Interesting Literature

A Summary and Analysis of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ‘Nature’

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

‘Nature’ is an 1836 essay by the American writer and thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82). In this essay, Emerson explores the relationship between nature and humankind, arguing that if we approach nature with a poet’s eye, and a pure spirit, we will find the wonders of nature revealed to us.

You can read ‘Nature’ in full here . Below, we summarise Emerson’s argument and offer an analysis of its meaning and context.

Emerson begins his essay by defining nature, in philosophical terms, as anything that is not our individual souls. So our bodies, as well as all of the natural world, but also all of the world of art and technology, too, are ‘nature’ in this philosophical sense of the world. He urges his readers not to rely on tradition or history to help them to understand the world: instead, they should look to nature and the world around them.

In the first chapter, Emerson argues that nature is never ‘used up’ when the right mind examines it: it is a source of boundless curiosity. No man can own the landscape: it belongs, if it belongs to anyone at all, to ‘the poet’. Emerson argues that when a man returns to nature he can rediscover his lost youth, that wide-eyed innocence he had when he went among nature as a boy.

Emerson states that when he goes among nature, he becomes a ‘transparent eyeball’ because he sees nature but is himself nothing: he has been absorbed or subsumed into nature and, because God made nature, God himself. He feels a deep kinship and communion with all of nature. He acknowledges that our view of nature depends on our own mood, and that the natural world reflects the mood we are feeling at the time.

In the second chapter, Emerson focuses on ‘commodity’: the name he gives to all of the advantages which our senses owe to nature. Emerson draws a parallel with the ‘useful arts’ which have built houses and steamships and whole towns: these are the man-made equivalents of the natural world, in that both nature and the ‘arts’ are designed to provide benefit and use to mankind.

The third chapter then turns to ‘beauty’, and the beauty of nature comprises several aspects, which Emerson outlines. First, the beauty of nature is a restorative : seeing the sky when we emerge from a day’s work can restore us to ourselves and make us happy again. The human eye is the best ‘artist’ because it perceives and appreciates this beauty so keenly. Even the countryside in winter possesses its own beauty.

The second aspect of beauty Emerson considers is the spiritual element. Great actions in history are often accompanied by a beautiful backdrop provided by nature. The third aspect in which nature should be viewed is its value to the human intellect . Nature can help to inspire people to create and invent new things. Everything in nature is a representation of a universal harmony and perfection, something greater than itself.

In his fourth chapter, Emerson considers the relationship between nature and language. Our language is often a reflection of some natural state: for instance, the word right literally means ‘straight’, while wrong originally denoted something ‘twisted’. But we also turn to nature when we wish to use language to reflect a ‘spiritual fact’: for example, that a lamb symbolises innocence, or a fox represents cunning. Language represents nature, therefore, and nature in turn represents some spiritual truth.

Emerson argues that ‘the whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind.’ Many great principles of the physical world are also ethical or moral axioms: for example, ‘the whole is greater than its part’.

In the fifth chapter, Emerson turns his attention to nature as a discipline . Its order can teach us spiritual and moral truths, but it also puts itself at the service of mankind, who can distinguish and separate (for instance, using water for drinking but wool for weaving, and so on). There is a unity in nature which means that every part of it corresponds to all of the other parts, much as an individual art – such as architecture – is related to the others, such as music or religion.

The sixth chapter is devoted to idealism . How can we sure nature does actually exist, and is not a mere product within ‘the apocalypse of the mind’, as Emerson puts it? He believes it doesn’t make any practical difference either way (but for his part, Emerson states that he believes God ‘never jests with us’, so nature almost certainly does have an external existence and reality).

Indeed, we can determine that we are separate from nature by changing out perspective in relation to it: for example, by bending down and looking between our legs, observing the landscape upside down rather than the way we usually view it. Emerson quotes from Shakespeare to illustrate how poets can draw upon nature to create symbols which reflect the emotions of the human soul. Religion and ethics, by contrast, degrade nature by viewing it as lesser than divine or moral truth.

