tree roots

by Kirby Congdon…….

“Consistency is the hob-goblin of little minds” is about all we get from high-school, if we get that. One reader I know, coming upon the phrase “little minds,” wondered about nineteenth-century New England without cars, telephones, electric lights, television or laptops that provide a grip on experience. Weren’t all minds little then? He also misinterpreted the word “consistency” until he got completely through his education. Consistency was, for him, referring to the small-town comfort of having everything conform to a repetitive life of habit, local chores and routines while Emerson, on the other hand, meant that being consistent and having integrity in a world of continuous change was, for small-minded people, difficult to handle. Stability meant, for that youngster whom I knew, being afraid of difference, risk or exploration. It meant living in a cocoon. We all know that any stability at all is rare. Ask the psychiatrist, the psychologist, the tax collector, the landlord, or the staff of any mental-health institution. But for the very young it is dull.

This essay was provoked by remarks made by Dan Chiasson in The New Yorker for the 7th of September 2015 in a review entitled “Ecstasy of Influence. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s American poetry.” However, as Mr. Chiasson points out in his succinct survey of Emerson’s stance, the use of “consistent” would reflect Emerson’s secular emotion of wonder, rather than “humility or even skepticism.” This remark is in regard to Emerson’s realization that extreme grief “went uncompensated” even though religions were supposed to solve every difficulty. This writer interpreted Emerson’s position as a confirmation of his own conclusion that elegies are not show-places for poems because their statements are so often dictated, traditional and dutiful but actually have no message for their writers to rely on, or to discover, since grief is beyond control on the surface of things. Nor does it have any kind of explication as a form of expression or relief.

It is interesting that Chiasson mentions that such a situation “began to erode his faith” and that Emerson’s prose becomes more effective and more poetic than his poetry. It is not, Chiasson suggests, that Emerson was untalented as a poet but that he was ahead of his time and to his credit was probably the first reliable person to recognize Walt Whitman’s individuality in 1855 and his fulfillment of Emerson’s own idea of an American literature, an idea we continue to explore.

Facebook Comments

One thought on “Roots

  1. Commitment to truth or consistency. The stranglehold of an external world brought me to my knees, where a decision was required of me.

    The process of deciding vacillated between extremes, as time was running out.

    Acquiring an open-mindedness often accompanying the dying, was a lifting of my consciousness and awareness to a point that triggered decisive action.

    The student had become ready for all the teachers that were before him.

    I sincerely value and appreciate the depth and beauty of your thoughts.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.