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Nature | Study Guide

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Ralph Waldo Emerson

Year Published





Nature, Philosophy

At a Glance

"Nature" was Ralph Waldo Emerson's first published book, a philosophical essay composed from notes, journals, and lectures Emerson had given in the early 1830s. It became the foundation text of Emerson's subsequent work and a key text of American Transcendentalism. Transcendentalism is a literary movement beginning in New England in the 19th century that embraced the idea that to fully know God and the self, people must search within and observe the natural world. "Nature" was a manifesto for individual spiritual development through observation and connection to the natural world. Emerson stresses that the divine can be found within nature itself and individuals can develop a deeper connection with the divine by actively observing and connecting with nature. Reacting against some aspects of enlightenment rationalism, which was a widespread shift toward science and reason that began in Europe in the 1600s, Emerson believed intuition and a spiritual connection with the divine were more fulfilling to the soul than reason and logic. Although controversial at first, Emerson's ideas influenced other writers such as Henry David Thoreau (1817–62), who became Emerson's protégé and friend, and others who formed the Transcendentalist movement.

Perspective and Narrator

"Nature" is narrated in the first-person voice by Emerson as he reflects on the natural world and the multiple ways in which it allows people to experience the divine.

About the Title

"Nature" refers to the natural world, identified in the essay as the work and presence of God. Concerned that people's spiritual lives were diminished by the failure to appreciate nature, Emerson examines multiple ways of seeing, experiencing, using, and appreciating it as a way of connecting with the divine.


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