Analysis

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 301

Emerson is a central figure in American Transcendentalism, which is a philosophical movement that developed in the early to mid nineteenth century in New England. Like the Romantics in England, the Transcendentalists believed that the divine was expressed through nature. They believed that through observing physical nature, humans could intuitively...

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Emerson is a central figure in American Transcendentalism, which is a philosophical movement that developed in the early to mid nineteenth century in New England. Like the Romantics in England, the Transcendentalists believed that the divine was expressed through nature. They believed that through observing physical nature, humans could intuitively understand the divine nature without needing priests or religious dogmas. Nature and the divine, Emerson believed, existed in harmony. As Emerson described himself in a letter to his fiancee Lydia Jackson in 1835, he was a "dear lover of the harmonies that are in the soul and in matter . . ." As for aesthetics, in the chapter called "Beauty" in his 1836 book Nature, Emerson writes that aesthetic pleasure arises from the human eye taking in "outline, color, motion, and grouping." This concept of beauty as grouping or interdependency is what he tries to capture and express in "Each and All," summed up in the lines:
All are needed by each one;
Nothing is fair or good alone.
Scholars have noted the line as influencing the famous and influential twentieth century American poet William Carlos William. We can see the strong link between the insistence of "Each and All"on beauty as dependent on items in their proper context in the theme of Williams's famous poem "The Red Wheelbarrow." In "Each and All," Emerson shows the destruction of the beauty in a songbird or a seashell taken out of it natural habitat—and the intense beauty of these same elements, unconscious of their surroundings, if left untouched. Likewise, in "The Red Wheelbarrow" we can appreciate the beauty of a red wheelbarrow that emerges only because it is placed against a glaze of rainwater and the contrast of white chickens:

so much depends

upon

a red wheel

barrow

glazed with rain

water

beside the white

chickens.

The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 705

“Each and All” is usually treated as one of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s best nature poems. It seems to have developed from a journal passage Emerson recorded in 1834 about recalling seeing seashells on the shore when he was a boy. He picked some up and took them home. When he got them there and looked at them, they appeared “dry and ugly.” From that episode, he said in the journal passage, he learned that what he called “Composition”—things in arrangement with other things—was more important than the beauty of anything alone in terms of its effect on the viewer.

The poem recounts the process through which the first-person narrator, who seems to be a version of Emerson himself, becomes aware of “the perfect whole.” It begins with the observation that “yon red-cloaked clown,” apparently a man standing in a field, does not think about the observer looking at him, nor does the heifer think of the person who hears it lowing. It then refers to a sexton ringing his church bell without thinking of Napoleon listening. Emerson is alluding to Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France from 1804 to 1815, about whom Emerson wrote an essay in his book Representative Men (1850). Emerson had read that Napoleon paused whenever he heard the bell of a parish church because, Napoleon himself said, the sound reminded him of a period from his youth when he was happy. In “Each and All,” the narrator speaks of Napoleon stopping his horse while his armies march through the Alps. Napoleon listens to the church bells ringing even though the sexton who rings them is unaware that he is there. From these episodes, the narrator concludes that one cannot know how one’s life influences other people’s lives and beliefs. In fact, the narrator says that each one is needed by every other one: “Nothing is fair or good alone.”

The narrator then recounts a series of episodes in which he learns the truth of this conclusion. First, he tells of hearing a sparrow sing magnificently and bringing the bird home. There, the bird sings the same song it sang when it was free, but it no longer “cheers” the narrator, for, he says, he did not bring home the river and sky where the bird first sang. These parts of the bird’s natural setting, he says, sang to his eye, while the bird in captivity sings only to his ear. The narrator next recounts an episode similar to the one Emerson recounts in his journal involving the seashells. The narrator brings home beautiful shells, which, when taken from the shore, become “poor, unsightly, noisome things.” Their beauty remains, he feels, on the shore “With the sun and the sand and the wild uproar.”

