Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson’s intention with this piece is to persuade his audience to respect nature, and take the time to appreciate and experience it as often as possible.

One quote that stood out to me in this piece reads, “The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them.” The imagery that this quote evokes is powerful. When I read it, all I can picture is walking through a cornfield, the stalks slowly swaying as if they are waving to me. The strong emotions, beauty, and personal connections to the audience this imagery brings forth is helpful to Emerson’s intention.

Although this piece was written in 1836, the principles of respecting nature and experiencing its beauty are applicable today. Our society is often so wrapped up in the world of technology that we forget to enjoy the nature that is all around us. Emerson’s idea that, “To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society” holds true. When a person wants to be alone, he/she usually retreats into his/her bedroom, but with the technology we have right at our fingertips, simply sitting in your room is not enough to truly be alone. In order to be alone and experience solitude, Emerson believes one must retreat into nature, without the presence of other people, or technology. This is the only way we can fully experience solitude and the beauty of nature without any distractions. The beauty of nature is something we should all remember to appreciate.

Emerson makes good use of personification by writing, “Nature never wears a mean appearance.” This description makes nature seem more inviting and beautiful. By giving nature human qualities, Emerson builds a relationship between his audience and nature, which can assist him in achieving his intention. It also suggests that nothing in nature is bad or ugly; it’s just simply nature. Even the things in nature that seem horrible, such as thunderstorms and animal predators feeding on prey, serve practical purposes, and good things come from them.

— Kayla Gay

Throughout this piece Emerson uses a first person point of view. This perspective allows readers to have a better connection with the piece. For example, by saying “I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the universal being circulate through me; I am a part or particle of God”(293), Emerson causes readers to become like him, a part of God and nature. Through the use of inclusive pronouns, Emerson applies his own reasoning to readers. By saying “we speak” and “we have” Emerson causes readers to believe these statements are common knowledge and 100% correct.

 

Emerson’s comparisons between humans and nature provide a unique sense of similarity between the two. He takes simple scenes such as the sky and personifies it, depicting it “shutting down” and being “overspread with melancholy”. Giving nature these human qualities supports his argument that we are a part of nature. Using changing leaves, Emerson relates scenes in nature to human events such as death and reconciliation saying, “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.”(293) Statements like these connect the reader with nature and provides them with similarities. Within the first paragraph Emerson reveals his own connection with nature, explaining how he is not alone when he is in nature.

 

Emerson’s personification of nature introduces readers to their similarities with nature. He begins with instructing readers to have an open mind with a distinct poetic sense. Emerson then describes nature’s qualities, saying “nature never wears a mean appearance. Neither does the wisest man extort her secret, and lose his curiosity by finding out her perfection. Nature never became a toy to a wise spirit…”(292) After describing nature itself, he goes on to explain how most adults can’t see nature. This use of personification inspires readers to open their mind to nature and meet him them self.

-Caroline Steinmetz

Emerson uses many appeals to pathos in Nature to make the readers feel like they are missing something by not appreciating the natural world. One example is, “If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown!” This sentence is an appeal to pathos because it evokes sadness at the stars being underappreciated.

The line, “The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible,” is an appeal to ethos. It gives Emerson credibility because it demonstrates that he is humble enough to have reverence for things that are greater than him (such as the stars). The piece wouldn’t be as effective if Emerson didn’t recognize the fact he, as a human, is not one of the greatest natural creations.

Although this piece originated from the transcendentalist movement, which emphasizes the spiritual above the empirical, there is an unexpected appeal to logos present in this piece. Emerson includes a paragraph explaining the different perceptions of a woodcutter, farmers, and a poet of one landscape. This appeals to logos because it gives reasoning as to why the poet perceives a landscape differently than the others and why the poetical interpretation provides the most appreciation for the land. Emerson explains that the woodcutter only sees a tree for its timber and the farmers only see the individual parts of the landscape as their personal farms, but the poet is able to integrate all of the parts and see the landscape as a whole.

–Alex Stevens

My favorite set of quotes from this passage begins with Emerson speaking of how very few adults can see nature. He states that most people do not see the sun except in a superficial way before continuing, “The sun illuminates only the eye of man, but shines into the eyes and heart of a child.” This quote is an appeal to pathos, because it evokes feelings of nostalgia in readers. This first quote definitely made me think about how excited I was to go play in the woods with my friends as a child, and how magical the woods seemed back then. In all honesty, I sometimes feel exactly the same way when I’m in a forest now. Later, Emerson further expresses that nature can revive these feelings in anyone at any time. “In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake in his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth.”

Another quote that I really love reads, “..Nature is not always tricked in holiday attire, but the same scene which yesterday breathed perfumed and as for the frolic of the nymphs, is overspread with melancholy today. Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.” I absolutely love this quote because I think it’s fairly true. If you’re walking outside on a sunny day right after you just got a promotion or some other good news that puts you in a good mood, you’re more likely to think that the trees are beautiful weather is lovely. If you’re having a really stressful and terrible day, on the other hand, you usually tend to think that the sun is unbearable, the falling leaves are annoying, or something else along those lines. This quote expresses that nature can only have a truly positive influence on the audience if they open themselves to see and experience it as such, which supports Emerson’s intention.

Emerson’s use of a calm, poetic tone and vivid imagery not only contributes to an appeal to pathos, but also gives insight into the positive influence that nature has on him. This insight gives the essay context, as Emerson’s love of nature is his motivating reason for delivering his intention to the audience.

— Mira Bauer

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