A Meditation on an Introduction’s Second Paragraph as found in “Nature” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Having moved slow and steady through two readings of Nature, with nightly accompaniments of Librivox audio readings that would lull me away to sleep with visions of all the vast universal wonderments dancing in my head, it is now time to sift through my sporadic notes and swirling thoughts to try to make use of what I have come across, as I look to somehow apply to my life all that which Emerson teaches with his complexly simple essays as found in Nature.

However, as I consider such intellectual derring-do, I find myself drawn back to one of the first opportunities for learning the work provides me; one found in a most bold and faith-requiring passage from the introduction:

Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust the perfection of the creation so far as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy.

What a wonder of a statement – Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable.

What a brave, perhaps reckless even, proclamation – We must trust the perfection of creation…

Must we?

Do you believe that?

Undoubtedly – without any doubt?

Do I believe that?

As wonderful and bold as this passage may be, alas can it possibly be true?

Can it be possible that the order of things can satisfy completely my curiosity? Can this perfection answer all my questions, from those of the most simple and mundane to those of the most metaphysically profound?

And even if it can be possible, will it?

Only time will tell, I suppose.

Until then, for answers to all my seemingly unanswerable questions, I rely upon the only thing the perfection of creation presently allows me…

And that is my less than perfect Faith.

27 thoughts on “A Meditation on an Introduction’s Second Paragraph as found in “Nature” by Ralph Waldo Emerson”

  1. My take is that while it’s true that any question can be answered, the question then becomes: is it the right answer or, at the very least, the right answer for you?

    Good luck in your contemplations, Kurt. From reading your posts, I can tell you’re a very intelligent and creative person. Whatever you come up with, I’m sure it’ll be interesting. 🙂

    • My assumption is that, with Emerson being a man of religion – a religious leader and pastor who comes from a family with a long line of the same – “Nature,” “the perfection of creation,” and “the order of things” are all references to God; therefore, the “answers” must be the perfection of truth.

      In regards to any “answers” we mortals are allowed, I completely concur with your thoughts. There are many different right answers to the many different questions we may ask in response to the practicalities and conjectures posed by life.

      I truly appreciate your kind, encouraging response, gabriel360live. Thank you.

  2. First time I come across those lines you are quoting here. How interesting they are and somewhere inside that I cannot quite pinpoint nor explain, it rings true “undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable”
    I also read the Chapter 1 of Nature you linked to and found immense resonance in it, in particular this line made me catch my breath: “The waving of the boughs in the storm, is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is not unknown.”
    Thank you for this piece of writing, Kurt.

  3. Hi Kurt – The fact that you’re learning, questioning, applying, and finding peace in your faith during the process, is inspirational to me. Loved this post. 🙂
    (Now when are you going to come visit me in the low rent district?!)

  4. I’ve come to believe this and have become bolder in asking the big questions regardless of the answer. The only problem is “It may not mean what you think it means,” as opined by Inigno Montoya in Princess Bride . . .

    • Yes, perhaps. Yet it seems to me that “Nature,” “the perfection of creation,” and “the order of things” are all references to God. If so, it seems to me that Emerson would believe that any answer given by God would be the perfection of truth and clarity.

  5. This brings to mind two other quotes: “There will be an answer, let it be,” (by the Beatles of course) and there’s the one from Rainer Maria Rilke that tells us to “Be patient about all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…” I believe there are answers for everything, but it might take a while for us to understand them, so, in the meantime, we might as well love the questions. Thanks for following “Anything is Possible.”

  6. I have been thinking about many of these same things. I am not sure of the faith but I am beginning to believe in the perfection of the creative design. It is making a difference for me.

  7. I just wish to express how greatly I enjoy your reflections on Emerson, while sharing my own thoughts:

    Emerson in his introduction writes, “Whenever a true theory appears, it will be its own evidence. Its test is, that it will explain all phenomena.” For a theory to be its own evidence, means that the very question is the answer. I believe this is what Emerson is hinting at with his essay, “Nature,” that Nature itself, our experience of it, will reveal its secrets almost without rational effort. Experience is mediated by language, and as he asserts in Chapter IV, “the whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind.” This is true insofar that language was constructed to communicate the experience of Nature to our fellow man. Language is but symbols of Nature. He also points out that earlier in Man’s history our language was more “picturesque” and therefore closer to the actual thing. As our language grows farther apart from Nature we lose true experience of it, because we continually rationalize it with letters and characters rather than experiencing it firsthand. The answer to the Question is elusive only because we want to put it into words and thereby categorize it, rationalize it, put it into a box of phrases and pictures. I believe Emerson is urging us to experience rather than mediate and rationalize, evidenced by when he says in Chapter III, “No reason can be asked or given why the soul seeks beauty.” There is no human, calculable reason – there is Nature which reflects our Soul, and words will not suffice. This is the crux of Emerson’s entire thesis, that Nature TRANSCENDS. After all he was a Transcendentalist. Kierkegaard, on a similar vein defined faith as “an infinite resignation,” citing Abraham as the one example in history. True faith, according to Kierkegaard, requires an infinite resignation of limited human reason (as paradoxical as that sounds) in favor of an enigmatic, Transcendental Reason; for it was the Danish Philosopher’s theory that our intellects are too limited to tap into God’s Reason, and that the only way is to resign infinitely oneself like a child in a mother’s arms – not comprehending an answer, but relenting as one absorbs whatever may occur.


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