Ralph Waldo Emerson contends that our attitude toward the stars would change if they appeared only once every thousand years. What point is Emerson making about nature with this striking example...
Ralph Waldo Emerson contends that our attitude toward the stars would change if they appeared only once every thousand years. What point is Emerson making about nature with this striking example from Nature?
If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.
--from Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson
In his Transcendental essay, Emerson points to a common trait of human nature: That which is always present for man will be taken for granted and not truly appreciated. In fact, when certain conditions are ever present, their value in the minds of men are diminished. But, Emerson makes the argument that if the mind is open to the influence of great Nature, the mind will remain impressionable and learn; he writes, "Nature never became a toy to a wise spirit." Always there is something new, something that lifts the spirit and transcends man to a higher realm of experience and knowledge when he contemplates the magnificence of Nature that frees him from the mundane with its burdens and sorrows.
In short, Nature provides nourishment and solace for the soul--it comforts him; it delights him; it inspires him. Man should never ignore the wonders of Nature, for they are essential to his well-being. If the stars were to appear only once in a millenium, the miracle of Nature would be received openly by man and he would be enlightened profoundly as its memory would be preserved in generations to come. Thus, Emerson urges people to appreciate the opportunity to experience the delights of Nature and to learn from the communication with this wondrous realm.
Just prior to this quotation, Emerson has explained that, if we really want to be solitary, we must go out into nature—not just to our own rooms. When we are surrounded by the trappings of society, we cannot be totally alone. He says that we need to go and look at the stars if we truly want to find solitude. Further, he says, "One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime." He speculates that seeing the stars gives us a sense of the divine, a reminder that it is always present. And yet, we are often too busy or too jaded to notice these stars because we have such constant access to them. It's ironic—it's as though we are allowed constant access to the stars to remind us of the divinity of nature, but the fact that we can see them all the time make us pay less attention to them! Emerson speculates, then, that if we only saw the stars once every thousand years, we would actually be more aware of them and more grateful for them.