While reading Ralph Waldo Emerson's 1836 essay Nature, I found myself at turns fascinated, frustrated, exhilarated, annoyed. As a first exposition of Transcendentalism, Emerson, who read in the Eastern religious traditions, wrote of the spirit in nature and humankind, and of unity:
that behind nature, throughout nature, spirit is present; one and not compound it does not act upon us from without, that is, in space and time, but spiritually: ...that spirit...does not build up nature around us, but puts it forth through us, as the life of the tree puts forth new branches and leaves through the pores of the old.At other times in the essay, Emerson seems too much to place the world as subservient to Man, who he sees as its "head and heart". It's possible I am misreading from my 21st century viewpoint, which sees homo sapiens as an often destructive species. At the end of the essay Emerson won my heart, first by this simple sentence:
The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.And then by the following words, which I found very moving, and a lesson for our lives in finding a place, finding happiness:
What we are, only can we see. All that Adam had, all that Caesar could, you have and can do. Adam called his house, heaven and earth; Caesar called his house, Rome; you perhaps call yours, a cobbler's trade; a hundred acres of ploughed land; or a scholar's garret. Yet line for line and point for point your dominion is a great as theirs, though without fine names. Build therefore your own world.