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Ralph Waldo Emerson

U.S. Poet, essayist and transcendentalist

Selected Quotes


Be and not seem.

A man is related to all nature.

The less government we have the better.

Every man has his own vocation, talent is the call.

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.

To be great is to be misunderstood.

Every man is in some way my superior.

A man is a god in ruins.

Life is a festival only to the wise.

Knowledge is the only elegance.

We boil at different degrees.

Infancy conforms to nobody; all conform to it.

We learn geology the morning after the earthquake.

What is the hardest thing in the world? To think.

Accept your genius and say what you think.

Make yourself necessary to somebody.

The only way to have a friend is to be one.

Insist on yourself; never imitate.

Music causes us to think eloquently.

To live without duties is obscene.

It is not length of life, but depth of life.

The greatest homage to truth is to use it.

The only reward of virtue is virtue.

Go oft to the house of thy friend, for weeds choke the unused path.

We become what we think about all day long.

Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.

There is no knowledge that is not power.

Truth is beautiful, without doubt; but so are lies.

Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet.

The one thing in the world, of value, is the active soul.

Who so would be a man must be a nonconformist.

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.

A great part of courage is the courage of having done the thing before.

Heroism feels and never reasons and is therefore always right.

A good indignation brings out all one's powers.

A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.

Life is a perpetual instruction in cause and effect.

Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.

Beauty rests on necessities.

The line of beauty is the line of perfect economy.

People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.

My chief want in life is someone who shall make me do what I can.

Thought is the blossom; language the bud; action the fruit behind.

We walk alone in the world.

Friends, such as we desire, are dreams and fables.

All life is an experiment.

The more experiments you make the better.

Judge of your natural character by what you do in dreams.

What your heart thinks is great, is great.

The soul's emphasis is always right.

The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.

The only sin we never forgive each other is difference of opinion.

Every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins.

He is great who is what he is from nature, and who never reminds us of others.

A man must consider what a rich realm he abdicates when he becomes a conformist.

Let us treat men and women well; treat them as if they were real. Perhaps they are.

The less a man thinks or knows about his virtues, the better we like him.

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.

Our faith comes in moments, yet there is a depth in those brief moments which constrains us to ascribe more reality to them than to all other experiences.

We boast our emancipation from many superstitions; but if we have broken any idols, it is merely through a transfer of idolatry.

What lies beyond us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than any material force, that thoughts rule the world.

Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.

When I was praised I lost my time, for instantly I turned around to look at the work I had thought slightly of, and that day I made nothing new.

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

It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.

We cannot see things that stare us in the face until the hour comes that the mind is ripened.

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.

Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.

Be true to your own act and congratulate yourself if you have done something strange and extravagant to break the monotony of a decorous age.

Why should we be cowed by the name of Action?

The rich mind lies in the sun and sleeps, and is Nature.

To think is to act.

We are taught by great actions that the universe is the property of every individual in it.

Every great and commanding moment in the annals of the world is the triumph of somebody's enthusiasm.

It is a lesson which all history teaches wise men, to put trust in ideas, and not in circumstances.

If the single man plant himself indomitably on his instincts, and there abide, the huge world will come round to him.

He then learns that in going down into the secrets of his own mind he has descended into the secrets of all minds.

There is no beautifier of complexion or form of behavior like the wish to scatter joy, and not pain, around us.

This gives force to the strong - that the multitude have no habit of self-reliance or original action.

The virtue in most request is conformity.

Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.

Is not marriage an open question, when it is alleged, from the beginning of the world, that such as are in the institution wish to get out, and such as are out wish to get in?

Act, if you like, but you do it at your peril. Men's actions are too strong for them. Show me a man who has acted and who has not been the victim and slave of his action.

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.

Is the acorn better than the oak which is its fullness and completion?

Is the parent better than the child into whom he has cast his ripened being? Whence, then, this worship of the past?

Let man serve law for man; Live for friendship, live for love, For truth's and harmony's behoof; The state may follow how it can, As Olympus follows Jove.

So neigh is grandeur to our dust, So near to God is man When duty whispers low, 'Thou must', The youth replies, 'I can'.

Whatever you do, you need courage.

Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong.

There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right.

To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs.

Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them.

The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him.

A low self-love in the parent desires that his child should repeat his character and fortune.

I suffer whenever I see that common sight of a parent or senior imposing his opinion and way of thinking and being on a young soul to which he is totally unfit. Cannot we let people be themselves and enjoy life in their own way? You are trying to make another you. One's enough.

No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my own constitution; the only wrong what is against it.

Nothing is more disgusting than the crowing about liberty by slaves, as most men are, and the flippant mistaking for freedom of some paper preamble like a Declaration of Independence, or the statute right to vote, by those who have never dared to think or to act.

That which we call character is a reserved force which acts directly by presence, and without means. It is conceived of as a certain undemonstrable force, a familiar or genius, by whose impulses the man is guided, but whose counsels he cannot impart.

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' 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.

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