Ralph Waldo Emerson tagged posts

A Happy Belated Birthday to Henry David Thoreau

We’re not always up to speed at Traversing. We prefer to slow down our thinking, turning it more toward mulling, pondering, even a dollop or two of old-fashioned cogitating. Sometimes this slowness means we miss observances and even parties (drats!), like the ones that were held in various locales to celebrate Henry David Thoreau’s 200th birthday last July. But when we do miss folks’ big days, we always try to send a cheery “Happy Belated!” card to acknowledge our oversight and wish them godspeed.

So Henry, this card is for you. And given your towering presence in the literary and even spiritual life of our nation, I will go beyond the usual birthday niceties here to include an honest, but I think ultimately compassionate view of our relationship, your life, and the spirits that moved you in the brief time, a mere 44 years, that you walked—and walked and walked—upon this earth.


Let’s sta...

Read More

The Puffed Up Self in Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”

“Our Delight in Destruction,” read the headline from a recent philosophy blog in the New York Times. (Yes, actual philosophers blogging in readable English in a daily newspaper—hope lives!)

This was just a day after I had come across and held to my eyes a treasured volume, “Irrational Man,” a 1960s-era study of the great existential philosophers who detailed the human penchant for, well, not always behaving in the optimal fashion to promote our own best interests (nor the well-being of those around us).

And through both those works, a long chew through Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” a far-reaching, soul-stirring anthem celebrating, no matter how “destructive” or “irrational” it might appear to those other thinkers mentioned above, the absolute primacy of the Self, the lone self-reflective individual, our own deepest heart of hearts, for whom the Bard of Concord intoned:

Read More

Rereading “Walden,” Forty Years Later, on My Kindle

“Simplify,” Henry David Thoreau tells us in Walden. I am reading this advice in the airport, awaiting a jet plane excursion, just moments after downloading a 464-page collection of his works onto my Kindle, delivered courtesy of the airport wi-fi via Amazon’s “Whispernet” technology in a matter of seconds. Currently, I have Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Arnold’s Culture and Belief, Homer’s The Odyssey, Aristotle’s Poetics, and the entire New Oxford American Dictionary packed onto my Kindle, too. And this mini-library has barely begun to crack the device’s capacity.

I’m lugging these hundreds of thousands of digitized words onto a plane in a 10-ounce electronic device that I easily cradle in the palm of my hand, wondering if this technology, in its own way, falls neatly within Thoreau’s “Simplify” dictum. Or is it a gross perversion?

This is not the only conundrum I will face rereadin...

Read More