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‘Nature’ by Emerson

November 19th, 2009

Emerson’s ‘Nature’, published anonymously in 1836, helped to initiate the nature-loving Transcendentalist Movement, sometimes called New England Transcendentalism. Here are some excerpts:

Nuinn's Wood

To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth becomes part of his daily food. In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.   …

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. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years.

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. 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 eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. …

Emerson, ‘Nature’

2 Responses to “‘Nature’ by Emerson”

  1. He makes the soul sing, doesn’t he? It’s so beautiful and has such truth in it. Makes me want to cry. Adulthood can often feel like being forced to wear all our clothes at once, layers that can make it difficult to move freely through our lives. The things that hurt or scare us, the burdens that take us away from ourselves, so often obscure that eternal child that Emerson writes about. And yet, nature really does strip it all away. I am so thankful for those moments of ‘perfect exhileration’; when he writes of being ‘glad to the brink of fear’ (such a brilliant line!), I am sure many of us know exactly that feeling – I know I do.

    It’s not just the peace of the woods either. Travelling on the ferry to the mainland during the storms at the weekend, I had one of those ‘transparent eye-ball’ moments. I felt a little bit nervous about the crossing – thunder, hail and extremely strong winds! Half way across Spit Head, a mist descended and both the Island and the mainland vanished. All that was left was this incredible churning sea and white foam. It looked like the ocean at the beginning of the world -extraordinarily beautiful and mesmerising. Any fear I had felt about the journey slipped away in that moment.

    I think those sudden shifts and openings in our perception – something that nature constantly offers us – really engages the eternal child within each of us. When Emerson says that in such moments he is nothing and yet sees all, it seems to me that this is the blessing of the child’s vision; a state beyond the limitations that blinker us – a place of utter belonging.

    Thank you for posting this Philip. I don’t think I will ever tire of reading Emerson – I find his words so joyful and moving.

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