Ralph Waldo Emerson is best known as the critical figure who sparked the social movement of Transcendentalism, an idealistic philosophical and social movement that developed in New England that taught that divinity pervades all nature and humanity. Its members held progressive views on feminism and communal living. Ralph often used poetry to spread his ideology about human connection with nature and its ability to inspire. Emerson believed nature exemplified the self-sufficiency that men lacked, though Emerson’s study of, and translation of, nature’s self-sufficiency and man’s ability to implement this self-sufficiency is contradictory. Part of the contradiction lies in Emerson’s use of the word “nature.” There are several prevalent scholarly voices that argue different perspectives about the meaning of “nature” in Emerson’s poems: spiritual, scientific, or philosophical. As Emerson’s influence changed throughout his life, so did the meaning of the word “nature” in his works.
Throughout the poem, Ralph tries to imply how society has corrupted man while nature still remains pure and beautiful, putting up a fight against the “evil” character of industrialization and revolution. By personification of the seasons and nature itself, Ralph extends his ideals of beauty, divinity and serenity of nature that people take for granted.
Easily to shed the snow,
And the untaught Spring is wise
In cowslips and anemones.
Nature, hating art and pains,
Baulks and baffles plotting brains;
Casualty and Surprise
Are the apples of her eyes;
But she dearly loves the poor,
And, by marvel of her own,
Strikes the loud pretender down.
He says winter “knows” to shed snow and the “untaught Spring” is wise. Nature hates “art and pains”, a metaphor for the trivial materialistic things that humans consider important. Nature loves the “poor” and “strikes the loud pretender down”. Here, the “loud pretender” refers to society and its hypocritical notions and ideals about life, love and concept of success.
For Nature listens in the rose,
And hearkens in the berry’s bell,
To help her friends, to plague her foes,
And like wise God she judges well.
Yet doth much her love excel
To the souls that never fell,
To swains that live in happiness,
And do well because they please,
Who walk in ways that are unfamed,
And feats achieve before they’re named.
Nature is personified as a just, “wise God” who “judges well”. She “helps her friends” and “plague[s] her foes”. Personified as a woman, Ralph manages to create an image of Nature as a goddess who is constantly watching over her children, humans, ready to help and protect them.
This outlook of associating divinity and nature is a recurring theme in Ralph’s works, reflecting his view that Nature is a spiritual and religious entity. Her “love excel[s]” to those who never quit, to “swains” or lovers who live in happiness and bliss, to those who “walk in ways that are unfamed” (referring to ordinary ‘common’ people) and even to those who have “feats achieved before they’re named”. By these six lines, Ralph has established his belief that Nature does not discriminate. According to him, Nature, with all her infinite wisdom, is just and compassionate to all kinds of “souls” whether they are rich or poor, famous or not well-known. She, unlike society, does not care for such trivial perceptions of people but loves them all equally and unconditionally.
She is gamesome and good,
But of mutable mood,–
No dreary repeater now and again,
She will be all things to all men.
She who is old, but nowise feeble,
Pours her power into the people,
Merry and manifold without bar,
Makes and moulds them what they are,
And what they call their city way
Is not their way, but hers,
And what they say they made to-day,
They learned of the oaks and firs.
In the second part of the poem, Nature is described as “good”, but of “mutable moods”, probably referring to the change of seasons or the unpredictability of winds and weather. She is “no dreary repeater” and remains ever changing and exciting. Although old, she is “nowise feeble” and her strength and “power” pours into all of the living beings who lives under her care. Ralph realizes that what people call the “city way” is in fact “her way”, bringing to light the fact that she is ever-present and ubiquitous whether we realize it or not.
She spawneth men as mallows fresh,
Hero and maiden, flesh of her flesh;
She drugs her water and her wheat
With the flavours she finds meet,
And gives them what to drink and eat;
And having thus their bread and growth,
They do her bidding, nothing loath.
What’s most theirs is not their own,
But borrowed in atoms from iron and stone,
And in their vaunted works of Art
The master-stroke is still her part.
She was the very source of our existence, all living beings- “hero and maiden”- are nothing more than a part of her, we are the “flesh of her flesh”. We not only owe our origin to her but even our continued existence. She provides us “what to eat and drink” and our duty, now that we have our “bread and growth” is to do her bidding. Ralph exposes that no matter what we claim as “ours”, whether it is property, money or other priceless possessions, it is nothing but “borrowed in atoms from iron and stone” and it is, in fact, all hers.
Through this poem, Ralph spreads his ideology of Nature being an omnipresent and divine force, an unstoppable one and one that we must cherish, worship and be thankful for. Everything in existence is a part of her, and we must, therefore, willingly do our bidding to give back to her what She bestowed upon us , directly and indirectly. This poem pursues to humble mankind and seeks to instill in the reader thankfulness and acknowledgement of Nature’s tireless role in our small lives and shows us that is something to marvel and be inspired about.