E491 RALPH WALDO EMERSON QUESTIONS

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Assigned: from The American Scholar (717-21); "The Poet" (724-39).

From The American Scholar

1. On 721-22, how does Emerson describe the true scholar -- what does he mean by "scholarship"?

2. On 722-23, what criticism does Emerson make of how universities and colleges conceive of education? What conflict between genuine education for individuals and the broader imperatives of American society underlies the problem Emerson describes? Does what he writes accord with your own experience as a student thus far? Explain.

3. General question: describe Emerson's method as a prose stylist -- how would you characterize his way of setting forth his claims and then backing up or qualifying them?

"The Poet"

4. On 724-25, Emerson writes that poets are "representative." Of what, exactly, are they representative -- what is Emerson's definition of a poet?

5. On 727, Emerson writes that we eagerly await the birth of a great poet. But on 728-30, what errors in judgment does he say we are prone to making about poetry and poets, and how can we correct these errors and arrive at a true understanding of poets?

6. On 731-34, what characteristically "romantic" claims does Emerson make about the nature and development of language and the special relationship that poets have with language? Further, what insights does he offer about those romantic staple concepts "imagination" and "expression"?

7. On 735, Emerson writes that "Every thought is also a prison; every heaven is also a prison." How do surrounding passages on 735-36 explain that claim? And in what sense in "mysticism" the product of an error? How do poets correct this error?

8. On 737-39, what task does Emerson set for the first genuinely American poet? Do you find his advice consistent with other comments he has made in this essay? Why or why not? To what extent do you think Walt Whitman would fit Emerson's prescription for the qualities needed in a truly American poet?

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B., ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 1st ed. New York: Norton, 2001. ISBN 0-393-97429-4.