By Lloyd Willis
Brings ecocriticism into dialog with severe American experiences ways to literary canon formation.
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In 1964, in Waiting for the End, Leslie Fiedler presented Emerson as the progenitor of one “of four lines of descent in our verse” (the other lines originate in Longfellow, Poe, and Whitman), without whom it “is impossible to deal with . . Frost and E. A. Robinson” (196, 209). In 1968, in American Poets: From the Puritans to the Present, Hyatt Waggoner reasserted Emerson’s centrality by arguing that “without understanding Emerson we cannot possibly begin to understand the later development of our poetry.
As he advocates this turn into the self, however, Thoreau calls upon the language of imperialism. “Be rather the Mungo Park, the Lewis and Clark and Frobisher, of your own streams and oceans; explore your own higher latitudes,” he commands, “be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought” (300–301). Despite all the emphasis Thoreau places upon exploring interior wildernesses, his entire discussion is rife with exotic locations (Tierra del Fuego, Africa, China, Japan) and the explorers, such as Mungo Park, who “opened” them to the West.
When he describes human impact on the environ- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau 23 ment—“a little chipping, baking, patching, and washing”—he transforms human environmental impact into women’s work that is being performed upon a presumably female body. ” Men, Emerson claims, and particularly men “in the streets of cities,” need nature to help them “believe and adore” a thoroughly masculine Christian God (8, 9). Nature is “so needful to man,” that it is a healing “commodity” capable of restoring mind, body, masculinity, and sense of self: To the body and mind which have been cramped by noxious work or company, nature is medicinal and restores their tone.