Essays and Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson (Part One | Introduction and Poems)

I purchase this tome over six years ago for English literature class my junior year of high school. According to the highlighting within, my classmates and I assigned just one essay – The American Scholar – during the section of the course on Emerson. That seems foolish considering we were required to purchase this 520 paged book, and I feel even more foolish admitting that I didn’t even read that. (Junior year was not a good year for me in terms of keeping on top of required reading. Stupid stomach.)

I read this collection a bit out of order – reading the introduction and then skipping the essays to read the poems. Again, I find that I am not a fan of poetry. However, I’m really intrigued by Emerson’s essays. Or at least what the introduction says they mean.

“For Emerson, to enter into nature meant to enter an environment, free from society’s conventional attitudes and opinions, where one could discover one’s self, unique and part from all other relations.” (pg. xiii)

For this quote alone I think Emerson I could be friends. There is something so refreshing about being outdoors; even in the smallest city park I feel introspective. I crave the animosity of nature — after all, nature does not care if you are wearing REI or North Face — while at school and work. There’s something so stifling about a build environment that I am always thrown into a moment of panic when I step off the plane in New England and see nothing but concrete overpasses, skyscrapers, and hordes of people.

“…Emerson feared that America was losing its more valuable resource — the individual — as men and women increasingly defined themselves in terms of their professions and their possessions.” (pg. xiv)

I kept rereading this quote over and over; it just as relevant as it was then as it is today. My parents always raised my brother and I to realize to those with the nicest cars and the nicest homes may have built their status on shaky foundation. This idea became face after the financial meltdown in 2008 when news story after news story reported how massively in debt the average American is. Yet people did this because the way society defined themselves in terms of their possessions. (There’s also the issue of the tax code, which penalized people from purchasing houses the same size or smaller than their current home.) And, when I go back to school in August, people will size one another up based on what you did this summer — who had the more prestigious internship?

“They called me theirs, who so controlled me; yet everyone wished to stay, and is gone, how am I theirs, if they cannot hold me, but I hold them?” (Earth-song, pg. 447)

I am decidedly not a fan of poetry. However, I really liked “Earth-song”, particularly the section quoted above. It seems to follow the focus on nature introduced by Norberg in the introduction — how can we expect to have total control of the Earth when she will outlive us and holds the key to our lives? This collection already has me feeling introspective and intrigued!

Book Mentioned:

  • Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Ed. Peter Norberg. Essays and Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2004. Print. 520 pgs. ISBN: 159308076X. Source: Purchased.
Book Cover © Barnes & Noble Classics. Retrieved: May 23, 2012.
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2 thoughts on “Essays and Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson (Part One | Introduction and Poems)

  1. Not a real fan of poetry either. Emerson is one I used to pick up at random off my father’s bookshelf but I don’t think I ever read a whole volume straight through.

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    1. I’ll imagine it will take me a while to get through this collection. It really does demand focus, and I seem to be struggling with focusing on anything other than TV when I get home from work.

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