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Path in woods.


The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood...In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth...all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me... I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1836)

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Henry David Thoreau (1854)


These two writers, at the roots of Transcendentalism, gave it two great gifts. Emerson’s contribution was conceptual, he had embraced the idea of ‘nature’ Two lambs looking out from behind a tree. Returning to the roots of this popular word.

and had woven it deep into his philosophy when in 1841 Thoreau joined his household in Concord. Four years later Thoreau took up the idea of going back Looking across Ha Noi from a tower block. Includes noting the classic Chinese wish to return to ‘nature’. to nature and moved into a ‘hut’ he had built on Emerson’s land by Walden Pond - two miles from the town where they were living. This gave the movement its second strand leading to the writing of one of the most influential books of the nineteenth century recounting Thoreau’s experience of country life. Conception (nature) joined experience (woodland life) lending these writers the familiar themes seen in the quotes above: poetry, self, The photographer taking a photograph into a mirror. What is this idea, not least if it is reduced to a transparent eye-ball.

nature, woodland, the ineffable, Snow covered eastern Turkey from above. A concept that enters into so many very different accounts of what there is. beauty, The flower of Nigella damascena. Trying to catch the slippery idea of beauty.

and wilderness. A glacier on the south coast of Iceland. Getting back to nature in its purest, most extreme form. Themes now so popular we might wonder if Transcendentalism is due for a Renaissance.

The Emerson quote is from his long essay the whole of which is entitled Nature and which is available on the internet in various places including a facsimile form, without page numbers, at:    The quote is about half way through the central long paragraph of Chater One - Nature. Thoreau’s book Walden (the above quote is from page 77 of the Shambhala 2004 edition) was modest in its beginnings, taking some years to sell 2,000 copies. It now sits 64th in the Guardian’s list of best nonfiction of all time list.

The photograph was taken in Torrachilty Forrest in northern Scotland.

Above, hovering on blue introduces a link: click to go, move away to stay.


Saturday 16th September 2023

Murphy on duty to this site