Saturday, February 25, 2012

Solitude: Nature v. Chamber

While reading the remainder of “Nature”, I found myself fighting an internal battle (which caused much distraction) over whether or not I agreed with Emerson in his first chapter. In chapter one (also entitled Nature), Emerson says “to go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars.” At first, I completely balked at this idea. Is Emerson crazy? I feel the least alone when I look at the stars or walk in the woods or hike a mountain on my own. For the longest time, going into nature was one of the only means I had through which I could feel “not alone”. Growing up with few friends in a very isolated yet forest-rich village, I spent a lot of my time “alone” in nature but I can never remember feeling lonely. No, I felt lonely when I was alone in a house or a room.

That particular thought caused me to wonder if I was thinking about this all wrong. I was equating lonely with alone which is wrong (especially if you agree with Kelly Clarkson and every other empowering post-break up song ever written). In thinking back, while I never felt lonely tramping around the Weld woods, did I ever feel alone? When hiking on my own these days I never feel lonely, but do I ever feel alone? Well, yes, I do. I think in separating “lonely” from “alone”, I was able to understand and agree (for the most part) with this passage of Emerson’s.

5 comments:

  1. I think part of Emerson's definition of "alone" in this passage has to do with withdrawing from one's self, as well. You may have felt lonely when you were alone in a house or room because you were drawn into yourself and recognized the absence of human company, but outdoors the idea of being alone and longing for human company feels a little petty.

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    1. I like Noelle's comment - the reason one is not truly alone in one's study is that one is still surrounded by the trappings of a "self" - the stuff that tells us who we are. Outside, though, we can begin to feel what it means to be alive apart, not only from other people, but from that kind of self-consciousness.

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  2. Though so many (myself included) consider "alone" and "lonely" as synonymous, and more often than not misuse the two in everyday conversation, I agree that there is definitely a distinct difference between the two. When one is alone, there is simply an absence of others. On the other hand, the solitude of being lonely has an emotional attachment. One can be perfectly content alone, but most of the time being lonely is associated with being sad due to the absence of company.

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