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

Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?

Here we find Ralph Waldo Emerson, in the opening passage of his introduction to his seminal essay “Nature,” bemoaning the distance he and his generation are from anything Original and True as compared to preceding generations. As he sees it, only through the firsthand experiences and the tales of our forefathers and foremothers have we been able to learn our life’s lessons and traditions. The gleaming highest highs our civilizations are able to reach are only because of the solid foundations built from and with Nature’s sacred mud by the caring and calloused hands of those to whom have gone before us and who now uplift us still.

If the great Emerson, a transcendental man, perhaps the Transcendental Man as he was in possession of a most extraordinary ability to focus and perceive that which the eye of most mortals miss, is shocked by such a revelation, then it seems to this less-than-transcendental and exceedingly mortal man just how far we find our present selves from those God beholding foregoing generations would bring about the death of fright to such a perceptive and feeling man as he.

And it is not just a distance in generational time I am referring to, but also, mostly, a distance in understanding, as perhaps the same could be said of Emerson’s meaning; though as far as he felt his generation was from an understanding of the Original and True, just how much farther away from understanding we of the present are is too hard for me to imagine.

Just what does our generation know of Nature? of God? of the Universe? Just how many more countless sepulchres have we built and how many more countless biographies have we written? Surely we know greatly of nature and of god and of the universe through the words and misdeeds of our spawning and splintering sects and religious disorders, and through the kaleidoscopic lens and the equations of the material, the physical, carried out to the farthest nth of a degree, accessible to only but a few of our most scientific of brains. Yea, ours is but a weak and plastic generation with hardly one of us finding even a germ under the nail let alone a fleck of sacred earthen mud, so far removed from Nature and Her Elements are we.

Like the everlasting trees
Of the most symbolic

Our ancients bare green before us
Full in their lustrous branches
Roots firmed in their foundation
While with the passing breeze
Our limbs naked and thin
We waive

Lo! but look at me. Look at me, me with my naked, thin limbs waiving away my right of birth to ancient spirits more alive long dead than I whose blood still courses hot will every be. I whose blood still courses hot but whose heart has grown cold and without passion for the Original, the True. I lie content each night having yet let another day slip away without once baring my feet and stepping into the grass; without once feeling the raw moonglow on my rusty skin.

But it wasn’t always so. I wasn’t always so distant from the Original and the True. And neither were you, for we were all born of and from the Original and of the True. It is who, in essence, I am and who you are.

We just forgot, that’s all.

We just allowed each passing day to take us farther and farther from who we were born to be.

So much time has
passed since then,
since I last felt raw
moonglow on
my rusty skin,
that I have forgotten
how the breath of night
can upturn a sallow face.

Long ago,
when I could still remember
how to pause,
and how to listen,
and how to breathe,
for more reasons
than just to breathe,
I knew fields
and wood,
and calico aster;
I knew how to kneel,
and how to observe,
and how to bring myself to quiet.

And I knew,
without knowing,
that if I lay
on my back
beneath the reeds
and remained hushed,
as night clouds
floated by,
shadowed and silent,
that my Self
would simply fall
away.

Step Into the Grass, an excerpt
from Poems from the River

As romping youth we did not have to be told how to meditate, how to pray. We just knew. We had no need for such technical terms as spirituality or epiphany or satori, for it was in our unknowing that we were able to truly know them. And now that we know them, we know nothing.

I suppose the question is, then, can we return to our essence? Can we, in our knowledge and understanding, return to the bliss of ignorance, to the wisdom of youth, so that we can come back again, if even just a little closer, to the Original and True.

Are we able to do that, knowing what we know?

Tonight
I’ll bare my feet
and step old and aching
into the caliginous balm
of the cool redemptive night.


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