Last Updated on February 12, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 481
In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life,—no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which Nature cannot repair.
In the first chapter of Nature, Emerson claims that Nature has a positive, tranquilizing, and restorative effect on people. When people need to be alone, Nature can provide them with solace and relief. Even within the privacy of their homes, people are surrounded by objects made by other people, such as books written by authors. If they truly want to escape society—as Emerson insists that people do every now and then—they should venture outside and experience Nature. It provides many beneficial effects for humans who experience it. Nature dissipates one’s worries and cares, thereby allowing one to more clearly see a path forward in life. Moreover, Nature can provide people with an escape from the hardships of modern life and, perhaps most importantly, a means of reflecting on life’s greatest mysteries.
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.
This now iconic metaphor of the “transparent eyeball” illustrates Emerson’s view that people should approach Nature as a means of experiencing the divine. If one can both see Nature and surrender to its effects all at once, then the concept of the self vanishes. All thoughts of “me,” “my,” and “I” vanish, and the subject becomes merely an observer of the outside world. When people take in the sights and sounds of their surroundings, these sensations move through them, unchecked by their typical concerns about their daily lives. In these moments, they come closer to God, achieving unity with a more collective, universal “we.” Unfortunately, people often take Nature for granted and fail to take advantage of the benefits it can offer them, a fate that Emerson wants people to avoid at all costs.
We know more from nature than we can at will communicate. Its light flows into the mind evermore, and we forget its presence.
In modern existence, people’s minds can often become clouded or muddled. But when they commune with and acknowledge the beauty of Nature, they can partake of its benefits and become the best versions of themselves. In the process, they become one with their surroundings in an exercise that resembles both meditation and religious observance. Furthermore, this experience of encountering the beautiful or sublime in Nature defies linguistic conventions, creating thoughts and feelings that cannot be described—only experienced. And these instances of the sublime (a type of beauty that evokes awe, wonder, and reverence) can only truly be found away from the stifling atmosphere of city life.