The next episode the narrator recounts involves a lover who “watched his graceful maid,” knowing that “her beauty’s best attire/ Was woven still by the snow-white choir.” Just as the narrator puts the bird in a cage, so the lover marries the maid and takes her to his “hermitage”—his home. There he notices that even though she becomes “a gentle wife,” she no longer seems to be a fairylike creature. Her ability to enchant the lover resulted, the narrator believes, largely from her being among her friends. When she was separated from her friends, the “enchantment was undone.”

As a result of these episodes, in each of which something loses beauty when separated from its setting, the narrator decides that beauty is a “cheat.” Consequently, the narrator decides that he covets nothing but truth. He declares that he will leave beauty behind just as he left behind his youthful games. Yet even as he makes this declaration, he finds himself in the midst of a beautiful natural scene that he describes in detail. He sees the ground-pine curling in a wreathlike shape as it runs “over the club-moss burrs”; he inhales the aroma of the violet; he sees oaks and firs, and the pine cones and acorns from which new trees will grow. The sky soars above him; he sees and hears “the rolling river” and “the morning bird.” He concludes the poem, “Beauty through my senses stole;/ I yielded myself to the perfect whole.”

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 462

“Each and All” consists primarily of four-stress couplets. The poem’s fairly regular rhythm and rhymes, some people feel, are supposed to imitate the patterns Emerson claims to find in nature. According to this theory, the fact that the poem contains some lines that are written in an abab pattern, one line (ending with “shore”) that rhymes only with lines separated from it by a number of lines, and one line (ending with “ground”) that rhymes with no other line—as well as the poem’s having an odd number of lines—indicates that the symmetry Emerson finds in nature is not exact.

Most readers of the poem see it as being divided into three parts. The first consists of four images or episodes followed by a conclusion about all things needing other things (lines 1-12). The second consists of three more images or episodes (lines 13-36). In the final part, the poet arrives at a conclusion about the earlier material, only to discover that his conclusion is incorrect (lines 37-51).

Critics often accuse Emerson of being more interested in nature as an idea than in nature itself. Thus, critics say, his writing about nature tends to be rather vague. Although “Each and All” contains several images drawn from human interaction with other humans, such as the episodes involving the “clown,” Napoleon, and the wife, the poem is for the most part dependent on imagery drawn from nature. Emerson deals with several specific parts of nature and specific ideas about nature. The images he uses—the seashells, the birds, the trees—place the reader in a familiar world of experience, a world in which the reader can participate through the vividness of the images.

The poem itself takes the form of a mental journey of discovery. One critic writes of its “dramatic” structure, a term that implies that the parts of the poem interact with one another, just as the parts of nature that Emerson treats within the poem interact with one another. The narrator begins his journey with generalizations about relationships between things. Then he observes the results of separation of things. He then draws the logical but wrong conclusion that beauty is a “cheat,” a childhood thing to be outgrown, and that he, now that he is mature, will no longer be concerned with beauty. However, nature leads him, in spite of himself, to an appreciation of beauty again, which, as in most of Emerson’s writing, cannot be separated from truth. In his first book, Nature (1836), Emerson says that beauty and truth “are but different faces of the same All.” The narrator of “Each and All” reaches this truth not through logical processes but through a moment of insight in which he recognizes that nature forms a “perfect whole.”

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 199

Allen, Gay Wilson. Waldo Emerson: A Biography. New York: Viking Press, 1981.

Bosco, Ronald A., and Joel Myerson, eds. Emerson in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2003.

Buell, Lawrence. Emerson. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003.

Goodman, Russell B. American Philosophy and the Romantic Tradition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Jacobson, David. Emerson’s Pragmatic Vision: The Dance of the Eye. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993.

Lopez, Michael. Emerson and Power: Creative Antagonism in the Nineteenth Century. De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1996.

Myerson, Joel, ed. A Historical Guide to Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Porte, Joel, and Saundra Morris, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Richardson, Robert D. Emerson: The Mind on Fire. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Robinson, David M. Emerson and the Conduct of Life: Pragmatism and Ethical Purpose in the Later Work. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Sacks, Kenneth S. Understanding Emerson: “The American Scholar” and His Struggle for Self-Reliance. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Yanella, Donald. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Boston: Twayne, 1982.

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