Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Few More Thoughts On Emerson's Words

I want to make one more post on the words Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote to Thomas Carlyle in 1842. For convenience, here's the quote.

"I had it fully in my heart to write at large leisure in noble mornings opened by prayer or readings from Plato or whomsoever else is dearest to the Morning Muse, a new chapter on Poetry, for which all readings, all studies, are but preparation; but now it is July, and my chapter is in rudest beginnings. Yet when I go out of doors in the summer night, and see how high the stars are, I am persuaded that there is time enough for all that I must do; and the good world manifests very little impatience."

I find in these words much to apply to my own life. I'm not comparing my writings to his, nor my brain power to his, but I find much in his words to inform and inspire me. Consider these nuggets.

1. I had it in my heart to write pretty much sums up how I feel. This desire hit me relatively late in life compared to Emerson, who seems to have written essays from the moment his motor skills were sufficient to use a pen. But I have it in my heart now, and early enough in life that there is time enough for all that I must do. These umpteen ideas running through my head will hopefully each find their quiet time in turn, and turn into words on paper.

2. to write at leisure in mornings tells me that Emerson planned his day, and had a specific writing time. His output was perhaps not the most prolific among writers of his stature, but it is certainly some of the best. I could stand to emulate his habits: to write at a specific time, possibly in the morning when the mind is freshest; to write at leisure, by which I think he means at an unhurried pace, allowing the mind adequate to think before the hand moves the pen. Yet Emerson's obligations, especially his recent assumption of the editorship of The Dial magazine, caused him to not have his leisurely writing time in noble mornings, and not prayers, nor Plato, nor anything else was helping him get his chapter written on poetry. How well I can relate to that! Though my interruptions are much more mundane, such as a day job, family responsibilities, and a thousand trappings of community. Oh that it would be an editorship that stunts my writing!

3. my chapter is in rudest beginnings tells me that Emerson had a realistic understanding of his skills and where his writing stood at any given time relative to what he knew the finished product should look like. By rudest beginning, I don't know if he means barely started, or written but still subject to significant editing, or maybe just in outline form. No matter; I need to keep repeating Scavella's Mantra: I'm not as good as I think I am.

4. the good world tells me something of Emerson's overall outlook of life. The world was good, good enough to say so to his friend, good enough to write about. Emerson was optimistic about life, and I believe his writings reflect that. In comparison, his friend Carlyle was down right dour and pessimistic. He felt like the world was going downhill fast, and English civilization well past its zenith. Unfortunately, my outlook on this world is closer to Carlyle than to Emerson, and I'm sure my writing reflects that. I need to be able to say "the good world" and mean it. There is good in the world, but unfortunately the bad overwhelms it sometimes. Help me, Lord, to look for the good around me and let my outlook be atuned to that.

Soon I will give a quote from one of Carlyle's letters, in which I find some inspiration and comfort.

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