Tag Archives: transcendentalism

“The Snow-Storm” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

My backyard this morning!!

My backyard this morning!!

As I awoke this morning to find everything blanketed in fresh snow, I felt inspired to read a poem about snow. I opted for this one by Emerson.

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hill and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farmhouse at the garden’s end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.
Come see the north wind’s masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer’s lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer’s sighs; and at the gate
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind’s night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.

Visually, this poem captures the beauty of the snow storm. But Emerson is expressing something more profound here, which I find spiritually moving. He is describing snow as divine architecture, as God creating beauty and art through Nature. And the structures which Nature creates from snow are works of perfection, far surpassing the works of humans.

This poses the question: If God’s magnificent and perfect architecture is temporary and will melt away, then how temporary are the creations of humanity?

I look forward to going out today, walking in the snow, and marveling at the beauty which is God’s handiwork. I hope you all get to go out and have an inspiring day also.

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Poems of Ralph Waldo Emerson

I picked this book up years ago at a used book store and finally got around to reading it. As a whole, there were things I loved about this collection of poems, and others, not so much.

First off, there are some great poems in here, and I blogged about several of them individually as I read through the book (Two Rivers; April; and Blight). The poems all deal with transcendent ideas and many are instilled with a reverent view of Nature. My one criticism is that some of the poems were just boring to read. As I thought about it, the ones that were boring were poems where Emerson seemed to be concerned with maintaining a formal structure. Conversely, the poems that show less concern with structure and instead use the cadence of the language to drive the verse are the ones that are the most interesting and inspiring.

Another thing that I really enjoyed about this book was the inclusion of passages from Emerson’s essays. While his poetry is good and at times brilliant, I think Emerson truly shines as an essayist. One excerpt in particular brought back fond memories for me. In college, while taking my Survey of American Literature class, we were given an assignment as part of the Emerson section. Students had to pair up and silently stare into each others eyes until we got a sense of that person’s inner self. This was intended to provide us with the experience that Emerson conveys in the essay Behavior:

The eyes of men converse as much as their tongues, with the advantage that ocular dialect needs no dictionary, but is understood all the world over. When the eyes say one thing and the tongue another, a practiced man relies on the language of the first. If the man is off his centre, the eyes show it. You can read in the eyes of your companion whether your argument hits him, though his tongue will not confess it. (p. 88)

My guess is that this book is out of print, so I’m not going to suggest that you seek it out. I will say that if you have not read any of Emerson’s works, you should at least read Self-Reliance and some of his poetry. He was a unique American writer who made a lasting mark on American literature.

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“Two Rivers” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

This morning I read “Two Rivers,” a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson. I have read some of Emerson’s essays, but I was not familiar with his verse.

This poem is a lot more complex than it appears on the surface. The main question is, what are the two rivers? Emerson only mentions one, the Musketaquit, which I discovered was the Native American name for the Concord River. So it is possible that the two rivers are actually the same, just given different names. But I suspect there is more.

Since Emerson was one of the great American transcendentalist writers, he would almost certainly have incorporated transcendental ideas into his poetry. Considering this, it is possible that the two rivers are the physical world, which he perceives, and the spiritual world, which is evoked within him. Similarly, the rivers could be the two streams of consciousness: our ego-centric consciousness and our inner subconscious selves.

Finally, the poem includes references to both light and darkness. Therefore, the two rivers could represent the two aspects of a human being. The river of light would therefore symbolize enlightened humanity, aware of the spiritual connection between the individual and Nature. The river of darkness would represent ignorance, the base human urges, and the primitive state that writers of that period associated with the Wilderness.

This is a short, easy poem to read, and I encourage you to do so (click here to read it online). I would also encourage you to spend some time contemplating the symbolism. Something tells me there is a lot hidden within these lines.

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