“I declare this world is so beautiful that I can hardly believe it exists.” The beauty of nature can have a profound effect upon our senses, those gateways from the outer world to the inner, whether it results in disbelief in its very existence as Emerson notes, or feelings such as awe, wonder, or amazement. But what is it about nature and the entities that make it up that cause us, oftentimes unwillingly, to feel or declare that they are beautiful?
One answer that Emerson offers is that “the simple perception of natural forms is a delight.” When we think of beauty in nature, we might most immediately think of things that dazzle the senses – the prominence of a mountain, the expanse of the sea, the unfolding of the life of a flower. Often it is merely the perception of these things itself which gives us pleasure, and this emotional or affective response on our part seems to be crucial to our experience of beauty. So in a way there is a correlate here to the intrinsic value of nature; Emerson says:
the sky, the mountain, the tree, the animal, give us a delight in and for themselves
Most often, it seems to me, we find these things to be beautiful not because of something else they might bring us – a piece of furniture, say, or a ‘delicacy’ to be consumed – but because of the way that the forms of these things immediately strike us upon observation. In fact, one might even think that this experience of beauty is one of the bases for valuing nature – nature is valuable because it is beautiful.
Emerson seems to think that beauty in the natural world is not limited to certain parts of nature to the exclusion of others. He writes that every landscape lies under “the necessity of being beautiful”, and that “beauty breaks in everywhere.” As we slowly creep out of a long winter in the Northeast, I think Emerson would find the lamentations about what we have ‘endured’ to be misguided:
The inhabitants of the cities suppose that the country landscape is pleasant only half the year….To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again.
The close observer of nature sees a river in constant flux, even when the river’s water is frozen and everything appears to be static and unchanging for a time. Nature can reveal its beauty in all places and at all times to the eye that knows how to look for it. We can hear Emerson wrangle with himself on this very point in the words of this journal entry:
At night I went out into the dark and saw a glimmering star and heard a frog, and Nature seemed to say, Well do not these suffice? Here is a new scene, a new experience. Ponder it, Emerson, and not like the foolish world, hanker after thunders and multitudes and vast landscapes, the sea or Niagara.
MS Am 1280.235 (706.3E) Houghton Library
So if we’re sympathetic to the idea that nature, or aspects of it, are beautiful, we might ask ourselves why we experience nature in this way. Emerson says that nature is beautiful because it is alive, moving, reproductive. In nature we observe growth and development in living things, contrasted with the static or deteriorating state of the vast majority of that which is man-made. More generally, he writes: “We ascribe beauty to that which…has no superfluous parts; which exactly answers its end; which stands related to all things”. He cites natural structures as lacking superfluities, an observation that in general has been confirmed by the advancement of biology. Furthermore, he says that whether talking about a human artifact or a natural organism, any increase of ability to achieve its end or goal is an increase in beauty. So in Emerson we might find the resources for seeing evolution and the drive to survive as a beautiful rather than an ugly process, governed by laws that tend to increase reproductive fitness and that we can understand through observation and inquiry. And lastly, Emerson points to the relation between what we take to be an individual and the rest of nature as a quality of the beautiful. This consists in the “power to suggest relation to the whole world, and so lift the object out of a pitiful individuality.” In nature one doesn’t come across individuals that are robustly independent from their environment; rather things are intimately interconnected with their surroundings in ways that we don’t fully understand.
Nothing is quite beautiful alone: nothing but is beautiful in the whole.
All of these qualities of beauty seem to go beyond the mere impression of sensible forms that we started with, and what they require is what also served as the basis of truth and goodness in nature.
MS Am 1280.235 (708) Houghton LibraryIn addition to the immediate experience of beauty based in perception, Emerson suggests that the beauty of the world may also be viewed as an object of the intellect. He writes that “the question of Beauty takes us out of surfaces, to thinking of the foundations of things.” In other words, we can also experience the world as beautiful because of its rational structure and our ability to grasp that structure through thought. Think for instance of the geometric structure of a crystal, or snowflake, or nautilus shell. Or consider the complexity of the fact that the reintroduction of the wolf in Yellowstone National Park changed the course of the rivers due to a chain reaction of cause and effect through the food web, a process called a trophic cascade. This reinforces Emerson’s emphasis on the interconnection between all members of the natural world; as observers of nature we are confronted with one giant, complex process that isn’t of our own making, but that we can also understand, and get a mental grasp on, even if only partially, and be awe-struck in that process of understanding.
