Flâneurs Book Club: Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature

A man is fed, not that he may be fed, but that he may work.

I have recently picked up “Nature” in a bookshop (mostly because of its charming book-cover). And after going through Emerson’s insightful and strikingly original writing, I consider it a piece of absolute genius! My enthusiasm has reached the heights of youtube-video analysis watching…That’s just how riveting and inqusitive I found it…So naturally, I must share my own thoughts on the matter. I suppose that sometimes judging a book by its cover does prove to be fruitful.

But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and what he touches. One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime.”


In the past, I’ve only vaguely heard of Emerson―mostly through readings on Nietzsche’s Gay Science. It appears that I’ve been living under an enormous rock, because he is considered to be one of the most brilliant and influential thinkers of the 19th century. Many even consider Emerson’s essay as America’s intellectual declaration of independence. His contributions to American literature cannot be missed―he called for originality, individualism, and man’s closeness to nature. He significantly influenced great thinkers such as Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Friedrich Nietzsche, and many more…Understandably so.


Who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth, becomes part of his daily food. In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.

Nature” works on many levels—it addresses an entire generation and simultaneously, it addresses the individual reader. As such, its beautiful complexity comes from the fact that the text is applicable to all and is found in all. Emerson’s talent is illustrated in his picturesque descriptions of nature and his expressive love for earth. He speaks of nature in its common form and its philosophical form. His expressive and bold ideas search to unify nature and man—to bring them closer together—to let go of history and tradition and embrace the present moment in which we are living—to appreciate the beauty of the nature around us as it is now. Emerson commands the reader to take a hold of the present moment and assemble it in its own image.  He stresses the importance of originality—not only in American literature but also in our personal individuality.

“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.”

Emerson isn’t shy of bringing up Kantian elements of what “is“and of asking heavy philosophical questions. The reader is left baffled by these huge questions which they have no answers to. What is your nature once you have rid yourself of history, tradition and religion? Who are we in solitude? Many of these are left unanswered… But pondering at them ultimately brings us closer to truth!

There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all


Emerson boldly calls for the appreciation of the ordinary, not only in nature, but in the human condition. He expresses his belief that ordinary men can be extraordinary. We, just as we are, have the same genius spark that all others before us had! Why follow the writings and theories of great men/women, if they themselves were just as we are? Caesar, Shakespeare, Locke (or Emerson himself)…what quality do they possess that we don’t? The divine spark is in all of us. We are all “gods in ruins”.

Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape.


I suppose that what I appreciate most,  is the fresh positivity in Emerson’s writing. He sees beauty, wisdom and grandness in all things.

He ultimately believes that our world is a reflection of how we perceive it, and convincingly states that we have so much power contained in us. It truly is inspiring to read!

The misery of man appears like childish petulance, when we explore the steady and prodigal provision that has been made for his support and delight on this green ball which floats him through the heavens.”

I will conclude with my favourite passage―full of optimism and insightful guidance.

(As you may have noticed, I have added one too many passages.  I hold them all so dear,  that I could not separate myself from any of them).

“Build, therefore, your own world. As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions. A correspondent revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit. So fast will disagreeable appearances, swine, spiders, snakes, pests, madhouses, prisons, enemies, vanish; they are temporary and shall be no more seen. The sordor and filths of nature, the sun shall dry up, and the wind exhale. As when the summer comes from the south; the snow-banks melt, and the face of the earth becomes green before it, so shall the advancing spirit create its ornaments along its path, and carry with it the beauty it visits, and the song which enchants it; it shall draw beautiful faces, warm hearts, wise discourse, and heroic acts, around its way, until evil is no more seen.”

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