How does Emerson's "Nature" discuss the tension between nature and culture (or civilization)? How does one relate to the other? 

Emerson argues that man should abandon the constructs of culture in order to achieve a true relationship with nature. Man must move beyond the boundaries of society and experience nature as an entity independent from himself.

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Tension exists in Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Nature" because, according to Emerson, Nature and Culture operate as competing forces. In the introduction to "Nature," Emerson claims,

Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God...

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Tension exists in Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Nature" because, according to Emerson, Nature and Culture operate as competing forces. In the introduction to "Nature," Emerson claims,

Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?

Here Emerson calls for a new relationship with the universe; this relationship should not be based within the preexisting culture. In other words, he is saying that rather than comprehending nature through the lens of the past (because the past is what created the current culture), we should comprehend nature from our own, original perspective. He continues, saying that "The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship." Emerson charges his readers with redefining the world on their own terms rather than fitting the world into preexisting, inherited categories.  

Emerson furthers this idea in "Nature" itself, beginning by saying, "To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society." To Emerson, man cannot truly experience solitude in his own chamber, because that chamber itself signifies culture. Rather, "If a man would be alone, let him look at the stars." The true experience of nature, then, is gained only through a complete separation from all markers of culture. Toward the end of the essay, Emerson gives an example of how nature supersedes culture,

Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances, — master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature. 

To Emerson, in nature all cultural markers, be they negative (master/servant) or positive (friend/brother) are stripped away until man's very self is subsumed into nature. It is only then that one truly becomes part and particle of the universe and, in turn, of God.

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