There is thus an emotional or affective component in the beauty of the intellect just as there is in the immediate beauty of perception. If we destroy the natural world, we take away the things that we can marvel at and experience awe towards in these two ways. And this experience of the beautiful through the intellect may reinforce our attributing value to nature here as well, but a deeper kind of value, the intrinsic value I talked about in the last essay. Here it is not only that nature is valuable because it is beautiful, but nature is beautiful because it possesses intrinsic value, grounded in its intelligible structure. Thus we see a close parallel between goodness and beauty in nature. We can find an objective basis for goodness and beauty in nature, namely its intelligible structure, but also see that nature is valuable and beautiful for us, with the particular apparatus that nature has given us for navigating our way through the world.
So that which is the basis of truth in nature and provides it with intrinsic value is also that which makes it beautiful. Emerson himself ties these three aspects of nature into one package himself:
He should know that the landscape has beauty for his eye, because it expresses a thought which is to him good: and this, because of the same power which sees through his eyes, is seen in that spectacle
This is the unified philosophy of nature that I set out to explicate in the first essay – nature is the source of truth, goodness, and beauty, because of its intelligible structure, and because of its production of organisms that can recognize that structure, us. And this view of nature includes an inherent call to protect that which is true, good, and beautiful. These are the things that we as human beings are searching for, are striving after, and yet they’re right in front of us if only we would listen with our ear to the earth.
Although I’ve been advocating an approach to nature based on its intelligibility, we are far from tying down the giant that is nature with our minds. Emerson writes that “the perception of the inexhaustibleness of nature is an immortal youth.” Although we shall continue to try to uncover nature’s secrets, let us also continue to take pleasure in our immediate encounter with her. Let us continue to be awe-struck, like the child on the seashore, or clambering up a tree. Let us hold onto that experience, and fight for the environment that makes it possible, both for the child in each of us, and for those that come after us.
Michael welcomes correspondence, and can be reached at email@example.com. His series "Emerson and the Environment" is part of a larger project which was awarded a Student Sustainability Grant. Quotations taken from Emerson’s journals, his book Nature, and his essays ‘Nature’, ‘Art’, ‘Beauty’, and ‘Spiritual Laws.' He is happy to provide more specific source information for the quotations.
Nature Ralph Walden Emerson and Henry David Thoreau WaldenGet Your
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‘Nature’ and ‘Walden’ are two art works basically giving the similar messages to the readers. Their writers are different but one of the things which make these works similar is Henry David Thoreau is affected by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s works and ideas very much. Secondly, their essays are both inspired from transcendentalism movement. Finally, their theme are both the same, they deal with mainly the idea of ‘nature’. While comparing these two essays, it is better to look at them deeper separately. Nature is an essay written by Ralph Waldo Emerson and published in 1836.
The importance of this work is that transcendentalism arose with this art of work. Transcendentalism is mainly a combination of reason and emotion; in a more detailed way, transcendentalism is about self-reliance. One has to look into herself/himself and turn her/his face to the nature, purity and has to be away from society, and their mind is supposed not to be full of organized believes and political theories. This movement became a leading aspect in literature with the publication of Nature; therefore, when analyzing the work ‘Nature’, the main features of transcendentalism will be encountered and understood better.
In Nature, Emerson explains the relationship between man and nature. In the nature, every object is simple and sign of wisdom. In earth, as living creatures, people have pleasures and this is not only because they are human but also due to the nature. When people look at nature, they realize the perfectness, happiness of the nature. They realize the existence of God. Nature makes people realize that they are a part of God. In nature, everything is designed for humanity. People get benefits from nature. Everything in it is interconnected and they serve to people.
By this perception, Emerson also implies that nature is alive, surrounding and serving to human. By his transcendentalist perception, Emerson also implies everything that human is need of is in nature, so people must look at and live the nature, they must be purified from dirtiness of the society and industry. Emerson also defines beauty in Nature. Beauty must be searched in the nature. Beauty is the pleasure of perceiving the nature. Emerson links the morality and nature because all two has extreme purity. God give people virtue and intellect. With these features, people can reach the beauty, the ruthiness of nature.
Emerson sees these values as a part of nature, and man can be relieved only in nature. Nature connects people to each other. As a living aspect, nature has a language. Language is a combination of systematic symbols. Also nature has symbols in it. People use these symbols to be able to understand each other and the nature. In other words, nature provides people communication. According to Emerson, man and nature are in interconnection. They are dependent, if man behaves nature in a good way, so the nature serves the man in a best way.
Therefore, man has to follow the nature, has to take nature’s purity, its moral values. Nature is a present for man from God. Man uses nature to find his spirit, truth, morality and values. With the help of nature, man can get rid of earthly devilry. Nature is the last place of destination. Man came from the nature and will go to the nature again. Nature is a server of man. It is pure and stainless. If man can reach this purity, he can find his soul. If man gets rid of the society’s destroyed values and environment and keep the nature pure, nature will serve humanity in its best way.
