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The World is Emblematic

March 19, 2011

“It is not words only that are emblematic; it is things which are emblematic. Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact. Every appearance in nature corresponds to some state of the mind, and that state of the mind can only be described by presenting that natural appearance as its picture. . . Who looks upon a river in a meditative hour, and is not reminded of the flux of all things?” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature (1836)

Susan Cheever’s American Bloomsbury (2006) is just gossipy enough in its recounting of Transcendentalist Concord to entertain without slipping into sensationalism or salaciousness. More importantly, it’s an overdue reminder of the richness and relevance of a period in American literature that asserted the unity of the spiritual and natural worlds.  As Emerson mapped it:

1. Words are signs of natural facts.

2. Particular natural facts are symbols of particular spiritual facts.

3. Nature is the symbol of spirit.

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