Ralph Waldo Emerson And Transcendentalism Essay

1601 words - 6 pages

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Transcendentalism

 
     Ralph Waldo Emerson believed in the potential within every individual to achieve

a heightened state of being and awareness through a close observation of the

world and an introspective look at himself. Infused in his work are the

influences of transcendentalism and his life as a Unitarian pastor. James D.

Hart, when discussing the spirit of transcendentalism, states, "Man may fulfill

his divine potentialities either through a rapt mystical state, in which the

divine is infused into the human, or through coming into contact with the truth,

beauty, and goodness embodied in nature and originating in the Over-Soul. Thus

occurs the doctrine of correspondence between the tangible world and the human

mind, and the identity of moral and physical laws" (Hart 674). This concept is

the embodiment of Emerson's sermons and essays, and any one of his works

fulfills or inspires a divine potential.

 

"Self Reliance," published in 1841, is one of Emerson's most influential essays,

and its title addresses a central concept of American Transcendentalism. The

essay promotes self trust and independence of the individual, and this idea is

expressed in the final lines, "Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing

can bring you peace but the triumph of the principal" (Lauter 1638). The

principal he refers to is a moral truth that can only be developed in one's own

mind. As man lives in search of this truth, he achieves human divinity. "There

is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy

is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better,

for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no

kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that

plot of ground which is given to him to till" (Lauter 1622-3). An inner truth is

derived from experience; one cannot rely on the words or ideas of others, and he

cannot be limited by old authorities. History, tradition, and the rest of

society are no longer his guides because one with a contrary insight may not

agree with their principles. "The objection to conforming to usages that have

become dead to is, is, that it scatters your force" (Lauter 1625). If man

develops his own morals they are more significant to him, and he will have a

better chance of honoring the Over-Soul.

 

Emerson preached, "In listening more intently to our own soul we are not

becoming in the ordinary sense more selfish, but are departing farther from what

is low and falling back upon truth and upon God. For the whole value of the soul

depends on the fact that it contains a divine principle that it is a house of

God, and the voice of the eternal inhabitant may always be heard within...

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