. Because the history of nature is charactered in his brain, therefore is he the prophet and discoverer of her secrets. Every known fact in natural science was divined by the presentiment of somebody, before it was actually verified. A man does not tie his shoe without recognising laws which bind the farthest regions of nature: moon, plant, gas, crystal, are concrete geometry and numbers. Common sense knows its own, and recognises the fact at first sight in chemical experiment. The common sense of Franklin, Dalton, Davy, and Black, is the same common sense which made the arrangements which now it discovers.
If the identity expresses organized rest, the counter action runs also into organization. The astronomers said, 'Give us matter, and a little motion, and we will construct the universe. It is not enough that we should have matter, we must also have a single impulse, one shove to launch the mass, and generate the harmony of the centrifugal and centripetal forces. Once heave the ball from the hand, and we can show how all this mighty order grew.' — 'A very unreasonable postulate,' said the metaphysicians, 'and a plain begging of the question. Could you not prevail to know the genesis of projection, as well as the continuation of it?' Nature, meanwhile, had not waited for the discussion, but, right or wrong, bestowed the impulse, and the balls rolled. It was no great affair, a mere push, but the astronomers were right in making much of it, for there is no end to the consequences of the act. That famous aboriginal push propagates itself through all the balls of the system, and through every atom of every ball, through all the races of creatures, and through the history and performances of every individual. Exaggeration is in the course of things. Nature sends no creature, no man into the world, without adding a small excess of his proper quality. Given the planet, it is still necessary to add the impulse; so, to every creature nature added a little violence of direction in its proper path, a shove to put it on its way; in every instance, a slight generosity, a drop too much. Without electricity the air would rot, and without this violence of direction, which men and women have, without a spice of bigot and fanatic, no excitement, no efficiency. We aim above the mark, to hit the mark. Every act hath some falsehood of exaggeration in it. And when now and then comes along some sad, sharp-eyed man, who sees how paltry a game is played, and refuses to play, but blabs the secret; — how then? is the bird flown? O no, the wary Nature sends a new troop of fairer forms, of lordlier youths, with a little more excess of direction to hold them fast to their several aim; makes them a little wrongheaded in that direction in which they are rightest, and on goes the game again with new whirl, for a generation or two more. The child with his sweet pranks, the fool of his senses, commanded by every sight and sound, without any power to compare and rank his sensations, abandoned to a whistle or a painted chip, to a lead dragoon, or a gingerbread-dog, individualizing everything, generalizing nothing, delighted with every new thing, lies down at night overpowered by the fatigue, which this day of continual pretty madness has incurred. But Nature has answered her purpose with the curly, dimpled lunatic. She has tasked every faculty, and has secured the symmetrical growth of the bodily frame, by all these attitudes and exertions, — an end of the first importance, which could not be trusted to any care less perfect than her own. This glitter, this opaline lustre plays round the top of every toy to his eye, to ensure his fidelity, and he is deceived to his good. We are made alive and kept alive by the same arts. Let the stoics say what they please, we do not eat for the good of living, but because the meat is savory and the appetite is keen. The vegetable life does not content itself with casting from the flower or the tree a single seed, but it fills the air and earth with a prodigality of seeds, that, if thousands perish, thousands may plant themselves, that hundreds may come up, that tens may live to maturity, that, at least, one may replace the parent. All things betray the same calculated profusion. The excess of fear with which the animal frame is hedged round, shrinking from cold, starting at sight of a snake, or at a sudden noise, protects us, through a multitude of groundless alarms, from some one real danger at last. The lover seeks in marriage his private felicity and perfection, with no prospective end; and nature hides in his happiness her own end, namely, progeny, or the perpetuity of the race.
But the craft with which the world is made, runs also into the mind and character of men. No man is quite sane; each has a vein of folly in his composition, a slight determination of blood to the head, to make sure of holding him hard to some one point which nature had taken to heart. Great causes are never tried on their merits; but the cause is reduced to particulars to suit the size of the partizans, and the contention is ever hottest on minor matters. Not less remarkable is the overfaith of each man in the importance of what he has to do or say. The poet, the prophet, has a higher value for what he utters than any hearer, and therefore it gets spoken. The strong, self-complacent Luther declares with an emphasis, not to be mistaken, that "God himself cannot do without wise men." Jacob Behmen and George Fox betray their egotism in the pertinacity of their controversial tracts, and James Naylor once suffered himself to be worshipped as the