Enjoying Nature Essay By Ralph

The essays “Enjoying Nature” by Dr. Maria Jaoudi and “Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature,” by Rolston Holmes introduce the idea that nature evokes more than an egoistic feeling. These two essays suggest that all of us have an instilled connection with nature. In her essay “Enjoying Nature,” Jaoudi states the reason for the possible disconnection from nature of people in the western world, “The west’s puritanical work ethic, and its definitions of wealth as the accumulation of material goods, has defeated the entire purpose of human relatedness to the universe.” Jaoudi believes this idea has distanced humans from nature, and therefore distanced them from a part of themselves. Most people today, however, cannot say that they have a very strong connection with nature. It is something that is foreign to today’s culture. Rolston Holmes states in his essay, "While in the forest, I feel a sense of awe and wonder that can't be described by language." Both authors bring up points that evaluate our relationship with nature, and how humans as a whole are growing apart from nature over time.

In relation to Jaoudi and Holme’s essay, Richard Louv’s essays, “A Walk in the Woods” and “Leave No Child Inside” and “Grow Outside,” all share concerns with children and their lack of connection to nature. “A Walk in the Woods” conveys some benefits from experiencing nature, like an increase in a child’s ability to learn and positive effects to their physical and emotional health. Louv’s other essays, “Leave No Child Inside” and “Grow Outside” discuss both the importance of oudoor and natural learning in the lives of children, and the effects on their lives without it. He explains that a lack of outdoor activity has contributed substantially to the obesity epidemic, and an increasing lack of creativity in children. Louv fears that this lack of submergence into nature can threaten their judgment, the ability to feel awe and wonder, and their sense of stewardship for the Earth.
While stating reasons of why we are becoming disconnected from nature, many of the essayists make the case that a connection with nature can help us more than any material, manmade connection. In Henry David Thoreau’s essay, “Nature and the Environment,” he focuses on the disconnect of people from nature. In relation, Ralph Waldo Emerson states in his essay called “Nature” that very few adults “see” beyond the surface nature. In relation, Emerson states in his essay called “Nature” that very few adults “see” beyond the surface nature. A true lover of nature not only sees what nature is, but also becomes one with it. We are able to see an especially deep relationship with nature with these two authors. Both Emerson and Thoreau emphasize the importance of submerging ourselves in nature, and forming a lasting bond with it. A true lover of nature not only sees what nature is, but also becomes one with it.

While the above previous essays view connectedness to nature as way of being, the essays “Drift Boulders,” “Wayfinding,” and “Preserve Articles” relate the feeling nature gives to human notions. In “Wayfinding,” Sherry Simpson recognizes the way nature makes her feel as a feeling of being home. Simpson tells about a few of the experiences she has had with nature and then states the following, “This is how I discovered my home. This was my first act of wayfinding.” She shows a huge interest in having a home and once she finally finds one, peace and happiness. As Rohit Argarwal discusses in, “Preserve Articles,” there is a certain power to nature, one that is subtle, yet potent once you discover it. Agarwal, like Simpson, argues that there is value in a simple hike, and time spent out in nature. In John Burroughs essay “Drift Boulders,” Burroughs feels the following when looking at drift boulders, “They are like old friends, these glacial erratics, waiting for you when you visit a meadow or a river, looking back at you from the ice age.” Burroughs relates drift boulders to “old friends,” while Simpson relates nature to feeling of being “home.” Both authors seem to be searching for a way to describe a feeling they can’t communicate in words. Burroughs and Simpson’s way of explaining their feelings could possibly be a feeling of “being” as described by Jaoudi and Holmes.