Next, in the seventh chapter, Emerson considers nature and the spirit . Spirit, specifically the spirit of God, is present throughout nature. In his eighth and final chapter, ‘Prospects’, Emerson argues that we need to contemplate nature as a whole entity, arguing that ‘a dream may let us deeper into the secret of nature than a hundred concerted experiments’ which focus on more local details within nature.

Emerson concludes by arguing that in order to detect the unity and perfection within nature, we must first perfect our souls. ‘He cannot be a naturalist until he satisfies all the demands of the spirit’, Emerson urges. Wisdom means finding the miraculous within the common or everyday. He then urges the reader to build their own world, using their spirit as the foundation. Then the beauty of nature will reveal itself to us.

In a number of respects, Ralph Waldo Emerson puts forward a radically new attitude towards our relationship with nature. For example, although we may consider language to be man-made and artificial, Emerson demonstrates that the words and phrases we use to describe the world are drawn from our observation of nature. Nature and the human spirit are closely related, for Emerson, because they are both part of ‘the same spirit’: namely, God. Although we are separate from nature – or rather, our souls are separate from nature, as his prefatory remarks make clear – we can rediscover the common kinship between us and the world.

Emerson wrote ‘Nature’ in 1836, not long after Romanticism became an important literary, artistic, and philosophical movement in Europe and the United States. Like Wordsworth and the Romantics before him, Emerson argues that children have a better understanding of nature than adults, and when a man returns to nature he can rediscover his lost youth, that wide-eyed innocence he had when he went among nature as a boy.

And like Wordsworth, Emerson argued that to understand the world, we should go out there and engage with it ourselves, rather than relying on books and tradition to tell us what to think about it. In this connection, one could undertake a comparative analysis of Emerson’s ‘Nature’ and Wordsworth’s pair of poems ‘ Expostulation and Reply ’ and ‘ The Tables Turned ’, the former of which begins with a schoolteacher rebuking Wordsworth for sitting among nature rather than having his nose buried in a book:

‘Why, William, on that old gray stone, ‘Thus for the length of half a day, ‘Why, William, sit you thus alone, ‘And dream your time away?

‘Where are your books?—that light bequeathed ‘To beings else forlorn and blind! ‘Up! up! and drink the spirit breathed ‘From dead men to their kind.

Similarly, for Emerson, the poet and the dreamer can get closer to the true meaning of nature than scientists because they can grasp its unity by viewing it holistically, rather than focusing on analysing its rock formations or other more local details. All of this is in keeping with the philosophy of Transcendentalism , that nineteenth-century movement which argued for a kind of spiritual thinking instead of scientific thinking based narrowly on material things.

Emerson, along with Henry David Thoreau, was the most famous writer to belong to the Transcendentalist movement, and ‘Nature’ is fundamentally a Transcendentalist essay, arguing for an intuitive and ‘poetic’ engagement with nature in the round rather than a coldly scientific or empirical analysis of its component parts.

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Analysis: “nature”.

At the outset of “Nature,” Emerson argues for overturning the retrospective tendencies of his age and instead proposes that his contemporaries should focus on their “original relation to the universe” (15). They should thus nurture a religion that arrives “by revelation to us” rather than the one put forth in the scriptures of organized religion (15). As Emerson points out the intellectual and spiritual richness of his own age, he shows that the United States, with its relatively new civilization and philosophical tradition, is just as fitting a place for enlightenment as the historic Eastern scenes of the scriptures. He thus turns to the subject of nature, an entity that, unlike culture, this new civilization has in abundance. Natural wonders such as woods , stars, and sunsets are available for all to study and learn from, regardless of their level of education.

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Emerson's "Nature" Summary & Study Guide

Brief Background: Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Nature" is a philosophical essay first published in 1836. The essay is considered one of the most influential works of American Romanticism, inspiring thinkers and writers such as Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and John Muir. In "Nature," Emerson argues that individuals can find a deeper understanding of the world around them by immersing themselves in nature and connecting with the natural world.

