Ralph Waldo Emerson Quotes to Give You a New Lease on Life

, Staff Writer
Updated February 16, 2022
Portrait of Ralph Waldo Emerson With Quote
    Portrait of Ralph Waldo Emerson With Quote
    Keith Lance / DigitalVision Vectors / Getty Images
    Used under Getty Images license

Ralph Waldo Emerson, also known simply as “Waldo,” was an American essayist, poet, philosopher, and abolitionist. Whether in an essay, journal entry or poem, Emerson captured the essence of life and the miraculous in the mundane with his skillful, enduring words.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Words of Wisdom

Emerson played a key role in the transcendentalist movement. Transcendentalism was a philosophical movement that came about in the 1820s and 1930s in New England. It holds that people are inherently good and at their strongest when they are independent and self-reliant. Additionally, they see the divine in everyday life rather than a faraway heaven, particularly in nature. These beliefs are reflected in Emerson’s essays, which explore life, love, death, faith, and much more.

Emerson’s Quotes About Nature

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays are best remembered for their perspectives on humankind’s place in nature. Emerson saw the divine and transcendent in nature, from the most inconsequential flower to the most magnificent mountain.

  • “Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self. There is something which you can do better than another. Listen to the inward voice and bravely obey that. Do the things at which you are great, not what you were never made for.“ - Self-Reliance and Other Essays

  • “The man who renounces himself, comes to himself.” - The Divinity College Address

  • “To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society.” - "Nature"

  • “The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship.” - “Nature”

  • “The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are always inaccessible; but all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence.” - “Nature”

  • “Nature never wears a mean appearance.” - “Nature”

  • “But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and vulgar things.”- “Nature”

  • “The world is emblematic. Parts of speech are metaphors, because the whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind.”- “Nature”

  • “Give me health and a day, and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous.” - Nature

  • “Every natural action is graceful.” - “Nature”

  • “In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says, -- he is my creature, and maugre all his impertinent griefs, he shall be glad with me.” - “Nature”

  • “Have mountains, and waves, and skies, no significance but what we consciously give them, when we employ them as emblems of our thoughts?”- “Nature”

  • “The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.” - “Nature”

  • “Beauty is the mark God sets upon virtue.” - “Nature”

  • “To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again.” - "Beauty"

  • “The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.” - “Beauty”

  • “And as the eye is the best composer, so light is the first of painters. There is no object so foul that intense light will not make beautiful.” - “Beauty”


Emerson Quotes About the Soul and the Self

Emerson’s transcendentalist views held that people were at their best and brightest when they looked inward and found goodness and strength in themselves.

  • “Every man is a new method.” - The Natural History of Intellect

  • “The bitterest tragic element in life to be derived from an intellectual source is the belief in a brute Fate or Destiny.” - The Natural History of Intellect

  • “The poor, short lone fact dies at birth. Memory catches it up into her heaven and bathes it in immortal waters.” - The Natural History of Intellect

  • “People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.” - The Conduct of Life

  • “The man who renounces himself, comes to himself.” - The Divinity College Address

  • “The sublime is excited in me by the great stoical doctrine, Obey thyself.” - The Divinity College Address

  • “Wherever a man comes, there comes revolution.” - The Divinity College Address

  • “None believeth in the soul of man, but only in some man or person old and departed.” - The Divinity College Address

  • “The imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity.” - The Divinity College Address

  • “He who is in love is wise and is becoming wiser, sees newly every time he looks at the object beloved, drawing from it with his eyes and his mind those virtues which it possesses.” - Address on the Method of Nature

  • “Nothing can be preserved that is not good.” - In Praise of Books

  • “Thought is all light, and publishes itself to the universe.” - Literary Ethics

  • “The ancestor of every action is a thought.” - Spiritual Laws

  • “​​We have a great deal more kindness than is ever spoken.” - Friendship

  • “Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing.” - Art

  • “Words are finite organs of the infinite mind.” - “Nature”

  • “A man is a god in ruins.When men are innocent,life shall be longer and shall pass into the immortal, as gently as we awake from dreams” - “Nature”

  • “Truth, and goodness, and beauty are but different faces of the same all.”- “Nature”


Ralph Waldo Emerson Poetry and Quotes About Literature

In addition to being a revolutionary essayist and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson was also a skilled poet with a passion for literature.

  • “The true philosopher and the true poet are one, and a beauty, which is truth, and a truth, which is beauty, is the aim of both.”- “Nature”

  • “The poet, the painter, the sculptor, the musician, the architect, seek each to concentrate this radiance of the world on one point, and each in his several work to satisfy the love of beauty which stimulates him to produce.” - “Nature”

  • “Poetry teaches the enormous force of a few words, and, in proportion to the inspiration, checks loquacity.” - Parnassus

  • “There are two classes of poets — the poets by education and practice, these we respect; and poets by nature, these we love.” - Parnassus

  • “Never read any book that is not a year old.” - In Praise of Books

  • “I wish to write such rhymes as shall not suggest a restraint, but contrariwise the wildest freedom.” - Journals (27 June, 1839)

  • “The novelist should not make any character act absurdly, but only absurdly as seen by others. For it is so in life.” - The Natural History of Intellect

  • “Classics which at home are drowsily read have a strange charm in a country inn, or in the transom of a merchant brig.” - English Traits

  • “I hung my verse in the wind/ Time and tide their faults will find.” - "The Test"

  • “Sunshine cannot bleach the snow,/ Nor time unmake what poets know.” - "The Test"

  • “Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air’s salubrity.” - "Merlin’s Song"

  • “On this green bank, by this soft stream,/ We set to-day a votive stone,/ That memory may their deed redeem,/ When like our sires our sons are gone.” - "Concord Hymn"

  • “...If eyes were made for seeing,/Then beauty is its own excuse for Being.” - ":The Rhodora"

  • “There is a melody born of melody,/ Which melts the world into a sea.” - "Fate"

  • “Olympian bards who sung/ Divine Ideas below,/ Which always find us young,/ And always keep us so.” - "Ode to Beauty"


Divine Ideas

Ralph Waldo Emerson is hailed as one of the great American wordsmiths of the 19th century, along with his friend and mentee Henry David Thoreau. Discover other great minds and quotes by reading: