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Emerson’s engagement with Eastern cultural sources is also evident in his poetry from the 1840s.For example, inspired by his reading of Persian verse, Emerson wrote “Saadi” in 1842, a poetic tribute to the aphorist, panegyrist, and lyrical poet of the same name.An aspiring poet, Emerson also gravitated to selections of poetry that took up Eastern themes and Eastern poetry, including the works of Saadi and Hafez, which he would embrace in adulthood.
After he graduated from Harvard, Emerson’s enthusiasm for non-Western subjects waned, primarily because he devoted himself to becoming a Unitarian minister.
In 1831 Emerson’s wife, Ellen Tucker Emerson, died of tuberculosis, an event that galvanized a series of personal and professional changes in his life.
The next year Emerson resigned his pulpit at the Second Church of Boston, publicly citing the fact that he did not believe in the special divinity of Jesus and thus could no longer administer the sacrament of communion.
After traveling through Europe, where he met literary luminaries such as William Wordsworth and Thomas Carlyle, Emerson returned to his ancestral home in Concord, Massachusetts.
Moreover, in his published writings during this period, Emerson cited maxims, referred to prominent figures, and otherwise incorporated allusions drawn from Asian and Middle Eastern literatures with surprising regularity.
He added these “lustres” to his nonfiction writing for at least two reasons.
Ralph Waldo Emerson—a New England preacher, essayist, lecturer, poet, and philosopher—was one of the most influential writers and thinkers of the 19th century in the United States.
Emerson was also the first major American literary and intellectual figure to widely explore, write seriously about, and seek to broaden the domestic audience for classical Asian and Middle Eastern works.
In the 156-line poem, Emerson describes how “Superstition,” the personification of religious tyranny in Asia, has enslaved “[D]ishonored India.” With its Romantic primitivism and bombastic imagery, “Indian Superstition” is perhaps closer to caricature than considered literary art.
Yet, for all its excess, Emerson’s poem is notable for departing from a common formula of the period according to which a debased India could only be redeemed through Western colonialism.