Summary and Analysis of Nature Chapter 3


This section introduces the idea that beauty is a part of nature that serves our needs. Following the chapter on commodity (a "physical necessity"), this discussion makes clear the notion that beauty is a nobler want of humanity than commodity, which everyone must have to survive. Beauty is not necessary for physical survival, but it is useful for its restorative powers.

Emerson uses the image of a circle as being the most perfect — and, therefore, the most beautiful — geometrical form, An artist integrates natural objects into a "well colored and shaded globe" and creates a "round and symmetrical" landscape. Comparing a landscape to a circle's perfect shape, Emerson finds that the landscape has perfect order; this order creates a unity composed of the eye beholding a scene and the natural light highlighting the scene's inherent beauty.

Emerson now outlines three main points concerning our use of nature's beauty: its medicinal qualities, its spiritual elements, and its intellectual properties.

Nature, he says, has medicinal and restorative powers. Walking in the woods or along a seashore relieves the individual who is burdened by work, tedium, or a stressful urban environment. Every season of nature has a special beauty apparent to the person who takes time to perceive it. However, if we actively seek nature's beauty for its restorative qualities, we will be disappointed. Recalling the paradoxical "I am nothing. I see all" phrase used earlier in the essay, Emerson points out that a person who passively loses himself in the landscape will be rewarded by nature's regenerative powers, whereas a person who consciously seeks such healing will be tricked by nature's illusions.

In addition to its healing properties, nature's beauty enhances the grandeur of noble deeds and increases spirituality. A virtuous person is most open to and in harmony with nature's beauty because nature rewards only those people whose thoughts are noble, and who actively perform upstanding deeds. It will bend to a righteous person's will.

The third point Emerson makes concerning beauty is that it is pleasing to the intellect. Continuing his theme of nature's perfect order, he contends that the intellect searches for the perfect order of things, which is an expression of God. This meditational search is followed by an active experiencing of the world and is then succeeded by more intellectual activity. A cycle — or circle — is created by our actively participating in society and then passively thinking about our actions and how we experience the world.

Emerson ends this section on beauty by mentioning Taste and Art. Taste, he says, is the love of beauty; Art is the creation of it. Again, he stresses the unity between nature and humanity: A thing is beautiful in itself only if it is beautiful in unison with nature's whole. In other words, the sum of nature is greater than its parts.