۱.۱. General Background
Lecturer and writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was the intellectual center of American Transcendentalism and one of the great thinkers and writers of American literary history. As a prolific writer and thinker in religious, literary and social subjects, Emerson embodied the Transcendentalist movement’s self-reliance and originality of understanding that in this study is referred to as individuality. Emerson spent a considerable amount of time reading about prominent figures but ultimately he defined his own ideas and philosophy.
Emerson was born in 1803 in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 25 1803, the fourth child of Ruth Haskins and the Reverend William Emerson. They had four more children after Waldo, although three of the children died in childhood. His mother was a religious woman who read and contemplated her spiritual life on a daily basis. She taught him the importance of religion as a personal and immanent experience but Emerson’s father took a more formal theological approach to religion as a Unitarian minister. Waldo, as he was called, came from a long line of New England ministers and his father who was a liberal clergyman had already rejected the Puritanism of their ancestors. Father died when Emerson was eight years old and the children were raised by their mother and the eccentric and well-read parental aunt Mary Moody Emerson that seems to have the early influence on Emerson’s intellectual and religious development. After graduation from Harvard University, he was ordained as a pastor in Boston but resigned his pastorship in1832, due to his skeptical views on the nature of sacraments which he witnessed to be used as the means of material and secular success. Although, the crisis of his wife’s death (1831) of tuberculosis after less than two years of marriage is probably one of the forces to leave his job. The break with the church began from this time and he attended Transcendentalism to establish his personal conviction over church tradition. He wrote many articles, poems, books, and gave many lectures, but he is more famous for his essays more than for his poems. He is a brilliant thinker in the world and especially in America that brought new ideas to the culture of his country. Moreover, it should be noted that he made the west familiar with Eastern thought through his writings and lectures. Emerson died on April 27, 1882. The headlines immediately after his death read, “Concord’s Irreparable Loss!” but the town and the nation, as well as students and philosophers and poets since, have kept Emerson alive.
Emerson’s first book Nature (1836) formulates and expresses the philosophy of the transcendentalism. Following this work, he gave a speech entitled “The American Scholar” in 1837. Emerson spoke about two major points in this address: to free American culture from its European past, and to free the individual American thinker from the bounds of society and tradition. After that, he presented many other lectures, one of the most notable ones “The Divinity School Address” (۱۸۳۸) questioned the very foundations of Christian belief, the divinity of Christ, the role of the ministry and the necessity and desirability of theological education. This speech brought many harsh criticisms on Emerson. It should be mentioned that most of his essays are lectures that are printed as books. The first two collections of essays, Essays: First Series and Essays: Second Series published in 1841 and 1844 that include well-known essays as “Self–Reliance” (۱۸۴۱), “The Over–Soul” (۱۸۴۱), “Circles” (۱۸۴۱), “The Poet” (۱۸۴۴) and “Experience” (۱۸۴۴). “The Over-Soul” and “Self-Reliance” are two essays that express Emerson’s ideas of ‘unity’, ‘individuality’ and ‘self-culture’. The first essay expresses a universal presence of identity or unity which is the truth of everything in the universe, and the next one that emphasizes the reliance on self instead of history and book. Emerson primarily considered himself as a poet, although he is less recognized as such. For Emerson, the poet is defined in the broadest sense that includes his prose and also his lecturing. In his idea a poet is a philosopher that understands and reinterprets the world for others (Wayne, Encyclopedia of Transcendentalism 100). He published more than two dozen poems in the Dial and was encouraged to publish his first collection of Poems (1846), followed by Mayday and Other Series (1867) and Selected Poems (1876). He later gathered together his own collection of favorite poems and verses by other people in Parnassus (1874). Emerson’s poems offer many of the Transcendentalist themes that was to be found in Emerson’s preceding collections, Essays: First Series (1841) and Essays: Second Series and also his lectures. The poems establish Emerson as a poet-philosopher breaking free of genre and theme. His poems dealt with spiritual, but not religious, themes. Fuller ranked Emerson as a poet, high “in the melody, in subtle beauty of thought and expression” (qtd. in Wayne, Critical Companion to Emerson 215).