Christ. Each prophet comes presently to identify himself with his thought, and to esteem his hat and shoes sacred. However this may discredit such persons with the judicious, it helps them with the people, as it gives heat, pungency, and publicity to their words. A similar experience is not infrequent in private life. Each young and ardent person writes a diary, in which, when the hours of prayer and penitence arrive, he inscribes his soul. The pages thus written are, to him, burning and fragrant: he reads them on his knees by midnight and by the morning star; he wets them with his tears: they are sacred; too good for the world, and hardly yet to be shown to the dearest friend. This is the man-child that is born to the soul, and her life still circulates in the babe. The umbilical cord has not yet been cut. After some time has elapsed, he begins to wish to admit his friend to this hallowed experience, and with hesitation, yet with firmness, exposes the pages to his eye. Will they not burn his eyes? The friend coldly turns them over, and passes from the writing to conversation, with easy transition, which strikes the other party with astonishment and vexation. He cannot suspect the writing itself. Days and nights of fervid life, of communion with angels of darkness and of light, have engraved their shadowy characters on that tear-stained book. He suspects the intelligence or the heart of his friend. Is there then no friend? He cannot yet credit that one may have impressive experience, and yet may not know how to put his private fact into literature; and perhaps the discovery that wisdom has other tongues and ministers than we, that though we should hold our peace, the truth would not the less be spoken, might check injuriously the flames of our zeal. A man can only speak, so long as he does not feel his speech to be partial and inadequate. It is partial, but he does not see it to be so, whilst he utters it. As soon as he is released from the instinctive and particular, and sees its partiality, he shuts his mouth in disgust. For, no man can write anything, who does not think that what he writes is for the time the history of the world; or do anything well, who does not esteem his work to be of importance. My work may be of none, but I must not think it of none, or I shall not do it with impunity.
In like manner, there is throughout nature something mocking, something that leads us on and on, but arrives nowhere, keeps no faith with us. All promise outruns the performance. We live in a system of approximations. Every end is prospective of some other end, which is also temporary; a round and final success nowhere. We are encamped in nature, not domesticated. Hunger and thirst lead us on to eat and to drink; but bread and wine, mix and cook them how you will, leave us hungry and thirsty, after the stomach is full. It is the same with all our arts and performances. Our music, our poetry, our language itself are not satisfactions, but suggestions. The hunger for wealth, which reduces the planet to a garden, fools the eager pursuer. What is the end sought? Plainly to secure the ends of good sense and beauty, from the intrusion of deformity or vulgarity of any kind. But what an operose method! What a train of means to secure a little conversation! This palace of brick and stone, these servants, this kitchen, these stables, horses and equipage, this bank-stock, and file of mortgages; trade to all the world, country-house and cottage by the waterside, all for a little conversation, high, clear, and spiritual! Could it not be had as well by beggars on the highway? No, all these things came from successive efforts of these beggars to remove friction from the wheels of life, and give opportunity. Conversation, character, were the avowed ends; wealth was good as it appeased the animal cravings, cured the smoky chimney, silenced the creaking door, brought friends together in a warm and quiet room, and kept the children and the dinner-table in a different apartment. Thought, virtue, beauty, were the ends; but it was known that men of thought and virtue sometimes had the headache, or wet feet, or could lose good time whilst the room was getting warm in winter days. Unluckily, in the exertions necessary to remove these inconveniences, the main attention has been diverted to this object; the old aims have been lost sight of, and to remove friction has come to be the end. That is the ridicule of rich men, and Boston, London, Vienna, and now the governments generally of the world, are cities and governments of the rich, and the masses are not men, but poor men, that is, men who would be rich; this is the ridicule of the class, that they arrive with pains and sweat and fury nowhere; when all is done, it is for nothing. They are like one who has interrupted the conversation of a company to make his speech, and now has forgotten what he went to say. The appearance strikes the eye everywhere of an aimless society, of aimless nations. Were the ends of nature so great and cogent, as to exact this immense sacrifice of men?
