The Poetry of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Contributor: Melissa Kowalski. Lesson ID: 11517

For some, life is a cosmic "Where's Waldo?" game, looking for God. Emerson believed God was everywhere, equally in worms, trees, and geniuses. Study his life and poems and create a word search puzzle!

categories

Literary Studies

subject
Reading
learning style
Visual
personality style
Beaver
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

Where do you think God resides?

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Image from RWE.org

It might seem unusual to start a lesson on poetry with a question about God, but this question was highly important to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Emerson, a nineteenth-century poet, essayist, and philosopher, was also a pastor. Although he preached about a Christian view of religion and God, he also believed in a spiritual essence of God that was located inside everyone and everything. Emerson believed these inner spirits were all interconnected, and that formed the basis of his philosophy of Transcendentalism, which you will learn more about later in this lesson.

To learn more about Emerson's life, read Emerson, Ralph Waldo, from the American Council of Learned Societies, and watch Ralph Waldo Emerson's life by bekahhbabee (below). As you read the article and watch the video, answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper:

  • What type of education did Emerson receive?
  • What two subjects did most of the Emerson brothers study?
  • What disease did both Emerson and his first wife have?
  • Why did Emerson stop being a minister?
  • According to Emerson, what was the similarity between working as a lecturer and a minister?
  • What were two views that proponents of Transcendentalism held?
  • What was Emerson's critique of religion, which he explained in the "Divinity School Address"?
  • According to Emerson, what is the role of a poet?
  • What movement did Emerson support in the 1850s?
  • What were some of the themes that Emerson espoused in his writing?
  • What was Emerson's "organic theory of poetry"?

 

After you've finished answering the questions, discuss your answers with your parent or teacher. Was there anything that surprised you about Emerson's life? Discuss your thoughts with your parent or teacher.


Do you remember what philosophical movement Emerson joined in the 1830s? If you said "Transcendentalism," then you're correct!

The Transcendental movement started in the 1830s in New England as a reaction against the rigid Christian teachings of the Unitarian Church. Instead of believing that God could only be found in the institution of the church and in the Bible, Transcendentalists believed that God could be found anywhere, but especially in nature and inside each person's mind. This belief was controversial for some conservative religious practitioners, but other people championed Transcendental beliefs, and the members of the movement became famous during their lifetimes.

To learn more about the Transcendental movement and its characteristics, watch American Literature Periods - Transcendentalism by MusicalBacons (below). As you watch the video, write down the rules of Transcendentalism and the characteristics of Emerson's literary style. When you have finished taking notes, keep them handy and move on to the Got It? section, where you will use the notes to help you analyze several of Emerson's poems:

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