Unlike the other articles, not everyone has an instant connection to nature. In the essay, “Nature” by Arthur Lee Jacobson, he writes about experiences as a child, when he was not interested in nature at all. He had a teacher who made him read Thoreau’s “Walden,” and his interest in nature has been whet ever since. In his essay, Jacobsen relates that, “humans are the only animal species that consciously, powerfully manipulates the environment, we think of ourselves as exalted, as special”. Now more than ever, humans are becoming more interested in nature, as their interest is sparked by the declining global conditions. Many of these authors relay the point that a meaningful, enlightening experience with nature is essential to our sense of being.
When one realizes that nature is not all about the physical relationship with the earth, there are two essays that come to mind, Thoreau’s “The Succession of Forest Trees,” and Stephan Jay Gould’s “Sex, Drugs, Disasters and Dinosaurs.” In both essays, the human relationship with nature is discussed in detail. They say that the literal meanings have almost nothing to do with nature itself. Thoreau is very connected to nature and shows it within his writings, while Gould uses nature to discover science in a new light. In Gould’s essay, he talks about the hypotheses that were created to solve the dinosaur extinction theory. He uses the information found in the nature aroud him to create new theories and disprove many theories that had been in place before him. This relationship with nature is strongly motivated by the information and discoveries that it provides for the author. In Thoreau’s essay, he uses nature to make an argument. He uses nature to describe his frustration with humanity. The idea is brought up that people should be more like pine trees, in the sense that they never change nor do they harm their surroundings. Like the other authors, Gould discusses the relationship between people and nature, and he brings a more scientific view to the idea.
Not only are some people gaining emotional attachments to nature, but they are writing different types of literature that discuss nature and its place in human lives. One essay that discusses literature written about nature is, “The Greatest Nature Essay Ever,” found in Orion Magazine. This essay illustrates the power of a well-written nature article, one that can make you, “stop rifling through the mail, take your jacket off, sit down at the table, adjust your spectacles,” and lose yourself in a romantic description of nature. An example of an essay that has a profound effect on the view of nature is “Once More to the Lake,” by E.B. White. IN this essay he discusses the impact of nature and the environment on his life. He illustrates many beautiful, scenic memories with vivid descriptions of days such as, “summertime, oh summertime, pattern of life indelible, fade proof lake, the woods unshatterable,” which emphasize nature’s importance on his memories, such as those from the Orion Magazine article. Another type of literature about nature and the environment is that which warns the reader. Rachel Carson is one such essayist who is trying to make others aware of their actions. She wrote an essay called “The Obligation to Endure,” which emphasizes the harmful effects of man-made chemicals on our environment. She raises the concern that we have lost the will to demand what is good and simply states that we as caretakers of the earth need to find ways to protect the environment.
Over the past century, the human relationship with nature has been discussed among the top scholars, and great minds alike. The articles that we read collectively all relate to our connection to nature, whether it is through literature, hiking, spirituality, or memories of the past.
Burroughs, John. “The Friendly Rocks” John Burroughs association newsletter December 2006.
In the article “The Friendly Rocks” John Burroughs details his lifelong attachment to drift boulders. Burroughs believes every boulder has a story to tell. He feels a sense of tranquility when looking at drift boulders because they are a reflection of the past, present, and future. The primitive nature of the boulders makes Burroughs feel attached to the Earth. Burroughs mentions seven distinct drift boulders that he has come across on his travels, many in the Sierra Nevada. Burroughs explains the feelings he gets when looking at drift boulders and how that feeling puts him at piece with nature. The boulders have stood the test of time and give Burroughs a sense of awareness.

Carson, Rachel. “The Obligation to Endure,” 50 Essays: A Portable Anthology. Ed. Samuel Cohen. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford and St. Martin’s, 2011. 83-90. Print.
Rachel Carson emphasizes the harmful effects of man-made chemicals on our environment. Before humans had inhabited the earth, nature was able to take its time to adjust and balance itself out. In response, Carson claims that the damage done by these man-made chemicals, either to the soil, air, water, etc., is “irrecoverable,” that in this modern world, there is no time. Carson gives her reader a few visuals of these effects, for instance, “to still the song of birds and the leaping of fish in the streams, to coat the leaves with a deadly film, and to linger on in the soil.”

Furthermore, she examines the causes behind the introduction of new species caused by the overuse of chemicals. First, the lack of diversity in crops and stands of trees causes insects to thrive and overpopulate. The other is caused by human imports from abroad, causing nonnative species to thrive without any natural enemies. Both problems have encouraged the overuse of chemicals. Carson ends her article by asking if we have lost the will to demand what is good. She simply says that we, as caretakers of the earth, need to know the harmful things we are doing to the earth and find ways to stop it.