Quite analogous to the deceits in life, there is, as might be expected, a similar effect on the eye from the face of external nature. There is in woods and waters a certain enticement and flattery, together with a failure to yield a present satisfaction. This disappointment is felt in every landscape. I have seen the softness and beauty of the summer-clouds floating feathery overhead, enjoying, as it seemed, their height and privilege of motion, whilst yet they appeared not so much the drapery of this place and hour, as forelooking to some pavilions and gardens of festivity beyond. It is an odd jealousy: but the poet finds himself not near enough to his object. The pine-tree, the river, the bank of flowers before him, does not seem to be nature. Nature is still elsewhere. This or this is but outskirt and far-off reflection and echo of the triumph that has passed by, and is now at its glancing splendor and heyday, perchance in the neighboring fields, or, if you stand in the field, then in the adjacent woods. The present object shall give you this sense of stillness that follows a pageant which has just gone by. What splendid distance, what recesses of ineffable pomp and loveliness in the sunset! But who can go where they are, or lay his hand or plant his foot thereon? Off they fall from the round world forever and ever. It is the same among the men and women, as among the silent trees; always a referred existence, an absence, never a presence and satisfaction. Is it, that beauty can never be grasped? in persons and in landscape is equally inaccessible? The accepted and betrothed lover has lost the wildest charm of his maiden in her acceptance of him. She was heaven whilst he pursued her as a star: she cannot be heaven, if she stoops to such a one as he.
What shall we say of this omnipresent appearance of that first projectile impulse, of this flattery and baulking of so many well-meaning creatures? Must we not suppose somewhere in the universe a slight treachery and derision? Are we not engaged to a serious resentment of this use that is made of us? Are we tickled trout, and fools of nature? One look at the face of heaven and earth lays all petulance at rest, and soothes us to wiser convictions. To the intelligent, nature converts itself into a vast promise, and will not be rashly explained. Her secret is untold. Many and many an Oedipus arrives: he has the whole mystery teeming in his brain. Alas! the same sorcery has spoiled his skill; no syllable can he shape on his lips. Her mighty orbit vaults like the fresh rainbow into the deep, but no archangel's wing was yet strong enough to follow it, and report of the return of the curve. But it also appears, that our actions are seconded and disposed to greater conclusions than we designed. We are escorted on every hand through life by spiritual agents, and a beneficent purpose lies in wait for us. We cannot bandy words with nature, or deal with her as we deal with persons. If we measure our individual forces against hers, we may easily feel as if we were the sport of an insuperable destiny. But if, instead of identifying ourselves with the work, we feel that the soul of the workman streams through us, we shall find the peace of the morning dwelling first in our hearts, and the fathomless powers of gravity and chemistry, and, over them, of life, preexisting within us in their highest form.
The uneasiness which the thought of our helplessness in the chain of causes occasions us, results from looking too much at one condition of nature, namely, Motion. But the drag is never taken from the wheel. Wherever the impulse exceeds, the Rest or Identity insinuates its compensation. All over the wide fields of earth grows the prunella or self-heal. After every foolish day we sleep off the fumes and furies of its hours; and though we are always engaged with particulars, and often enslaved to them, we bring with us to every experiment the innate universal laws. These, while they exist in the mind as ideas, stand around us in nature forever embodied, a present sanity to expose and cure the insanity of men. Our servitude to particulars betrays into a hundred foolish expectations. We anticipate a new era from the invention of a locomotive, or a balloon; the new engine brings with it the old checks. They say that by electro-magnetism, your sallad shall be grown from the seed, whilst your fowl is roasting for dinner: it is a symbol of our modern aims and endeavors,—-of our condensation and acceleration of objects: but nothing is gained: nature cannot be cheated: man's life is but seventy sallads long, grow they swift or grow they slow. In these checks and impossibilities, however, we find our advantage, not less than in the impulses. Let the victory fall where it will, we are on that side. And the knowledge that we traverse the whole scale of being, from the centre to the poles of nature, and have some stake in every possibility, lends that sublime lustre to death, which philosophy and religion have too outwardly and literally striven to express in the popular doctrine of the immortality of the soul. The reality is more excellent than the report. Here is no ruin, no discontinuity, no spent ball. The divine circulations never rest nor linger. Nature is the incarnation of a thought, and turns to a thought again, as ice becomes water and gas. The world is mind precipitated, and the volatile essence is forever escaping again into the state of free thought. Hence the virtue and pungency of the influence on the mind, of natural objects, whether inorganic or organized. Man imprisoned, man crystallized, man vegetative, speaks to man impersonated. That power which does not respect quantity, which makes the whole and the particle its equal channel, delegates its smile to the morning, and distils its essence into every drop of rain. Every moment instructs, and every object: for wisdom is infused into every form. It has been poured into us as blood; it convulsed us as pain; it slid into us as pleasure; it enveloped us in dull, melancholy days, or in days of cheerful labor; we did not guess its essence, until after a long time.

