Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Champion of the Self

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Essayist, Philosopher, and Poet (1803-1882)


Last Sunday, April 27, was the anniversary of Ralph Waldo Emerson‘s death. Emerson’s words from his essays had been sources of inspiration to me since the first time I read a few of his works, more particularly his essay ‘Self Reliance’. What he said about life and about nature of oneself opened my eyes into philosophies that made me change my view of many things in the world, including (and especially) myself.

Known as an Idealist and as a Transcendentalist (like Henry David Thoreau), Emerson’s thoughts had influenced many of his readers. Emerson’s published journals contained his thoughts about himself, about individuality. It was as if he’s writing about himself and that he’s in constant deep conversation with his soul.

At the present, he may just be one of the most quoted intellectuals in the world as many of his words I see quite frequently from blogs and social media. The following are a few quotes taken from his different essays and poems:


“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.”


“Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”


“Make the most of yourself….for that is all there is of you.”


“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”


“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”


“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”


“When you were born you were crying and everyone else was smiling. Live your life so at the end, your’re the one who is smiling and everyone else is crying.” 


“Life consists of what man is thinking about all day.” 


“Don’t be pushed by your problems. Be led by your dreams.” 


“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”


“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”


“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”


“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”


“Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.”


“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”


“Be silly. Be honest. Be kind.”


“People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.”


“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”


“Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”


“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.” 


“All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.”


“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.”


“Love, and you shall be loved.” 


Reading his essays are worth your time. For me, his thoughts are windows to the discovery of oneself.


*image from aphorism4all.com


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