"Nature" is an essay written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and published by James Munroe and Company in 1836. In the essay Emerson put forth the foundation of transcendentalism, a belief system that espouses a non-traditional appreciation of nature. Transcendentalism suggests that the divine, or God, suffuses nature, and suggests that reality can be understood by studying nature. Emerson's visit to the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris inspired a set of lectures he later delivered in Boston which were then published.
Within the essay, Emerson divides nature into four usages: Commodity, Beauty, Language and Discipline. These distinctions define the ways by which humans use nature for their basic needs, their desire for delight, their communication with one another and their understanding of the world. Emerson followed the success of "Nature" with a speech, "The American Scholar", which together with his previous lectures laid the foundation for transcendentalism and his literary career.
In "Nature", Emerson lays out and attempts to solve an abstract problem: that humans do not fully accept nature's beauty. He writes that people are distracted by the demands of the world, whereas nature gives but humans fail to reciprocate. The essay consists of eight sections: Nature, Commodity, Beauty, Language, Discipline, Idealism, Spirit and Prospects. Each section takes a different perspective on the relationship between humans and nature.
In the essay Emerson explains that to experience the "wholeness" with nature for which we are naturally suited, we must be separate from the flaws and distractions imposed on us by society. Emerson believed that solitude is the single mechanism through which we can be fully engaged in the world of nature, writing "To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars."
When a person experiences true solitude, in nature, it "take[s] him away". Society, he says, destroys wholeness, whereas "Nature, in its ministry to man, is not only the material, but is also the process and the result. All the parts incessantly work into each other's hands for the profit of man. 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."
Emerson defines a spiritual relationship. In nature a person finds its spirit and accepts it as the Universal Being. He writes: "Nature is not fixed but fluid; to a pure spirit, nature is everything."
Emerson uses spirituality as a major theme in the essay. Emerson believed in reimagining the divine as something large and visible, which he referred to as nature; such an idea is known as transcendentalism, in which one perceives a new God and their body, and becomes one with their surroundings. Emerson confidently exemplifies transcendentalism, stating, "From the earth, as a shore, I look out into that silent sea. I seem to partake its rapid transformations: the active enchantment reaches my dust, and I dilate and conspire with the morning wind", postulating that humans and wind are one. Emerson referred to nature as the "Universal Being"; he believed that there was a spiritual sense of the natural world around him. Depicting this sense of "Universal Being", Emerson states, "The aspect of nature is devout. Like the figure of Jesus, she stands with bended head, and hands folded upon the breast. The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship".
According to Emerson, there were three spiritual problems addressed about nature for humans to solve: "What is matter? Whence is it? And Whereto?" What is matter? Matter is a phenomenon, not a substance; rather, nature is something that is experienced by humans, and grows with humans' emotions. Whence is it and Whereto? Such questions can be answered with a single answer, nature's spirit is expressed through humans, "Therefore, that spirit, that is, the Supreme Being, does not build up nature around us, but puts it forth through us", states Emerson. Emerson clearly depicts that everything must be spiritual and moral, in which there should be goodness between nature and humans.
"Nature" was controversial to some. One review published in January 1837 criticized the philosophies in "Nature" and disparagingly referred to beliefs as "Transcendentalist", coining the term by which the group would become known.
Henry David Thoreau had read "Nature" as a senior at Harvard College and took it to heart. It eventually became an essential influence for Thoreau's later writings, including his seminal Walden. In fact, Thoreau wrote Walden after living in a cabin on land that Emerson owned. Their longstanding acquaintance offered Thoreau great encouragement in pursuing his desire to be a published author.
- ^Nature. Boston: James Munroe and Company. 1836. Retrieved February 3, 2018 – via Internet Archive.
- ^Liebman, Sheldon W. “Emerson, Ralph Waldo.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature. Ed. Jay Parini. Oxford University Press, 2004. Web.
- ^“Transcendentalism.” The Oxford Dictionary of English. 2010. Web.
- ^Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "Nature". The Oxford Companion to American Literature. Ed. James D. Hart. Rev. Philip W. Leininger. Oxford University Press, 1995. Web.
