The early 19th century ideas of transcendentalism which were introduced by Ralph Emerson and David Thoreau, where man as an individual becomes spiritually consumed with nature and himself through experience are contrasted by Emily Dickinson who chose to branch off this path by showing that a transcendentalist experience could be achieved through imagination alone. These three monumental writers set the boundaries for this new realm of thought. Although these writers’ ideas were not similar, they all followed the simple idea that the universe is composed of Nature and the Soul.
The male perspective seen through the works of Thoreau and Emerson where nature refers to essences unchanged by man, the air, the river, the leaf is revised and satirized by Dickinson's statement that Of all the Souls that stand created, I have elected One. Dickinson's works were meant to taunt society by showing how a woman, ironically trapped in her "natural" surroundings of the home, could obtain as much power, if not more than any male writer. This ironic revision of ideas is directed at all male transcendentalists and figures in society.
Both Ralph Emerson and David Thoreau used society’s stereotype of the true male environment, nature to draw their power and write from their experiences. Experience was the most important factor to these writers. The ability to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account in my next excursion was the basis of all their writings.
To get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the whole world was their goal behind all their writings. They did not use their power of writing in order to gain a transcendentalist experience, but rather to record them. Both Emerson and Thoreau chose to contact their true natural surroundings, and experience time alone in the woods. By being in solitude, it brought forth a conciseness that all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence.
Man’s views of nature being rightfully his, to do with what he wants, is harshly contrasted by Emerson who feels that Nature says that He is my creature. Emerson felt that man, corrupted by society, can overpower the fate of overlooking his true meaning. Escaping from the wheel of society into the woods is perpetual youth. By living in the woods, he found that fusing nature with soul, one can accomplish anything.
Emerson felt that nature was an extension of five of his senses, where he could feel the tree moving in the wind as if it was his own body. He stressed the theme of having intercourse with heaven and earth or interlacing your body and soul with nature. But, of all five senses, he stressed vision the most. Beauty can only be accomplished through the gate way of the eye, which is where most experiences are derived from. The eye is the best of artists and has the power to display the simple perception of natural forms which is where true beauty comes form. Nature satisfies the soul purely by its loveliness. By becoming a transparent eye-ball. I am nothing. I see all…Being self-reliant on oneself, following the idea that Man is his own star. Emerson displays his transcendentalist idea that applies to anyone who would like to follow it. The importance of flowing with nature and excepting what you are is stressed in Emerson's self-reliance. By following the mood NE TE QUÆSIVERIS EXTRA, Emerson completely committed himself to nature. By letting it become part of his soul, he used its power to enable him to transcend into the identity of anything or anyone he would like. This idea is important to Emerson because it transforms "the tradesman, the attorney comes out of the din and craft of the street and sees the sky and the woods and is a man again. Looking at himself as an individual, not as a number lost in a sea of people walking down a street, enabled Emerson to draw power to himself where he did not have to rely on anyone or anything. He became his own deity, his own master, and his self-owner. Emerson contained the ability To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men and that in itself is a philosophy which made him stand out from many, and made him an individual.
Emerson clearly states in Nature, being in your natural surroundings, the wilderness, is the key to happiness. But fails to recognize that not all human's natural surroundings are the woods. Although he does admit that a true transcendentalist does not reside in nature, but in man or in a harmony of both, he still focuses on a transcendentalist being in tune with nature. Emerson feels that transcendentalism must come from experience in the wilderness and then through intellect.
David Thoreau also used nature for an escape from the wheel of society where he went into the woods in order to live deliberately. The woods are where the soul and nature combine to be one. Thoreau ideas were the foundations of transcendentalism where Emerson and any other transcendentalist built off. Thoreau's works were more politically centered than of Emerson's, but followed the same fundamentals that Emerson held in mind.
Thoreau made his trek into the woods in order to escape the machine, and leave behind society in order to prove that one can live with simplicity and does not have to rely on society in order to provide his needs. Thoreau made his escape to Walden Pond where he composed one of his works, Life in the Woods. Through his experiences with nature, he questioned himself, "Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life"? The formulation of these questions clarified his thoughts to produce his ideas on transcendentalism. One should live there life as an individual and not be weary the mob around him. "Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises"?
Thoreau was much more concerned with his experiences around him. Nature, for him, was a renewal of the soul, where he could confide in. Thoreau was also critical of man’s progress, becoming more and more machine like. "Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind". Simplicity was the only way Thoreau found his way back to the true nature of man. He viewed his life as a man who does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer and no one could challenge that or take that away from him.
All of his power was drawn from nature, the nature of a true man, where he could transcend to any point and become anything that he wanted. In contrast to these two male writers, Emily Dickinson proved that transcendentalism can be achieved without the element of experience, but rather just using imagination and the power of intellect to accomplish her goals. She used many transcendentalist ideas in her writing, but all mostly to show the power of intellect; a women's intellect. Dickinson, ironically surrounded by her societies stereotype of her natural surroundings, Discarded of the Housewife and showed male transcendentalists that she could obtain as much experience through her mind and writings, then as she could, actually being in the wilderness.
Through her writings, she constantly proves that yes…she is in her natural surroundings, but the walls and ceiling of her house cannot stop the power of the mind. Ironically being trapped in her house by her own will, she takes all male power and influence from her life, and adds it to her own. She renders herself genderless, because there is no need of digression from male or female. She becomes her own Divine.
The power which Dickinson writes with all comes from her body within. The brain-is wider than the sky and Dickinson proved it through her writings. She wrote about first hand experiences that she never had, transcendentalist experiences, from the inside of her home. There was no Walden Pond to experience nature, and there was no sunset to watch, all there was for her, was the corners of the ceiling of her house. However, with the power of imagination behind her, Dickinson could transcend to anywhere she wanted and she experienced anything she wanted. Dickinson used her writing and solitude from society to enable her to Soul selects her own Society. The Brain is just weight of God, her own brain and her own soul and of course, her own god Mine. Emily Dickinson split of the transcendentalist road, to form her own branch where the power of imagination took the place of experience. Her bold feminine statement to society proved that the confines of one’s house are not enough to capture the power of the mind.
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