“In this refulgent summer, it has been a luxury to draw the breath of life. The grass grows, the buds burst, the meadow is spotted with fire and gold in the tint of flowers. The air is full of birds, and sweet with the breath of the pine, the balm-of-Gilead, and the new hay. Night brings no gloom to the heart with its welcome shade. Through the transparent darkness the stars pour their almost spiritual rays. Man under them seems a young child, and his huge globe a toy. The cool night bathes the world as with a river, and prepares his eyes again for the crimson dawn. The mystery of nature was never displayed more happily. The corn and the wine have been freely dealt to all creatures, and the never-broken silence with which the old bounty goes forward, has not yielded yet one word of explanation. One is constrained to respect the perfection of this world, in which our senses converse.”
That is, of course, the beginning to Emerson’s Harvard Divinity School commencement address. Did you know that only seven people were graduating? And that one of them blew off commencement? Six people! Some of the greatest prose ever spoken on U.S. soil. Oh well.
That has nothing to do with any of our shows this week, but it’s good for all of us, in the summer, to revisit RWE’s words.
MONDAY: Amanda Marcotte is one of Slate.com’s top writers. She thinks Bill Maher is gross, which is a promising bit of common ground, if you know what I mean. She’ll be our first guest of the day on the Scramble. She has written recently on the humanitarian crisis on the U.S. Border, as have I, so I’m guessing we may talk about that. And we’re devoting the other two segments of our show to a discussion of Connecticut’s refusal to participate in sheltering the young refugees. Emerson, in his speech, was admirably lucid about this kind of thing: “Good is positive. Evil is merely privative, not absolute: it is like cold, which is the privation of heat. All evil is so much death or nonentity. Benevolence is absolute and real.”
TUESDAY: Emerson ended his speech with these words: “Can’t you taste this gold? Remember my name. ‘Bout to blow.” No, he did not. I was just testing whether you were paying attention. Those are words from “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea, which is the current leading contender for the Song of The Summer. Our music mavens Wally Lamb (yes, that Wally Lamb), Eric Danton and Joan Holiday will be on the case — noses slightly wrinkled — as we sort out whether any other song can overthrow Iggy. Critic Amanda Dobbins laid out the task quite clearly: “There is no such thing as a ?personal? song of summer. We do not anoint multiple songs of summer. There can only be one; the Song of Summer, by its very definition, is a consensus choice. It is the song that wrecks wedding dance floors. It is the song that you and your mother begrudgingly agree on (even though your mom has no idea what rhymes with ?hug me? and won’t stop yelling it in public.) It does not necessarily have to hit No. 1 on the charts, but it should probably be on the charts, because it must be widely played. It must bring people together. It must be a shared enthusiasm.”
WEDNESDAY: There was never any question about Emerson’s middle name. Where’s Waldo? Right between the Ralph and the Emerson. And Henry David Thoreau. Amos Bronson Alcott. Transcendentalists were big on middle names. One of the later Transcendentalists was named Octavius Brooks Frothingham. What do you think about that? We’re doing a whole show about middle names. Abraham Lincoln did not have one, but most people of his era did. A recent essay on the New York Times suggested that middle initials, anyway, are falling out of favor. But that’s just one element of our journey into interstitial onomastics.
THURSDAY: There is something entirely mysterious about our relationship with stuffed animals and other stuffed toys. From the Steiff bear to the (Connecticut-bred) Cabbage Patch Kid, modern children have embraced stuffed creatures; and when, in the words of Paul, it came time “to put away childish things,” we have often found it difficult to do so. Isn’t that right, Bobo? Sorry, I was talking to my plush ocelot. Been with me since law school. We’ll explore the allure of these transitional objects, and even speak with a “travel agent” in Japan who books trips around the Floating Kingdom for stuffed toys. I don’t really know what RWE would have said about teddy bears, etc. They might have struck him as some kind of link to our polytheistic, pre-Christian past. “I’d rather be a pagan suckl’d in a creed outworn,” wrote Wordsworth, “than give up Captain Nuzzles” (who scholars believe was a kind of velveteen dolphin).
FRIDAY. Oh my goodness, is the week ending already? This show will be The Nose, our weekly roundtable about things that arose in Culture during the week. To know its topics today would be to peer into the future, as Emerson attempted to do at the end of his address: “I look for the new Teacher, that shall follow so far those shining laws, that he shall see them come full circle; shall see their rounding complete grace; shall see the world to be the mirror of the soul; shall see the identity of the law of gravitation with purity of heart; and shall show that the Ought, that Duty, is one thing with Science, with Beauty, and with Joy.” So that could happen, right?
Final thoughts: I could really imagine Emerson saying, “Can’t you taste this gold?” but meaning the divine energy that pervades the corn and the wine. And the notion of someone named Iggy Azalea would have, at minimum, drawn him forward, as opposed to pushing him away.