Emerson’s Advice to Thoreau: “Write it out into good poetry.”

Above: Mississippi Palisades State Park, Illinois, April 24, 2017

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Journals, November 10, 1838

“My brave Henry Thoreau walked with me to Walden this afternoon and complained, of the proprietors who compelled him, to whom, as much as to any, the whole world belonged, to walk in a strip of road and crowded him out of all the rest of God’s earth. He must not get over the fence: but to the building of that fence he was no party. Suppose, he said, some great proprietor, before he was born, had bought up the whole globe. So had he been hustled out of nature. Not having been privy to any of these arrangements, he does not feel called on to consent to them, and so cuts fish poles in the woods without asking who has a better title to the wood than he.

I defended, of course, the good institution as a scheme, not good, but the best that could be hit on for making the woods and waters and fields available to wit and worth, and for restraining the bold bad man. At all events, I begged him, having this maggot of Freedom and Humanity in his brain, to write it out into good poetry and so clear himself of it.

He replied, that he feared that that was not the best way, that in doing justice to the thought, the man did not always do justice to himself, the poem ought to sing itself; if the man took too much pains with the expression, he was not any longer the Idea himself…” Emerson, November 10, 1838


From Sue: I have just recently (2017) begun to dip into some of Emerson’s journals. Reading them, I experience  periodic jolts of recognition,  a sense of temperamental affinity, and an intuition that Emerson’s moodiness ran along lines parallel to my own. This is the first excerpt from Emerson’s writings that I have recorded for LibriVox (Vol. 48 of the Nonfiction Collection). More will follow…