Original Text Here

In a Nutshell: Emerson's concept of oversoul is a spiritual and metaphysical idea that all living things are connected through a universal spirit, which he called the "Oversoul". This universal spirit is eternal and all-encompassing, and it is the source of all existence and consciousness. Through the Oversoul, individuals can access a higher level of understanding and wisdom that transcends the limitations of the physical world. The Oversoul is therefore a central part of Emerson's philosophy of transcendentalism, which emphasizes the importance of intuition, self-reliance, and the individual's connection to the natural world.

The main message of "Nature" is that individuals can achieve a deeper understanding of themselves and the universe by immersing themselves in the natural world and connecting with the inherent beauty and wisdom of nature.

Emerson argues that nature represents a pathway to the divine, and that individuals can achieve a deeper spiritual understanding by connecting with the natural world and recognizing its inherent beauty and wisdom.

Emerson suggests that language can both capture and obscure the essence of natural phenomena, and that individuals must also rely on direct experience and intuition to fully understand the natural world.

Emerson suggests that the commodification of nature represents a loss of its intrinsic value, as well as a threat to the environment and human well-being. He argues that individuals must recognize the inherent value of nature beyond its economic usefulness.

The tone of Nature by Emerson is one of reverence, awe, and wonder towards the natural world. Emerson expresses a deep respect for the power and beauty of nature and encourages readers to embrace their own individual experience of it.

In the opening part of his essay "Nature," Emerson describes the most profound change taking place in the human spirit, where individuals are able to transcend their normal consciousness and connect with a higher, more spiritual sense of being through the experience of nature.

Emerson is saying that when someone is going through a difficult time or grieving the loss of a loved one, they may not be able to fully appreciate the beauty of nature. Their personal sadness can color their perception of the natural world, causing them to feel contempt towards it.

Emerson says "A man is a god in ruins" in Nature to express the idea that humanity, while possessing the potential for greatness and spiritual connection, has become fragmented and lost touch with its divine nature. He believes that through the experience of nature, individuals can reconnect with their true selves and rediscover their inner divinity.

Important Note : You can share your interpretation and join the conversation below!

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Self Reliance and Other Essays

By ralph emerson, self reliance and other essays summary and analysis of nature.

Ralph Waldo Emerson first published  Nature  in 1836. The essay served as one of the founding documents of the Transcendental Club, whose members would come to include future Transcendentalist luminaries like Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and Bronson Alcott. The Club convened its first meeting a week after the publication of  Nature , led by Emerson.

The critical reception of his seminal work has shifted over time.  Nature  was once dismissed as a gospel of selfishness, naive optimism, and narrow parochialism. However, scholars, with the benefit of hindsight, now understand his work as not only the harbinger of Transcendentalism, but also a modern rethinking of Stoicism, Plato, and Kant.

In this essay, Emerson outlines his initial ideas about the fundamental relationship of humanity with nature, which he would develop further in later essays. His conception of this relationship was revolutionary for its time when many thought of humanity as separate from and above the rest of the natural world, and of nature as the mere reflection of human will/manipulation, a means for human ends.

Introduction and Nature

"Our age is retrospective," Emerson begins. "It builds on the sepulchers of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism." While earlier generations "beheld God and nature face to face," the present merely sees the world through the eyes of the past. Troubled by this trend, Emerson asks, "Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?" After all, "the sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship."

In this way, Emerson opens his essay with a sweeping dismissal of those tools of insight based on the past, and a demand to understand the world - that is, God and nature (two sides of the same coin for him) - instead through our own personal, direct relationship to and revelations about the world. The rest of the introduction is spent outlining what such an understanding would entail and require - its methods, aims, and definitions.

As the title of his essay suggests, he grounds his approach to understanding the world in Nature, which along with the Soul, composes the universe. By "Nature," Emerson includes everything that is "not me" (i.e., separate from the Soul), "both nature [as conventionally understood, i.e., those essences unchanged by humans, like a tree or a river] and art [those essences mixed with the will of humans, like a house or a canal], all other men and my own body." Like the Stoics, Emerson believed that in nature could be found the source of moral principles and well being. However, in the present age, he argues, "few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing." For seeing/understanding nature entails not only asking what nature is or how it operates, but also "to what end is nature?"

