Ralph Waldo Emerson Quotes

“It’s not what you look at that matters, its’ what you see.”

“The bluebird carries the sky on his back.”

“The Artist is he who detects and applies the law of observation of the works of Genius, whether of man or nature.  The Artisan is he who merely applies the rules which others have detected.”

That virtue we appreciate is as much ours as another’s. We see so much only as we possess. June 22, 1839

It takes two to speak the truth, — one to speak, and another to hear.

No definition of poetry is adequate unless it be poetry itself. The most accurate analysis by the rarest wisdom is yet insufficient, and the poet will instantly prove it false by setting aside its requisitions. It is indeed all that we do not know. The poet does not need to see how meadows are something else than earth, grass, and water, but how they are thus much. He does not need discover that potato blows are as beautiful as violets, as the farmer thinks, but only how good potato blows are. The poem is drawn out from under the feet of the poet, his whole weight has rested on this ground. It has a logic more severe than the logician’s.  You might as well think to go in pursuit of the rainow, and embrace it on the next hill, as to embrace the whole of poetry even in thought. 

Have no mean hours, but be grateful for every hour, and accept what it brings. The reality will make any sincere record respectable. No day will have been wholly misspent, if one sincere, thoughtful page has been written. Let the daily tide leave some deposit on these pages, as it leaves sand and shells on the shore. So much increase of terra firma. this may be a calendar of the ebbs and flows of the soul; and on these sheets as a beach, the waves may cast up pearls and seaweed. July 6, 1840

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.

August 19, 1851

It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about? Letter to Harrison Blake (16 November 1857)

An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.  April 20, 184

It is a great art to saunter. April 26, 1841

  • If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours … In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.
    • Commonly misquoted, converted to imperative mood, as “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler”.
  • I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan- like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to “glorify God and enjoy him forever”.
  • Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.

One cannot too soon forget his errors and misdemeanors. To dwell long upon them is to add to the offense. Repentance and sorrow can only be displaced by something better, which is as free and original as if they had not been. January 9, 1842

And the cost of a thing it will be remembered as the amount of life it requires to be exchanged for it. After December 6, 1845

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.”

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” – Henry David Thoreau

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a path in the mind.  To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again.  To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

“If a man constantly aspires is he not elevated?”

“We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.”

“In the long run, men hit only what they aim at.  Therefore, they had better aim at something high.”

“Our moments of inspiration are not lost though we have no particular poem to show for them, for those experiences have left an indelible impression, and we are ever and anon reminded of them.”

“That man is rich whose pleasures are the cheapest.”

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