"Within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty." — Ralph Waldo Emerson
On a trip through Massachusetts today, my friend Alia and I stopped off in Concord to visit some of our literary heroes in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery . . . about as perfect a cemetery as I've ever been through. A moss-covered, root-strewn masterpiece.
Parked at the bottom of Author's Ridge, we walked up the hill seeking the graves of the Transcendentalists—Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, and Ellery Channing. Our plan was to visit the grave of each and then recite aloud from their writings.
The first grave we came to was that of Thoreau, but as there were a few other visitors around, and we wanted some privacy, we decided to come back later. Thoreau deserved better than a hurried visit. He wouldn't have approved. So we headed off to find Emerson first, one of my grandfather's favorite American philosophers.
A little ways around the bend, we came upon the Emerson family graves. Emerson's grave was marked by a huge rose quartz boulder with a green oxidized copper plate on it which read: "Ralph Waldo Emerson. Born in Boston May 25 1803. Died in Concord April 27 1882. The passive master lent his hand to the vast soul that oer him planned."
After looking at the markers for a few minutes, it occurred to us that I should pray for the soul of Emerson, and Alia for his wife, Lidian. We knelt down to meditate and pray . . . which also had the effect of scaring off a few less committed visitors. I smiled and continued to pray.
When we were done, we wanted to leave something at the graves. We hadn't thought to bring anything, so we looked around for something that seemed appropriate. We found a few lovely acorns. Alia deposited her's on top of Lidian's marker. Noticing the pennies people had inserted above the copper plate on Emerson's grave marker, I placed my acorns on the shelf of pennies they had created.
I then read a passage aloud from Emerson's essay, "The Over-Soul" :
[. . .] the only prophet of that which must be, is that great nature in which we rest, as the earth lies in the soft arms of the atmosphere; that Unity, that Over-soul, within which every man's particular being is contained and made one with all other; that common heart, of which all sincere conversation is the worship, to which all right action is submission; [. . .] We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal ONE. And this deep power in which we exist, and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are the shining parts, is the soul. Only by the vision of that Wisdom can the horoscope of the ages be read, and by falling back on our better thoughts, by yielding to the spirit of prophecy which is innate in every man, we can know what it saith. — Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Over-Soul” (1841)
Even more than Emerson, it was Lidian's grave that made a strong impression on Alia. It was a beautiful marker, with lovely sentiments written on both sides. We guessed by one of her children. On the front is written: "Wife of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Daughter of Charles & Lucy Colton Jacobson. Born September 20th 1802 close by Plymouth Rock, as she loved to remember. Died November 13th 1892 in Concord."
On the back is written: "Lidian Emerson. In her youth an unusual sense of the Divine Presence was granted her and she retained through life the impress of that high Communion. To her children she seemed in her native ascendancy and unquestioning courage a Queen, a Flower in elegance and delicacy. The love and care for her husband, and children was her first earthly interest but with overflowing compassion her heart went out to the slave, the sick and the dumb creation. She remembered them that were in bonds as bound with them."