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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, 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 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

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a red wheel


glazed with rain


beside the white


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...

(The entire section contains 1667 words.)

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