The Transcendentalist adopts the whole connection of spiritual doctrine. He believes in miracle, in the perpetual openness of the human mind to new influx of light and power; he believes in inspiration, and in ecstasy.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Transcendentalism began as a protest to the general state of culture and society, mainly towards Harvard’s beliefs and teachings. It is realized only through an individual’s intuition. Transcendentalists believe that the spiritual, or ‘transcendental’, overcomes the material. In transcendentalism, each individual finds, in Emerson’s words, ‘an original relation to the universe’. Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of the leading Transcendentalists, and he portrays his worldview through his various poems and essays. Since essays can express so much more than poems, Emerson depicts his ideas of Transcendentalism more effectively through his essays.
Emerson’s essay, “Self Reliance”, contains many examples of why prose exceeds poetry. On page three of the essay, Emerson illustrates the following conversation that passed between a friend and him:
“On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? My friend suggested, -“But these impulses may be from below, not from above.” I replied, “They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil’s child, I will live then from the Devil.” (pg 3)
Emerson’s thoughts were explained quite plainly and to the point. In poetry, it is almost impossible to lay out ones views so forwardly while still sticking to the rhyme, mood, theme and beauty of the poem
Another forward portrayal of Emerson’s transcendental idea lies on page 13. In front of one paragraph, the number one marks the first of a series of points. By the use of these numbering, Emerson allows the reader to more easily understand the main ideas he wishes to convey. Again, this is an example of the simplicity that prose portrays. One would not be able to express so clearly the main topics if one was writing in poetry.
Man is his own star; and the soul that can
Render an honest and perfect man,
Commands all light, all influence, all fate;
Nothing to him falls early or too late.
Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,
Our fatal shadows that walk with us still.
The previous poem demonstrates the symbolic theme of poetry. Poems have ‘hidden meanings’. They rarely express the true intent of the poem, but instead use satire, irony, or symbolism. After some thought and interpretation, the meaning of the poem can be extracted, but prose presents itself in a more suitable way. This poem does express the worldview of transcendentalism, but it goes about it in a vague and roundabout way. Emerson’s poems, while they are beautiful, are also unclear. The ability to use dialogue or conversation adds to the reason why prose exceeds poetry. His essays better express his opinions, thoughts and ideas.
The purpose of prose is to communicate ideas, where poetry is more like art that moves one with the beauty of its language. Emerson’s essays better discuss and promote his worldview of transcendentalism. Essays possess the power of simplicity and clarity; yet they can portray the main points or topics in multiple creative ways while still keeping with the simple theme. Emerson’s essays and poems both effectively promote his worldview, but the essays have the ability of promoting transcendentalism clearly.