By Henry David Thoreau, 1816 – 1861
Fountain-head and source of rivers,
And napkin spread by fays;
Drifting meadow of the air,
Where bloom the daisied banks and violets,
And in whose fenny labyrinth
The bittern booms and heron wades;
Spirit of lakes and seas and rivers,—
Bear only perfumes and the scent
Of healing herbs to just men’s fields.
Some of you who have followed this blog over he years, might know that I have a particular affinity for the Transcendentalists. They aren’t an easy group to wrap your head around, but once you do, it is well worth it. Transcendentalism is a very formal word that describes a very simple idea. People, men and women equally, have knowledge about themselves and the world around them that “transcends” or goes beyond what they can see, hear, taste, touch or feel. This knowledge comes through intuition and imagination not through logic or the senses. People can trust themselves to be their own authority on what is right. A transcendentalist is a person who accepts these ideas not as religious beliefs but as a way of understanding life relationships.
One of the transcendentalists’ core beliefs was in the inherent goodness of both people and nature, in opposition to ideas of man as inherently sinful, or “fallen,” and nature as something to be conquered. They believed that society and its institutions—particularly organized religion and political parties—ultimately corrupted the purity of the individual. They had faith that people are at their best when truly “self-reliant” and independent. Their concept of self-reliance differed from the traditional usage of the word, however, in that it referred primarily to a fierce intellectual independence or self-reliance. They believed that individuals were capable of generating completely original insights with as little attention and deference to past masters as possible.
At its heart, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and other Transcendentalists, believed that nature guided the universe. We should not try to tame nature just as we should not try to tame the mind of the individual. So what if you’re different from what the masses consider the norm. It doesn’t matter because we can transcend those mass marketed ideas. Sadly, Americans did not learn from the Transcendentalists. Instead of thinking for themselves, they tune into news broadcasts and talk radio to find out what they are supposed to think. They blindly follow religious teachers without trying to really understand God. If the Transcendentalists could see America today, they would believe that most Americans are mere lemmings who follow the crowds without paying attention to where they are going.
In the poem above, Thoreau uses a mist, or a fog, to give an example of nature. I think what draws me most to this poem is its lyrical quality. It doesn’t rhyme and it doesn’t follow a particular beat or poetic meter, but yet, the description is beautiful and melodic in its own self-reliant way. In its most basic form, “Mist” is a short poem that describes the different types of mist, but Thoreau also uses this poem to describe how nature is the only thing that can heal men’s spirits.