Different Perceptions of Beauty in Nature
Ralph Waldo Emerson derived his philosophy of transcendentalism from ideas of Plato. According to Emerson, one has to have a very sensual relationship with beauty and nature in order to reach this transcendence. However, Emerson’s outlook on beauty as written in Nature is very different from what Plato wrote in The Republic. Interestingly, these differences will result in different methods for attaining the same state of transcendence. I believe, however, that Emerson’s method best describes how the soul transcends.
The act of recalling beauty in its true and perfect form, Beauty, will lead to transcendence and the recovery of the soul. To Plato, transcendence comes not from experiencing anything in the material world as Emerson says, but “only the study of unseen reality can draw the soul upward” (223). Ultimate, true Beauty is the soul in its purest, transcended form:
The soul must be seen as it truly is. It must not be distorted as we find it when it is hinged to the body and its miseries. The light of reason must enable us to discover the soul in its pure form, where its beauty is far more radiant (302).
According to Plato, this perfect form of Beauty can be found by examining one’s soul using reason and wisdom. It can only be found by looking within and examining that which is not part of the physical world and cannot be seen.
Emerson on the other hand believes that the way to transcend the soul is to go forth into nature and experience its beauty in all the senses. He believes nature’s beauty will allow man to find wisdom and to be closer to God. He writes, “in the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life—no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair” (6). For Emerson, the things in nature, especially the things he can see, are medicinal and vital for survival because they are part of God. He believes nature is a link between man and God. This link is much more intimate than one would think. By standing before nature and being sensually attuned to it, Emerson says one can become part of God:
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. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances, master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty” (6).
By becoming part of God, one may leave the cave of ignorance. The people that remain in the cave are forgotten and unnecessary. The transcendence results into an enlightenment and perception, of not Beauty, but of God. Beauty is the medium used to perceive God. A crucial difference between Emerson and Plato’s thinking is...