Troublesome quote from Emerson

“Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact. Every appearance in nature corresponds to some state of mind, and that state of the mind can only be described by presenting that natural appearance as its picture. An enraged man is a lion, a cunning man a fox, a firm man is a rock, a learned man is a torch. A lamb is innocence; a snake is a subtle spite; flowers express to us the delicate affections. Light and darkness are our familiar expression for knowledge and ignorance; and heat for love. Visible distance behind and before us, is respectively our image of memory and hope,” (26).

I found this quote particularly interesting. I also found it rather deep and challenging once I began to dissect it. What I came up with is the idea of man existing within nature, due to the Christian belief of creationism. I imagined it in this aspect because Emerson continually references spirituality and Christianity. With this as a starting point, I also thought of Earth’s timeline. From every theory of creation, man came after nature (this being oceans, trees, animals, etc.). Because of this, we must acknowledge the connection that exists between man and nature.

As Emerson later states, “Man and nature are indissolubly joined,” (47). This naturalistic approach shows the infinite bond between the two substances. With no separation of man and nature, metaphorical images will appear. Emerson also references the Christian motive in multiple places. This is an important factor to consider when discussing the relationship between man and nature. By the Christian standard, God molded man out of clay. Because man comes from clay, we must say that man is a creation of nature. So when describing man’s state of mind, a natural appearance, or reference, is soon to follow.

Emerson’s stance, though bold, is true. The comparisons of man to nature still occur, and every emotion is interconnected with nature. Even before Emerson, the lamb was used as a sacrificial element. The Bible also refers to Jesus Christ as the “Lamb of God”, who was used as God’s ultimate sacrifice. It is interesting to see how Emerson draws all of these examples into one theory.

Even beyond the Christian motive, we see the images Emerson mentions in today’s society. In relationships, men are typically seen as “a rock”. The metaphor of light and dark for “knowledge and ignorance” is probably the most common reference. A very typical image is a light bulb for a right answer, or “knowledge”.

Emerson had many ideas for man’s existence within nature, and man’s response to nature. If we accept Emerson’s proposal that “Every appearance in nature corresponds to some state of mind” then we must also accept that we are interconnected with nature.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Nature. Ch./Art: Full book American Renaissance 2009


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by christys21 on September 21, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    While Emerson’s argument that humans are intermingled with nature is intriguing and convincing, it makes me wonder why he would then say that pieces of nature are insignificant until that object or things is able to connect itself with a human.
    Emerson uses the example of an ant who’s habits are unimportant and needless until the ant is able to establish some kind of connection to a human. Why is it necessary for an ant to create common ground with a human if it is already intermingled with the human throug nature?
    Nature should not then need to find common ground because regardless, one will affect the other no matter who they interact or relate with each other.

  2. I also find this quote intriguing because it betrays his stance on nature and humans being inextricably linked. I have never realized an actual connection between words and the notion of nature, and found his article very interesting because of it. Emerson demonstrated a great sense of spirituality for nature in this article. My difficulty with this quote is he seems to show a large amount of reverence to nature. He states “In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages” (128). However, I found certain flaws within this quote. Even though he emphasizes this appreciative attitude towards nature, some elements of his article did not entirely reflect that perspective. It seems senseless to state that the ants have no purpose until assigned one by man. This seems to communicate that nature is not truly awe-inspiring singularly, unless the human race is there to appreciate it.

  3. Posted by michaelmichaelsmith on September 22, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    The connection that Emerson talks about it VERY philosophical. While he does belittle ants and other creatures of nature, he does so to highlight the main point: by pouring human conditions through the fabric of nature, humans can attain wisdom, spiritual strength and oneness. An ant building a mound, while amazing to a entomologist, is not examined by Emerson in explicit terms, but rather in ways that expound human truths and virtues.

    “The instincts of the ant are very unimportant, considered as the ant’s; but the moment a ray of relation is seen to extend from it to man, and the little drudge is seen to be a monitor, a little body with a mighty heart, then all its habits, even that said to be recently observed, that it never sleeps, become sublime.” (Emerson 28)

  4. Posted by etrotta on September 23, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    I find this quote very interesting as well as the others posted in the comments. It seems like Emerson’s idea that nature and man are permanently connected is based off how he sees aspects of “human nature” in “true nature”. Even if we are not physically connected to nature we are still connected always because of how we compare ourselves to aspects of nature

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