As we think about the mixed legacies of our “Founding Fathers” (George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, etc), here’s a recent development in NYC. Please read about how the statue of Thomas Jefferson will be removed from City Hall.
Nice work on your extremely interesting posts on Ralph Waldo Emerson and his writings that promoted the Transcendental Movement.
Several of you pointed to the beauty, power, and continued relevance of his essay “Nature”. Maria talks of how truly “moving” the essay is and how Emersonian philosophy can actually change us if we let it. She quotes the line: “Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes” and explains that this concept is what we now know as “grounding” or “earthing” (i.e. getting our spiritual bearings in a mad, mad world!) For Sumayah, the essay’s importance is Emerson’s stress on finding “inner peace” by occasionally removing ourselves from society. We can also access Nature’s enormous power as Mehreen and Ulises write. Mehreen quotes the line: “We must trust the perfection of the creation so far, as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy.” Amy and Karina, in turn, comment on the compelling line that “To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child.” As they clarify, we must open ourselves to the power of Nature to regain our lost purity and our true sense of self.
Several of your wrote on his intriguing, “The American Scholar.” Zariff quotes the great line that we are all too often “the victim of society” … and merely “parrot of other men’s thinking.” Tenzin connects Emerson to how students need to be independent thinkers today and quotes the fantastic line: “Free should the scholar be, — free and brave. Free even to the definition of freedom.” To capture this same point, Ariel chose the line: “Colleges … can only highly serve us, when they aim not to drill, but to create … and set the hearts of youth on flame.” We need to be “nourished” by college not treated like mere robots, writes Enson. Let’s also keep in mind Emerson’s point, as Nelson reminds that “Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst” . We need to be truly “active” readers and original thinkers.
All these points come to a crescendo in Emerson’s towering “Self-Reliance.” Mohammed chose the line: “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think” , connecting it to his own challenges of not letting the thoughts of others “dictate” his life. Brian writes, “After reading Emerson’s essay, I think he is saying that while we are capable of thinking for ourselves, we often follow in the footsteps of others. In a way it’s like “monkey see monkey do.” Well said!!! Cristin similarly warns that “Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.” It’s hard to be an individual but we always need to believe in ourselves, Amina adds, quoting the line: “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.”
This week we move on to Emerson’s equally impressive protégé and student: Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau took Emerson’s idea to heart, actually moving to a cabin on Walden Pond (in Concord), living by himself for 2 years, 2 months, and two days!!! Why he did this and what he learned in the woods is the basis for his classic book Walden, or Life in the Woods (1845). Please watch the video below that explores his aims.
Please also read excerpts from his work: HERE
Here is the Full Book (For Future Reading): Walden
Also consider reading a fascinating recent article on Walden‘s relevance to young people today:
Thoreau did not just hide out from society. While living in his cabin on Walden Pond, he wrote one of the world’s most important protest essays: “On Civil Disobedience.” In protest of slavery and America’s war with Mexico (in 1844), he famously refused to pay his taxes and was put in jail (for two days). The essay explains why he can’t pay taxes to a government that is corrupt and that we all should go to jail rather than acquiescing to a nation’s evil actions (the heart of civil disobedience). His essay was extremely important to later social activists including Ghandi (in India) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (who himself wrote a famous letter while imprisoned in a Birmingham Jail.)
Please read this excerpt of Civil Disobedience
POST ASSIGNMENT: Comment on a passage from either Walden or “Civil Disobedience” (or from one of the articles) that strikes you as particularly interesting and important.