Tag Archives: Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Within be Rich, Without be Fed No More”

Shakespeare knew that life was a spiritual enterprise, that the essence of life was buried inside what Hamlet described as “this mortal coil.”  The Bard knew that human nature was to avoid this inner essence, preferring instead to invest in the external where sensual experience offers a ready deterrent from the excruciating labor involved in delving into the heart.  In his 46th sonnet he encouraged us to overrule those “rebel powers” that encourage arrayment in the gaudy apparel of this ego-driven “mortal coil.”  He knew that the accomplishments and accouterments that culture entices us with to avoid our inner essence gives us a sense of fulfillment that is illusory, leaving us with an inner emptiness gnawing away at our soul.  He suggested a different emphasis, “Within be fed, without be rich no more.”  I do not think that he would say that cultural contrivances have no value.  But when these superficies become predominant and we become the “Hollow Man” of T.S. Eliot or Willy Loman in the Arthur Miller play, “Death of a Salesman,” we have allowed superficial accomplishments to predominate at the expense of paying attention to our own soul.  This is what Jesus had in mind with his famous question, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”

And, with the quotation of Jesus, I think Shakespeare was quite aware of false piety and hypocrisy which facilitate a gross misinterpretation of that famous verse from the Bible.  Even spirituality can become a “thing” purveyed by a “thing-oriented”, objectifying culture and we can miss the danger of letting “godliness” and “piety” be merely a thing of the external, a matter of adherence to creeds and dogma while allowing the “stillness” of our heart to go untouched.  Thereby we reduce this teaching of Jesus to the superficial cognitive grasp of his teachings and disallow them penetration into our heart, failing to realize that in keep his teachings and the whole of our life on that superficial cognitive dimension we are “losing” our own soul.  This is the truth that Ralph Waldo Emerson had in mind when he expressed fear of coming to the end of his life and realizing that what he had lived was not life at all but a mere facsimile of life.  And that can be readily done under the guise of spirituality.  As Shakespeare noted, “With devotions visage and pious action we do sugar o’er the devil himself.”  Shakespeare was the most astute teacher of the human soul since Jesus.


Sonnet 146, Shakespeare

Poor soul, the center of my sinful earth,
Thrall to these rebel pow’rs that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?
Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more.
  So shalt thou feed on death, that feeds on men,
  And death once dead, there’s no more dying then.

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The Hobgoblin of Little Minds

Two days after the Obama reelection in November, the Fox News reporter, Sean Hannity announced on-air that his view of immigration had “evolved” and he was willing to take a more lenient position. And since then many Republicans are taking a similar stance, deciding that on that issue in particular they have to adjust their views if they are going to have any chance of winning more Latino voters.

There are some members of the Republicans, however, who are digging their heels in and castigating those of their party who are equivocating on this and other issues. They feel that compromise against bedrock principles of their party…and all of their principles seem to be “bedrock” to them…is completely verboten. The Republican hysteria about “compromise” was so severe last summer that John Boehner in one TV interview refused to even use the word “compromise” when cornered on the matter.

But, Hannity and his ilk can equivocate on this and other matters and still be conservative Republicans. Changing your mind on issues does not mean that you have sold your soul to anyone, certainly not the “liberals” or Obama. The ability to change your mind is a sign of mental health and emotional maturity. Ralph Waldo Emerson said 150 years ago, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Being consistent for the sake of consistency is lame, to put it mildly.

But True Believers have a hard time changing their mind because in the depths of their heart that would mean to them, “Oh no. I have been wrong!” Well, welcome to the world! Who hasn’t and who will not continue to be from time to time? All of us are short-sighted and need to have our eyes checked occasionally or perhaps clean our glasses.

(True Believers was a book by Eric Hoffer about fanaticism which is worthy of a reading evn in modern times.)