To pursue such an understanding of nature - an inquiry he believes allied to science, all of which aims to "find a theory of nature" - he does not appeal to other authorities on the subject, past or present, but rather his own experience to craft a theory he believes self-evident and self-validating. While this may not seem scientific in terms of objectivity, he argues, "Whenever a true theory appears, it will be its own evidence. Its test is that it will explain all phenomena." His success in crafting such a theory arguably derives from his ability to immerse his readers in his own experiences, as with the passage,

Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear.

Another famous passage describes his experience as a "transparent eyeball," a conduit for God as he stands in nature:

Here [in the woods] I feel that nothing can befall me in life, - no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, - my head bathed by the blithe 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 parcel of God.

In the next sections, Emerson outlines in detail and in ascending order of importance the components of the relationship of humanity and nature: the common uses/aspects of nature (see "Commodity," "Beauty," and "Language"), our lived experience vis-a-vis nature (see "Discipline"), and the manifestation of the universal/divine (what he calls, "Reason") in nature (i.e., Transcendentalism; see "Idealism," "Spirit," and "Prospects").

The most obvious and tangible aspect of the relationship between humanity and nature is the practical usefulness of nature as a source of raw material and energy. Emerson observes that all parts of nature - as material, process, and result - work toward the benefit of humanity:

“The wind sows the seed; the sun evaporates the sea; the wind blows the vapor to the field; the ice, on the other side of the planet, condenses rain on this; the rain feeds the plant; the plant feeds the animal; and thus the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man.”

He further illustrates this process in his admiration of a tide-mill, which, on the seashore, makes the tides drive the wheels and grind corn, and which thus engages the assistance of the moon like a hired hand, to grind, and wind, and pump, and saw, and split stone, and roll iron.

However, Emerson argues the use of nature as commodity is the lowest of benefits, and quickly moves on to less material gifts and aspects.

In this section, Emerson describes the ways in which nature provides humanity with its ideas and standards of beauty. “The standard beauty is the entire circuit of natural forms – the totality of nature.” Emerson asserts this is because "such is the constitution of things, or such the plastic power of the human eye, that the primary forms, as the sky, the mountain, the tree, the animal, give us a delight in and for themselves,” as evidenced by the creations of artists (e.g., poets, painters, sculptors, musicians, architects). In other words, it is a given based on the relationship of humanity with the natural world: "The world thus exists to the soul to satisfy the desire of beauty.” Ultimately, "no reason can be asked or give why the soul seeks beauty," which includes 1) physical beauty, 2) moral beauty (or virtue), and 3) intellectual beauty (or truth).

As beauty is grounded in nature, so is language. Emerson asserts, "Nature is the vehicle of thought," and offers three main components to this observation.

First, "words are signs of natural facts." Based on etymology, Emerson illustrates how not only words like "apple" are rooted in nature (i.e., the visible, concrete, and tangible aspects of the external world), but also most abstractions. For example, "supercilious" is from the Latin  super cilia , which means raising the eyebrow. Another example, not mentioned by Emerson, is "consider," which comes from the Latin  con siderare , meaning to study the stars.

Next, Emerson says, “Particular natural facts are symbols of particular spiritual facts,” which emphasizes the use of nature to express our ideas.

Every appearance in nature corresponds to some state of the mind, and that state of the mind can only be described by presenting that natural appearance as its picture. As enraged man is a lion, a cunning man is a fox, a firm man is a rock, a learned man is a torch. A lamb is innocence; a snake is subtle spite; flowers express to us the delicate affections. Light and darkness are our familiar expression for knowledge and ignorance; and heat for love.