۱.۲ Statement of the problem
The present research aims at analyzing some of Emerson’s poems through his philosophy. This study investigates the poems in terms of Emerson’s notions of ‘unity’, ‘individuality’, and ‘microcosm’ to show a new identity for the human and other creatures in the world. The study through the mentioned concepts reveals a new identity that is in fact the united spirit of the world that Emerson names ‘the Over-Soul’. The concept ‘unity’ shows that the reality of every creature is ‘the Over-Soul’. Another concept, ‘individuality’ displays that human should find the truth of the world individually but through the relation with ‘the Over-Soul’. The reality that is understood personally is the truth of everything and also man. Furthermore, the study manifests that the essence of the world is present in every living being and accordingly is its reality. Ultimately, it is understood that the universal soul of the world or ‘the Over-Soul’ that is in fact the united spirit of the world is the real identity of every creature and also human being that is stressed through the three mentioned concepts.
۱.۳.۳ Research Questions
This thesis will examine the three concepts ‘unity’, ‘individuality’, and ‘microcosm’ through Emerson’s philosophy in some of his selected poems. The study will answer these questions during the research:
۱. How are the three concepts ‘unity’ and ‘microcosm’ revealed in the selected poems?
۲. How does Emerson demonstrate the concepts differently in the poems?
۳. How does each concept make a new identity for man and other creatures of the world through the poems?
۴. How the meaning of the concept individuality as opposed to egotism is revealed in the selected poems?
۵. What insight does the new identity bring to man?
۱.۳. Significance of the problem
Emerson is an influential thinker not only for American people but also for other countries and cultures. He affected many scholars and was himself under the influence of other figures. Many interpretations are written on his essays and lectures, but few researches have been done on his poetry as he is not famous for his poems. Therefore, this research is unique in its subject of study.
This study will hopefully be useful for the readers and future researchers; they would be able to know how some of Emerson’s poems reflect mystical and philosophical concepts like ‘unity’, ‘individuality’ and ‘microcosm’. Also, they will see how the notions enrich human life and views to build a better world and feeling.
Finally, the study will be helpful to everyone who reads it as it makes a deeper attitude about the world and lessen the problems that are raised for the
shortage of man’s overview of God and the universe
The study tries to reveal a new identity that is found through the three concepts ‘unity’, ‘individuality’ and ‘microcosm’ in some poems of Emerson. Also, the thesis lightens the readers’ insight of life as it shows a novel identity for everything, and specifically for human being. Although many studies have been done on Emerson’s essays but very few ones have been done on his poem. Furthermore, the study reveals the idea that is hidden through Emerson’s words that the real identity of man is ‘the united spirit’ of the world or ‘the Over-Soul’. While he speaks about the notion of ‘individuality’ and ‘microcosm’ but in fact he shows that the real identity of everything is ‘the Over-Soul’.
Borrowing Emerson’s ideas of ‘unity’, ‘individuality’ and ‘microcosm’, this thesis attempts to demonstrate how man finds a new identity of the human and other creatures and reaches a deeper insight about everything.
Thus, the hypothesis indicates that the three notions of ‘unity’, ‘individuality’ and ‘microcosm’ bring a new identity to the human and other creatures and enriches man’s views of the world and himself. This novel identity illustrates that all the creatures and especially man have the same entity that is the universal soul of the world. Although the three selected notions of the study are apparently different but they ultimately convey this notion that the real identity of the creatures is the united spirit of the universe, what he names ‘the Over-Soul’. The moment man has realized his unique place within the universe, he desires to live a life adequate to this insight. In fact he learns that everything and also other men are sacred as their real essence is that eternal and gentle soul.
۱.۵.۲. Limitation and Delimitation
Ralph Waldo Emerson is affected from different schools and figures. When researcher reviewed related literature, she understood that other theses applied a special school on Emerson’s works, but this study is somehow different. The researcher chose Emerson as her philosopher and defined the three concepts unity, individuality and microcosm according to his ideas.
Emerson was a man of politics, religion, philosophy and art. His contribution to these fields of study is so vast, and consequently many books on different subjects have been written about him. Accordingly, the writer only concentrates on a few concepts that are chosen for this study: ‘unity’, ‘individuality’, and ‘microcosm’. The researcher will not study his beliefs on politics, but the study will be confined to the texts related to philosophy, religion and mysticism. Whereas the mentioned fields of study are vast, the writer tried to find the works that contained details about the three selected concepts and also his poems.
The focus of study is on a selection of poems that are related to the three selected concepts. Poems were chosen from different collections as they were not included in one book. The thesis is confined to the three collections of poems. The poems “Brahma”, “Each and all”, “Sphinx”, “Hamatrea”, are included in the book Ralph Waldo Emerson poems (2004) from the website “Poem hunter.com”. Also, the poems “Woodnotes I, II”, “Unity”, and “Xenophanes” are encompassed in the book Complete works of Ralph Waldo Emerson edited by Brook Atkinson. The essays will be confining to the book Essays