On Intertextuality: Emerson, Meet Mumford

Ralph Waldo Emerson, founder of Transcendentalism and philosopher extraordinaire, occasionally amuses me. Take, for instance, this passage from Nature:

Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us. Certain mechanical changes, a small alteration in our local position, apprizes us of a dualism. We are strangely affected by seeing the shore from a moving ship, from a balloon, or through tints of an unusual sky. The least change in our point of view gives the whole world a pictorial air.

Okay, that’s not actually the amusing part yet. Be patient. I really love this concept that a change in perspective makes the world seem new. The amusing part comes at the end of the paragraph. Imagine, if you will, our austere and brilliant Emerson in this position:

Turn the eyes upside down, by looking at the landscape through your legs, and how agreeable is the picture, though you have seen it any time these twenty years!

Oh, my, gosh, can you imagine Emerson bending over to look over Walden Pond though his legs? Hilarious!

So, now that we’ve laughed at Emerson a bit, let’s move on to something even greater. I was listening to Mumford & Sons this week (as I do pretty much every day), and I thought about these lyrics from their song “The Cave”:

So come out of your cave walking on your hands
And see the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence when you know the maker’s land

Okay, so Mumford & Sons’ version involves a little bit of gymnastics rather than just bending at the waist, but I love that the idea of looking at the world in a different way appears in both of these texts.

I also appreciate the ideas presented about nature in the two: Emerson talks about freedom (emancipation) while Mumford talks about dependence. [Side note: after reading SPIN’s June cover story on Mumford & Sons in which Marcus Mumford talks about the importance of faith, I’m even more convinced that the biblical references throughout this album are very intentional.] At any rate, I think both Emerson and Mumford might agree that nature points to the existence of a Creator.

Now, for fun, watch this video of Mumford & Sons playing “The Cave” in a bookstore. Go on, you know you want to.

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4 thoughts on “On Intertextuality: Emerson, Meet Mumford

  1. dmark88 says:

    I wonder what instrument Emerson would play if he were in alive today playing with Mumford and Sons?

  2. […] song makes me think of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay Nature. I’ve written about it before here. Plus, this video wins bonus points for being recorded in a book […]

  3. goaskalice says:

    “Oh, my, gosh, can you imagine Emerson bending over to look over Walden Pond though his legs? Hilarious!”

    Emerson was never at Walden Pond. That was Henry David Thoreau :]

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