Emerson's Essays By Ralph Waldo Emerson Summary and Analysis of Nature Chapter 7 - Spirit

Attempting to penetrate the mystery of nature's vital unity, Emerson's language and concepts concerning a universal spirituality suggest mystical truths beyond the reach of ordinary understanding. Whenever we try to define what this spirit is that permeates nature, our comprehension fails us, but we still feel that nature has spiritual properties. Although our critical understanding of nature's spirit can only be meager or superficial, this ignorance does not diminish the importance or the recognition of the mystery.

Emerson addresses three questions: First, what is the matter out of which nature is made? In answering this question, he finds that according to the philosophy of idealism, matter is a phenomenon and not a substance. Nature is something experienced, something distinctly different from ourselves. And yet, given his earlier statements concerning our foisting onto nature what we want it to be, Emerson admits that nature is permeated by the human emotions we accord it. Ironically, this conclusion means that nature as a thing in itself ultimately remains alien to us.

Addressing the next two questions — Where did the matter that is nature come from? Toward what end did it come? — Emerson asserts that nature's animating spirit expresses itself through us. The highest truth is that a universal essence is present in each and every object, including humans. This essence — or spirit — is the life force responsible for the continuous creation going on all around us: It creates the unity and indivisibility of nature, spirit, and humanity. But readers will recall Emerson's warning in the introduction, "We are now so far from the road to truth." The imbalance that alienates us from nature is what he is trying to make us aware of.

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