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Transcendentalism in Literature

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Transcendentalism in Literature

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  • October 1999
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Transcendentalism was a literary movement in the first half of the 19th century. The philosophical theory contained such aspects as self-examination, the celebration of individualism, and the belief that the fundamental truths existed outside of human experience. Fulfillment of this search for knowledge came when one gained an acute awareness of beauty and truth, and communicated with nature to find union with the Over-Soul. When this occurred, one was cleansed of materialistic aims, and was left with a sense of self-reliance and purity. Two authors who were among the leaders of the movement were Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, whose works "Nature", "Self-Reliance", and "Walden" brought America to the forefront of the transcendentalist movement. Their ideas opposed the popular materialist views of life and voiced a desire for freedom of the individual from artificial restraints. They felt that if they explored nature thoroughly, they would come to know themselves and the universal truths better.The concept of transcendentalism is clearly expressed in the essay "Nature", by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson was a leader in the movement of transcendentalism and the first American author to influence European thought. His essay "Nature" tells of how one can gain insight and spiritual cleansing simply from experiencing nature. Emerson tells of how "in the woods is perpetual youth" and "in the woods we return to reason and faith." These lines exemplify the very ideals of transcendentalism. They show the deep roots a person has in nature and how one can receive knowledge of their Over-Soul by honestly enjoying the outdoors and freeing oneself of previous evils. In the following lines, Emerson remarks:"Standing on the bare ground- my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball: I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I...

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