Themes and Meanings
Discussions of the central meaning of “The Rhodora” usually point to passages from Emerson’s first book, Nature (1836). The poem’s discussion of the speaker’s “simple ignorance” (Reason) versus the sages’ wisdom (Understanding) is explained by material from the chapters entitled “Language” and “Idealism” in Nature. In the former, Emerson writes, “That which, intellectually considered, we call Reason, considered in relation to nature, we call Spirit. Spirit is the Creator.” In the latter chapter he writes, “The understanding adds, divides, combines, measures, and finds everlasting nutriment and room for its activity in this worthy scene.” Thus, the understanding deals with things of the material world. Emerson follows this sentence with, “Meantime, Reason transfers all these lessons into its own world of thought, by perceiving the analogy that marries Matter and Mind.” Thus, Reason deals with things of the realm of Spirit and connects things of the material world with the realm of the Spirit.
Another important passage from Nature is in the chapter entitled “Beauty,” in which Emerson writes, “Beauty, in its largest and profoundest sense, is one expression for the universe. God is the all-fair. Truth, and goodness, and beauty, are but different faces of the same All,” words that imply that beauty is one of the faces of God. Thus, beauty need not be defended or explained: It is a...
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