Emerson Destroys Me

“By Latin and English poetry, we were born and bred in an oratorio of praises of nature, – flowers, birds, mountains, sun, and moon; – yet the naturalist of this hour finds that he knows nothing, by all their poems, of any of these fine things; that he has conversed with the mere surface and show of them all; and of their essence, or of their history, knows nothing.  Further inquiry will discover that nobody, – that not these chanting poets themselves, knew any thing sincere of these handsome natures they so commended; that they contented themselves with the passing chirp of a bird, that they saw one or two mornings, and listlessly looked at sunsets, and repeated idly these few glimpses in their song.  But go into the forest, you shall find all new and undescribed.  The screaming of the wild geese flying by night; the thin note of the companionable titmouse, in the winter day; the fall of swarms of flies, in autumn, from combats high in the air, pattering down on the leaves like rain; the angry hiss of the wood-birds; the pine throwing out its pollen for the benefit of the next century; the turpentine exuding from the tree; – and, indeed, any vegetation; any animation; any and all, are alike unattempted.  The man who stands on the seashore, or who rambles in the woods, seems to be the first man that ever stood on the shore, or entered a grove, his sensations and his world are so novel and strange.  Whilst I read the poets, I think that nothing new can be said about morning and evening.  But when I see the daybreak, I am not reminded of these Homeric, or Shaksperian, or MIltonic, or Chaucerian pictures.  No; but I feel perhaps the pain of an alien world; a world not yet subdued by the thought; or, I am cheered by the moist, warm, glittering, budding, melodious hour, that takes down the narrow walls of my soul, and extends its life and pulsation to the very horizon.  That is morning, to cease for a bright hour to be a prisoner of this sickly body, and to become as large as nature.

– Emerson, “Literary Ethics” (my italics)


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