KseniyaSovenko Novemeber12, 2010 Hum V, Period 6 Transcendentalist Unit Essay Final Word Count: 1,750 A revolution isn t always
a bloody battle or atrocious war, it s not always an overthrowing of a ruler or political system, and it s not always filled with violence and dread. Sometimes, revolutions stem from words; words representing radical new ideas, new trains of thought, or new philosophies. It is these types of revolutions that can emerge to be more powerful, impactful, or prolonged than any war or battle could be. Ralph Waldo Emerson led such a revolution with the Transcendentalist movement. His heavy focus on individuality and freedom, his criticism of the pressures of society, his unique interpretation of nature and the soul, his views upon human divinity, and his thoughts on God were all radical and different from most of the ideas and philosophies of his time period. He brought forth a new way of thinking and a new philosophy of life, inspiring many of his contemporaries, one such example being Walt Whitman. In reading Whitman s work, it is not difficult to see Emerson s influence and thoughts in his words. Specifically, not only does Whitman directly answer the call presented in Emerson s essay, The Poet, in his poem Song of Myself, but he also shares the same views on divinity and nature as presented in Emerson s essay Self-Reliance. Throughout his essay, The Poet, Emerson describes his interpretation of what kind of persona the ideal American poet should encompass.Emerson look[s] in vain for the poet who (1) will compose something both organic and beautiful; someone whose work would express the feelings of all men and women and have the potential tobind society together. Although the poet and the common man are equal beings, the poethas the ability to identify the transcendent in the commonplace, a state of understanding and observation that an ordinary person couldn t reach. Emerson also urged that poetry should be wild and raw, not something structured and refined. In Emerson s eyes, it is not metres, but a metre-making argument, that makes a poem a thought so passionate and alive, that it has architecture of its own (2). The poet has a power to re-attach things to nature and the whole, (5) therefore, Emerson urges that he should not sacrificetrue thought and observationfor structure. In this way, Emerson claimed that poets are liberating gods, (8) since they unshackle meaning from Nature.As a final concern Emerson notes that the true substance of America, regardless of whether it is good or bad, is hidden from the public. Specifically, Emerson believes thatthe voices of our logrolling our fisheries, our Negroes and Indians, our boasts, and our repudiations, the wrath of rouges, and the pusillanimity of honest men, the northern trade, the southern planting are yet unsung (10).Emerson s hope lies with someone who can satisfy the ideal that his mind has created, urging that Americans need a true poet of their own. After reading Emerson s work, Walt Whitman strongly believed that he could be the poet that Emerson had been searching for, endeavoring to take on all the roles which Emerson associated with the ideal poet. Because Emerson had stated that it is not structure but organic thought that makes true poetry, Whitman abandoned almost all conventional poetic structures and tools. In Song of Myself, he developed a scattered poem structure with loose rhyme and meter and varying stanza lengths, quite a contrast to characteristic poetry of the time period. Also, since Emerson highlighted the importance of the poet s ability to search for meaning in
Nature, Whitman made constant references to Nature in his work.Likewise, because Emerson calls poets liberating gods, Whitman makes constant references to his own divinity, stating that the spirit of God is the eldest brother of [his] own (84). He believed that he was made up of the same spirituality and divinity as God was, which is why he labels himself the younger brother of God, an idea which stemmed from Emerson s thoughts and philosophy. Finally, in response to Emerson s concern over the unsung voices of America, Whitman proclaims that the voicesof all different types of people run through him. Seeing himself in all of humanity, Whitman s philosophy is that he is of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise / a child as well as a man / [and] a southerner soon as a northerner (326,328,332). In fact, Whitman boldly labels himself the poet of the body, and the poet of the soul, (422-423) believing that he has the ability to connect the physical to the spiritual, to re-attach things to Nature. For all of these reasons, it becomes clear that throughout his work Whitman visibly advocates his ambition to become the poet of which Emerson so fondly speaks. Arguing that all humans are divine, Emerson highlights thepower of the individual in his essay Self-Reliance. Specifically hereasons that no law can be sacred to [him] but that of [his own] nature, (3) advocating to the reader that nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind (3). With these words, Emerson is rebelling against the good and bad labels which society places on human actions. A sin or an act of kindness should