Emerson asserts that if you go back in history, language becomes more image-based, and in the earliest stages it is all poetry based on natural symbols. In modern times, Emerson argues, our language has become corrupted by secondary desires - the desires for money, pleasure, power, and praise - rather than the simple and fundamental desire to communicate our thoughts without loss (i.e., with the images and symbols of nature). As such, our language has ceased to create new images based on visible nature, the old words have become perverted and abstracted, and the obviousness of his point is difficult to see. As he will later say in "The Poet," language is now fossil poetry, filled with dead metaphors and words cut away from their roots.

Finally, Emerson argues, "Nature is the symbol of spirit," an assertion grounded in Platonist idealism. Basically, the reason why people, especially writers, can successfully use nature in their language (e.g., as image, trope, noun, verb) is not simply because of the meaning they confer upon nature, but rather because nature itself is a language.

Have mountains, and waves, and skies, no significance but what we consciously give them when we employ them as emblems of our thoughts? The world is emblematic. Parts of speech are metaphors, because the whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind.

That is, nature is an expression of the laws and ideas (i.e., the metaphysics) that underpin the visible world. By tapping into the language of nature, humans are able to in turn express the laws and ideas of the world. Emerson suggests this is why popular proverbs of different nations usually consist of a natural fact, like "a rolling stone gathers no moss," "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," and "the last ounce broke the camel's back."

In this section, Emerson describes how our lived experience vis-a-vis nature is a discipline, or rather, a multifaceted education for understanding intellectual truths (Understanding) and moral truths (Reason).

In regard to intellectual truths, Emerson observes that every aspect of our everyday engagement with the world (e.g., space, time, food, climate, animals) and matter (e.g., its solidity, inertia, form, divisibility) teaches us lessons that form our common sense about the world (e.g., about difference, likeness, order, particularity, generality). Furthermore, each encounter teaches us about power, about the ability for humans to shape nature according to their will.

Nature is thoroughly mediate. It is made to serve. It receives the dominion of man as meekly as the ass on which the Savior rode. It offers all its kingdoms to man as the raw material that he may mold into what is useful.

In regard to moral truths, our engagements with nature teaches us about the "premonitions of Reason" - by which Emerson means the universal soul, his Transcendentalist conception of God - and thus shape our conscience.

Therefore is nature glorious with form, color, and motion; that every globe in the remotest heaven, every chemical change from the rudest crystal up to the laws of life, every change of vegetation from the first principle of growth in the eye of a leaf, to the tropical forest and antediluvian coal-mine, every animal function from the sponge up to Hercules, shall hint or thunder to man the laws of right and wrong, and echo the Ten Commandments.

This entails that despite the infinite variety of natural processes and forms, they all embody a version of the moral law of the universe, which illustrates the unity of Nature - its unity in variety.

The river, as it flows, resembles the air that flows over it; the air resembles the light that traverses it with more subtle currents; the light resembles the heat that rides with it through Space. Creatures are only a modification of one another; the likeness between them is more than the difference, and their radical law is one and the same. A rule of one art, or a law of one organization, holds true throughout nature. So intimate is this Unity, that, it is easily seen, it lies under the undermost garment of Nature, and betrays its source in Universal Spirit.

Finally, Emerson asserts the amount of moral influence each encounter has on an individual depends on the amount of truth it illustrates to the individual, which cannot be easily quantified.

Who can guess how much firmness the sea-beaten rock has taught the fisherman? How much tranquility has been reflected to man from the azure sky, over whose unspotted deeps the winds forevermore drive flocks of stormy clouds, and leave no wrinkle or stain?

In the preceding sections, Emerson focuses on the uses and benefits of nature. In "Idealism" and "Spirit," he shifts to questions of what nature is. Such questions are based on his Idealism, and thus do not mean what is nature composed of, but rather, is there a higher reality or law behind nature, and does visible nature really exist?

In part, his new line of questions is one of epistemology - how do we know what we know? He first offers the claim of the radical Idealist, who believes reality is fundamentally constructed by the mind:

In my utter impotence to test the authenticity of the report of my senses, to know whether the impressions they make on me correspond with outlying objects, what difference does it make, whether Orion is up there in heaven, or some god paints the image in the firmament of the soul.