Cohen, Samuel S., White, E.B. "Once More to the Lake." 50 Essays: a Portable Anthology. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2007. Print
In E.B. White’s essay Once More to the Lake, he discusses the simplicity of nature and how it relates to the complexity of his memories and feelings of his past. He outlines his past visits to this vacation spot, and how it has changed, as well as himself. White discusses the relationship between him and his father, and how it is closely mirrored by the relationship of him and his own son. His memories are so vivid, that at times he cannot distinguish his past from his current experience in the same location. White describes once specific experience as he contemplates the complexity of life, the passage of time, and relationships as he held his rod and, “felt dizzy and didn't know which rod I was at the end of. The connectedness of his relationships with his father and his son is paralleled by his relationship with nature. He goes on to describe scene after scene of blissful lake moments and the picturesque pastures and farm houses. White illustrates the ideal setting of, “summertime, oh summertime, pattern of life indelible, the fade proof lake, the woods unshatterable,” which is so vividly impressed on his memory, only to be reinforced by his present experiences with his own son.Throughout the essay, White details not only his familial relationships, but also his vacation times in Maine, and how the beauty of nature has impacted his life.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Nature.” Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ed. William H. Gilman. New York, N.Y: Signet Classics, 2011. Web.
Emerson starts his article by stating that a man needs to find solitude by looking at the stars. They awaken a part of us and appeal to us because they are inaccessible. He goes on to say that “nature never wears a mean appearance” and that nature is beautiful to the wisest man as well as to a man looking at its simplicity. Furthermore, Emerson makes a comment on a certain landscape he had seen that was made up of twenty or thirty farms, making the point that no one can physically own the horizon, but a man’s eye can soak up the image and keep it. Additionally, Emerson states that very few adults see nature. They cannot see beyond the surface of nature. The true lover of nature has the inward and outward senses that are adjusted to each other. Nature is a part of a man’s daily lives, with nature matching the state of mind he/she is in.

Gould, Stephen Jay. "Sex, Drugs, Disasters, and the Extinction of Dinosaurs." 50 Essays: APortable Anthology. Ed. Samuel Cohen. Third ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2011.169-77. Print.
In the article by Stephen Jay Gould, “Sex, Drugs, Disasters, and the Extinction of Dinosaurs”, he talks a lot about scientific hypothesis. He states that, “The best scientific hypotheses are also generous and expansive; they suggest extensions and implications that enlighten related, and even far distance, subjects.” The three hypotheses that Gould devours are that dinosaurs became extinct because of sex, drugs, and disasters. The first, sex, was a fairly good hypothesis. The temperature simply became to high for the dinosaurs to reproduce.The hypothesis was not a good one because you cannot test how high the temperature was back then, or study the testicles because they do not fossilize. The second idea, drugs, did not make much sense either. The plants that produced this “drug” was around before the dinosaurs were and did not account for the deaths of the ocean creatures. Gould finally suggests that the final idea, disaster, or an asteroid is the most probable. One can still test rocks from the Crestatious period and determine what could still possibly be.

Holmes, Rolsten, “Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Pgs.157-16
 In this essay Rolsten discusses how forests are lands that provoke wonder and awe. He touches on many different aspects of the forest, one being the history that is kept alive by the trees and rocks that have been there for hundreds of years. The ancient living trees serve as a portal back to the past by the scars on their trunks and the weathered bark. Rolsten relates the ecosystems of forests to human life in the following sentence, “It (the forest) presents us with natural history: a vast scene of sprouting, budding, leafing out, flowering, fruiting, passing away, passing life on”. Rolsten reveals how the forest is a world by itself, being nourished by the sun. He feels a connection to forests that he feels nowhere else, a sense of being and awareness that being in the presence of a forest spawns. Rolsten uses this article to relate the characteristics of a forest to life itself, and tries to explain the reasons for his deep connection with forests.

