Review by Larry Smith
by Larry Smith on November 10, 2010
Richard G. Geldard. Emerson and the Dream of America: Finding Our Way to a New and Exceptional Age. Larson Publishing, 2010. 176 pgs. $16.95 (paper).
"America is a poetry in our eyes" is one of my favorite quotes from this most quoted American author and thinker. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) is the founder of the American Transcendental Movement which includes such wise and rebellious thinkers as Bronson and Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Ripley, and William Ellery Channing, among others, and such contemporary writers as Annie Dillard, Scott Russell Sanders, Wendell Berry, Gretel Ehrlich, Gary Snyder and more. I revisit them often for a grounding and to hear truth and fairness spoken openly, to taste youthful optimism and faith again, and to find my way in the world today. Richard Geldard serves us here as a guide through the words of this intuitive genius, Emerson. What's more, he places Emerson's thought in the context of today, linking his sense of conscience and consciousness in Nature to our movement for sustainability and the recent movement for hope and change which ushered in Barack Obama's election.
Our teacher is Nature itself, and its lessons are out in the open though our blindness and stubbornness often make them hard earned. As Geldard paraphrases, Emerson warns against our habits and comfortable conformity, our accepting the too easy norms about us. "Self culture begins in earnest when we consciously choose to question ‘the way things are' in favor of what is better, stronger, and more life-enhancing."
At the base of Emerson's thought is his admonition to "Trust your genius. Follow your noble heart." Like Eastern thought, the answers lie within and about us, in Nature and not in dogma. Geldard states, "Other geniuses reveal the secrets of nature or the heights and depths of human feeling or the mysteries of the universe, but Emerson's genius was drawn early on to the infinitude of the mind as it applied itself to ordinary life." Time and again Emerson is "taking us out of ourselves while leaving us whole." For Emerson our right and our obligation is to find and be our true selves in this world.
Geldard correctly places Emerson in the Perennial Philosophy movement which author Aldous Huxley describes as:
"the metaphysics that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality; the ethic that places man's final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being; the thing is immemorial and universal."
For Emerson, we must listen closely to the answers that lie within and right about us, not in the structures of man's world.
Geldard applies these principles to sustainability and transition culture, chapters on Self-Reliance, Emerson and modern physics, wealth and economy, and the call to sanity and optimism in our nation and world. Selections from Emerson's essays and journals are presented in the double appendixes: "Spiritual Laws" and "Passages on the Examined Life." Perhaps in Emerson's declaration of individuality we find our own strength to work for balance and change. His path lies behind and before us:
"I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints."
Geldard has given us a timely and extremely useful book.
Larry Smith is a poet and fiction writer and professor emeritus of Humanities and English at Bowling Green State University's Firelands College.
Causes Larry Smith Supports
peace and justice, meditation