Transcendentalism and Thoreau Essay - 1024 Words

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It is finally the imagination, not wine, which intoxicates the true poet, and the same quality works in us, too. "The use of symbols has a certain power of emancipation and exhilaration for all men.... This is the effect on us of tropes, fables, oracles and all poetic forms." Consider, for example, the sense of delight with which we are momentarily freed of the tyranny of English numbers by the child's book which tells us, if we are tired of counting to ten in the same old way, to try a new way, such as "ounce, dice, trice, quartz, quince, sago, serpent, oxygen, nitrogen, denim." Of such language, Emerson says, "We seem to be touched by a wand, which makes us dance and run about happily like children." He concludes, in a phrase that sums up the essay, "poets are thus liberating gods." Themselves free, they set us free--free, for example, to take only what we want from the books we read. "I think nothing is of any value in books, excepting the transcendental and extraordinary." Thus Emerson cheerfully and knowingly dismisses all but the very best of even his own writing.

At the heart of Transcendentalism lied its most famous ambassadors, Ralph Waldo Emerson and his apprentice, Henry David Thoreau.

Compare and Contrast Emerson and Thoreau at EssayPediacom

We turn now to Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) who was the father of Transcendentalism and the spirituality movement in America. Many of you will remember I gave a talk four years ago on the life and work of Emerson, and Ronn talked about him last time, so I don’t want to duplicate too much here. You may also recall, Emerson left the Unitarian church because he still found it confining in spite of it liberalization. He endeavored to initiate a spiritual movement free of any trappings of organized religion and accessible to all people. This was a particularly American idea suited to a new nation founded on democracy and freedom of religion and exploration of the still "New World." The Transcendentalism that Emerson helped to create was not a coherent system of philosophy but rather a series of philosophical and spiritual ideas. He said, "the highest revelation is that God is in every man," and "I am part and particle of God." This is what Ronn was referring to when he spoke about the objective and subjective merging in moments of spiritual awareness. Emerson understood God, self and nature as parts of a whole. These ideas were opposed by the Calvinist tradition that saw God as separate from human beings and residing in a world above. Emerson taught that divinity, "the Over-Soul," was not to be found in a church but in the natural world. Like the German philosophers of the late 1700’s including Kant whom I mentioned earlier, and like the Hindu and Buddhist traditions which he studied (just as we Boomers were doing in the 1960’s), Emerson taught there is a spiritual dimension beyond the physical. Emerson again unlike Calvinism or Catholicism of his time, didn’t believe in a God that intervened in human affairs. He taught that all people have direct access to "God" without the necessity of intercession through the Bible, or sacraments or priests, or any dogma. He taught that morality was derived from our appreciation of the divine nature of all people and the world. In other words, morality stems from our direct encounter with the spiritual realm. His strong belief in the divinity of all people led him to speak out against slavery, the denial of equal rights to women and a class system based upon material wealth. Emerson was a rugged individualist who was loath to join any movement. His essay on Self-Reliance advocated for personal spiritual development without regard to organized institutions or past practices or commonly held viewpoints that he considered impediments to spiritual growth. He pointed the way for each of us to develop spiritually by satisfying our own need for truth and morality. He urged us to be guided by our own inner voice. As Professor Nichols stated this was "a radical idea then and now." I might also add it is very difficult to do.

Emerson and Thoreau are the two transcendentalists in nineteenth century who inspired and encourage people to love nature....

Emerson’s essay is about Transcendentalism, the belief that every human has his own way of thinking and personal inborn knowledge to build his opinion, independent from the common beliefs of the community and he should believe in and express his opinion to be successful.

Essay about Transcendentalism: Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were two writers during the transcendentalism era.


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Henry David Thoreau - Wikipedia

When we consider the origin of the spirituality movement in the U.S. what may first occur to us is the era of the late1960’s. That was a time when Baby-Boomers such as myself not only challenged the war in Vietnam but also societal institutions such as the traditional religions and the "military-industrial complex." Exploitation of the environment for the enhancement of corporate wealth and power aided by government was anathema to our generation and needed to be confronted. As you know, the movement expanded to include fighting for the civil rights of minorities and women. We Boomers didn’t trust institutions of any kind including the religious. So the late 1960’s were also a time when people began to explore spirituality separately from organized religion and turned to eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism for guidance. Of course it was also a time when many "dropped acid" in search of God. Concurrently, there was a growing appreciation of wilderness as an alternative source of spiritual inspiration. What was unknown to many of us then, and perhaps to some of you now, is that most of these trends towards alternative spirituality, and advocacy for human rights are linked directly to the Transcendentalist movement of the middle nineteenth century. The most notable members of that movement were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman.

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Waldo Emerson was not a practicing literary critic in the sense that and were, and he was not a theorist as , or Friedrich Ernst Schleiermacher were. Yet he was for America what was for England, the major spokesman for a new conception of literature. From his early essays on English literature and his important first book, (1836), to his greatest single literary essay, "The Poet" (1844), to his late essays on "Poetry and Imagination" and "Persian Poetry" in 1875, Emerson developed and championed a concept of literature as literary activity. The essence of that activity is a symbolizing process. Both reader and writer are involved in acts of literary expression which are representative or symbolic. Emerson's position is an extreme one, and in (1965) René Wellek has said that "the very extremity with which he held his views makes him the outstanding representative of romantic symbolism in the English-speaking world." Emerson's romantic symbolism, biographical and ethical in intent, poetic in expression, is an attitude that still stirs debate and still can have a liberating and encouraging effect on the modern reader. Emerson always cared more for the present than the past, more for his reader than for the text in hand or the author in question. Poets, he said, are "liberating gods"; and Emerson at his best is also a liberator. "Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote those books."