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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Primary Analysis: Thoreau/Emerson letter

Please review this letter from Henry David Thoreau to Ralph Waldo Emerson regarding their transcendental views on life and death.  Students should comment with analysis of the letter and its relevance to course content.

22 comments:

Mike said...

The way I view this letter, Mister Henry believes in the idea of rebirth, at least in a figurative tone when thinking about the ways of nature. He makes mention of a "human plant" and how we are so concerned with the death of one another that is close to us; where as nature doesn't care, nor do we, whether grass withers and dies. I think he's trying to say that we shouldn't be so concerned with death, and be more open to what they had contributed while they were alive to the world, much like flowers do when in bloom. Also, just wondering if a helpful young lad could tell me what scarlet fever is. That would be just grand. ALSO I feel like I made stuff up when interpreting this so don't really criticize on that. Okay bye. -Mike Espinell

mike51095 said...

First of all, I just want to say that it is very sad that Thoreau's brother died and then two weeks later Emerson's son died of scarlet fever. It seems to me that Thoreau is very knowledgeable of nature. I think it is very creative how Thoreau uses his knowledge of nature to explain how it does not see death as a bad thing like people do and that death is just part of the circle of life. -Mike Signore

jessalves10 said...

I think Henry has way too much time on his hands. I mean, it's nice that hes connecting with nature and is living a simple life, but he seems to be going a little crazy. He's a little too extreme. He's talking about the beauty of nature a little too intimatly. Nature is relaxing and such, but still. In everything he sees around him, he has to analyze and relate it to life. Again, too much time on his hands. Instead of appreciating life, he's over analyzing.
Also, scarlet fever's definition can be found on dictionary.com. Im too lazy to write it out =)

Krista said...

While I was reading the first couple paragraphs I was very confused. It just seemed like a jumble of words about why he was writing the letter and about some of the great artists that came before him the Shakespeare and Wilton, but once I got past that I began to have a better understanding. He begins to speak about nature's death and rebirth in the new season, he basically says that when you look at the big picture the death of anything in nature is over come by the new beauty that is born. The most powerful line to me was, "death is beautiful when seen to be a law, and not an accident-It is as common as life." I think Thoreau is saying that once you except that death is unavoidable it is not as painful to deal with. I think that after the death of two people he was very close to Thoreau may have been trying to make sense of their deaths by examining nature. I also agree with Mike Espinell
when he talks about the "human plant" , and about how nature doesn't if something dies, it just moves on.

jlchacho said...

I agree with Mike Espinell; Thoreau seems so intune with nature that he can so fluently relate it to his everyday life - and, he makes good points, Thoreau. He says that nature does not care for death of the ones we love, the same as we don't care for the death of nature. Our feelings are pretty mutual. It does seem sort of like a crazy thought, like Jess mentioned, but you have to admitt - it seems as though Thoreau is supporting his own grief by telling someone else that all that's left to do is move on, because no one cares, once they are gone. It's an interesting point Thoreau brings up because everyone thinks like this, I suppose, but Thoreau is the sole few with the gut to say that no one cares now that his loved ones are dead. It's somewhat confusing, but I definetly get how insightful his points are.

mrowl12345 said...

As i read this letter, you can clearly see into a man who has lost so much, in such a short time; both his brother and his son. You can tell that this man has been deaply depressed from the fact that he has no written in quite a long time. He tries to relate his what he is facing to nature, which he so closely lives his life. He trys to say how nature is used to the cycle of life and death all the time, and no matter what happens in nature, even the biggest things cannot disturb it, like hurricanes. Then he goes on to say how death is such a common thing that it is only a phenomenon to the the people close to them, and that nature is not bothered by death because death in nature is never an accident, it is only the proper cycle, and death can be a beautiful thing. He continues to compare his tragic deaths to ones found in nature which shows the way that he feels about it, and how he is using nature to cope with the recent deaths.

Diana said...

