Jul 032015

This past week, the Beav and I went down to Concord, Massachusetts to see Walden, Emerson’s house, the Old Manse and the rest of the sites. It was an interesting trip but it made a problem involved in teaching these writers concrete for me.

I’ve read the Transcendentalists, most of them quite carefully, and I teach more than a few of their works. So I was interested in seeing Emerson’s study and Hawthorne’s writing desk, but I was also, as unromantic as it sounds, collecting photographs I could show my students, most of whom find these works quite difficult. Pictures of relevant places should, I thought, help them visualize what they are reading.

Concord also has many Revolutionary War historical sites. These hadn’t figured as I’d imagined the trip, yet they were what was most evident once we arrived. We toured them as well, and as we did, I noticed that historical sites were easier for people to appreciate than the literary ones. Everyone seemed to have at least a bit of the necessary historical context while people touring the Emerson house, for example, knew nothing but the name. This got me thinking about the difficulty of providing context to students for reading.

At a historical site, a guide can say “The militia turned back the British at this bridge, a first victory in the War of Independence,” and that is informative even if the listener knows nothing except that the US declared its independence from Britain. It also cues all kinds of imaginative processes–fuelled by memories of movies and television–that recreate the place in the mind and sentiments as a site of a battle. It’s exciting, even if you know nothing.

But in the study at the Old Manse, which is located just across that same bridge, when the guide points to a tiny ratchet desk beside the fireplace and says “Hawthorne wrote Mosses from the Old Manse here,” those with minimal context can do little but imagine a man sitting silently, his forehead close to the wall and his back to the windows and the other chairs. Without some sense of what is in that book, without having read it, the room is the site where, by design, nothing happened silently.

Which brings me back the pictures I took. I’ll show them, but I don’t think they will do very much to push my students beyond their difficulties with their reading. Thoreau’s cabin doesn’t exist. There’re some stone markers. The reproduction cabin is empty except for a bed, a stove and a desk. Emerson’s house looks like an old house. There is a grape arbor. Thoreau built it, just like he planted the original vegetable garden at the Old Manse. You can’t tell that from looking at it though because it’s just a garden.

In other words, my pictures are horribly boring and I suspect my students will look at them with the same blankness I saw on the faces around me on the various tours. That sounds like pessimism, but it’s really just me wondering what seeing Walden–and by that, I mean a picture of any lake as long as I call it Walden when showing it–what does seeing that picture do for a student reading Thoreau for the first time? A kind of magic needs to happen to illuminate the words and to bring them to life. Does seeing the place the author walked help?

Sep 122013

The world is full of [?] and apprenticeships, and this is thine: thou must pass for a fool and a churl for a long season.


This insight, which expresses itself by what is called Imagination, is a very high sort of seeing, which does not come by study, but by teh intellect being where and what it sees, by sharing the path, or [?] of things through forms, and so making them [?] to other. The path of things is silent. Will they suffer a speaker to go with them? A spy they will not suffer; a lover, a poet, is the transcendency of their own nature,–him they will suffer. The condition of true naming, on the poet’s part, is his resigning himself to the divine ”aura” which breathes through forms, and accompanying that.


 “The Poet” by Ralph Waldo Emerson  September 12, 2013  Tagged with:
Sep 112013

When a thought of Plato becomes a thought to me,–when a truth that fired the soul of Pindar fires mine, time is no more. When I feel that we two meet in a perception, that our two souls are tinged with the same hue, and do, as it were, run into one, why should I measure degrees of latitude, why should I count Egyptian years?


 “History” by Ralph Waldo Emerson  September 11, 2013  Tagged with:
Sep 102013

behind the coarse effect is a fine cause, which, being narrowly seen, is itself the effect of a finer cause.


Men walk as prophecies of the next age.


The new position of the advancing man has all the powers of the old, yet has them all new.


Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. The way of life is wonderful: it is by abandonment.


 “Circles” by Ralph Waldo Emerson  September 10, 2013  Tagged with:
Sep 082013

man hopes, genius creates….whatever talents may be, if the man create not, the fure efflux of the Deity is not his; –cinders and smoke there may be, but not yet flame.


The discerning will read, in his Plato or Shakespeare, only that least part,–only the authentic utterances of the oracle;–all the rest he rejects, were it never so many times Plato’s and Shakespeare’s.


This drop is a small ocean.


Sep 082013

Every roof is agreeable to the eye, until it is lifted; then we find tragedy and moaning women, and hard-eyed husbands, and deluges of [?], and the men ask ‘What’s the news?’ as if the older so bad.


A man is like a Labrador spar, which has no lustre as you turn it in your hand, until come to a particular angle; then it shows deep and beautiful colors.


 “Experience” by Ralph Waldo Emerson  September 8, 2013  Tagged with: