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Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson who was born on May 25, 1803 in Boston was known as, "the leading member of the group of New England idealists known as the transcendentalists." [Benet- 17] His father, editor of the "Monthly Anthology" - a review of literature, and pastor at the Unitarian Church in Boston, died in 1811, when Ralph Waldo was only eight. With a scholarship to Harvard, Emerson entered in 1817. Not an outstanding student, Emerson graduated thirteenth out of 59 students in 1821, and was elected class poet. After his graduation, he taught, even though he was suffering from symptoms of tuberculosis. Many generations of the Emerson family were ministers, so Ralph Waldo knew in the beginning that he was to become one. By the time he was twenty-two, he wished to be called Waldo. At this time he was enrolled for the Divinity School at Harvard, but his being sick made him have to give up his work for a while. In Concord, New Hampshire he met another poet, Ellen Tucker, also suffering with tuberculosis. Even though she was only 17, while Ralph Waldo was 24, they got married. They were both happy, but both very ill. Ellen died only after two years of their marriage. In the same year that Emerson met Ellen, he became a preacher, but it didn't last long. His chest was weak and he had to give it up. His travels to Europe led him to meet many men, even though he was very sick. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth and Thomas Carlyle were among the few. Carlyle stayed his friend throughout his whole life. Nature as a metaphor or image of the human mind was the topic of his lecture, "The uses of Natural History" after he got back from Europe. His attempt being to, "humanize science." [Grolier pg.304] His later marriage to Lydia Jackson lasted the rest of his life. They lived in Concord, Massachusetts. Lydia was forced by Ralph Waldo to change her name to Lydian. His reasoning for this was because of New Englander's habit of pronouncing things that ended with 'a', with an 'r' sound at the end. Their house guested many writers and conversationalists, including Henry David Thoreau. His first novel, "Nature", was finished in 1836 and even though only 500 copies were published, not all of them were sold. It was not until his second series of essays that he built his reputation. Although many people respected Emerson's thoughts, many of them weren't original. A number of them were inspired by the Puritan religion, readings from Plato and the Neoplatonists. His unique ability of stating things so well as a poet, simplified his philosophy for the average person. Poets have a way of writing things in one line that usually takes a paragraph to explain. It puts more importance and meaning into what they are saying. His messages were also easy to understand due to his, "organic nature," [Hodgins- 185] that made us understand and, "that was alive and virtually connected to our own spirit. He placed us inside the world in a new way. Ralph Waldo Emerson died of pneumonia in 1882 and was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Even though he was ill for most of his life, his optimistic attitude inspired many people. The following are a number of Emerson's writings that were compiled and annotated by Thomas and Hodgins in their respective biographies on Ralph Waldo Emerson. There was no easy system of philosophy to Emerson. "He did not pretend to know the truth. The truth is as hard to capture and bottle up as light." [Thomas-250] Emerson was not afraid to say that he was wrong. He would simply change his opinion. All men are vital parts of one organism- mankind. Transcendentalism came as the term for this oneness of man, through his relationship to God. Dignity of the common man. "Come out of the cemeteries of the past!" "Look forward into the woodlands of the future! The eyes of man are set in his forehead, not in his hindhead."... "Build your own world." [Thomas- 352] Nobility of the commonplace- ... "the world exists for you." [Thomas- 253] Asserting oneself- "All that Adam had, and Caesar could, you have and can do." ... "There are no bounds to the possibilities of man." [Thomas- 253] Be of good cheer!- "This world belongs to the cheerful, the energetic and daring." [Thomas- 253] Friendship. The life of man is a search for friendship. It is not just a passion, but an action in our souls. "The Alps and the Andes come and go as rainbows." [Thomas- 255] Peaceful Pioneers was Emerson's philosophical dream. A world with no wars, friends who were courageous, independent, joyous and loving. Hawthorne said that when he would meet Emerson on one of his walks, " was impossible to dwell in the vicinity without inhaling the mountain atmosphere of his lofty thoughts." [Thomas- 256] "Great geniuses have the shortest biographies. Their cousins can tell you nothing about them." [Hodgins-184] "I am glad to the brink of fear."... "In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life- no disgrace, no calamity..."... "Standing on the bare ground- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into the 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."... "I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature."[Hodgins- 186] Taken from, "Nature." "There is never a beginning, there is never and end, to the inexplicable continuity of this web of God, but always circular power returning into itself. Therein it resembles his own spirit, whose beginning, whose ending, he never can find- so entire, so boundless."... "The theory of books is noble." [Hodgins- 187] Taken from, "The American Scholar." "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 though his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till."... "Trust thyself; every heart vibrates to that iron string."... "To be great is to be misunderstood..." [Hodgins- 190] Taken from, "Self-Reliance" "Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why This charm is wasted on the earth and sky, Tell them, dear, that if eyes wee made for seeing, Then Beauty is its own excuse for being:" [Hodgins- 193] Taken from, "Rhodora" "He sings the song, but it cheers not now, For I did not bring home the river and the sky; Nothing is fair or good alone. Again I saw, again I heard, The rolling river, the morning bird; Beauty through my senses stole; I yielded myself to the perfect whole." [Hodgins- 194]Taken from, "Each and All" "It is time to be old To take in sail And every wave is charmed." [Hodgins- 197] Taken from, "Terminus" "By the rude bridge that arched the flood, Their flag to April's breeze unfurled, Here once the embattled farmers stood And fired the shot heard round the world." [Hodgins- 198] Taken from, "Concord Hymn" "America means opportunity, freedom, power. The genius of this country has marked out her true policy: opportunity- doors wide open- every port open. If I could, I would have free trade with all the world, without toll or customhouse. Let us invite every nation, every race, every skin; white man, black man, red man, yellow man. Let us offer hospitality, a fair field and justice for all." [Thomas- 258] Hermann Hesse compares Siddhartha's thoughts with Emerson's thoughts on nature. In the novel, Siddhartha, it states that, "It seemed to him as if the river had something special to tell him, something which he did not know, something which still awaited him." [Hesse- 100] Emerson agrees with this when he says, "Man is a stream whose source is hidden..." [Hodgins- 181] These quotations agree with each other by stating that the river has more than what it looks like. The river in Siddhartha's quote says that it has something to tell him. Emerson's stream symbolizes man. This method of personification helps give importance and that symbolism that is stated. What we learn from both of these quotes is that a river is more than just what you look at, as is everything. If you find time to connect with the river or stream, you will have the ability to connect with yourself. Works Cited: Benet, Laura. Famous American Poets. Dodd, Mead and Co., NY. c.1950 Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha. New Directions Publishing Co., NY. c.1951 Cantwell, Robert. Famous American Men of Letters Dodd, Mead and Co., NY. c.1956 Encarta. Microsoft Encarta. c.1996 Grolier. Encyclopedia Americana Grolier Inc., CT. vol.10 c.1995 Hodgins, Francis. Adventures in American Literature HBJ Publishers, Orlando. c.1985 Thomas. Living Biographies, Great Philosophers Doubleday and Co. USA c.1941


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