Nature: A Human’s Sanctuary — The Works of Emerson and Thoreau


To describe the significance of nature is as difficult as attempting to figure out the source of our creation.  So extreme in its abundance, the effects of nature confront us every minute of every day.  The sky, animals, the trees that overlook our paths…these are all a part of nature and have a profound impact on the way our lives progress, although each person reacts quite differently and is affected differently based on a metaphysical scale.  Such qualities attained from nature were the focal points of both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, each of whom devoted a significant amount of their literary works towards the subject and how it aided in improving their own lives.  In Emerson’s “Nature” and Thoreau’s Walden, nature relates to the bigger theme of dissent because human beings can only truly understand who they are when they learn to live within nature and actually be a part of it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of the most famous Transcendentalists and his work, “Nature,” is separated into different sections to make people understand the abundance of qualities which help define a man’s place in society.  He is very well known for a line from “Nature” that one could say is a complete summary of the entire work: “I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God” (Emerson, “Nature”).  The way Emerson describes himself as a transparent eyeball is something that could be said for anybody who looks at their life in a spiritual manner; the only things that can be seen are the things that are right in front of us.  If we do not search for answers and educate ourselves, we are only falling further away from the notion that we are dissentious in our own right.

The way that Emerson attacks the topic of nature truly shows his passion for believing in the outside to help human beings determine who we are on the inside.  Emerson seems to have a sore spot for the theme of including nature and art as one entity: “Nature, in the common sense, refers to essences unchanged by man; space, the air, the river, the leaf. Art is applied to the mixture of his will with the same things, as in a house, a canal, a statue, a picture” (Emerson, “Nature”).  It is almost as if Emerson is giving the reader a warning that if one does not fully exemplify the qualities described throughout the essay, then his/her life will be just as bland as the next person’s.  To be dissentious is to do something that nobody else has ever procured, a type of personal growth that makes us one with a higher power.  Emerson believes the unity between God and man is a type of relationship in which all of a person’s strengths and weaknesses are brought to light, an observation which is hard to dispute considering that the spiritual relationship each human possesses is far more important than any type of physical relationship that could be taking place.  It sort of belongs in the “mind over matter” discussion because we must be at peace with ourselves and trust ourselves before we can ever expect to trust others.

Henry David Thoreau, a close friend of Emerson’s and a fellow Transcendentalist, is very similar in his opinions on nature in his book Walden.  The book is similar to Emerson’s “Nature” because it is divided into different sections that allow the reader to prioritize different elements of life, basically acting as a type of guide as how to achieve a more spiritual existence.  The book received its title because Thoreau lived on Walden Pond on his lonesome, which sometimes overshadows the fact that he still had contact with people and received visits from those he had known.  The entire effect of Thoreau living by himself on a pond is one of the most dissentious actions a person can perform, basically telling the rest of society that he wanted to live alone and support his own needs using his intelligence and yearning to understand what is beyond our grasp.

Thoreau described nature very vividly in the section of the book entitled Solitude.  This section delves into the prospect that being alone is a more productive and satisfying experience than being surrounded by others.  Thoreau explained, somewhat sympathetically, how nature’s effects can overpower those who never even believed in something greater: “Yet I experienced sometimes that the most sweet and tender, the most innocent and encouraging society may be found in any natural object, even for the poor misanthrope and most melancholy man” (Thoreau, Walden).  Subjecting yourself to solitary confinement is a dissentious choice one makes because it is almost as if that person is trying to separate his/herself from the rest of society; nonconformity in its finest state.  It is hard not to associate nature with freedom, as both seem to belong to one another.  Finding solace in the wonders of our natural environment is arguably one of the most relaxing places to be.

Thoreau does a good job discussing one’s self reliance and how living alone can only make you benefit in the entire scheme of things.  Dissention is a type of thought pattern in which doing something special involves doing something that nobody has done previously, creating feelings of extreme confidence that something like depending on you could only achieve.  It is almost as if Thoreau wants to temporarily halt the progression of a technological society because it would destroy the natural aspects of everyday life, which is a claim that anybody could support.

When nature is looked at a different angle, as a type of catalyst for deeper periods of thought, it is when we can most respect the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.  Dissention is the ultimate step towards stepping out of mediocrity and achieving a state of feeling that the rest of the majority does not truly comprehend.  It is sometimes overwhelming to imagine a world without some sort of balance, some equilibrium that balanced our lives in a physical and spiritual manner.  It is as Thoreau said: “To be awake is to be alive” (Thoreau, Walden).  In some fragment, we are all a part of nature’s bountiful grasp.  The problem is that only a few of us want to learn from it.

3 thoughts on “Nature: A Human’s Sanctuary — The Works of Emerson and Thoreau

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