Best Works by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson was a writer in many forms but he is perhaps most famous for his essays and poems. He began his career discussing mostly religious and social beliefs but over time he moved away from those topics and turned his attention toward philosophy. He is credited with formulating and expressing the concept of Transcendentalism in 1836.

Emerson wrote mostly about individuality, freedom, and nature. He touched on the ability of humankind to realize just about anything as well as the relationship between the soul and the surrounding world. Being friends with Henry David Thoreau, one could expect his work to be very naturalistic.

In his own words, his central doctrine was "the infinitude of the private man." Emerson declared, in one of his most famous speeches, literary independence in the United States and urged Americans to create a writing style all their own and free from Europe.

Below are the best literary works by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The Top Ten
1 Nature (essay)

This is the essay in which he put forward the foundation of Transcendentalism, a belief system that espouses a non-traditional appreciation of nature. He believed that one can learn to understand reality by studying nature.

2 Self-Reliance (essay)

It contains one of Emerson's recurrent themes: the need for each individual to avoid conformity and false consistency, and follow his or her own instincts and ideas. It contains one of Emerson's most famous quotations: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."

Emerson says "Trust thyself." It is about trusting the force within you, working in harmony with your inner self (particularly the laws of nature), doing things naturally instead of mechanically.

3 Brahma (poem)

Named for the Hindu god of creation, this poem is both religious and not at the same time.

4 The American Scholar (speech)

This is his speech given to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge University in which he stated the need for America to declare an intellectual independence from Europe and to develop our nation's own identity.

5 Politics (essay)

This essay lays out his ideas on politics, being in favor of democracy and individualism. He was very opposed to the State and even goes so far as to say, "Every actual state is corrupt."

6 The Poet (essay)

This essay offers a profound look at poetry's role in society. It was a major influence for Walt Whitman to publish his own book of poetry, Leaves of Grass.

7 Experience (essay)

An essay about the over-intellectualization of life and why utopian societies will never work. Quite astounding for someone of that era.

8 The Snow-Storm (poem)

A beautiful rendition of both the fury of a nighttime winter storm as well as the creative artistry it brings. A poem which runs from furious conflict to slow appreciation in the period of a few lines.

9 Divinity School Address (speech)

A speech given to the graduating class of Harvard Divinity School, it argues that moral intuition is more important than religious doctrine.

Come on, people, this is why he was banned from Harvard and this is why we love him!

10 Uriel (poem)

A tale of Gods and Goddesses, lines versus circles in nature, and the difference between "understanding" and "reason". This poem, while deep and complex, has everything.

The Contenders
11 The Over-Soul (essay)
12 Society and Solitude
13 Fugitive Slave Law (Concord & New York Addresses)
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