Emerson College

Discuss Emerson's style in his essays.

Emerson's essays

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Emerson's style is brilliant, epigrammatic, gem-like; clear in sentences, obscure in paragraphs. He was a sporadic observer. He saw by flashes. He said, "I do not know what arguments mean in reference to any expression of a thought." The coherence of his writing lies in his personality. His work is fused by a steady glow of optimism. Yet he states this optimism moderately. "The genius which preserves and guides the human race indicates itself by a small excess of good, a small balance in brute facts always favorable to the side of reason."

His verse, though in form inferior to his prose, was perhaps a truer expression of his genius. He said, "I am born a poet"; and again, writing to Carlyle, he called himself "half a bard." He had "the vision", but not "the faculty divine" which translates the vision into music. In his two volumes of verse (Poems in 1846 and May Day and other Pieces in 1867) there are many passages of beautiful insight and profound feeling, some lines of surprising splendor, and a few poems, like "The Rhodora", "The Snowstorm", "Ode to Beauty", "Terminus", "The Concord Ode", and the marvellous "Threnody" on the death of his first-born boy, of beauty unmarred and penetrating truth. But the total value of his poetical work is discounted by the imperfection of metrical form, the presence of incongruous images, the predominance of the intellectual over the emotional element, and the lack of flow. It is the material of poetry not thoroughly worked out. But the genius from which it came -- the swift faculty of perception, the lofty imagination, the idealizing spirit enamored of reality -- was the secret source of all Emerson's greatness as a speaker and as a writer. Whatever verdict time may pass upon the bulk of his poetry, Emerson himself must be recognized as an original and true poet of a high order.