In Experience, Ralph Waldo Emerson writes about the human condition shared by all in his uniquely “Emersonian” perspective. Perhaps one of his most effective works is Experience, an essay on a subject of which Emerson had much “experience” and personal grief. To fully appreciate Emerson, the reader must closely analyze his writing, with both its obvious meaning, and the experience with which he’s writing.
One particular paragraph is especially eloquent, and warrants closer analysis: “People grieve and bemoan themselves, but it is not half so bad with them as they say. There are moods in which we court suffering, in the hope that here, at least, we shall find reality, sharp peaks and edges of truth”. Emerson’s training as a clergyman shines through here, as he counsels the grief-stricken that things are not as bad as they seem. People who are aggrieved often hope to find some truth at the end of their suffering to make it seem somehow worthwhile. “But it turns out to be scene-painting and counterfeit. The only thing grief has taught me, is to know how shallow it is. That, like all the rest, plays about the surface, and never introduces me into the reality, for contact with which, we would even pay the costly price of sons and lovers”. Emerson’s preliminary sentences were only meant to scratch the surface -- now he is probing the heart of the matter. He is stating that there is no deep meaning revealed when we lose someone we love. It is more of a defense mechanism or a means of self-assurance than anything else, because losing the people closest to us defies any tangible meaning.
In the next passage, “Was it Boscovich who found out that bodies never come in contact? Well, s...
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...cosmic connection for man, animals, plants. Emerson seems to suggest that grief is merely an escape into self-pity, a way of denying death or what it represents. For Emerson, life was nothing without faith in nature. In nature, nothing can live unless something dies. It is all part of the eternal cycle of life.
Experience taught Ralph Waldo Emerson that wallowing in grief provides neither comfort nor closure. It does not answer any questions and does not change anything. However, faith in nature can offer solace during life’s darkest moments. It is a human ‘experience’ which he, fortunately, shared with us all.
O’Keefe, Richard R. “‘Experience’: Emerson on Death.” ATQ (The American Transcendental Quarterly), v9 n2, p. 119 (11). (June 1995).
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