6 comments:

Kari Peterman said...

What is Emerson Compensating for?

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s take on Compensation wasn’t quite what I had expected, but the depth to which he explored the subject was incredible.
He first talks about religion, and gives examples of compensation. Not just the obvious, such as “the good go to Heaven, and bad to go Hell,” but how poor people are seen as saints, making the successful, by default, devilish or sinners.
“The fallacy lay in the immense concession, that the bad are successful.” The point Emerson makes, is that the “economically unlucky” seem to be treated in religion as if they have made some tremendous moral decision that would make it impossible for them to obtain any amount of money, all the while saving the human race with their brave sacrifice. This is really interesting to me, because he also ties this theory, or way of thinking back to compensation. He states that some people assume that the poor will be compensated for their way of life in an afterlife, which is incredibly more rewarding, while giving up a life of pleasure now, while the others who live happily, or far worse, in states of ecstasy, are doomed to hell.
Emerson believes that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This sounds incredibly familiar, but he seems to label it as POLARITY. He uses this word for a synonym of the phrase, “action and reaction.” For everything, there is an opposite, such as male and female… “the inspiration and expiration of plants and animals; the equation of quantity and quality in the fluids of the animal body; in systole and diastole of the heart…”
A great example of this and a good point for all to consider is “A surplusage given to one part is paid out of a reduction from another part of the same creature.”
The observation that the world is perfect was hard to understand at first. Emerson’s take on the world is that it is perfect because of its imperfections. The only thing relatable to this for me is people. I can’t view anyone as perfect. To be perfect, is to me, to be able to see someone entirely, including their imperfections, and accept them, which in reality, and on a practical level is an oxymoron.
Another good point Emerson addresses is that someone wise knows it is best to pay, “scot and lot as they go along, and that a man often pays dear for a small frugality. The borrower runs in his own debt. Has a man gained any thing who has received a hundred favors, and rendered none?”
This doesn’t just apply to money, but rather to real life situations. Someone who is selfish, and doesn’t know how to give back lives a shallow and meaningless life. Most people are worried about their possessions on a day such as Christmas, but the return on giving is 10 fold, and even though some of the point is lost somewhere along the way, when the final rewards are felt, the feeling is unforgettable.

On the whole, looking at the entire picture of what Emerson was trying to communicate, it is rather admirable. One of his points that stood out to me was his ability to rise above anything, and see situations rationally. He views personal strengths as weaknesses, and weaknesses as strengths. Referring to everyone as a man, he states that “every man” in his life needs to thank his faults, because without being confronted with faults, one could never recognize strengths, or work to be better.
While one can work on being a better person, it is most interesting to me that he doesn’t believe in any way, the soul compensates. Souls just are, as God just is. They exist, but encompass everything; much like the world does, “swallowing up all relations, parts and times within itself.”
While Emerson makes very valid and clear points, I think his examples were rather long-winded and lengthy at best. His points were worth the time however, because he examined and explained things that aren’t part of everyday actions. One doesn’t usually take time out of everyday to thank their creator for their faults, because faults make for a better person. In general, most people could genuinely benefit from the points he discusses. Not only was Compensation on the balance of life, and how everything fits, (or doesn’t), but it a fresh perspective. It gives hope those who might feel lost, as well as direction.
My favorite quote from Compensation is an excellent example of the entirety of Emerson’s thoughts on the subject, “The world looks like a multiplication-table, or mathematical equation, which turn it how you will, balances itself.”

Raina Kelley said...

Kari Peterman, your essay was good. You had a few misspelld words but those could have just been typing errors. Also your paper is on compensation but i found it under Nature...oops.. i think your conclusion needs to be a lot stronger, i don't think it really had enough to end the paper well.

