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All that can be thought can be written...

"The maker of a sentence like the other artist launches out into the infinite and builds a road into Chaos and old Night."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Remembering the many years I dedicated to reading and studying Emerson, on this, his 121st birthday.

When (or if) people think about Ralph Waldo Emerson, it’s usually as a philosopher - for his ideas about nature and self-reliance and our connection to the universe - or maybe they think about historical Emerson, as an American caught up in the questions of his day about slavery, democracy, and reform, or someone taking a cross-country railroad trip at a time when the meaning of the frontier and of the West was still being debated.

But I mostly think about Emerson as a writer, especially as my teaching year comes to an end and I mentally prepare to focus again on my own writing projects.

Emerson spent an incredible amount of time thinking and writing about writing, about the process and conditions necessary for communicating your ideas through writing: reading, thinking, conversing, finding a balance between solitude and society, the cultivation of talent and the recognition of genius in other and within oneself.

His “Representative Men” in history were writers and poets. He was obsessed with writers like Shakespeare, Goethe, or Montaigne, not just for their ideas, but for their mastery of form, whether poetry or speeches or essays.

“My debt to Plato is a certain number of sentences…A large number, yet still a finite number, make the worth of Shakespeare and Milton, to me.”

He wrote in all of these forms himself, and he also wrote publicly and privately in his journals about the technical and philosophical struggles of perfecting the written form, the meaning-making poem of a paragraph, the truth implied in a good sentence, the purpose in every word.

“The first rule in writing is not to omit the thing you meant to say.”

This slim volume on Emerson as reader and writer is one of my favorite books about him.

It would make a great gift for graduation or for writers in your life.


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