With current events weighing heavily on my mind, the hopeful tone of this essay turned into something a little more sinister in my own thoughts when I first read it. As Emerson discussed here, the ideas presented in “Circles” do not end with him, and therefore from the concept of new ideas bringing youth and infancy to generations, another idea arose within me as I watch the pandemic peel back the moldy carpet’s edge.
Emerson said, “Every man is not so much a workman in the world, as he is a suggestion of what he should be.” This mirrored reality, of an essential worker in the middle of a pandemic being not the CEO’s or the men in suits but the person bagging your groceries at check out. I got to thinking about the circle of consumption, and how it’s brought us here, how it has reared its ugly head and exposed a lot of wrongs in our society. It felt as though Emerson was touching upon the circle of consumerism, of constantly being in competition with your friends and growing jealous o their ideas instead of learning alongside them. Of a man finishing his story and the ideas end there with it being sold for profit—everything must be for a financial gain. Though it is not a stagnant line, creation is a circle, there must be something to come back to for anything to have real meaning. Though too often we are told to take our ideas and creations and sell them. Their only worth is whatever is on the price tag.
On page 179 Emerson says, “One man’s justice is another man’s injustice.” This is something I feel when I drive into the city and see people sleeping in tents beside a home owner’s convention. I feel this disparity when I think of those without a place to quarantine themselves in. While Emerson spoke of debts in a more symbolic sense, to many these debts he spoke of are very real. The broker and the landlord concern themselves with this monetary debt, their tenants are feeling the debt of grief, of fear, and of debt to those struggling more than they are.
It is difficult to reckon with. While there are people hoarding; hoarding the wealth, supplies, and land—there are also those who have nothing to their name. I feel the disparity. Emerson asks the questions, “Does he owe no debt but money? And are all claims on him to be postponed to a landlords or bankers?” I feel the weight of this when the leader of our country says two percent of Americans must die for the economy to remain stable. To the banker and the landlord, the CEO’s and the people in suits circling like vultures on wall street, justice has been served. We are given a stipend and justice has been served to the American people. Except for those dying on the streets without access to medical care, those who do nothing to stimulate the economy, their lives are deemed lesser, accused of sin like sloth and unproductivity. They don’t count. There is no justice for the working man, for the man in the grocery store deemed essential but whos livelihood and pay do not account for this title.
This circle of consumption, of capitalistic greed, it is vicious. Those stuck on this old idea our country is built on grow old. “The man and woman of seventy assume to know all, they have outlived their hope, they renounce aspiration.” The notion that the working man has more in common with a billionaire than the man on the streets has done more damage than we know. It is a disease, “Nature abhors the old, and old age seems the only disease.” But from rot and decay can come growth. Everything is a circle. Change is everywhere. Emerson said, “the universe is fluid and volatile,” and that rings true for me, especially now. Money isn’t lasting, it is powerful but it is not lasting, and there are far more of us than there are of them.
These are big ideas, but something has to be done. It worries me that when this is all done we will continue to go back to a poisonous individualism, this self-serving ideal that many of us uphold. I know that the universe does not stand still, things will continue no matter how stubborn we are. As Emerson pointed out though, we cannot remain still, because the Earth is spinning in an eternal circle, and all we can do is try and catch up.
“The Poet” Entry:
Reading in isolation is something I usually cherish—being alone with my own thoughts and comments to indulge however I please. Reading Emerson in isolation however proves to be an almost herculean task. I read one sentence again and again and come away with the same question—what is he trying to say? The moment I think I have discerned a message, he goes on another string of ideas that loses me completely.
I’ve read some other posts from my classmates expressing this same sentiment. Digital annotations are not the same as an in class discussion, it is hard to make up that human interaction and understanding you would get in an in person class. I struggle to keep up with those annotations myself due to current life events, and though reading others thoughts helps, it is not the same, through no fault of anyone of course.
I discussed this with my mother. She saw I was struggling and thought it was unusual because this isn’t something I have found particularly difficult before. I’m frustrated, falling behind, and more stressed than ever before. While reading “The Poet” I expressed my frustration in regards to Emerson with my mother and she agreed, going so far as to say, “if you can’t express ideas in a way everyone can understand what is the point.” It got me thinking about accessibility of writing, about the accessibility of the world right now and how we are needing to shape things around its current disability. I could go on a tangent about disability rights and how shameful it is that now we make things like education more accessible only when able bodied people are suddenly affected by something—but I will refrain for the sake of word count and keeping to the topic at hand.
A thought I had when I began, “The Poet” was the way Emerson writes about the subject—the poet. I began to think of my mother, who is not a writer and is not very educated by definition of most, and how almost offensive it felt for Emerson to write about the poet as if they were of higher intellect than those who do not meet these requirements. Though my opinion changed when I read the sentence, “every man is so far a poet as to be susceptible to these enchantments of nature: for all men have the thoughts whereof the universe is the celebration.” Every man being, “hunters, farmers, grooms, and butchers,” those who don’t appear to have the intellectualism Emerson writes of. He had answered one of my grievances, saying the poet exists in everyone. The way my mother finds poetry in her own passions is the same as the poet with words.
Though something I could not stop thinking about while reading was the fact that people like my mother can’t even enjoy sentiments like this because of how intimidating Emersons’ work is. To read one of his essays alone and glean some sort of message from it is nearly impossible. It made me sad to hear my mom express how much she disliked reading him when there are messages like these embedded in them. These barriers sadden me. The fact that the very people Emerson writes of can’t understand his work is disappointing. The value of reading together, of being able to break the text down in person is highlighted by the isolation we are living in. We have the technology now to help break these barriers, and I am trying my best to make better use of this, whether that’s searching online for interpretations or looking at my classmate’s posts. I hope to understand Emerson better, and maybe my mother and I can read it together if we find a moment to sit down during all of this mess.