Monday, May 21, 2012

Ralph Waldo Emerson: Radical

Ralph Waldo Emerson is always worth reading again, especially his later work The Conduct of Life (1860) and Society and Solitude (1870).   The excerpt below comes from his first work, the little book he published entitled simply Nature (which is not to be confused with the essay of the same name which he published later).  The excerpt from it quoted below is presented as evidence of a fact about Emerson that is unknown to most people:  he was a genuine radical in the sense of one who seeks to go to the roots of things.  In our day of multiculturalism, which too often means no real culture of any kind,  Emerson is relegated to the ranks of dead white men of European origin, irrelevant and meaningless to the living.  In the text below, though, Emerson counsels the living to find out what is sacred to them by looking to what is before them, not to the past.  
"Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship."

    Ralph Waldo Emerson, Introduction, Nature (1836).

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