After losing his brother and his young son,I thought that it was appropriate for Thoreau to write this letter to Emerson. He connects his own life to nature and the characteristics of nature into how he was currently feeling. I agree with Jake that Thoreau is trying to say how nature is the cycle of life and death. When Thoreau says, "Nature is not ruffled by the rudest blast." He is explaining how things in life are not completely over just cause something bad happened. After not writing for awhile, Thoreau probably realizes that he shouldn't stop writing just because he was depressed with what had happened to his life recently, but he realized that he could write about what he is facing for other people to understand him. He is trying to tell Emerson that he is moving on from the grief and continue on with his life.

smurftastic44 said...

I agree with what most people here are saying. Thoreau is trying to understand his grief by connecting with nature. He makes himself feel better by connecting the cycle of life and death in the woods with the cycle of life and death in human society. He believes that when people or plants die, they make way for a new life. This way of thinking helped him get through his grief over the death of his brother and his son. Obviously he has been through quite a lot, and going along with what Jess was saying, he probably lost some of his sanity along the way.
As far as the relevance to our text, Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of the people who began the Unitarianism movement. He was a very religious man, so this letter probably had an impact on him.
~Christine Murphy

cvalenti2 said...

It seems that Thoreau is trying to search for an explanation of why death comes, and Thoreau convinces himself that we should not associate sorrow with death, but look upon death with appreciation as with it comes new life. This is demonstrated when Thoreau states,"for the law of their death is the law of new life" which shows that with bad comes good- for example when he says that dead crops help the land become more rich. This perspective of Thoreau as presented to Emerson is used in this letter to overcome the death of his brother John, and Emerson's little boy: Waldo, but also reflects what we've learned in class because Thoreau's way of explaining how death can bring new life is a product of his transcendental beliefs- this one in particular regarding life and death possibly exemplifies the spiritual state of being connected to the universe because if we are all connected, then with one thing comes another, like with death comes new life. Therefore, this letter identifies the reason for death in thoughs that Emerson and Thoreau loved through Transcendentalism and how in a way we are all united as one in the universe. One question I have however, is did Thoreau write this letter to cheer up Emerson with their religious views, or to convince himself the reason why his close ones have died so quickly?

matthew said...

I think that it is a good thing that Thoreau writes this letter not only for his good friend Emerson, but also for himself. Both of them had just sadly lost at least one person who is close to them. I say this because Thoreau lost both his brother and his own son. This man is obviosly going through hard times and needs something to lift up his spirits. In this case, he connected death with nature, because nature is beautiful. This helps him move on and realize that death is inevibitale and therefore it is okay. He shares his feeling with his friend Emerson, hoping it will have the same effect on him, as it did on himself. For this reason, I think Thoreau is a good and caring person, who is very inspirational.

BigBri said...

From my understanding, Thoreau's brother and Emerson's son whom he adored have both died, thus slowly killing Thoreau from the inside out. So he goes into nature and live his life peacefully all by himself in the tranquility of nature. Thoreau also explains, "Yet death is beautiful when seen to be a law, and not an accident-it is as common as life."(This is why i do not understand why we mourn so much about people who have passed, even people to me that were very close to me passed, I just felt that everyone and everything is meant to die and you cannot change that) Therefore I believe that Thoreau should live in the wild for say a month and then go back to his old ways because he cannot hide forever.

C.Slotter said...

Thoreau's letter to Emerson shows how he used nature to understand his brother's and son's deaths. Thoreau learns that, like nature, death happens naturally and can't be avoided. Once this can be accepted, one can get over the sorrows and shocks of death, and learn to appreciate its beauty. Thoreau writes about how he learned to see the beauty that comes after death, and how this cycle is a natural part of life. Thoreau's letter is beautifully written, as well as inspiring and enlightening.

Jeanette said...

Henry Thoreau's letter to Ralph Emerson has a lot of vivid imagery in it about his surroundings. Most people in America had the same views of nature at the time, as chapter 15 stated that "indeed the spirit of nationalism fed the growing appreciation of the uniqueness of the American wilderness". Therefore, the imagery that Thoreau included probably came from the overwhelming attitude the people had about how beautiful the wilderness is. Thoreau's view on death was also beautiful; that it is fine when it is not an accident. This shows that he is someone who is not hostile, and that he is accepting as a person. He finds that death is not a horrible thing; it is fine in the right context, and death will just make way to new life. I agree with Christine; that this letter probably had an impact on Emerson, since he was religious. Thoreau's points were so closely connected to God's creation and the acceptance of death/new life.

