He writes of dream and illusion, and of how we see only what we are capable of seeing.Genius is useless if receptivity is limited by some temperamental trait that prevents "a focal distance within the actual horizon of human life." A man's talents cannot be effectively applied if he does not care sufficiently for higher truth to look for it, if he is overly sensitive, if he wants to reform but is not equal to the task.The balanced individual who accepts life will extract what can be enjoyed from it.
The experience of life is confusing, Emerson writes at the beginning of the essay.
Gaining perspective on life while we are engaged in living is difficult.
God — the "inventor of the game" — is an unnamed presence in the poem. He is comforted by nature, who assures him that the lords will "wear another face" tomorrow, and that his position is, in fact, one of ascendancy over them.
In the essay, Emerson explores the action of these forces on the way we live and understand our lives.
Essays: Second Series, including "Experience," was issued in 1876 as the third volume of the Little Classic Edition of Emerson's writings, in 1886 as the third volume of the Riverside Edition, in 1906 as the third volume of the Centenary Edition, and in 1983 as the third volume of the Collected Works published by Harvard.
The essay has been separately published, and also included in such collected editions as the 1940 Modern Library The Complete Essays and Other Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (edited by Brooks Atkinson), the 1965 Signet Classic Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (edited by William H.Emerson's essay "Experience" was first published without having been delivered as a lecture.It appeared in 1844 in his Essays: Second Series (published in Boston by James Munroe in October of 1844 and in London by John Chapman in November of 1844).The distance created by time's passage sometimes reveals that what we thought were unoccupied hours were actually our most fruitful periods.Only in the long view do we understand the proper value of everyday occupations and actions.Moreover, nature does not like to be observed and prevents us from focusing too clearly on objects that might offer insight through the material.Emerson turns to the subject of perspective, and to the way temperament and mood — both parts of man's makeup — affect perspective.Power (used by Emerson to signify a kind of divinely imparted life force) speaks alternately through various examples of humanity but does not remain permanently in any one of them.Emerson emphasizes that philosophical awareness of the shortcomings of human experience does not constitute life itself. Thought and writings on social reform are not successfully translated into the ends toward which they aim.Emerson writes that "the pith of each man's genius contracts itself to a very few hours." As the history of literature contains only a few original ideas that have been worked and reworked, so the history of society reveals only a very few spontaneous human actions beyond "custom and gross sense." Although we attribute great importance to the calamities of life, they actually have no lasting meaning.Grief does not bring us any closer to the people we have lost, and it does not change who we are.