Emerson explains that, when he’s in nature, he “become[s] a transparent eyeball”—a symbol that holds several layers of significance. The “transparent eyeball” represents the value of intuition and having personal experiences in nature; the interconnectedness of all things; and the ability to see and understand that interconnectedness.
The eyeball is “transparent,” which reflects the idea that a person comes to a clearer understanding of God and the world by spending time in nature. Emerson argues that people must not allow religion, tradition, science, or authority figures to dictate how they understand the natural and supernatural. He refers to an eyeball that allows him to “see all,” which underscores that a person’s own intuition and firsthand observation of the natural world is what gives them this valuable clarity and understanding. In line with this, Emerson also suggests that being in nature gives a person greater perspective on their own problems—which are likely small compared to nature’s vastness. Emerson writes, “In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows,” and he speaks from firsthand experience when he says that “In the woods […] I feel that nothing can befall me in life […] which nature cannot repair.”
Significantly, Emerson refers to just one eyeball—he doesn’t become a set of eyes, as might be more expected, but one single “transparent eyeball.” The eyeball’s striking singularity represents Emerson’s broader idea that all things are interconnected and form one unified whole. After becoming this “transparent eyeball,” Emerson writes, “I am nothing. I see all.” The words “nothing” and “all” again align with the idea that all things, no matter how small and insignificant, are part of an integrated whole.
Just before his reference to the eyeball, Emerson explains how there might be 20 or 30 farms dotted across a swath of land, but those farms nevertheless make up one unified landscape. Right after this explanation, Emerson writes, “There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet.” The reference to a person’s “eye,” in conjunction with the idea that all things are part of a larger whole, suggests that the “transparent eyeball” can also represent the poet. Unlike most people, poets see nature clearly—that is, they understand the unity and interconnectedness of all things, which Emerson suggests all people should strive for.
The Transparent Eyeball Quotes in Nature
In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life—no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground—my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.
Therefore, that spirit, that is, the Supreme Being, does not build up nature around us, but puts it forth through us, as the life of the tree puts forth new branches and leaves through the pores of the old. As a plant upon the earth, so a man rests upon the bosom of God: he is nourished by unfailing fountains, and draws, at his need, inexhaustible power.