The Transparent Eye-Ball: Depicting Wilderness and Innocence


During the last week, we have dissected and interpreted passages from Nature. Specifically, we have interpreted Emerson’s reference to the transparent eye. I want to take a look further into this passage and reflect my thoughts on to what Emerson means.

“Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough… I become a transparent eye-ball. I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of god.

Emerson does a fantastic job at setting up the scene at the beginning of this quote. He paints a very Georgic scene representing the wilderness in its everlasting divinity. His next part is very intriguing to me. He exclaims that he has no exasperations of good fortune, which entails me to believe that Emerson wants to be in the woods not for any physical or monetary gain, but to observe what our world has to offer throughout its vast areas of wilderness. He’s actually so excited to be in the wilderness that he’s slightly fearful of his excitement.

I personally feel that this is exactly how wilderness should be perceived. People should not want to visit nature to observe gain, but should perceive nature as pure and innocent. It’s within the nature of all humans to want to receive perpetual gain out of spending time on something, but in this instance, you should want to venture out into the wilderness solely for the pleasure and excitement of being outside.

The part about casting off his years and the snake ties together as a metaphor. Emerson is casting off his years just like a snake sheds its skin to make room for new skin. He’s depicting this sense of return to youthfulness, while still proceeding on further into life.

All of these sentences fit together to prepare us for the segment about the transparent eye. So far, Emerson has painted a picture and metaphorically explained how people should perceive the wilderness not as a place for monetary gain, but as a place for emotional gain; that is, solely being in nature for the sake of being there.

The transparent eye metaphorically represents this message. He’s saying that he’s an eye: meaning he can see and observe all the things around him, but he’s transparent in the sense that he’s just visiting the wilderness. He’s not a permanent residence of the wilderness, but he’s something that can be seen right through because he’ll only be there for a short time.

Emerson does a fantastic job, in my opinion, of asserting the fact that humans should not visit nature for the sake of gain, but solely for the sake of eternal pleasure; and that nature should be preserved for all the years to come.


7 thoughts on “The Transparent Eye-Ball: Depicting Wilderness and Innocence

  1. Great post and thanks for including that updated and more modern version of the transparent eyeball drawing! I’m curious and can’t tell based on the small image size: is the eye transparent in that we can see through it to the sky behind it, or is it reflective, mirroring the patch of sky that it is looking up at? I think the distinction between transparency and reflection might be a useful one for thinking about the tension in Emerson’s passage. That is, in the actual writing of the passage (its style, its form, etc.) is Emerson offering reflection or is he offering transparency? Do we as readers see through the passage and catch a glimpse of nature itself, or do we see nature as it is reflected in Emerson’s language and mind? Or perhaps a little of both?

    Also, I’m not sure I would use the term georgic to describe this passage or the essay as a whole. Emerson might be drawing on a pastoral tradition but he is certainly not interested in scenes of working on the land.

  2. I really enjoyed your post and agree with much of what you have to say. However, I am not sure if I agree with, or understand, what you mean by saying his transparency symbolizes the fact that he is only visiting this setting? I see that you explain that it is because he can be seen through, but I am not sure if I follow.

  3. Stephen: I think the eye is mirroring the sky that is looking up at it. It looks more like a reflection when I blow the image up and zoom in. Also, I only used the work Georgic to try and describe Emerson’s depiction of nature. To me, it seemed as though he was interested in how the land is used and for what purposes it’s used. This part of the quote makes me believe that. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years.” (Emerson, 29) I thought Emerson was trying to say that the land should be something that is used not for harvest, because that would provide fiscal gain, but for enjoyment purposes. I felt that Georgic best represented this meaning, but after today’s lecture, I see why it does not fit as well.

  4. Megan: First of all, thank you. I tried to show that Emerson is transparent in the sense that he’s not permanently using the land for economical gains, but only temporarily “visiting” the land for pleasure purposes.

  5. That’s a great point about the phrase “plantations of God”; you are correct that Emerson seems to be framing the woods as the location for a different kind of work, not work for strictly economic or material gain (though one might wonder what kind of gains Emerson received from his writing and lecturing), but work of a spiritual and poetic kind. However, as he seems to be idealizing that work, the pastoral might make more sense as a lens through which to view this scene. But the line between pastoral and georgic is a slippery one, and sometimes it’s not absolutely clear. Great ideas, keep up the good conversation!

    • My apologies Ron. This blog was for educational purposes only in a college environmental literature course and was private for only course members to access. A student included your artwork in his post; I will take it down for you.

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