Ross said...

Its very interesting to me how serious Thoreau is about transcendentalism. At the time he writes this letter he seems to be fully infused with nature, enough so that he can connect the death of not only his brother, but everyone. He explains thoroughly how he believes one beauty of nature is how it seemingly doesn't recognize death as it is just continuously met with new beginnings and life. This view of the transcendentalists is actually very logical and made me stop and think about the wonders of life in death and nature, and how even death in nature can be seen as beautiful, such as the dead leaves falling on an autumn day. I also believe that this letter may have had a therapeutic effect on both Thoreau and Emerson, as they both are transcendentalists and had recently lost someone close to them. I believe this letter could have possibly allowed Thoreau to express his feelings about death and also gave Emerson a different look on the loss of someone special, making it easier for him to cope. In conclusion this letter allowed me to obtain a better overall understanding on the thoughts, and actions of a transcendentalist and also gave me a quick peek into how they view a great tragedy, this was very helpful.

p.s. i know...im a last minute lucy

michellepleban said...

Thoreau's letter shows how he realized death is inevitable. He thinks people spend too much time thinking about death, than, ironically, seeing the beauty in it. Thoreau relates it to nature because it is as beautiful alive as dead. It may not be physically, but the beauty comes from the fact that it is a part of the circle of life. This article relates to the rebirth of religion in America.

jennaaxrae18 said...

I love how poetic this letter sounds. I like how Thoreau can look at death to be something sort of peaceful, or even nonexistent in the world of nature. He applies natural life and the way the great outdoors works to the deaths of his peers. This letter sums up a lot of transcendentalism in the way that it shows how different the views on religion have been turned into. It makes it apparent that with the Second Great Awakening, religion had changed a lot from the commonness of involving God. This is one of the first times I actually enjoyed reading through one of these letters. The way it's been written has, like Jeanette said, a great sense of imagery so we can picture everything in our minds and really understand what he means.
-Jenna Ryan

C said...

Ross, who says "last minute lucy"?

C said...

Jeanette, great connection to the content. When you stated, "Henry Thoreau's letter to Ralph Emerson has a lot of vivid imagery in it about his surroundings. Most people in America had the same views of nature at the time, as chapter 15 stated that "indeed the spirit of nationalism fed the growing appreciation of the uniqueness of the American wilderness"." You not only made a great connection, but I think your English teacher would be proud, as you correctly identified the literary element of imagery...I thought yours was an insightful response.

Brian, your own thoughts and connections to Thoreau's sentiments are pretty philosophical.

As always, everyone, keep up the good work...

Becky said...

I'm a little late, but my internet wouldn't work yesterday, its been a good week, soo here's what I think. Thoreau doesn't fear death because it is a part of life, which is understandable, but he uses personification saying the grasses and herbs "cheerfully consent to do so". They have no choice and do not consent. I know the Second Great Awakening was a time for enlightenment, but so many different ideas were coming out how could you believe any of them so the whole idea of transcendentalism is stupid to me. I may be a tad bit cynical, but to claim that we should accept death because plants do and nature can take hurricanes is rediculous, because they don't have feelings and sadly humans do. But one of my favorite quotes ever is Thoreau! "Things do not change, we change"

Yazan said...

i agree with becky and ross. thoreau does believe that death is a part of life, its like running away from a ghost attached to your back, it you're gonna be surprised when you stop to take a rest and its right there.
and that letter does sound like thoreau is trying to mend his "broken heart", if you will.

sukhmeetkohli said...

Thoreau's letter is good because it allows him to express his feelings about the deaths within his family, and allows him to move one. This letter shows how he is a caring and inspirational person.

Caitlin said...

This letter shows how transcendentalsits thought about life and the world in general. They saw everything as a cycle. A beautiful cycle that is inevitable. The way he describes nature shows just how in tune he is with it and his feelings. I also like the way he relates it death as something so natural it almost seems uplifting. That is how it relates to the chapter as well. Transcentalists were part of the Second Great Awakening of religious revival and for them, they were looking at death in a whole new way. Perhaps as a new grieving method but it seemed to suit him fine.