Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau: Lecture Essay
March 13, 1846
-A lecture by Henry David Thoreau
Henry D. Thoreau gave an intellectually stimulating lecture. His political and environmental stances enchanted the audience. His ideas are indicative of self-reliance, simplicity and appreciation. His delivery invited each listener to actively enjoy what he said. Thoreau presented his lecture so that the audience had no choice but to ponder and think about what he said. He was passionate in what he said, as his values and views leaked into the audience like a stream branching out from a river. The following is what I took away from his speech.
Thoreau began his speech by addressing his purpose of living alone-a word of discussion in his lecture- and in the woods of Concord. I quoted a passage that he derived from his own book, under the assumption that it was something of significance, either to the audience or himself. In either case, his statement would reveal a part of Thoreau that was of importance to him. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone let him be where he will. (p. 123)
Thoreau paused after he read. My initial response to this statement was to think about it. So solitude is physically a friend to you? He answered my question before I could question him. In the absence of people, he had befriended the seasons. He continued to speak of his Natural friends, like the birds who sang for him, and the rain, which entertained him. Thoreaus idea of solitude was that solitude is simply a different state of mind. Instead of the events and actions of other people, he discerned that ones own actions, thoughts and imagination were of equal value. As he spoke, I began to appreciate what he said. His digression from society wasnt the result of dislike for it, but a personal value of living through his own eyes, rather than others eyes. He did not need material things to measure life.
Thoreaus next venture featured a fisherman. A quiet man who fished by himself at Walden Pond. Thoreau told a story of this man who came to the pond near everyday in the spring and summer. He fished from the shore, never on a boat. Something separated this man from the rest of those who came to fish. After he caught the fish, no matter the size, he would pack up his gear and leave.
Where was this story leading? Thoreau admired the man who satisfied himself so easily, although he never spoke to the man. I wondered if it was a true story. Why would a guy want only one fish? Why so easily satisfied? My mind raced as he spoke, trying to devour and process the words that he said. Suddenly, without contemplation, I asked Thoreau a question.
Mr. Thoreau, I said. This man you speak of is different from many in his ways. He travels such a distance for such a tiny reward. Why does he settle for less when he could have more without much marginal effort?
Thoreau smiled for the first time during his speech, like he was entertained by my inquiry.
My answer can be no better than yours. That was all Thoreau said. At least he wasnt egotistical. His answer seemed to raise me to his level. My answer was just as good as any other answer in the room. Maybe the guy didnt even like fish; he just wanted to be outside. Or maybe his son drowned there in the pond, and he needed to have a part of him everyday, no matter how big or small of a part it may be.
Thoreau continued to talk of the fisherman. Although quiet, the man was not silent. He smiled when others greeted him, and offered his hand when other fishermen sought to launch their boats. He loves his life, which is something that not everyone experiences, Thoreau glanced at me. Is it not easier to be happy when your wants are few?
Here Thoreau began his conclusion to his lecture. The universe is wider than our views of it. Our eyes are closed. No man will see every inch of our world, and the questions which nature asks us will remain a basis of thought as long as people live. Exploration of the world and of ourselves is the only light that can reveal. He picked up his book and read. Start now on that farthest western way, which does not pause at the Mississippi or the Pacific, but leads on a direct tangent to this sphere, summer and winter, day and night, sun down, moon down, and at last earth down too. (P.287)
March 22, 1846
-A lecture by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emersons lecture was an awesome experience. I had an overall uplifting sensation in my body during his entire speech. He seemed to have a thirst for the unknown, which became contagious. The thirst appealed to a side of me that I had never acknowledged, or even knew existed. He inspired me.
Emerson started his lecture with a bang. He read from notes, and peered through his glasses at the audience. He had a certain fire
The first in time and the first in importance of the influence upon the mind is that of nature. (P. 84) Emerson spoke of how humans perceive things to formulate thoughts. He named off the five senses, and told how we manipulate them in our processing to fit into our corrupted image of them. He talked of the world, or nature in the context he used, being the shadow of the soul, as if they were one. He presented the idea that we as humans create what we see around us with our minds. And our senses are simply our minds way of creation. What an idea! We always think of the separation between the world and ourselves, but undoubtedly they are attached. The Universe is the externalization of the soul. Wherever the life is, that bursts into appearance around it. (P.209)
Emerson moved on to a subject that conveyed his value of independent thought. Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duties to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon have given; forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote these books. (P.86)
These young men, to him, were followers in the sense that I give the word. They are the people who learn from others, rather than from themselves. I drew a connection here. If the world is a shadow of ones soul, then it was like these followers are living through other peoples souls. This fake life is not their own, but the answers to somebody elses questions. Emerson drew a comparison between a poet and independent thinking. He said that the poet is he who puts words to actions. In this way, the poet does not rely on others to listen, or see what he/she sees. The poet, with a perception unused by most, gives life to the dead, and words to emotions. Emerson sees the significance of invention. Any man can learn, but few can invent.
I was feeling bold, and to pass up a chance to hear Emersons reaction to my thoughts would have been stupid. Mr. Emerson. A poet reveals to us something we have never seen or heard, like they have a higher sense of perception than other men. What separates such men from the poet?
Everyone is a poet in their own right, Emersons eyes turned me into glass, fire burns once it is lit, but the spark that ignites a flame is the poetry. The difference between the poet and other men is in the thinking of each. If a person sees a sunset and writes about what it means to him/her and the emotions they feel at that moment, then they are creating. The average person will see a sunset and write down the colors, describing the sight. The poet does not stop at the color and the form, thus not limiting beauty to the eyes. Beauty exists everywhere, the poet sees this beauty when it is invisible to other men.
I understood what he meant. Everybody is blind to certain things in life. To remove the blindfold is something that is unnecessary, and overlooked. The poet removes the blindfold and not only sees what others miss, but he/she gives meaning to it.
Emersons lecture concluded with an encouragement to the audience to search lifes limits, and that thought was the key. Thinking encourages self-formulated answers, or imagination, an element that can externalize the soul. I may find the answers to universal questions if my own brain participates in the creation of the circle in which I might find it.
The key to every man is his thought. (P. 190)