Jacobson, Arthur Lee. "Nature." Welcome to the Website of Arthur Lee Jacobson - Plant Expert.Web. 19 Oct. 2011. 
In the article by Arthur Lee Jacobson, “Nature”, he talks about how humans need to connect with nature. Jacobson states, “As humans are the only animal species that consciously, powerfully manipulates the environment, we think of ourselves as exalted, as special.” Humans have become disconnected from nature and do not realize what is surrounding them. Jacobson talks about his experience from someone who has no care for nature to someone who sees nature in everything that they do. When he was in 8th grade, Jacobson had a teacher who made them read Emerson’s Walden, this inspired him to enjoy nature and realize that it really is apart of the human life everyday. He them drops all of his other interests and wanted to become an expert in nature. Learning about birds, animals, plants, etc., makes a person more observant of what we manipulate each day. Jacobson had discovered nature and feels as though the human race as a whole needs to experience that as well.

Jaoudi, Maria. “A God Centered Ecology, Enjoying Nature” Gratefulness.org.
In the article “A God Centered Ecology, Enjoying Nature” Dr. Maria Jauodi states that “Nature herself is a dimension of the gift of God’s love to us”. She states her belief of God in the article, but then focuses on how people of all religions can benefit from having an open relationship with nature. She believes that the new western culture has skewed the definition of wealth. Wealth is now defined as the accumulation of material goods, consequently, that thought has distanced the western culture from it’s relationship with nature and the universe.
Jauodi instills the idea that being one with nature is not a part-time activity, but a way of being that is felt in all aspects of life. She intoduces the notion that we must re-teach ourselves what we felt as children, when playing in dirt or petting an animal spured such stimulation. She sums up her essay with her sentence “The protection of nature must be rooted in love and delight- in religious experience.”

Louv, Richard. “A Walk in the Woods.” Orion Magazine. March-April 2009. Web. 31 Oct. 2011
Louv begins his article with a gradeschool aged girl describing what the woods meant to her. She had described the woods as a part of her. With this in mind, Louv brought up two points, one of which is that human are ambivalent when it comes to nature and the other is that nature is just considered an object in our world. The similarity between the two is that “humans are in it, but not of it.”
Furthermore, Louv is convinced that experiencing the natural world is beneficial to child’s ability to learn and to their physical and emotional health. According to Thomas Berry, keeping nature from our kids is unethical and believes that “A degraded habitat will produce degraded humans.” Louv emphasizes that people need to do more than just talk about the importance of nature, but to make sure that our children experience nature, because without any connection, they will not care or want to protect it.

Louv,Richard. "Grow Outside!" Psychology Today 07 Dec. 2010. Web.
Richard Louv’s emphasizes the importance of spending time outdoors, especially for the development of children. As a renowned pediatrician, Louv offers his expert tips on how to draw your children away from the video games that so often captivate the youth of our time.Louv illustrates one of his latest finding s about the relationship between being outdoors, and mental and physical health. He says that as children drift away from nature and the world outside, this is where we begin to see many of the mental health problems that plague our children. Louv goes on to say that nature is the solution for the growing “nature deficiency problem” that is sweeping the likes of our elementary age kids, which is a growing societal disorder. He concludes by describing the driving force of his movement, which includes many people from the realms of business, medicine, and educators around the country. Louv has become the source of information on this topic, as his fellow activists seek information, in order to inform their patients, students, clients, and business partners.

Louv, Richard. “Leave No Child Inside.” Orion Magazine. March-April 2007. Web. 31 Oct. 2011.
This particular essay describes Louv’s approach to improve open space preservation and getting communities, homebuyers, and children connected to nature. At a session in Phoenix, Louv stated that the folks in the crowd were partially to blame because they discouraged contact with nature with “covenants that virtually criminalize outdoor play.” The crowd at that session were encouraged to come up with solutions, but came up short, not knowing exactly what could be done.Also, the biophilia hypothesis, by professor E.O Wilson, says that we are all still somehow connected to nature. After you have first sensed what nature means to you and the world, your mind is open to start to form ideas and cares about nature. The leave-no-child-inside movement is one way to challenge those ideas. This movement will encourage schools to incorporate “placed based learning in the natural world,” which will get kids more involved with nature.
Additionally, Louv includes some reasons why there is a decline in outdoor play. Some of these include disappearing access to natural areas, competition from technology, dangerous traffic, and fear of stranger-danger. Although these are logical risks, Louv expresses that not exposing children to the outdoors is even a bigger risk. This threatens their judgment, the ability to feel awe and wonder, and their sense of stewardship for the Earth. In contrast, when children are put in outdoor learning settings, they have a higher self-esteem, improved problem solving skills, and more motivation to learn.