As mentioned above, Emerson expresses his feelings about in a reasonable way. It can be seen that Emerson used both emotion and reason in his essays, which is related to transcendentalism movement. Also, in aspect of the theme, it is obvious that Emerson focuses on the self-reliance and its relation to the nature. He deals with the nature and man in a detailed way and connects these features to each other in a sensible way. Briefly, Emerson writes how the nature serves to man, how man use the nature to live in morality and purity. ‘Walden’ is written by Henry David Thoreau and published in 1854.
This art of work is a product of a real experience and inspired by the transcendentalism movement. Not only his writing style is inspired by transcendentalism but also Thoreau applied this movement, idea in his life style and wanted to experience this idea. It can be said that transcendentalism is not only an idea for Thoreau, but it is also must be put into practice in real life and this shows his pragmatic approach. Thoreau by living in a cabin for two years near Walden Pond which is formally owned by Emerson wanted to create his own perception of society and nature.
He focused on simple ways of living and self-sufficiency. He decided to direct his life in this way when he encountered Emerson’s works. He liked the idea, movement ‘transcendentalism’ and actually practiced it. Living with no money and alone, only with nature and understanding the society by this way was his main goal. He shared his experiences in his book Walden. He did not live in a wild environment as he mentioned also in his book, he lived near the town near a lake. He pragmatically wanted to see if living in this simplicity is really good or not.
In Walden, he firstly explains his plans for this two-year life in a cabin. In this simple life, he has just food, shelter, clothes and fuel. He supplies these with the help of his friends and family. In his work, he criticizes his neighbors who dedicate their lives to working for a better living. However, he, himself, also works for building his house and growing plants. He writes everyday in this house in addition to daily routines like cleaning land, preparing and growing food. He reads many books and wishes a utopian world in which people are educated very well so the all of the people would be noble and wise.
One of the aspects Thoreau argued in his book is that transcendentalism is not only an idea and it is something also that must be lived, experienced and put into life. He explains his life in this cabin within the perspective of transcendentalism. He is delighted with the beauty of nature and his basic, simple daily routines. He is delighted with not being in a rush, not being governed by money. Nature helps him to gain a more pure, clear, moral perspective and to analyze the real life by comparing it with his simple life. As a result, he criticizes the city life and its effects on the nature.
Society and industry ruins the beauty and purity of the nature. For example, he is interrupted by the voices coming from trains, railway. Railway is a symbol of city life which is ruining the nature and its natural way. His being alone along these two years is beneficial according to Thoreau, because he thinks that his solitude made him closer to the nature. He is left to his own resources in nature and the nature is the only friend of him. He has the opportunity of analyzing the nature and his desolation in the nature makes his pastoral way of life morally upright.
Thoreau wanted to experience this because he wanted to escape from civilization and experience the purity of nature. He wanted to see whether or not he could live without luxury. However, what he did in Walden is also writing and reading a lot. Like Emerson does in Nature, Thoreau also talks about the goodness of nature, being solitude and being close to the nature. They both state that man need to live in purity to relief and reach the happiness and to be able to purified from the society.
They both criticize the bad effects of society n nature, they both represent that society and industry ruins the purity and clarity of the nature. They both criticize the materialist way of living. However, in Walden it can be seen that Thoreau tries to find a way to connect civilization and nature in a pure concept. The main difference between Emerson and Thoreau is that Thoreau is pragmatics in his belief of ‘transcendentalism’. Emerson supports this idea but does not put into action. Also, while Thoreau explains transcendentalism on the basis of his real experiences, Emerson explains it only in a theoretical way.
Therefore, while Emerson only talks about the nature’s purity and society’s devilry, Thoreau also tries to find a middle course between nature and society to some point. This can be because Thoreau is more realistic and he does critics on the basis of his own experiences. Emerson and Thoreau criticized the society and industry in the same way. They both state that it ruins the nature. They both state that desolation provides people to be closer with the nature and to analyze the nature and society.
Desolation makes people understand that they are a part of the nature and the nature gives its purity to people and people must not pollute this purity by society and industry. They both use emotion and reasoning in their writings and explain things in a sensible way. However, their style is different. While Thoreau uses a more complicated language which is full of metaphors, paradoxes, sarcasm, irony, oxymoron, Emerson uses a more simple language and Emerson becomes more understandable and ‘Nature’ becomes easier to read when compared to ‘Walden’.
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Another point that must be assessed while comparing these art works must be that while Emerson puts forth the movement transcendentalism himself, Thoreau is the one who is inspired by this transcendentalism philosophy. It can be observed that by trying to look into deeper the idea of transcendentalism, Thoreau reflects the idea in a more realistic way. This is also because of the Thoreau’s pragmatic approach to the idea. Both these works have similarities more than differences, because the writers both have the same desire, they both criticize the materialism but supports the idea ‘transcendentalism’.
Author: Brandon Johnson
Nature Ralph Walden Emerson and Henry David Thoreau Walden
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