Transpartisan Note #108

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner

Write it on your heart
that every day is the best day in the year.
He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day
who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety.

Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt crept in.
Forget them as soon as you can, tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit
to be cumbered with your old nonsense.

This new day is too dear,
with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on the yesterdays.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Collected Poems and Translations


In the 1830s & 40s, Ralph Waldo Emerson gave Americans thoughts to live by.  Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., himself a major essayist, called Emersion’s 1837 speech ‘The American Scholar’ America’s ‘intellectual Declaration of Independence.’  This speech followed on Emerson’s powerful essay ‘Nature.’ Here, from Wikipedia, is one accurate summary of the context for both creations:

‘The American Scholar’ was a speech given by Ralph Waldo Emerson on August 31, 1837, to the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard College at the First Parish in Cambridge in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  He was invited to speak in recognition of his groundbreaking work ‘Nature,’ published a year earlier, in which he established a new way for America’s fledgling society to regard the world.

Sixty years after declaring independence, American culture was still heavily influenced by Europe, and Emerson, for possibly the first time in the country’s history, provided a visionary philosophical framework for escaping ‘from under its iron lids’ and building a new, distinctly American cultural identity.

We add that ‘Self–Reliance,’ Emerson’s most remembered essay, with its arresting line ‘A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds . . . ‘, provides, to those who read it, sustenance and great guidance for navigating today’s turbulent world.  The study notes for this essay, provided at the Emerson archived site, summarizes it saying in part:  ‘ . . . all truth has to do with the “infinitude of the private man”.’

As we forget the blunders and absurdities, ours and others, of the past year and begin the next year well and serenely, with too high a spirit, we remind all:

Every year is the best year.


(Image: Christmas in the Ralph Waldo Emerson study, Emerson House, Historic Concord, Massachusetts.)

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