Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Themed Reading Review: Selected Essays, Lectures and Poems


Whew! Did this one take forever, or did it just seem like forever? I started reading near the end of April and just put this horse in the barn tonight.

It's not that I don't like Emerson. But he's dense, as philosophers tend to be, and careful with his arguments, and (dare I say it?) a tad dull, if philosophy isn't your particular thing. For classroom reading, this would be wonderful. With a well-informed, experienced guide to walk me through, I think I would enjoy this one.

As it is, I love the way Emerson's essays demonstrate the fundamental principles of Transcendentalism (which the book group discussed recently): that the Divine is constantly manifesting itself through nature, through people, through everything in the world, everywhere, all the time. Isn't that lovely? Seeing everything as part of one all-encompassing whole puts an entirely different spin on the grittier side of life.

The poems aren't particularly engaging, but the lectures are much more interesting and by far the most enjoyable part of this book. A conversational tone and a few touches of humor go a long way toward lightening the mood. In particular, Emerson's tribute to Thoreau makes me like the man behind Walden ever so much better. Thoreau must have been a real pain to know, a genuine contrarian. But geniuses can be forgiven for their eccentricities, and Emerson's fondness and admiration for his colleague and temporary tenant shine through. That alone made this read worthwhile.

Excerpt, from "Thoreau":

There was somewhat military in his nature, not to be subdued, always manly and able, but rarely tender, as if he did not feel himself except in opposition. He wanted a fallacy to expose, a blunder to pillory, I may say required a little sense of victory, a roll of the drum, to call his powers into full exercise. It cost him nothing to say No; indeed he found it much easier than to say Yes. It seemed as if his first instinct on hearing a proposition was to controvert it, so impatient was he of the limitations of our daily thought. This habit, of course, is a little chilling to the social affections; and though the companion would in the end acquit him of any malice or untruth, yet it mars conversation. Hence, no equal companion stood in affectionate relations with one so pure and guileless. "I love Henry," said one of his friends, "but I cannot like him; and as for taking his arm, I should as soon think of taking the arm of an elm-tree."

1 comment:

  1. I know what you mean about Emerson. His writing is brilliant but takes forever to get through. It's always worth it, but finding the time? That's the hard part.

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