If a person spends time in solitude in nature—like if they look at the stars—it will allow them to temporarily transcend their day-to-day lives and connect with the sublime. Since the stars shine nearly every night, people take their beauty for granted. But a wise person never takes nature’s beauty for granted and never loses their childlike curiosity about the world.
Here, Emerson begins to flesh out the idea that people need firsthand experiences in nature—that’s why he brings up the example of someone looking at the stars alone. This kind of experience is so impactful that it temporarily uproots a person from their mundane, day-to-day lives and connects them with the divine, or the sublime. (The sublime is a key concept in Romanticism, which preceded Transcendentalism. It essentially refers to the overwhelming emotions that can bubble up when a person is alone in nature.)
Emerson notes that nature is a unified whole made up of lots of natural objects. He gives the example of looking out at the land and seeing 20 or 30 farms in this distance. But even though they’re separate farms with separate owners, they nevertheless make up the same single landscape.
Through the example of the disparate farms forming a single landscape, Emerson returns to the concept of unity and interconnectedness. Taken together, every element of nature (e.g., a leaf or a flower) combine to form the natural world. This hearkens back to his structured definitions of nature (the natural world) and Nature (the natural world plus everything that’s not the Soul) at the end of the Introduction.
Few adults see nature clearly, but children do, as do adults who have a deep and enduring love for nature (since they’ve retained their childlike spirit even as adults). For such people, being in nature is “part of [their] daily food.” These people find delight in every season and variation of nature—from a beautiful afternoon to the “grimmest midnight.”
Throughout the essay, Emerson highlights that nature has a transformative effect on people. He begins to build that argument here by showing how adults who love nature are wiser (they see nature clearly); happier (they enjoy nature no matter the season or time of day); and more youthful (they retain a childlike energy and curiosity) than adults who don’t spend time in nature or love nature. The idea that nature is “part of [their] daily food” suggests that nature is crucial to physical well-being, but it also has religious undertones. With this, Emerson is drawing an association between nature and Communion (or Eucharist) in the Christian tradition. Just as Christians ritualistically eat bread and drink wine to connect with Christ and his sacrificial death, so too do nature lovers consume nature for spiritual nourishment.
When a person is in nature, all of their day-to-day concerns melt away, and they are overcome with a sense of youthfulness, optimism, and clarity. Emerson writes that when he’s in the woods, he turns into a “transparent eyeball” that allows him to become “nothing” while also seeing everything clearly. In this state, he feels God (or the “Universal Being”) pulse through him, but he also feels that he is “part or particle” of God. To Emerson, the wilderness is far more beautiful and nourishing than the city.
Once again, Emerson returns to the idea that solitude in nature lifts a person out of their earthly lives and transforms them spiritually or emotionally in the process. One of the most famous images in the essay, the “transparent eyeball” speaks to the idea that being in nature gives a person clarity and wisdom about how all things are connected. This is why Emerson feels God’s presence in himself but also feels himself in God—the two are intimately connected, and nature facilitates this spiritual experience of unity.
When he’s in the countryside, Emerson shares an intimate relationship with nature. He and nature nod in acknowledgment at one another—an experience that is both “new […] and old,” and surprising but not totally unfamiliar. He underscores that nature absorbs a person’s emotions—that is, how “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.” So, if a person has just lost a loved one, nature will look more somber to them.
“Nature” is full of contradictions (intentional and otherwise), and Emerson raises some here. He suggests that the harmonious relationship he shares with nature is simultaneously “new […] and old,” surprising and unsurprising. He also emphasizes that nature doesn’t have a personality of its own: it absorbs people’s emotions and experiences, which is why nature might look more bleak or harsh when a person is overcome with similarly painful feelings of grief.