Simpson, Sherry. "Wayfinding", Orion magazine March/April 2008 
In this article Simpson recalls a period of time back in her childhood where she became aware of the awe of nature around her. After moving eleven times before the age of seven, Simpson felt as though she had no home. While living in Alaska near Mt. Mkinley, she described herself as a child becoming herself through new adventures in nature. She states a few of her adventures in the article, “I pounded dull cubes of fool’s gold free from granite rocks. Dug green bones of snowshoe hares from beneath a duff of dry spruce needles.” She had found the home she was always looking for, but never noticed. Her home was nature and the planet, not a certain address, house, or town. Her home was planet Earth.
"The Greatest Nature Essay Ever." Editorial. Orion Magazine Dec. 2008. Orion Magazine.Web
“The Best Nature Essay Ever,” is a satire of the everyday nature essay. As the essay moves along, it mirrors the structure of a typical nature essay.It begins by asking us to picture some, “image so startling and lovely and wondrous that you would stop riffling through the rest of the mail, take your jacket off, sit down at the table, adjust your spectacles, tell the dog to lie down.” It asks you to think more deeply about the natural world, and continues on describing the elaborations of a typical nature essay. The author begins the next section by moving on to an illustration of the essay containing the, “next two paragraphs would smoothly and gently move you into a story, seemingly a small story, a light tale, easily accessed, something personal but not self-indulgent or self-absorbed on the writer’s part.” We see that the author is entertained by the predictability of nature essays, yet still in awe of the environment as he continues to create dreamlike illustration of the beautiful scenes.

The author then wraps up his essay and the hypothetical one as well, as he concludes that, “that the perfect nature essay is quite short, it’s a lean taut thing, an arrow and not a cannon, and here at the end there’s a flash of humor, and a hint or tone or subtext of sadness, a touch of rue, you can’t quite put your finger on it but it’s there, a dark thread in the fabric.” These ideas are poetic and mirror the beauty of nature, while at the same time they satirize the typical essay about nature.

Thoreau, Henry David. "Nature & Environment." The Atlantic — News and Analysis on Politics, Business, Culture, Technology, National, International, and Life – TheAtlantic.com. Web. 30 Oct. 2011.
In this article by Henry David Thoreau, he talks about walking. The main focus in people’s life should be walking. He states that people used to take leisurely walks occasionally and now they hardly ever experience the outside.Thoreau says, “ I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks—who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived "from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages...” If people don’t continue to walk then all hope of connection with nature is lost. If one cannot simply enjoy the outside, how are we supposed to understand it. Nature is the importance of our world and walking helps us see that everyday.

Thoreau, Henry David. "The Succession of Forest Trees". 1860. Read to the Middlesex Agricultural Society. Web.
In the article “The Succession of Forest Trees” by Henry David Thoreau, he talks about his frustration man. Thoreau talks about his interest in the way man was built and how he walks down the street. How they walk and talk and even dress confuses him. Talking about pine trees and how they came to be inquires him to think about who asked the question. Why would anyone want to know, and why do they think he knows? He goes on to describe these trees and how they function in the world. Thoreau then goes on to describe seeds, as if they were a single life-form. Before us there were pine trees, and after us there will be pine trees; this is was intrigues Thoreau in the first place.

Ralph Waldo Emerson first published Nature in 1836. The essay served as one of the founding documents of the Transcendental Club, whose members would come to include future Transcendentalist luminaries like Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and Bronson Alcott. The Club convened its first meeting a week after the publication of Nature, led by Emerson.

The critical reception of his seminal work has shifted over time. Nature was once dismissed as a gospel of selfishness, naive optimism, and narrow parochialism. However, scholars, with the benefit of hindsight, now understand his work as not only the harbinger of Transcendentalism, but also a modern rethinking of Stoicism, Plato, and Kant.

In this essay, Emerson outlines his initial ideas about the fundamental relationship of humanity with nature, which he would develop further in later essays. His conception of this relationship was revolutionary for its time when many thought of humanity as separate from and above the rest of the natural world, and of nature as the mere reflection of human will/manipulation, a means for human ends.