However, he also denies the extreme conclusion that reality, and thus nature, does not exist independent of the mind:

Any distrust of the permanence of laws [e.g., gravity] would paralyze the faculties of man.

He settles the issue by showing how various aspects of culture - including 1) motion (which affirms the internal reality of the observer due to the feeling of the sublime that arises from the difference felt between the observer/human and the spectacle/nature, as when seeing the shore from a moving ship), 2) poetry (which affirms the reality of the soul by the way in which poets conform nature to their thoughts and "makes them the words of the Reason" or the soul), 3) philosophy (which like poetry, affirms the reality of the soul by the way in which philosophers animate nature with their thoughts and makes them the words of Reason, except in this case for Truth rather than Beauty), 4) intellectual science (which generates insight based on abstract ideas and thus the spirit), and 5) religion and ethics (which degrades nature and suggests its dependence on the spirit) - convince us of the reality of the external world, of nature and spirit, and thus tend to imbue us with a moderate form of idealism:

It is the uniform effect of culture on the human mind, not to shake our faith in the stability of particular phenomena, as of heat, water, and azote; but to lead us to regard nature as a phenomenon, not a substance; to attribute necessary existence to spirit; to esteem nature as an accident and effect.

As a qualification to the discussion of Idealism in the previous section, Emerson asserts that Idealism is ultimately an introductory hypothesis (like carpentry and chemistry) about nature. If it only denies the existence of matter, or external reality, as with extreme Idealism, then it of no use to him, for it does not satisfy the demands of the spirit. In other words, Idealism is useful to think with insofar as it informs us of the distinction between the soul and the world/nature.

By recognizing this distinction, and the existence of each, we can then understand their relation to one another - that is, how spirit (the Supreme Being, the Universal Soul) acts through us, "as the life of the tree puts forth new branches and leaves through the pores of the old," and thus is not subject to the human will, as with the rest of the world/nature.

In this last section, Emerson argues it is better approach the world as a naturalist than as a student of empirical science. Compared to the precision and experiments of the scientist, the naturalist employs self-discovery and humility, and thus continues to learn about his relation to the world, and remains open to the secrets of nature. The naturalist will pay attention to the truth and to the real problems to be solved:

It is not so pertinent to man to know all the individuals of the animal kingdom, as it is to know whence and whereto is this tyrannizing unity in his constitution, which evermore separates and classifies things, endeavoring to reduce the most diverse to one form.

Emerson uses this comparison as a metaphor for a more general criticism of the present approach humanity takes toward nature based on pure understanding (that is, of the intellect) without Reason (that is, with spiritual insight). However, there are occasional examples of how humanity might act with both:

Such examples are, the traditions of miracles in the earliest antiquity of all nations; the history of Jesus Christ; the achievements of a principle, as in religious and political revolutions, and in the abolition of the slave-trade; the miracles of enthusiasm, as those reported of Swedenborg, Hohenlohe, and the Shakers; many obscure and yet contested facts, now arranged under the name of Animal Magnetism; prayer; eloquence; self-healing; and the wisdom of children.

Until humanity begins to act with both understanding/intellect and reason/spirituality towards nature, to repair its relationship with nature and the world, humanity remains disunited with itself and the world lacks unity. To correct this trend, Emerson argues people need to acquire a new, educated way of seeing the world, by which he means the Transcendentalist approach he has laid out in the previous sections.

So we shall come to look at the world with new eyes. It shall answer the endless inquiry of the intellect (“What is truth?), as well as that of the affections (“What is good?”), by yielding itself passive to the educated Will.

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Self Reliance and Other Essays Questions and Answers

The Question and Answer section for Self Reliance and Other Essays is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.

In Emerson's "Self-Reliance," how does he explain the changes in society, good and bad?

In the final section, Emerson addresses the “spirit of society.” According to Emerson, “society never advances.” Civilization has not led to the improvement of society because with the acquisition of new arts and technologies comes the loss of old...

