Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882) was a founder of the 19th-century American philosophy Transcendentalism. Nature, written when Emerson was only thirty-three, was the first time he coalesced his thinking into a treatise.
Emerson believed humans were connected to nature (by “nature” he meant that which exists but isn’t human) and we should look to this greater connection, this Unity of all beings. In doing so, we “transcend” our otherwise finite and lonely experience, touch what Mary Oliver, a disciple of Emerson, called “the eternal.”
The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them. The waving of boughs in the storm is new to me and old.
Nature is supremely short but abounds with wisdom and penetrating observations. Ennobling thoughts such as seeing greatness and miracle in small things, a singular focus on the eternal, and meditations on solitude and interruption.
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.
When Emerson was surrounded by nature, even a simple path, he wrote “I am glad to the brink of fear.” To understand what he meant, and to feel the same, is one of life’s richest rewards. Emerson has influenced my spirit and writing more than most.
Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us. Certain mechanical changes, a small alteration to our local positioning apprizes us of dualism. We are strangely affected by seeing the shore from a moving shore, from a balloon, or through the tings of an unusual sky. The least change in our point of view gives the whole world a pictorial air.
I also highly recommend Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which, upon publication, Emerson called “the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed.” With Emerson’s support, Whitman’s work was recognized and hailed as an exceptional work of poetry.