- ^Baym, Nina, Wayne Franklin, Philip F. Gura, and Arnold Krupat. The Norton Anthology of American Literature.
- ^Hankins, Barry. The Second Great Awakening and the Transcendentalists. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004: 24. ISBN 0-313-31848-4
- ^Reidhead, Julia. "Henry David Thoreau", The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008. 825-828. Print.
NATURE – THE WORLD’S BEST TEACHER
Nature is a great teacher. No wonder our ancestors used to look up to nature to understand about life itself. Our ancient scriptures are filled with hymns devoted to nature, as we treated nature as God in many instances. The Sun, Moon, Trees, Rivers, etc. all were treated as Divine creatures. Let us also see what we could learn from them:
SUN: The giver of light, energy, seasons … the list is endless. But what we could learn most from it is how we should be when we are in a position of power. Many a times the sun is covered by the clouds … yet, what does it do? It does not wrestle with the clouds to show who is greater; it does not take away the cloud’s moment of glory, that the cloud could overshadow somebody as great as the sun. Instead, the sun gives the cloud a halo, its silver lining, making the cloud look more beautiful. Humans, especially leaders need to learn this from the sun.
When one is great, is in a position of power, it is not necessary to take away the limelight from others all the time… Appreciating others not only add to that person’s glory, it also makes others look forward to seeing YOU again.
MOON: The bestower of calm, cooling sensations to the aggrieved or restless mind. The moon changes its shape every day, it is called fickle … but have you ever visualized the moon with a sad expression? No, never. In any shape, it always seems that the moon is smiling. Whether it is a wide crescent smile or an open-toothed half-moon smile or a peaceful full moon smile … it’s always happy and filled with love. It doesn’t matter that it is faced with a change every single day. It still inspires hope and love.
RAIN: We love the rains; we look forward to a break from the heat. It bestows life into the parched earth. It helps the crops grow. But beautiful rains create messy, dirty roads. Much like Life – this beautiful life of ours creates messy, ugly situations sometimes. These situations make us understand life; they make us realize the value of everything that we have. They help US grow. Dirty roads don’t make the rains any less lovely; bad situations shouldn’t make us value and love life any lesser.
TREES: Nature’s ardent helper, giver of oxygen, provider of shade to the tired traveler, health giver, shelter provider to the birds and other creatures. The tree never knowingly harms anybody. Instead, it feeds the hands that hurt it, whether one pelts it with stones for the fruit or cuts it for the wood. The first knowledge of virtues like patience, forgiveness, generosity must have come by observing the trees.
RIVER: The river is one of the most important eco-system in the world. It is the giver of life to the fields, animals, trees and humans alike. It finds its way through the mountains & hills, through rocks and stones. It is playful in some places, tumbles down with a roar or is very peaceful sometimes. It finds its own sweet music, makes its own path and there is nothing that can stop it, no, not even the biggest boulder. And best of all, it accepts its merger into the big, wide sea. Can human life and its final journey be any different?
SEA: There is nobody on earth who can claim to know how many treasures the seas contain in their depths. Perpetually attracted by the moon, they heave and ebb in response to its closeness. Look into our lives … we can never measure the depth of human emotions, can we? Every emotion is a treasure which does not have to be displayed to one and all. Being peaceful and humble despite our richness, remaining within our limits almost always should be the most important lessons that we can learn from the sea. Never forget that there is always another wave even if the earlier one returns … there is always more to life, irrespective of the setbacks.
FIELDS: Barren sometimes and sometimes slushy, a verdant green sometimes and brown otherwise, the fields reflect the seasons so beautifully. They are willing to bear the pain of ploughing and weeding, to give the farmer their best crops. Even when the crops are cut and they are neglected, they sprout grass to feed the cows. To bring out from the depths to give and then give some more selflessly, is what we can learn from the fields. Remember that the lush fields also lay bare from time to time. That is the time that the field replenishes its reserves. In business when we face a downturn, that is the time to start collecting our energies and build up our reserves so that when the time is right, we are able to give our best.
Divinity exists in all aspects of life. When we are aware of ourselves, we become aware of the God in all, big or small. We then learn to live life well. We become complete.