Ralph Waldo Emerson saw the world through his feelings and his spirit. He cultivated the literary movement called American Transcendentalism. It is the philosophic conception which claims that man should transcend from the physical and superficial world to a more rewarding spiritual one. In the 19th century, the essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson published Nature, a framework of his social and religious philosophy. It suggests that the human beings should avail themselves of their feelings and their intuition in order to attain harmony through connecting with nature. The present work will demonstrate how Emerson’s essay places nature between Transcendentalism and Romanticism.
The two terms must be defined first of all. The period between 1800 and1850 is usually identified as the Romanticism era. Romantics had a particular interest in culture, including art and literature, and used a wide range of imagery and figures of speech in their writings. They emphasized in a great measure emotions and nature together with its beauty. At the same time, transcendentalists focused on the contemplation of nature that leads to a special comprehension of man-nature relationship, to harmony.
Emerson states in his essay that the harmony between man and nature is the most desirable state of mind a man can have. It brings great pleasure and uplifts the soul. Thus, the author believes that the power of nature lies in the eyes of the man and it always wears the colors of his spirit (Emerson, 6). It is a transcendentalist thinking which consider that the man is often presented with natural objects corresponding to an inner or a spiritual world (Maunder, ix).
The ability of artistic works to stir the emotions regarding the sublimity of nature (Maunder, vi) is a Romantic feature. The relationship between nature and man is amplified by the author through the personification of nature as follows: Nature never wears a mean appearance. Neither does the wisest man extort her secret, and lose his curiosity by finding out all her perfection (Emerson, 6). The style of the essay is rich in imagery and rhetorical devices. Emerson describes nature using a lot of similes and metaphors such as: From the earth, as a shore, I look out into the silent sea (Emerson, 8) or The leafless trees become spires of flame in the sunset (Emerson, 8). In addition, the author used juxtaposition and paradox in order to observe the changes which affect nature: The waving of the boughts in the storm is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is not unknown (Emerson, 6). Although nature is always different, it provides the same benefits to men every single time. Moreover, allusion in a rhetorical device that Emerson used very frequently in the essay: He no longer waits for favoring gales, but by means of steam, he realizes the fable of Aeolus’s bag, and carries the two and thirty wings in the boiler of his boat (Emerson, 7).
In spite of Romanticism’s orientation towards past, Transcendentalism is considered to be an objection of it. While Romantics glorify the past decades with their discoveries, Emerson claims in his essay that man should answer the questions about God, about nature or man just through his own experience. Truth is beyond experience and can be obtained only through genuine relationship with the universe and sense is the means in achieving truth. Transcendentalism argues that the best knowledge is the one which is achieved by intuition.