“To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society.
If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown!
To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eyes of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child.
The lover of nature is he who whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth becomes part of his daily food. In the presence of nature a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says—he is my creature, and maugre all his impertinent griefs, he shall be glad with me. Not the sun or the summer alone, but every hour and season yields its tribute of delight; for every hour and change corresponds to and authorizes a different state of the mind, from breathless noon to grimmest midnight. Nature is a setting that fits equally well a comic or a mourning piece. In good health, the air is a cordial of incredible virtue. Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods, too, a man casts off his years as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life is always a child. In the woods in perpetual youth. Within these plantation of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a preferential festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel nothing can befall me in life—no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair. 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 eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances, master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in the streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.*
To the body and mind which have been cramped by noxious work or company, nature is medicinal and restores their tone. In [its] eternal calm, he finds himself. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.
The beauty of nature re-forms itself in the mind, and not for barren contemplation, but for new creation.
Everything looks permanent until its secret is known.
Men cease to interest us when we find their limitations.
I am only an experimenter. Do not set the least value on what I do, or the least discredit on what I do not do, as if I pretended to settle any thing as true or false. I unsettle all things, No facts are to me sacred; none are profane. I simply experiment, an endless seeker with no Past at my back.
Whilst we converse with what is above us, we do not grow old, but grow young.
People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.
Life is a series of surprises. We do not guess today the mood, the pleasure, the power of tomorrow when we are building up our being.
The one thing which we seek with insatiable desire is to forget ourselves, to be surprised out of our propriety, to lose our sempiternal memory and to do something without knowing how or why; in short, to draw a new circle.
So much of our time is preparation, so much is routine, and so much retrospect, that the pith of each man’s genius contracts itself to a very few hours.
Intellectual tasting of life will not supersede muscular activity. If a man should consider the nicety of the passage of a piece of bread down his throat, he would starve.
Do not craze yourself with thinking, but go about your business anywhere. Life is not intellectual or critical, but sturdy. Its chief good is for well-mixed people who can enjoy what they find, without question.
To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.
Let us be poised, and wise, and our own, today.
[The] only ballast I know is a respect of the present hour.
If we will take the good we find, asking no questions, we shall have heaping measures. The great gifts are not got by analysis. Everything good is on the highway.
Life is a series of surprises, and would not be worth taking or keeping if it were not.
The results of life are uncalculated and uncalcuable. The years teach much which the days never know.
I know better than to claim any completeness for my picture. I am a fragment, and this is a fragment of me.”
*the greatest paragraph ever written
For whatever reason, I’ve never read anything by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Well, that changed after 26+ years, and maybe that changed because of the physical setting and circumstances of my life. So, like Thoreau, here are a mass of quotes from ‘Self-Reliance’:
“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men—that is genius.
A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards or sages (hehe…)
In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lessons for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the would cry of voices is on the other side. Else tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.
We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents
Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providences has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely truth-worthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being.
Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better security of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in the most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.
Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist
He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.
Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that and this; the only right is what is after my constitution; the only wrong what is against it.
I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions.
I shun father and mother and wife and brother when my genius calls me.
I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle.
I cannot consent to pay for a privilege where I have intrinsic right.
It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
Do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself.
To be great is to be misunderstood.
When private men shall act with original views, the luster will be transferred from the actions of kings to those of gentlemen.
There is […] the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied and satisfies nature in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.
If we live truly, we shall see truly. It is as easy for the strong man to be strong, as it is for the weak to be weak. When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish. When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn.
We must go alone. I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.
Why should we assume the faults of our friend, or wife, or father, or child, because they sit around our hearth, or are said to have the same blood? All men have my blood, and I all men’s. Not for that will I adopt their petulance or folly, even to the extent of being ashamed of it.
And truly it demands something godlike in him who has cast off the common motives of humanity and has ventured to trust himself for the taskmaster. High be his heart, faithful his will, clear his sight, that he may in good earnest be doctrine, society, law, to himself, that a simple purpose may be to him as strong as iron necessity is to others!
The sinew and heart of men seem to be drawn out, and we are becoming timorous, desponding whimperers. We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. […] We shun the rugged battle of fate, where strength is born.
Insist of yourself; never imitate.
Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much.
The great genius returns to essential man.
He who knows that power is inborn, that he is weak because he has looked for good out of him and elsewhere, and, so perceiving, throws himself unhesitatingly on this thought, instantly rights himself, stands in the erect position, commands his limbs, works miracles; just as a man who stands on his feet is stronger than a man who stands on his head.
Nothing can bring your peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”