Experience | Study Guide

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Experience | Symbols

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In "Experience" Emerson establishes several symbolic metaphors and analogies but uses them only once or twice to illustrate particular points. Though the use of these symbols is brief, they serve as a small but helpful guide to understanding his more abstract overall discussion.

Roads and Highways

Emerson uses the symbol of traveling a highway in several places to illustrate his advice of staying away from extremes and searching for what is necessary for common experiences. On one side of the highway is "the thin and cold realm of pure geometry and lifeless science," and on the other is pure sensation. In other words, some people go to the extreme of being purely logical and analytical about everything, while others go to the opposite extreme of living only for feelings and physical sensations. The highway that Emerson recommends takes a middle path between these extremes and offers all of the ordinary objects, books, people, and experiences that are necessary to gain wisdom.

Nature

Emerson repeatedly refers to Nature as both the natural world around us and a personified force that inspires and guides us. It is distinct from God but acts to help us connect to God and guide us through life's difficulties. The opening poem concludes with the lines, "Dearest Nature, strong and kind, / Whispered, 'Darling, never mind! / Tomorrow they will wear another face, / The founder thou! these are thy race!'" In these lines Nature is personified as a helpful guide that comforts humanity and reassures it that the intimidating giant figures described earlier in the poem are just part of itself.

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