Emily Dickinson: Transcendentalist Experience Through Imagination


The early 19th century ideas of transcendentalism, which were introduced
by Ralph Emerson and David Thoreau, where man as an individual becomes
spiritually consumed with nature and himself through experience are contrasted
by Emily Dickinson, who chose to branch off this path by showing that a
transcendentalist experience could be achieved through imagination alone. These
three monumental writers set the boundaries for this new realm of thought.
Although these writers ideas were not similar, they all followed the simple idea
that “the universe is composed of Nature and the Soul” . The male perspective
seen through the works of Thoreau and Emerson, where nature “refers to essences
unchanged by man; the air, the river, the leaf” , is revised and satirized by
Dickinson\'s statement that “Of all the Souls that stand create-, I have elected-
One” . Dickinson\'s works were meant to taunt society by showing how a woman,
ironically trapped in her “natural” surroundings of the home, could obtain as
much power, if not more than any male writer. This ironic revisions of ideas is
directed at all male transcendentalists and figures in society.

Both Ralph Emerson and David Thoreau used societies stereotype of the
true male environment, “nature”, to draw their power and write from their
experiences. Experience was the most important factor to these writers. The
ability “to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account in my next
excursion” was the basis of all their writings. “To get the whole and genuine
meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the whole world” was their goal
behind all their writings. They did not use their power of writing in order to
gain a transcendentalist experience, but rather to record them. Both Emerson
and Thoreau chose to contact their true natural surroundings, and experience
time alone in the “woods”. By being “in solitude”, it brought forth a
conciseness that “all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind
is open to their influence” .

Mans views of nature being rightfully his, to do with what he wants, is
harshly contrasted by Emerson, who feels that “Nature sais,-He is my creature” .
Emerson felt that man, corrupted by society, can over power the fate of over
looking his true meaning. Escaping from the wheel of society into “the woods, is
perpetual youth”. By living in the woods, he found that fusing nature with soul,
one can accomplish anything.

Emerson felt that nature was an extension of five of his senses, where
he could feel the tree moving in the wind as if it was his own body. He
stressed the theme of “having intercourse with heaven and earth”, or interlacing
your body and soul with nature. But, of all five senses, he stressed vision the
most. Beauty can only be accomplished through the gate way of the eye, which is
where most experiences are derived from. “The eye is the best of artists” , and
has the power to display “the simple perception of natural forms” , which is
where true beauty comes form. “Nature satisfies the soul purely by its
loveliness” . By becoming “a transparent eye-ball. I am nothing. I see all” .


Being self reliant on oneself, following the idea that “Man is his own
star” , Emerson displays his transcendentalist idea that applies to anyone who
would like to follow it. The importance of flowing with nature, and excepting
what you are is stressed in Emerson\'s self-reliance. By following the modo “Ne
te quæsiveris extra” , Emerson completely committed himself to “nature”. By
letting it become part of his soul, he used its power to enable him to transcend
into the identity of anything or anyone he would like. This idea is important
to Emerson because it transforms “the tradesman, the attorney comes out of the
din and craft of the street, and sees the sky and the woods, and is a man again”
. Looking at himself as an individual, not as a number lost in a sea of people
walking down a street, enabled Emerson to draw power to himself, where he did
not have to rely on anyone or anything. He became his own deity, his own master,
and his self owner. Emerson contained the ability “To believe your own thought,
to believe that what is true for you in your private heart, is true for all men”
, and that in itself is a philosophy which made him stand out from many, and
made him an individual.

Emerson clearly states in Nature, being in your natural surrounding, the
wilderness, is the key to