from “The Poet” by Ralph Waldo Emerson | Poetry Foundation
Ralph waldo emerson the poet essay summary of plato
From December 1836 to March 1837 Emerson gave his first series of independent lectures, the first that is, that he designed himself and gave under his own auspices. It was called the Philosophy of History, and it was a very important series for Emerson, since out of it evolved the great essays on "History" and "Self Reliance" that he would publish in his first volume of in 1841. There is also a lecture on "Literature" in the Philosophy of History series, given in January 1837. The general theme of the series is stated in the introductory lecture: "We arrive early at the great discovery that there is one Mind common to all individual men; that what is individual is less than what is universal; that those properties by which you are man are more radical than those by which you are Adam or John; than the individual, nothing is less; than the universal, nothing is greater; that error, vice, and disease have their seat in the superficial or individual nature; that the common nature is whole." Literature, then, is the written record of this mind, and in one important sense literature is always showing us only ourselves. This lecture contains Emerson's most extreme--and least fruitful--statement of his idealist conception of literature. He contrasts art with literature, explaining that while "Art delights in carrying a thought into action, Literature is the conversion of action into thought." In other words, "Literature idealizes action." In an abstract sense this may be so, but Emerson is generally at his best when he sees literature moving us toward action, not away from it. In another place this lecture has a very valuable comment on how literature is able to reach into our unconscious. "Whoever separates for us a truth from our unconscious reason, and makes it an object of consciousness, ... must of course be to us a great man." And there is also a rather uncharacteristic recognition of what Gustav Flaubert would call . "The laws of composition are as strict as those of sculpture and architecture. There is always one line that ought to be chosen, one proportion that should be kept, and every other line or proportion is wrong.... So, in writing, there is always a right word, and every other than that is wrong."
The Poet Whom Emerson Describes | Transcendentalism
The essay makes one more important literary point. Emerson takes it as a welcome sign of the times that "instead of the sublime and beautiful, the near, the low, the common" was being explored and made into poetry. "I embrace the common," he says. "I explore and sit at the feet of the familiar, the low .... the meal in the firkin, the milk in the pan." Like Wordsworth's call for a language of common men, this recognition of Emerson's went further than his own practice could usually follow. But Emerson's endorsement of common language had a powerful effect on the rising generation of young American writers, first on and , then on and others.