Saturday, June 14, 2014

Earth Song

Earth sings a broader song than the stanza of human existence.

Some mistakenly suppose we possess Earth.

Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem Hamatreya considers an ego-centric world view.

In the poem Hamatreya, Emerson's narrator Hamatreya is believed to come from a young man found in Hindu scripture who:
upon hearing Earth chant a song to him, loses all earthly ambitions.
Emerson's Hamatreya examines a series of thematic contrasts:
  • Material versus Spiritual - Emerson begins the poem by listing the surnames of Concord settlers. The settlers define themselves by material possessions. Emerson then enumerates the settler's crops, "Hay, corn, roots, hemp, flax, apples, wool, and wood" to emphasize the zeitgeist of ownership, consumption, and alteration of the land through agriculture.
  • Reality versus Illusion - Emerson's Concord settlers believe their notion that nature can be controlled constitutes a special relationship with the land. Because the settlers work the land in an agricultural sense, they view the harvest as the fruits of their labor rather than the result of natural processes. The settlers develop a deluded sense of ownership and the illusion of dominance of their domain.
  • Transience versus Permanence - Emerson submits that the influence of a generation does not extend much beyond the human life-cycle. Further he implies that those thinking to the contrary are misguided by hubris. Ironically, time proves the land is indifferent to the settlers. The existence and impact of the settlers is transient and impermanent.
  • Separateness versus Unity - Emerson describes a world perceived in particulars rather than in totality. The Earth transcends the blink of a human lifetime with indifference. A parcel of Earth is a comparatively insignificant human contrivance. Emerson implies that by recognizing the inevitability of death, and by facing our own physical decomposition, we might better appreciate our physical unity with Earth.
  • Human History versus Universal History - Emerson's poem affirms a more spiritual and universal outlook on history that extends beyond the limits of human history. Human history is typically limited to human events and the achievements of individuals. Emerson addresses the conundrum of reconciling human experience with universal truths and the spiritual realm.
Emerson's Hamatreya includes a poem within a poem. Hamatreya has a section entitled EARTH-SONG, where narrator Hamatreya listens to Earth's chant. The closing stanza of the Earth Song section is the voice of a personified Earth considering control and permanence:
They called me theirs,
Who so controlled me;
Yet every one
Wished to stay, and is gone,
How am I theirs,
If they cannot hold me,
But I hold them?
Emerson deftly addresses our proclivity to hubristic dominance. He reminds us that humans are little more than recycled carbon "in the chill of the grave".
Him to his land, a lump of mould the more.