Leaves of Grass

Whitman's "songs" focus on democracy and freedom, an unwavering belief in patriotism, and the promise of American freedom.

What does Emerson mean by self-reliance?

Emerson opens his essay with the assertion, "To believe in your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, - that is genius." His statement captures the essence of what he means by "self-reliance,"...

Study Guide for Self Reliance and Other Essays

Self Reliance and Other Essays study guide contains a biography of Ralph Emerson, literature essays, a complete e-text, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.

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Essays for Self Reliance and Other Essays

Self Reliance and Other Essays essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of Self Reliance and Other Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

  • Ideal Individualism and the Benefits of Conformity
  • Trancendentalism and Its Influence Upon the Creation of an American Identity
  • What Hangs in the Balance
  • Emersonian Implosion: The Self-Reliant Man in Moby Dick and Keats' Poetry
  • Huckleberry Finn: Self-Reliance or Self-Contempt ?

Lesson Plan for Self Reliance and Other Essays

  • About the Author
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E-Text of Self Reliance and Other Essays

Self Reliance and Other Essays E-Text contains the full text of Self Reliance and Other Essays

  • First Series - History
  • First Series - Self Reliance
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Wikipedia Entries for Self Reliance and Other Essays

  • Introduction

nature essay emerson summary

  • Emerson's Essays

Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • Literature Notes
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson Biography
  • Summary and Analysis of Nature
  • About Nature
  • Introduction
  • Summary and Analysis of The American Scholar
  • About The American Scholar
  • Paragraphs 1-7
  • Paragraphs 8-9
  • Paragraphs 10-20
  • Paragraphs 21-30
  • Paragraphs 31-45
  • Summary and Analysis of The Over-Soul
  • About The Over-Soul
  • Paragraphs 1-3
  • Paragraphs 4-10
  • Paragraphs 11-15
  • Paragraphs 16-21
  • Paragraphs 22-30
  • Summary and Analysis of Self-Reliance
  • About Self-Reliance
  • Paragraphs 1-17
  • Paragraphs 18-32
  • Paragraphs 33-50
  • Summary and Analysis of The Transcendentalist
  • About The Transcendentalist
  • Paragraphs 1-5
  • Paragraphs 6-14
  • Paragraphs 15-30
  • Summary and Analysis of The Poet
  • About The Poet
  • Paragraphs 1-9
  • Paragraphs 10-18
  • Paragraphs 19-29
  • Paragraphs 30-33
  • Critical Essays
  • Understanding Transcendentalism
  • Emerson Unitarianism, and the God Within
  • Emerson's Use of Metaphor
  • Full Glossary for Emerson's Essays
  • Essay Questions
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Summary and Analysis of Nature Chapter 7

Attempting to penetrate the mystery of nature's vital unity, Emerson's language and concepts concerning a universal spirituality suggest mystical truths beyond the reach of ordinary understanding. Whenever we try to define what this spirit is that permeates nature, our comprehension fails us, but we still feel that nature has spiritual properties. Although our critical understanding of nature's spirit can only be meager or superficial, this ignorance does not diminish the importance or the recognition of the mystery.

Emerson addresses three questions: First, what is the matter out of which nature is made? In answering this question, he finds that according to the philosophy of idealism, matter is a phenomenon and not a substance. Nature is something experienced, something distinctly different from ourselves. And yet, given his earlier statements concerning our foisting onto nature what we want it to be, Emerson admits that nature is permeated by the human emotions we accord it. Ironically, this conclusion means that nature as a thing in itself ultimately remains alien to us.

Addressing the next two questions — Where did the matter that is nature come from? Toward what end did it come? — Emerson asserts that nature's animating spirit expresses itself through us. The highest truth is that a universal essence is present in each and every object, including humans. This essence — or spirit — is the life force responsible for the continuous creation going on all around us: It creates the unity and indivisibility of nature, spirit, and humanity. But readers will recall Emerson's warning in the introduction, "We are now so far from the road to truth." The imbalance that alienates us from nature is what he is trying to make us aware of.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson

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