Although marred by the Civil War, America in the 19th century was also a time of the great flowering of literary genius and philosophical independence. Led by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, these luminaries of the American Renaissance were foundational to the modern movements for peace, human rights and environmental conservation.
Creating Waldens: An East-West Conversation on the American Renaissance is a deft and thoughtful dialogue by Daisaku Ikeda, Ronald A. Bosco and Joel Myerson. Both Bosco and Myerson are previous presidents of the Thoreau Society and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society. Over the course of 18 "conversations" the dialogue examines the lives, works and thought of Emerson, Thoreau and Walt Whitman, focusing on the universality and relevance of their insights on the individual and society, our relationship with nature, education, and the imperative to better the world.
The central figure in Creating Waldens is naturally Thoreau, whose "ideas are as current today as they were a century and a half ago," Bosco notes. Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rachael Carson, for example, all credit Thoreau with inspiring their own body of work.
Citing the three giants of the American Renaissance as "cherished friends of my youth," Ikeda identifies similarities between Buddhist principles on individual empowerment and interdependence of all things with Thoreauvian ideals on "self-culture" and concord with nature. Ikeda writes: "Thoreau, too, trained a powerful eye on the inner human cosmos."
Ikeda also points to the poetic power of imagination, at which Whitman excelled, for its capacity to inspire empathy and transcend differences. In Myerson's view, moreover, Emerson and Thoreau shared the same poetic qualities as Whitman, for a "poet's role is to see the spiritual behind the actual, the higher laws behind the mundane façade of the world."
The co-authors agree that the greatest contribution of the great thinkers of the American Renaissance may be to inspire modern readers, particularly young people, to lead deeper, more meaningful lives, much as Thoreau had done, through their discovery of their inner selves and communion with nature.
Bosco is Distinguished Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Albany, State University of New York. Myerson is Carolina Distinguished Professor of American Literature, Emeritus, at the University of South Carolina. The two first met Ikeda in Japan in 2001.
Preface by Daisaku Ikeda
Foreword by Ronald A. Bosco
- Why Thoreau Now?
- First Encounters With Emerson and Thoreau
- Dawn of a Renaissance
- Refusing "All the Accustomed Paths"
- Thoreau As Social Reformer
- Reading and Human Development
- Walden and "Civil Disobedience"
- Beyond the Pulpit
- Emerson Finds His Audience
- Nature, "The American Scholar," and the "Divinity School Address"
- Representative Men
- The Inner Journey
- Whitman's Original American Genius
- The Boundless Potential of Life
- Thoreau's "Highest of the Arts"
- Bonds With Nature
- Nature, Healing, and Health
- "Our Prospects Brighten"
About the Authors
"Emerson and Thoreau speak powerfully for the necessity of the deeply principled life, and Ikeda, Bosco and Myerson focus on the relentless self-examination both writers encouraged of all people, not simply in one part of their lives but thoroughly and essentially. For all who seek to integrate theory and practice—knowing that individual action matters tremendously to social justice—this book will offer that much neglected yet essential ingredient to action: thought-provoking inspiration. "
—Sara Wider, Professor of English and Women's Studies, Colgate University
"Emerson and Thoreau independently examined the same themes of nature and the human pilgrimage as the great Eastern scholars, painters, and poets, and then added an element of their own, the uniquely American celebration of the self. Here, boiled down to a number of enlightened conversations among three scholars, is the essence of the thoughts of these two American writers and the uniquely cross-cultural and curiously contemporary blend of thought and philosophy that they embodied."
—John Hanson Mitchell, author of Walking Towards Walden: A Pilgrimage in Search of Place
"In a series of lively and provocative conversations, Bosco, Myerson, and Ikeda share ideas about Emerson, Thoreau, and other great writers of the American Renaissance whose wisdom has been passed on through the lives and works of Gandhi, King, Makiguchi, and Toda. A clarion call against authoritarianism, Creating Waldens inspires us to challenge social evil through courageous acts of nonviolent protest and find joy in harmony with nature and our fellow citizens around the globe."
—Anita Patterson, Associate Professor of English, and Director, American and New England Studies Program, Boston University