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Ralph Waldo Emerson: Nature

Father of the Transcendentalist philosophical movement of 19th century America.


Emerson's essay 'Nature' written in 1836 is a vitally important piece of literature in the western world responsible for shifting the perspective of the divine existing only in religion, to once more opening up the door to nature as sacred. A philosopher, poet and abolitionist, Ralph Waldo Emerson has also been described as the father of American literature and the most important writer of the 19th century in America, considering how early his work dates in the formation of the country, his writing "Americas intellectual declaration of independence".


'Nature' strongly persuades the individual to break free from the societal paradigms of the past to discover their own unique relationship to spirituality and existence within their time, also mirroring sentiments found in earlier forms of spiritual beliefs from across the world, such as the Hermetic concept that we contain infinity within our minds...


“Words are finite organs of the infinite mind” - Ralph Waldo Emerson (Nature)

Metamorphosis of the Passion Flower - Erica Peebus

Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in 1803 in Boston, the son of a preacher. Having gained an education at Harvard, growing tired of orthodox religious teachings he embarked on a trip to Europe that would help define his naturalistic view of divinity. Whilst visiting a garden in Paris he was so struck by it's beauty that he had an epiphany that we contain nature within us, in its splendour and ugliness, writing "I feel the centipede in me, the cayman, carp, eagle and fox" (1848), reflecting the essence of traditional shamanistic values of oneness with nature.


Emerson was largely responsible for the growth of Pantheism in America, the belief that everything in nature contains God, or rather that God is nature. Rather than God revealing himself through only verse and being separate from the world, the individual may glimpse God through intuition by observing and being part of nature. Many of his insights from Nature could be seen to correlate with insights gained from meditation and mindfulness:


"Uplifted into infinite space, all mean egotism vanishes, I become a transparent eyeball, I am nothing, I see all, the currents of the universal being circulate through me, I am part or particle of God" - Ralph Waldo Emerson (Nature)

This concept of the "transparent eyeball" would become a symbol for unbiased divine insight within transcendentalism, with renowned American photographer Ansel Adams becoming inspired by Emerson's philosophy and poetry to translate this concept into the work of his photography, capturing the harmony of the 20th century American landscape...


“To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before and which shall never be seen again" - Ralph Waldo Emerson (Nature)

All photographs by Ansel Adams (Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston)

“The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?” - Ralph Waldo Emerson (Nature)

The Golden Gate Before the Bridge (1932)
"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! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile. The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible; but all natural objects make a kindred impression when the mind is open to their influence.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson (Nature)

Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park (1937)
“A leaf, a raindrop, a crystal, a moment of time is related to the whole, and partakes of the perfection of the whole. Each particle is a microcosm, and faithfully renders the likeness of the world.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson (Nature)

Rain, Yosemite Valley, California (1940)
"There is a relation between the hour of our life and the centuries of time. As the air I breathe is drawn from the great repositories of nature, as the light on my book is yielded by a star a hundred millions of miles distant” - Ralph Waldo Emerson (Nature)

Denali National Park and Preserve (1948)
“The true philosopher and the true poet are one, and a beauty, which is truth, and a truth, which is beauty, is the aim of both." - Ralph Waldo Emerson (Nature)

- ASTRAL MAGAZINE

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