Leah Sikora said...

Kari,
This essay is very well thought out. I enjoyed the fact that you not only used examples and ideas from Emerson's writing, but also you infused a lot of your own personal experience into your analysis. Even if I hadn't known whose writing you were analyzing, I wouldn've known it was Emerson. There seem to be many similarities in his examples between his essays. I thought that you did a good job of conveying that unmistakeable "Emerson-ness". Overall this was an insightful and thorough essay; especially since Emerson can be hard to understand and somewhat unorganized at times. Good work!

Anonymous said...

Ralph Waldo Emerson thought very highly of nature, and had a lot to say about it. In his essay rightly named Nature he wrote adoringly about nature. He believed that everything relies on nature, which is mostly true. He also thought that nature guides man through life and gives him knowledge. In the first half of his essay he mostly wrote about how fantastic nature is and everything that it can do for man. The second half concentrates more on the ways in which nature creates things and makes a balance. Emerson felt that nature was like a god.
The first paragraph of the essay describes the perfect day. Which, if Emerson were to be asked, would be when, “the air, the heavenly bodies, and the earth, make harmony.” Meaning that everything would be peaceful. Although these special days are hard to come by, living through one is like visiting heaven. He wrote that these kinds of days make solitary places not so lonely because when man is alone in nature nothing seems to matter anymore. Nature doesn’t care how man acts, so the ideals and laws of society vanish. That is why some people love hiking, or just walking, through the forest (or anywhere quite) where people can be themselves and have no one to judge them. Like singing in the shower, it’s wonderful, but most people wouldn’t do it if they knew someone else was listening (I know I wouldn’t). Emerson continued and wrote, “The incommunicable trees begin to persuade us to live with them, and quit our life of solemn trifles.” The message coming from that was, our lives are filled with little problems and nature is inviting us to be with it and not worry about anything. That statement, as weird as it may sound, has truth to it. People past the age of about four always have worries, wether it is over a big project, or a relationship, or safety, or anything really there are almost always worries. Trees have no worries, they grow and make some seeds and that is life. Life’s simple and there are probably a lot of people whose lives get so out of hand that they would be willing to trade places with a tree.
Next Emerson points out that nature has healing powers for both the mind and body. I find that very true, a walk in the fresh air helps me get my thoughts together. Also consider all of the plants that are used for healing the body. Emerson refers nature as the mind’s, “old home,”he meant that humans thrive off of nature and the mind often returns to it. He called it a dear friend and explained how it influences us. Such as simple things like having water to drink, and wood for warmth and shelter. Of course he is right, water is a huge part of nature and doesn’t come from anywhere else.
Emerson’s next idea is the one that I most agree with. He believes that a person who lives a lavished life won’t appreciate the simple and beautiful things in nature, at least not as much as someone who is surrounded by nature all of the time. He wrote that even he didn’t know as much as the countryman. Once he was grown and was surrounded with elegance and sophistication, he could not go back to simpler ways. He wrote that the countryman is the one who knows the most, and that whoever knows the ways of the land is the real rich man. I believe that if a person is never around or even introduced to nature hasn’t truly lived. It seems to be the way of thinking for people who grow up in rural areas and they label people from towns, “City people.” The stereotypical city person is someone who isn’t used to animals, isn’t very strong and doesn’t have much common sense. Of course that isn’t always true, but I have two cousins that have lived in a city all of their lives and fit that description almost perfectly. My dad on the other hand was raised in the city, but had grandparents who owned a farm so he was used to, and liked working on the land. How a person reacts to nature all depends on how they are raised.
Emerson also wrote the balance that nature creates. Nature builds some animals, mostly herbivore, to be able to escape predators, and make homes. The other animals, carnivores, are built to hunt down the others. In this way neither group outnumbers the other. Emerson also explained plants. He wrote that trees are like imprisoned men. Meaning that they can feel and think but their roots hold them back. Flowers are the youth of the plants, and only youth enjoy them to the fullest.
The Guiding Identity is something that every creature is born with. It contains common sense for survival, knowledge of natures history and the will to discover new things and pass them on. All of that is according to Emerson though. I don’t believe it. If every creature already knew things about nature babies wouldn’t put everything in their mouths. Some things don’t taste as good as the babies think they might, and if they instinctively knew they wouldn’t try it.
Counter actions is another one of Emerson’s topics. Basically he wrote that every action has a counter action, or something that slows it down, or gets it off course. He wrote, “We aim above the mark to hit it.” and gave an example of tree seeds. If ten thousand seeds are let go, one thousand get planted, out of those only ten will grow and only one will reach adult hood. That was the same theory about having kids before modern medicine. It makes sense.
Emerson adored nature and knew that there were many aspects too it. For the most part he was right. This essay was very logical and everything came together at the end. Some things seemed a little exaggerated, but that was how he felt about it.