Introduction and Nature

"Our age is retrospective," Emerson begins. "It builds on the sepulchers of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism." While earlier generations "beheld God and nature face to face," the present merely sees the world through the eyes of the past. Troubled by this trend, Emerson asks, "Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?" After all, "the sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship."

In this way, Emerson opens his essay with a sweeping dismissal of those tools of insight based on the past, and a demand to understand the world - that is, God and nature (two sides of the same coin for him) - instead through our own personal, direct relationship to and revelations about the world. The rest of the introduction is spent outlining what such an understanding would entail and require - its methods, aims, and definitions.

As the title of his essay suggests, he grounds his approach to understanding the world in Nature, which along with the Soul, composes the universe. By "Nature," Emerson includes everything that is "not me" (i.e., separate from the Soul), "both nature [as conventionally understood, i.e., those essences unchanged by humans, like a tree or a river] and art [those essences mixed with the will of humans, like a house or a canal], all other men and my own body." Like the Stoics, Emerson believed that in nature could be found the source of moral principles and well being. However, in the present age, he argues, "few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing." For seeing/understanding nature entails not only asking what nature is or how it operates, but also "to what end is nature?"

To pursue such an understanding of nature - an inquiry he believes allied to science, all of which aims to "find a theory of nature" - he does not appeal to other authorities on the subject, past or present, but rather his own experience to craft a theory he believes self-evident and self-validating. While this may not seem scientific in terms of objectivity, he argues, "Whenever a true theory appears, it will be its own evidence. Its test is that it will explain all phenomena." His success in crafting such a theory arguably derives from his ability to immerse his readers in his own experiences, as with the passage,

Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear.


Another famous passage describes his experience as a "transparent eyeball," a conduit for God as he stands in nature:

Here [in the woods] I feel that nothing can befall me in life, - no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, - my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, - all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.

In the next sections, Emerson outlines in detail and in ascending order of importance the components of the relationship of humanity and nature: the common uses/aspects of nature (see "Commodity," "Beauty," and "Language"), our lived experience vis-a-vis nature (see "Discipline"), and the manifestation of the universal/divine (what he calls, "Reason") in nature (i.e., Transcendentalism; see "Idealism," "Spirit," and "Prospects").


The most obvious and tangible aspect of the relationship between humanity and nature is the practical usefulness of nature as a source of raw material and energy. Emerson observes that all parts of nature - as material, process, and result - work toward the benefit of humanity:

“The wind sows the seed; the sun evaporates the sea; the wind blows the vapor to the field; the ice, on the other side of the planet, condenses rain on this; the rain feeds the plant; the plant feeds the animal; and thus the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man.”

He further illustrates this process in his admiration of a tide-mill, which, on the seashore, makes the tides drive the wheels and grind corn, and which thus engages the assistance of the moon like a hired hand, to grind, and wind, and pump, and saw, and split stone, and roll iron.

However, Emerson argues the use of nature as commodity is the lowest of benefits, and quickly moves on to less material gifts and aspects.


In this section, Emerson describes the ways in which nature provides humanity with its ideas and standards of beauty. “The standard beauty is the entire circuit of natural forms – the totality of nature.” Emerson asserts this is because "such is the constitution of things, or such the plastic power of the human eye, that the primary forms, as the sky, the mountain, the tree, the animal, give us a delight in and for themselves,” as evidenced by the creations of artists (e.g., poets, painters, sculptors, musicians, architects). In other words, it is a given based on the relationship of humanity with the natural world: "The world thus exists to the soul to satisfy the desire of beauty.” Ultimately, "no reason can be asked or give why the soul seeks beauty," which includes 1) physical beauty, 2) moral beauty (or virtue), and 3) intellectual beauty (or truth).


As beauty is grounded in nature, so is language. Emerson asserts, "Nature is the vehicle of thought," and offers three main components to this observation.

First, "words are signs of natural facts." Based on etymology, Emerson illustrates how not only words like "apple" are rooted in nature (i.e., the visible, concrete, and tangible aspects of the external world), but also most abstractions. For example, "supercilious" is from the Latin super cilia, which means raising the eyebrow. Another example, not mentioned by Emerson, is "consider," which comes from the Latin con siderare, meaning to study the stars.

