Yesterday was Earth Day, and I thought I would celebrate by discussing the most famous literary movement regarding nature: Transcendentalism. It’s basically a philosophy of the mid-19th century that asserts that humans have a special, inherently good relationship with nature, and that the spiritual world rises above, or transcends, the mortal one. Transcendentalists believed in a simple, minimalist life of self-reliance and independence.
The two most famous Transcendental poets were Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) and Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). These well-educated friends were both abolitionists: Emerson believed in the divinity of all things, while Thoreau became known for his naturalist journals and simple living on Walden Pond. Thoreau was more radical than Emerson, given that he practiced civil disobedience by refusing to pay taxes (he even spent a night in jail for his evasion).
To celebrate the environmentalism surrounding Earth Day, I’ll share poem excerpts about nature from each writer.
Excerpt from “Song of Nature” by Emerson
Let war and trade and creeds and song
Blend, ripen race on race,
The sunburnt world a man shall breed
Of all the zones, and countless days.
No ray is dimmed, no atom worn,
My oldest force is good as new,
And the fresh rose on yonder thorn
Gives back the bending heavens in dew.
“Nature” by Thoreau
O Nature! I do not aspire
To be the highest in thy choir, –
To be a meteor in thy sky,
Or comet that may range on high;
Only a zephyr that may blow
Among the reeds by the river low;
Give me thy most privy place
Where to run my airy race.
In some withdrawn, unpublic mead
Let me sigh upon a reed,
Or in the woods, with leafy din,
Whisper the still evening in:
Some still work give me to do, –
Only – be it near to you!
For I’d rather be thy child
And pupil, in the forest wild,
Than be the king of men elsewhere,
And most sovereign slave of care;
To have one moment of thy dawn,
Than share the city’s year forlorn.
Notice how both poets create that powerful connection between the earthly world and the heavenly realm. They recognize their inferiority in this grand universe, and their words are humble. Sometimes it’s nice to read their poetry to get back to basics and appreciate the wonder of nature.
Of course, don’t think I forgot about Shakespeare’s (alleged) birthday (and deathday)! If the Bard were alive today, he would be 448! I’ll most likely write a more comprehensive tribute in the near future, but for now I’ll leave you with a parody of Hamlet by the Sassy Gay Friend!
And there’s more what that came from! Check out the clips of Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth, and Henry VIII!