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      The Consolation of Poetry : Ten Lessons on Life and Death 


      Peter Lang

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          Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on “Self-Reliance” enquires into the nature of the self as the foundation for judgment and the conduct of life. For Emerson, the essence of the self is in its spontaneity or instinct which, in its apprehension of the world, takes the form of a “primary wisdom” he calls intuition. This intuition is inherently superior to all other teachings. As the self possesses its own intuition, so the self is unique both in its constitution and its experience: no other is made the same way or has lived the same life. This is one more reason to trust yourself above others in their judgments and opinions, provided that you are truly attentive to your own instinct and intuition. Writing in 1841, Emerson extends the lessons of self-reliance beyond the individual to include the society and culture of his time; they seem especially relevant today. The pressure to conform in all things exposes the weakness of a society “afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death,” whose members are “afraid of each other.” The virtue of self-reliance should likewise free the American artist from slavish imitation of European models. Instead, the artist should “study with hope and love the precise thing to be done by him” considering the climate, the landscape, the people, and the government of his own country. Only in this way will the artist create truly original work of taste and feeling.

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