Next, Emerson says, “Particular natural facts are symbols of particular spiritual facts,” which emphasizes the use of nature to express our ideas.

Every appearance in nature corresponds to some state of the mind, and that state of the mind can only be described by presenting that natural appearance as its picture. As enraged man is a lion, a cunning man is a fox, a firm man is a rock, a learned man is a torch. A lamb is innocence; a snake is subtle spite; flowers express to us the delicate affections. Light and darkness are our familiar expression for knowledge and ignorance; and heat for love.

Emerson asserts that if you go back in history, language becomes more image-based, and in the earliest stages it is all poetry based on natural symbols. In modern times, Emerson argues, our language has become corrupted by secondary desires - the desires for money, pleasure, power, and praise - rather than the simple and fundamental desire to communicate our thoughts without loss (i.e., with the images and symbols of nature). As such, our language has ceased to create new images based on visible nature, the old words have become perverted and abstracted, and the obviousness of his point is difficult to see. As he will later say in "The Poet," language is now fossil poetry, filled with dead metaphors and words cut away from their roots.

Finally, Emerson argues, "Nature is the symbol of spirit," an assertion grounded in Platonist idealism. Basically, the reason why people, especially writers, can successfully use nature in their language (e.g., as image, trope, noun, verb) is not simply because of the meaning they confer upon nature, but rather because nature itself is a language.

Have mountains, and waves, and skies, no significance but what we consciously give them when we employ them as emblems of our thoughts? The world is emblematic. Parts of speech are metaphors, because the whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind.

That is, nature is an expression of the laws and ideas (i.e., the metaphysics) that underpin the visible world. By tapping into the language of nature, humans are able to in turn express the laws and ideas of the world. Emerson suggests this is why popular proverbs of different nations usually consist of a natural fact, like "a rolling stone gathers no moss," "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," and "the last ounce broke the camel's back."


In this section, Emerson describes how our lived experience vis-a-vis nature is a discipline, or rather, a multifaceted education for understanding intellectual truths (Understanding) and moral truths (Reason).

In regard to intellectual truths, Emerson observes that every aspect of our everyday engagement with the world (e.g., space, time, food, climate, animals) and matter (e.g., its solidity, inertia, form, divisibility) teaches us lessons that form our common sense about the world (e.g., about difference, likeness, order, particularity, generality). Furthermore, each encounter teaches us about power, about the ability for humans to shape nature according to their will.

Nature is thoroughly mediate. It is made to serve. It receives the dominion of man as meekly as the ass on which the Savior rode. It offers all its kingdoms to man as the raw material that he may mold into what is useful.

In regard to moral truths, our engagements with nature teaches us about the "premonitions of Reason" - by which Emerson means the universal soul, his Transcendentalist conception of God - and thus shape our conscience.

Therefore is nature glorious with form, color, and motion; that every globe in the remotest heaven, every chemical change from the rudest crystal up to the laws of life, every change of vegetation from the first principle of growth in the eye of a leaf, to the tropical forest and antediluvian coal-mine, every animal function from the sponge up to Hercules, shall hint or thunder to man the laws of right and wrong, and echo the Ten Commandments.

This entails that despite the infinite variety of natural processes and forms, they all embody a version of the moral law of the universe, which illustrates the unity of Nature - its unity in variety.

The river, as it flows, resembles the air that flows over it; the air resembles the light that traverses it with more subtle currents; the light resembles the heat that rides with it through Space. Creatures are only a modification of one another; the likeness between them is more than the difference, and their radical law is one and the same. A rule of one art, or a law of one organization, holds true throughout nature. So intimate is this Unity, that, it is easily seen, it lies under the undermost garment of Nature, and betrays its source in Universal Spirit.

Finally, Emerson asserts the amount of moral influence each encounter has on an individual depends on the amount of truth it illustrates to the individual, which cannot be easily quantified.

Who can guess how much firmness the sea-beaten rock has taught the fisherman? How much tranquility has been reflected to man from the azure sky, over whose unspotted deeps the winds forevermore drive flocks of stormy clouds, and leave no wrinkle or stain?