not be standardized for every human being; rather, the individual should understand what is good or bad for him because his mind is divine. Emerson thus philosophizesthat the only right is what is after [his] constitution, [and] the only wrong what is against it (3). He assumes that because he is divine, all of his whims, judgments, and intuitions must also be of celestial nature. For this reason, Emerson rejects all conformists, men whoignore their impulses, rulings, and intuitions, undermining their own divine substance for comfort. Correspondingly, in his poem Song of Myself, Whitman conveys the idea that his spirit and body is divine. He is incredibly aware of the fact that the hand of God is the elderhand of [his] own, / and the spirit of God is the eldest brother of [his] own (83-84). His actions and soul are just as divine as the actions and spirit of God. In saying that God is a family member of his,his older brother, he is arguing that he is literally made up of the same substance as God. Because of this Whitman doesn t bother to trouble [his] spirit to vindicate itself or be understood (410).There is no need to doubt or question one s own sense of action and judgment if one s spirit is divine.This idea is identical to Emerson s own, for he urges men to not doubt themselves or their own intentions because they are composed of the utmost divinity. Additionally, inreaching the conclusion that nothing, not God, is greater to one than one s-self is, (1265) Whitman directly parallels the message of Self Reliance. A man or woman, in Whitman s eyes, does not need anything but their own self to exist as a flourishing human being. A man, in Emerson s eyes, needs to be self-reliant if he wishes to succeed at anything or live honestly with himself. It is therefore rather evident that Emerson and Whitman see almost eye to eye in their views on human divinity. Emerson speaks of nature with a high regard and appreciation, seeing Nature as a teacher, and as something which must be interpreted symbolically.In The Poet, he proclaims that Nature enhances her beauty to the eye of loving men (1). Those who are able to interpret its symbolism have a better understanding of the world. More specifically, in SelfReliance, he expresses that man is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose (6)
because it has a better sense of self and of its placement in the universe than the man does. According to Emerson, roses make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day (6). He uses the roses to highlight his belief on living in the present, not thinking of the future or dwelling on the past. Nature exists solely in the present, indifferent to time or history, and only for itself; in the simplest of terms Emerson states that Nature is satisfied (6).On the other hand, Emerson states that man does not live in the present and he cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time (6). Those who are able to study Nature are able to attain this valuable lesson. Emerson chooses to listen to and observe nature in order to achieve a higher understanding of his own individual potential and existence, and urges others to as well. In a similar regard, Whitman makes constant references to Nature in Song of Myselfas a teaching tool for humanity and the individual.He is certain that [his] tongue, [and] every atom of [his] blood, [is] form d from this soil, this air (6) which composes the Earth. Human beings are composed of the same matter that the Earth is, therefore the soul and Nature are intertwined. Nature has the capability to unite the self and the universe, and Whitman expresses this idea by stating the he is also one of the roughs, a kosmos (499).It is only after the individual understands his relation to nature that he can understand that he is a part of something bigger than life.In another example,Whitman describes grass as sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones, / growing among black folks as among white (99). Here,Whitman interprets Nature as a symbol for democracy. Because grass isn t biased in any way, it grows exactly the same in all places, and under all types of people.Because Whitman is able to observe Nature and recognize it in himself, he is able to understand the importance of human equality and is therefore a strong supporter of democracy. Though Emerson and Whitman may have altering interpretations of the symbols of Nature, both are strong believers in its importance to humanity. Emerson began a revolution, and Whitman proudly followed his lead. Clearly inspired by Emerson s thoughts and words, Whitman took on Emerson s ideals and made a lifestyle out of them, not only writing about them, but living them too. He was truly Emerson s poet in his early career.However, Whitman wasn t the only one inspired by Emerson sphilosophy, for even now numerous individuals support his ideals. So why are so many inspired by Emerson s thoughts? His ideas of self-celebration and individuality uphold almost every human s desire to be unique and different, and many thus find inspiration in his teachings. To think that one is divine, special, and unique is quite an empowering feeling, and Emerson only empowered this type of thought.