Jessica Roberts said...

That last one was from me

shane smith said...

Nature

The beauty of nature inspired Emerson to write about it to share his views on it. In Emerson’s eyes nature is the circumstance that dwarfs every other circumstance. It is healing to us, and a pleasure for us to see and be in. When we go into nature we leave every day life at home. When we take in nature the memory of home gets crowded out. Nature is everywhere and the beauty of it can always be seen. People exaggerate the praises of local scenery. The beauty of nature is in the eyes of the beholders. Nature is always consistent.
Emerson views nature as the circumstance that dwarfs every other circumstance. Emerson could see that nature is beautiful, and he described its beauty in the first paragraph of his essay. Nature draws people towards itself, and makes all other things seem small and valueless. Emerson describes how a person could willingly leave their houses and normal lives to be surrounded by the majestic beauties of nature. Everything that a person can accomplish and make is not even comparable, which is why Emerson feels that nature dwarfs all circumstance.
Nature is healing to us and a pleasure for us to see and to be in. Emerson said that nature is medicinal, and it sobers and heals us. This seems to be true for a lot of people who go to parks and camp grounds as a vacation to get away from all the stress and anxieties of life. Emerson knew that nature is a pleasure. He felt the we could never part with it. The cities don’t give us enough room, so we always look to the horizon to find nature. Then when we leave civilization and go out into nature we are at peace, feel good and healed.
When we go into nature, we leave our every day lives at home. We see that nature is inviting and we get absorbed by it. At home we have close and crowded houses, but in nature we see ‘what majestic beauties daily wrap us in their bosom.’ There are no crowded places in nature so it isn’t like home.
When we take in nature, our memory of home and every day life gets crowded out and forgotten. The landscape and scenery are absorbed into your thoughts until ‘the recollection of home was crowded out of the mind.’ Emerson could see that when you go away from civilization you don’t tend to think about what you left. This proves true today when we go into nature we don’t dwell on our normal lives. The reason we go into nature is normally to get away from our daily lives and forget about them.

Nature is everywhere and the beauty of it can always be seen. Emerson says that in every landscape the point of astonishment is the meeting of the sky and the earth. The beauty of nature can be found in all sorts of places. Emerson only listed a few of the beauties of nature, but he let us know that ‘beauty breaks in everywhere.’
People sometimes exaggerate the beauty of their local scenery. In Emerson’s essay the places that he told about having an exaggerated beauty were the Madiera Islands and Como Lake. There are other places now in modern times that are like the places that Emerson described. These are places like Hawaii and Yellowstone which are very popular places that undoubtedly have beautiful scenery, but have only been exaggerated into the most beautiful scenery in nature.
The beauty of nature is in the eyes of the beholders. Emerson noted that the landscapes in nature is not always that different, but the main difference is in the people who are viewing the scenery. Emerson says ‘there is nothing so wonderful in any particular landscape, as the necessity of being beautiful under which every landscape it lies.’Nature is always beautiful so anyone who prefers one landscape to another demonstrates that the beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
Nature is always consistent. Nature never breaks its own laws. It is a system that never fails. It never fails because it keeps its laws. Nature causes one animal to find its place in the earth, and then causes another animal to destroy it. This causes a balance to keep nature in order, and the cycle continues onward forever.
Emerson seemed to Know a lot about nature. Based on what he wrote we can see that he obviously had a lot of time to study nature. He seemed to think the way a lot of people do. Most people seem to think that nature can have a healing effect. Emerson could appreciate the pleasure of seeing and being out in nature, just like the rest of us. What Emerson said in his essay was true in his day, and is still true in our day.