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Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 – April 27, 1882) was an American poet.

Sourced quotes

  • "The sublime is excited in me by the great stoical doctrine, Obey thyself."[1]
  • "The man who renounces himself, comes to himself."[1]
  • "None believeth in the soul of man, but only in some man or person old and departed."[1]
  • "The imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity. The inventor did it because it was natural to him, and so in him it has a charm. In the imitator something else is natural, and he bereaves himself of his own beauty, to come short of another man's."[1]
  • He who is in love is wise and is becoming wiser, sees newly every time he looks at the object beloved, drawing from it with his eyes and his mind those virtues which it possesses.
  • Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which animates all whom it floats, and you are without effort impelled to truth, to right and a perfect contentment.
  • I fancy I need more than another to speak (rather than write), with such a formidable tendency to the lapidary style. I build my house of boulders.
    • Letter to Carlyle
  • Yet a man may love a paradox, without losing either his wit or his honesty.
  • Literature is the effort of man to indemnify himself for the wrongs of his condition.
    • Walter Savage Landor, from The Dial, XII
  • There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact.
  • The two parties which divide the State, the party of Conservatism and that of Innovation are very old, and have disputed the possession of the world ever since it was made ... Now one, now the other gets the day, and still the fight renews itself as if for the first time, under new names and hot personalities ... Innovation is the salient energy; Conservatism the pause on the last movement.
    • The Conservative, via Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Cycles of American History (Houghton Mifflin, 1986) p. 23
  • I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of "LEAVES OF GRASS." I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed. I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy. It meets the demand I am always making of what seemed the sterile and stingy nature, as if too much handiwork, or too much lymph in the temperament, were making our western wits fat and mean.
    I give you joy of your free and brave thought. I have great joy in it. I find incomparable things said incomparably well, as they must be. I find the courage of treatment which so delights us, and which large perception only can inspire.
    I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little, to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, namely, of fortifying and encouraging…
  • Classics which at home are drowsily read have a strange charm in a country inn, or in the transom of a merchant brig.
  • I find the Englishman to be him of all men who stands firmest in his shoes. They have in themselves what they value in their horses, — mettle and bottom.
    • English Traits
  • "Nothing can be preserved that is not good."[2]    
Simple: Nothing can be kept that is bad.
What it means: If something is not good, do not keep it as it is not worth it. But if it is good, keep it, as it could be useful later on.
  • Never read any book that is not a year old.
    • In Praise of Books
Simple: Never read books that are not one year old yet.
  • If the colleges were better, if they ... had the power of imparting valuable thought, creative principles, truths which become powers, thoughts which become talents, — if they could cause that a mind not profound should become profound, — we should all rush to their gates: instead of contriving inducements to draw students, you would need to set police at the gates to keep order in the in-rushing multitude.
    • The Celebration of Intellect (1861)
  • Only the great generalizations survive. The sharp words of the Declaration of Independence, lampooned then and since as glittering generalities, have turned out blazing ubiquities that will burn forever and ever.
    • A lecture on 'Books' delivered in 1864.
    • The phrase 'glittering generalities' had been used by Rufus Choate to describe the declaration of the rights of man in the Preamble to the Constitution (The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1903-4) Vol. 10, p. 88, note 1).
  • The key to the period appeared to be that the mind had become aware of itself ... The young men were born with knives in their brain, a tendency to introversion, self-dissection, anatomizing of motives.
  • A mollusk is a cheap edition [of man] with a suppression of the costlier illustrations, designed for dingy circulation, for shelving in an oyster-bank or among the seaweed.
    • Power and Laws of Thought (c. 1870)
  • Poetry teaches the enormous force of a few words, and, in proportion to the inspiration, checks loquacity.
    • Parnassus, Preface (1874)
  • There are two classes of poets — the poets by education and practice, these we respect; and poets by nature, these we love.
    • Parnassus, Preface
  • "What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered."[3]    
Simple: What is a weed? A weed is a plant who's good parts have not been discovered.
  • "The bitterest tragic element in life to be derived from an intellectual source is the belief in a brute Fate or Destiny."[4]
  • " All the thoughts of a turtle are turtles, and of rabbits, rabbits."[4]
Simple: All the thoughts of a turtle are about turtles, and all the thoughts of rabbits are about rabbits.
  • "I regard it as the irresistible effect of the Copernican astronomy to have made the theological scheme of redemption absolutely incredible."[5]
  • "What is there in 'Paradise Lost' to elevate and astonish like Herschel or Somerville?"[5]
  • "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."[6]    
Simple: Do not go to the place that the path leads you to. Instead, do not use the path and make your own path.
What it means: You should not follow how other people have lived. You should go your own way, and make your life interesting and distinct from others.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 The Divinity College Address (1838)
  2. In Praise of Books (1860)
  3. Fortune of the Republic (1878)
  4. 4.0 4.1 The Natural History of Intellect (1893)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson, the Mind On Fire (Univ. of Calif Press 1995), page 124
  6. Pathmaker Coaching Quotes

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