Emerson's second main point is "the poet is the sayer, the namer." That is to say Emerson here rejects the idea that the poet is primarily a maker, a craftsman, or wordsmith. Formalist critics from Jonson to had emphasized the craft of writing, seeing the poet as a maker. For Emerson, the poet is a seer and a sayer, a person inspired, a transmitter of the poetry that inheres in nature and in us. He is not just a maker of verses. Emerson's poet is the inspired, divine, prophet-bard who has access to truth and whose function is to declare it, as Barbara Packer shows in (1982). From this notion it follows that poems are not "machines made out of words," or "verbal constructs." By contrast, for Emerson, "poetry was all written before time was." The poet's job is to establish contact with the primal, natural world, "where the air is music," and try to write down in words what has always existed in nature. When writes that "Nature's first green is gold," he is giving words to something that has been going on for eons, namely the first appearance of light greenish gold when the leaves first begin to break out of the bud in spring.
Some things did not slip through his fingers. Emerson could be a brilliant and pungent critic on occasion. In a letter to on 17 March 1840, he told her he had been reading "one of Lord Brougham's superficial indigent disorderly unbuttoned penny-a-page books called 'Times of George III,'" thereby describing a kind of book of which too many are published in every age. Emerson wrote for the notices of 's (1840), which he liked, saying "it will serve to hasten the day of reckoning between society and the sailor." He praised the poetry in 's (1839), "as sincere a litany as the Hebrew songs of David or Isaiah, and only less than they, because indebted to the Hebrew muse for their tone and genius." In a review of Tennyson, he commented, "So large a proportion of even the good poetry of our time is either over-ethical or over-passionate, and the stock poetry is so deeply tainted with a sentimental egotism that this, whose chief merit lay in its melody and picturesque power, was most refreshing." Emerson was also an early admirer of the poetry of and Ellery Channing. He was Carlyle's American agent, so to speak, and through Emerson's effort Carlyle's (1835) was published in book form in Boston before an English publisher could be found for it. When sent Emerson a copy of the first edition of (1855), Emerson wrote back an excited letter, calling the poems "the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed." He recognized the "great power" in the work and praised it for having "the best merits, namely, of fortifying and encouraging."
Ralph Waldo Emerson - Essays - Henry David Thoreau
Emerson spent the rest of his life centered in Concord, with another trip to England in 1847-1848, one to California in 1871, and a final trip to Egypt in 1872. Each winter he would travel through New England and the East Coast, and as far west as there were cities on his annual lecture tour, for which he was his own booking agent, advertiser, and arranger. The rest of the year he spent in Concord, which soon became one of the intellectual centers of the country, a sort of American Weimar. The group around Emerson, usually called the Transcendentalists, were defined in one way by Emerson's 1838 Divinity School address, which offended orthodox Unitarians by locating religious authority in the religious nature of human beings, rather than in the Bible or the person of Christ. The , a new magazine founded by the group and edited first by , showed the group's interest in the literature of Idealism. In religion, in philosophy, and in literature, the group around Emerson was liberal, learned, forward-looking and reform-minded. The Emersonian "movement" (it was Emerson who said there are always two parties in society, the Establishment and the Movement) or "the newness" was eventually overshadowed by the Civil War, the coming of industrialism, and the rise of realism. But in the late 1830s, 1840s, and into the 1850s, Emerson was at the center of much that was new, exciting, and vital in American cultural life.
Life and Legacy | The Thoreau Society
In August 1835 Emerson delivered a lecture to the sixth annual meeting of the American Institute of Instruction in Boston "On the Best Mode of Inspiring a Correct Taste in English Literature." In strong contrast to the starchy, neoclassical title, the surviving pages of this talk, published in (volume one, 1959), emphasize the idea that a reader must approach a text with sympathy, empathy, openness, and a willingness to try out the author's point of view. It is, he says, a major principle "that a truth or a book of truths can be received only by the same spirit that gave it forth." This notion is very different from learning a few rules or current ideas and then judging works of literature by whether they conform to those rules and ideas. Emerson also makes a distinction between types of reading and warns us "reading must not be passive." An active reader is one who engages fully with the text. "As we say translations are rare because to be a good translator needs all the talents of an original author so to be a good reader needs the high qualities of a good writer." Above all the reader is to remember that books and poems are not ends in themselves. They convey truths or wisdom, they stand for and convey to us things that exist in nature. "I should aim to show him [the young reader] that the poem was a transcript of Nature as much as a mariner's chart is of the coast."