Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Each and All” echoes the idea—which Emerson voices in many places—that things by themselves are unaffecting and even ugly but that when placed in context, usually their natural context, they become beautiful. Even putrefaction, Emerson writes, is beautiful when seen as the source of new life.

Central to the poem is the speaker’s interaction with the parts of nature. At the poem’s end, in spite of himself, the speaker interacts with the natural world—he sees the parts of nature around him, inhales the violet’s odor, and sees and hears “the rolling river, the morning bird.” Consequently, he once again becomes aware of beauty and recognizes that he is a part of “the perfect whole.” Emerson seems to be saying here that reason alone is not a sufficient guide for understanding the world of nature and humankind’s relationship to that world. The poem is also about human interaction with other humans. At least in part it deals with the idea that the interactions are so extensive that people affect other people of whose lives they are not even aware.

Central to the poem is Emerson’s idea that truth often cannot be attained through logical means or even through experience and reflection on experience. In fact, for Emerson, experience is decidedly not the best teacher. Instead, as Emerson writes in work after work, insight or intuition is often a better guide to truth than experience is. Thus, logical processes based on experience lead the narrator of “Each and All” astray. A moment of intuition communicates to him the truth: that beauty and truth are inseparable parts of the unity of nature.