Ralph Waldo Emerson and gifts

sky_compressed_with name We live in a world that often regards material things as having great value, and it is often not until one is feeling poorly that we begin to value health with greater esteem. Yet, this notion of placing importance on tangible items is not a concept that is germane only to our present century, but rather one that has been well rooted seemingly forever. And so it appears that we rank highly those gifts that fit among the category of expensive or prestigious.

Perhaps this trait is a characteristic inherent to most all humans, for realistically, who would like to trade their personal comforts with those who are less endowed with equal possessions. After a weekend of camping, a hot shower and clean sheets are indeed most welcome.

But there are gifts bestowed to us with unprecedented value and are delivered by unlikely sources, such as the artist, the poet, the musician, Mother Nature; this sampling of such makes us take pause and silently reminds us that valuable gifts are not just the things we like to wear or ride in, but those things that bear witness to the uniqueness of life…that we must stop for a moment and enjoy … just because….

Ralph Waldo Emerson 2jpg Following our theme of gifts, I welcome back the “gifted” and esteemed thinker: Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) preacher, philosopher, and poet, considered having the finest spirit and ideals of his age. He was a bold thinker having penned essays and gave lecture that offer models of clarity, style, and thought, which guaranteed him a formidable presence in 19th century American life. Emerson offered his views on the harmonies of man and nature, intellectual and spiritual independence, self-reliance, and utopian friendship. He was a committed Abolitionist, a champion of the Native Americans, and a crusader for peace and social justice.

From his essay so aptly titled, Gifts, take a moment for his words. Written in the 1800s, they still resonate with reason.

“It is said that the world is in a state of bankruptcy, that the world owes the world more than the world can pay, and ought to go into chancery, and be sold. I do not think this general insolvency, which involves in some sort all the population, to be the reason of the difficulty experienced at Christmas and New Year, and other times, in bestowing gifts; since it is always so pleasant to be generous, though very vexatious to pay debts. But the impediment lies in the choosing. If, at any time, it comes into my head that a present is due from me to somebody, I am puzzled what to give until the opportunity is gone.

Flowers and fruits are always fit presents; flowers, because they are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty out values all the utilities of the world. These gay natures contrast with the somewhat stern countenance of ordinary nature; they are like music heard out of a workhouse. Nature does not cocker us: we are children, not pets: she is not fond: everything is dealt to us without fear or favor, after severe universal laws. Yet these delicate flowers look like the frolic and interference of love and beauty. Men used to tell us that we love flattery, even though we are not deceived by it, because it shows that we are of importance enough to be courted. Something like that pleasure the flowers give us: what am I to whom these sweet hints are addressed?

Fruits are acceptable gifts because they are the flower of commodities, and admit of fantastic values being attached to them. If a man should send to me to come a hundred miles to visit him, and should set before me a basket of fine summer fruit, I should think there was some proportion between the labor and the reward…”

6 thoughts on “Ralph Waldo Emerson and gifts

  1. I have often pondered these questions. They perplex me in the fact our nature is natural. When he said this “But the impediment lies in the choosing” I’ve come to understand it’s all about choices. We follow our natural inclinations or not, the impediment being our humanness.

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