OWL Magazine Korea

“Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson, a figure classified as a philosopher, poet, essayist, and transcendentalist in 19th-century America, was born in Boston, USA in 1803 and entered Harvard University at the age of 14.

Emerson introduced the philosophy of “Transcendentalism,” which was a unique idea distinct from European philosophies. Emerson’s ideas are credited with assisting America in achieving intellectual independence from Europe. The main characteristics of transcendentalism are as follows:

  • Human beings are inherently good but can be corrupted by society and institutions.
  • Insight and experience are more important than logic.
  • Spiritual experiences can be obtained by individuals rather than through organized religion.
  • Nature is beautiful and should be respected in itself.

Emerson wrote various works, and his book “Self-Reliance” has been translated into several versions in Korea. I have encountered two translated versions, one titled “Stand alone at the center of the world” and the other titled “Confidence.”

“Ralph Waldo Emerson: Self-Reliance”

In Korea, this book is translated and compiled under the title “Self-Reliance,” and it was originally written as a manuscript for lectures before being published as a book.

The book covers “7” themes from Emerson’s various essays, and additionally discusses “Emerson’s perspective on the world” and “Emerson’s life.” The 7 themes are as follows:

  • Self-Reliance
  • Experience
  • Compensation
  • Nature
  • Politics
  • History
  • The Over-Soul

“Ralph Waldo Emerson’s association with Henry David Thoreau, the author of ‘Walden'”

Ralph Waldo Emerson is also related to Henry David Thoreau, the author of “Walden.” Both writers graduated from Harvard University, and the land where Thoreau lived near Walden Pond was owned by Emerson. They often communicated, and through Emerson, Thoreau was introduced to Eastern philosophy. This is evident in “Walden,” where Thoreau frequently discusses Eastern philosophy, which was quite shocking to the author to read about Eastern philosophy being discussed by an American living in the 19th century.

Ultimately, Emerson passed on Eastern philosophy to Thoreau and even provided the land around Walden, contributing to the publication of the book “Walden.”

“A book where you can feel Emerson’s broad and deep perspective”

Reading Emerson’s book indirectly exposes one to his perspective. You can sense that his worldview is very broad and his depth of understanding is significant.

He can tackle difficult topics with his own thoughts, and his depth can be felt through his ability to elaborate on complex subjects. Especially in the “Compensation” section, there is a striking sentence:

“The world is one, but man has many lives of his own.”

Emerson suggests that strength comes from acknowledging one’s weaknesses and using them as a foundation for growth.

“History is subjective, and progress can be based on subjectivity.”

In the section discussing “History,” Emerson’s view of history can be seen. He conveys that history is subjective and progress can be based on subjectivity. Moreover, he suggests that true learning occurs when we connect our imagination from books with the factual aspects of our experiences.

Ultimately, he focuses on the experiential aspect of individuals and humanity.

“The Over-Soul”

In the essay related to “The Over-Soul,” Emerson also introduces the preparation one should have before starting anything.

“You are preparing diligently to do something that will help you with your talents and hobbies, love for humanity, and hope for honor. But if you don’t have the mindset to willingly accept it even if your prepared work doesn’t come to fruition, then you have no right to do that work.”

In conclusion, even if you challenge something and the result isn’t favorable, you must accept it humbly.

“Viewing the world through Emerson’s eyes”

The last part of the book includes an essay titled “Viewing the world through Emerson’s eyes,” where numerous sayings akin to Emerson’s aphorisms appear. While all the aphorisms introduced in the book are precious, I will only introduce a few as we can’t cover them all here:

  • “Hope never spreads its beautiful wings unless it’s in an unpredictable situation. Hope finally shines in situations of uncertainty. Trust hope even more when facing unpredictable situations.”
  • “The only way to gain a friend is to become a perfect friend yourself.”
  • “One of the most common misconceptions is thinking that the present is the most ambiguous time to make a decision. But remember that today is the most important day of the year.”
  • “All ships, except the one you are sailing, seem romantic.”
  • ”No matter how great the thought, it’s no different from a daydream if you don’t act on it.”
  • “Religions that we call false were once true.”
  • ”The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil.”
  • “My actual reading rule is threefold: First, I don’t read books less than a year old. Second, I only read famous books. Third, I only read books I like.”


  • Author: Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Publication Date: October 22, 2009
  • ISBN13: 9788996327707
  • Yes24: http://app.ac/Pj6wEya33