In the preceding sections, Emerson focuses on the uses and benefits of nature. In "Idealism" and "Spirit," he shifts to questions of what nature is. Such questions are based on his Idealism, and thus do not mean what is nature composed of, but rather, is there a higher reality or law behind nature, and does visible nature really exist?

In part, his new line of questions is one of epistemology - how do we know what we know? He first offers the claim of the radical Idealist, who believes reality is fundamentally constructed by the mind:

In my utter impotence to test the authenticity of the report of my senses, to know whether the impressions they make on me correspond with outlying objects, what difference does it make, whether Orion is up there in heaven, or some god paints the image in the firmament of the soul.

However, he also denies the extreme conclusion that reality, and thus nature, does not exist independent of the mind:

Any distrust of the permanence of laws [e.g., gravity] would paralyze the faculties of man.

He settles the issue by showing how various aspects of culture - including 1) motion (which affirms the internal reality of the observer due to the feeling of the sublime that arises from the difference felt between the observer/human and the spectacle/nature, as when seeing the shore from a moving ship), 2) poetry (which affirms the reality of the soul by the way in which poets conform nature to their thoughts and "makes them the words of the Reason" or the soul), 3) philosophy (which like poetry, affirms the reality of the soul by the way in which philosophers animate nature with their thoughts and makes them the words of Reason, except in this case for Truth rather than Beauty), 4) intellectual science (which generates insight based on abstract ideas and thus the spirit), and 5) religion and ethics (which degrades nature and suggests its dependence on the spirit) - convince us of the reality of the external world, of nature and spirit, and thus tend to imbue us with a moderate form of idealism:

It is the uniform effect of culture on the human mind, not to shake our faith in the stability of particular phenomena, as of heat, water, and azote; but to lead us to regard nature as a phenomenon, not a substance; to attribute necessary existence to spirit; to esteem nature as an accident and effect.


As a qualification to the discussion of Idealism in the previous section, Emerson asserts that Idealism is ultimately an introductory hypothesis (like carpentry and chemistry) about nature. If it only denies the existence of matter, or external reality, as with extreme Idealism, then it of no use to him, for it does not satisfy the demands of the spirit. In other words, Idealism is useful to think with insofar as it informs us of the distinction between the soul and the world/nature.

By recognizing this distinction, and the existence of each, we can then understand their relation to one another - that is, how spirit (the Supreme Being, the Universal Soul) acts through us, "as the life of the tree puts forth new branches and leaves through the pores of the old," and thus is not subject to the human will, as with the rest of the world/nature.


In this last section, Emerson argues it is better approach the world as a naturalist than as a student of empirical science. Compared to the precision and experiments of the scientist, the naturalist employs self-discovery and humility, and thus continues to learn about his relation to the world, and remains open to the secrets of nature. The naturalist will pay attention to the truth and to the real problems to be solved:

It is not so pertinent to man to know all the individuals of the animal kingdom, as it is to know whence and whereto is this tyrannizing unity in his constitution, which evermore separates and classifies things, endeavoring to reduce the most diverse to one form.

Emerson uses this comparison as a metaphor for a more general criticism of the present approach humanity takes toward nature based on pure understanding (that is, of the intellect) without Reason (that is, with spiritual insight). However, there are occasional examples of how humanity might act with both:

Such examples are, the traditions of miracles in the earliest antiquity of all nations; the history of Jesus Christ; the achievements of a principle, as in religious and political revolutions, and in the abolition of the slave-trade; the miracles of enthusiasm, as those reported of Swedenborg, Hohenlohe, and the Shakers; many obscure and yet contested facts, now arranged under the name of Animal Magnetism; prayer; eloquence; self-healing; and the wisdom of children.

Until humanity begins to act with both understanding/intellect and reason/spirituality towards nature, to repair its relationship with nature and the world, humanity remains disunited with itself and the world lacks unity. To correct this trend, Emerson argues people need to acquire a new, educated way of seeing the world, by which he means the Transcendentalist approach he has laid out in the previous sections.

So we shall come to look at the world with new eyes. It shall answer the endless inquiry of the intellect (“What is truth?), as well as that of the affections (“What is good?”), by yielding itself passive to the educated Will.


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