What is the importance of Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, "Nature?" What message was Emerson trying to convey to his readers?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Emerson's "Nature" contains all of his fundamental ideas, giving rise to its importance. In this essay Emerson embraces a message of a dualistic perspective on the world, maintaining that the universe is composed of two parts: the self, which represents the soul, and the other, meaning the exterior world. This world Emerson terms Nature, a world which is subordinate to the Self.

Emerson feels that through the dualistic concept of nature and "the idea of man," which he terms the Over-Soul, rather than through books and the teachings of the past, knowledge can be attained. Further, he contends that man should "unfetter" himself from the past and "find a pure standard in the idea of man." This original relationship of man with nature, Emerson feels, will provide new insights. Thus, Emerson's conviction that man can learn through his contact with nature underscores a precept of Romanticism that the contemplation of the natural world leads to the discovery of Truth. Talking this concept further, Transcendentalists such as Emerson feel that nature is, therefore, a reflection of the divine spirit.

A concern of Emerson is that people tend to lose their sense of wonder in nature as they age. For, those who never lose this delight in nature remain young in their spirit because nature assuages their troubles so that they, then, are able to apprehend more.

The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.

Another of the effects of this communion with nature is that a higher level of thought and emotion overtake man, producing great delight as well as knowledge. For, the beauty and grandeur are not just in nature, but also in man's acquired perceptions and responses to nature.