What Does it mean to transcend?
The verb implies escalation; rising above something.
But the word is actually much deeper than that, isn’t it?
It connotes overcoming something that is more ethereal than corporeal… more of the spirit than of the body.
We traverse a mountain, but we transcend reality.
The word is–without a doubt– an interesting one.
And it interested no one more than it did the Transcendentalists.
This group of poets, writers, scholars and artists was founded in the mid-1800s.
Transcendentalism was firmly rooted in the power and capability of the individual. Its primary belief was in personal freedom and its primary goal was to bridge the relationship between the emotionality of art and the empiricism of science.
Transcendentalists argued that society and its institutions inevitably corrupt the purity of the individual. They believed that people can only achieve their truest self when they are wholly “self-reliant.” They further argue that it is only from such real individuals that true community can form. Despite this high valuation of individualism, transcendentalists also argue that every human is inextricably entwined with one another by the soul.
Though it may feel contradictory, this connection, as explained by Walt Whitman (renowned transcendentalist) serves to reinforce both the individual and the community. The poem Darest Thou Now O Soul details the relationship between the individual, their soul, achieving their truest self and finally, join their community once they have become their truest self. (The Examined Life reviewed another Whitman poem several months ago.)
Read on, O Transcendental Examiner…
Darest Thou Now O Soul
Walk out with me toward the unknown region,
Where neither ground is for the feet nor any path to follow?
No map there, nor guide.
Nor voice sounding, nor touch of human hand,
Nor face with blooming flesh, nor lips, nor eyes, are in that land.
I know it not O soul,
Nor dost thou, all is a blank before us,
All waits undream’d of in that region, that inaccessible land.
Till when the ties loosen,
All but the ties eternal, Time and Space,
Nor darkness, gravitation, sense, nor any bounds bounding us.
Then we burst forth, we float,
In Time and Space O soul, prepared for them,
Equal, equipt at last, (O joy! O fruit of all!) them to fulfil O
An interesting poem to say the least…
Walt is talking about the realm of the soul, but all the while asking his own soul if it is brave enough to travel there with him.
He is attempting to explain the inscrutable complication of one’s own emotions.
They are not straightforward. In fact, they are rarely able to be communicated through words.
Sometimes you can only understand something through a feeling.
Sometimes that feeling cannot even be understood, and we have to prod at it to get to some sort of explanation…
Sometimes, in order to understand ourselves, we have to ask our soul “Darest thou now walk out with me toward the unknown region?”
I ask you this now, O examiner, as the sun rises to greet the young Thursday born in the middle of a dry, crackling summer:
What does it mean to Transcend?
The Golden Scribe