Ralph Waldo Emerson - critical essays

Emerson closed his English literature lecture series with a final talk on "Modern Aspects of Letters," in which he discussed Lord , , Dugald Steward, James McIntosh, and . Of these his favorite is , whom he praises particularly as a critic. Emerson rates 's (1817) "the best body of criticism in the English language," and it may be added that Emerson as a literary critic is closer to and owes more to him than to any other single source. Emerson singles out as especially important, in addition to the , 's (1809), especially the third volume, and his (1830). (1825), "though a useful book I suppose, is the least valuable." Of particular value to Emerson are 's "distinction between Reason and Understanding; the distinction of an Idea and a Conception; between Genius and Talent; between Fancy and Imagination: of the nature and end of Poetry: of the Idea of a State." Emerson closes his lecture with an argument that beauty and truth "always face each other and each tends to become the other." He insists that everyone has it in him or her to both create and respond to literature, because literature is based on nature and "all nature, nothing less, is totally given to each new being."

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Essays and criticism on Ralph Waldo Emerson's The Poetry of Emerson - Critical Essays

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On 15 July 1838 Emerson delivered what has come to be known as the "Divinity School Address" before the senior class of the Harvard Divinity School and their guests. In this important speech, which critic Joel Porte says Emerson was born to deliver, Emerson flung down a major challenge to Orthodox and even Unitarian Christianity. Emerson argues that the concept of the divinity of Jesus and the absolute authority of the Bible are obstacles to true religious feeling. This is not to say Emerson did not value the Bible. He did, and very highly; and this very address has been described as taking its form, that of the jeremiad, from a book of the Old Testament. What Emerson wished to do was to warn of the consequences of revering one text as the sole fountain of truth. To hold up the of the Bible as infallible was to divert attention from the of the text. "The idioms of his [Jehovah's] language, and the figures of his rhetoric, have usurped the place of his truth; and churches are not built on his principles, but on his tropes." Furthermore, if the ancient Hebrew and Greek writings known as the Old and New Testaments respectively are regarded as the sole legitimate revelations, then we in the present age are contenting ourselves with this history of revelations to an earlier generation, and we are denying the possibility of a religion by revelation to us. "Men have come to speak of the revelation as somewhat long ago given and done, as if God were dead." In order to affirm the possibility of a living religion for the present, one must be careful not to get caught in a system that believes no prophet since Jesus has anything to say and no text since the Bible has religious validity.

Stephen Whicher, “The Dream of Greatness”

Emerson's idealism is always mentioned in critical discussions of his thought. The equally important ethical aspect of his work is less often insisted upon. But Emerson's characteristically practical idealism cannot be fully appreciated until one recognizes that he evaluated all literature, all philosophy, all religion, by a simple ethical test: how does it help me to live a better life. has defined the moral element in literature as that which teaches us how to live. All of Emerson's idealist conceptions also meet this moral test, and those books which have served successfully over time as practical guides to conduct are the books Emerson values most highly. maintained in the "Preface to Shakespeare" that "nothing can please many and please long but just representations of general nature." Emerson used a similar criterion. The best ethical writers, he says, are those who write about "certain feelings and faculties in us which are alike in all men and which no progress of arts and no variety of institutions can alter," those writers, in short, who hold fast to "the general nature of man."

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In his poetry and essays, Emerson celebrated the diversity and freedom he found Joel Myerson, eds, Critical Essays on American ..

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Emerson's second main point is "the poet is the sayer, the namer." That is to say Emerson here rejects the idea that the poet is primarily a maker, a craftsman, or wordsmith. Formalist critics from Jonson to had emphasized the craft of writing, seeing the poet as a maker. For Emerson, the poet is a seer and a sayer, a person inspired, a transmitter of the poetry that inheres in nature and in us. He is not just a maker of verses. Emerson's poet is the inspired, divine, prophet-bard who has access to truth and whose function is to declare it, as Barbara Packer shows in (1982). From this notion it follows that poems are not "machines made out of words," or "verbal constructs." By contrast, for Emerson, "poetry was all written before time was." The poet's job is to establish contact with the primal, natural world, "where the air is music," and try to write down in words what has always existed in nature. When writes that "Nature's first green is gold," he is giving words to something that has been going on for eons, namely the first appearance of light greenish gold when the leaves first begin to break out of the bud in spring.

Growing and full of hope So it was in the beginning So critical essays on ralph waldo emerson it shall always be. ed 1917 The Library of the Worlds Best Literature With 5

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's great subject, says Emerson, is not so much the fall of man as liberty. The English poet advocated civil, ecclesiastical, literary, and domestic liberty. He opposed slavery, denied predestination, argued for freedom of the press, and favored the principle of divorce. 's writings are valuable not as literary artifacts, Emerson argues, but as pathways to the man. Emerson insists on linking the person and the writing. 's poems, like his prose, reflect the "opinions, the feelings, even the incidents of the poet's life." In general Emerson rates 's prose at least as high as his poetry, and he boldly redefines 's prose poetry in an important critical statement. "Of his prose in general, not the style alone, but the argument also, is poetic; according to Lord Bacon's definition of poetry, following that of , 'Poetry, not finding the actual world exactly conformed to its idea of good and fair, seeks to accommodate the shows of things to the desires of the mind, and to create an ideal world better than the world of experience.'"

Essays and criticism on Ralph Waldo Emerson - Emerson, Ralph Waldo (Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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Waldo Emerson was not a practicing literary critic in the sense that and were, and he was not a theorist as , or Friedrich Ernst Schleiermacher were. Yet he was for America what was for England, the major spokesman for a new conception of literature. From his early essays on English literature and his important first book, (1836), to his greatest single literary essay, "The Poet" (1844), to his late essays on "Poetry and Imagination" and "Persian Poetry" in 1875, Emerson developed and championed a concept of literature as literary activity. The essence of that activity is a symbolizing process. Both reader and writer are involved in acts of literary expression which are representative or symbolic. Emerson's position is an extreme one, and in (1965) René Wellek has said that "the very extremity with which he held his views makes him the outstanding representative of romantic symbolism in the English-speaking world." Emerson's romantic symbolism, biographical and ethical in intent, poetic in expression, is an attitude that still stirs debate and still can have a liberating and encouraging effect on the modern reader. Emerson always cared more for the present than the past, more for his reader than for the text in hand or the author in question. Poets, he said, are "liberating gods"; and Emerson at his best is also a liberator. "Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote those books."