Transcendentalism Reflective Essay Format

(1) Essay

The Transcendentalists loved writing essays. Like, that's what they did for kicks. Think of what you do in high school English class, but way elaborate and full of big words and lofty ideas that'll make people think you're smart. So yeah, just like high school English. And guess what: many of the most important Transcendentalist ideas were communicated in essay form.

(2) Poetry

Along with the essay, poetry is the other big genre of Transcendentalism. When the Transcendentalist folks didn't have the energy to bust out a whole essay, bingo! Poem time. They loved writing poems about nature, about God, about their spiritual experiences. Similar ideas as the essay stuff, different form. You gotta be versatile to be Transcendental.

(3) Intuition

Sometimes we get that sneaky little feeling in our gut, telling us to do something, or not to do something. Like whether to write an essay or if instead it's a poem day. That's our intuition talking. The Transcendentalists believed we should listen to it more closely, not to what to our silly friends, or teachers, or parents have to say.

(4) Correspondence

We are a reflection of the universe, and the universe is a reflection of us. We are a reflection of God, and God is a reflection of us. In other words, everything corresponds to everything else. It's all one big web. Think the Circle of Life, but not quite as many lions, or so catchy a tune.

(5) Individualism

The Transcendentalists wanted us to be nonconformists. As in, not to follow the herd. For instance: if we feel like going off to hike in Nepal for two years, we should go for it. So what if everyone else has a job and a house in the suburbs? You're your own beautiful snowflake, and snowflakes don't give a whoop about suburb vs. isolated mountain, Yeti be darned.

(6) Nature

Trees and mountains and rivers and fields. Snowflakes and birdies and dragonflies. Lions and tigers and bears, oh wait…that's some other folks. But pretty much you name it, the Transcendentalists were crazy about it. Plus, they believed that we could get to know God through contemplating nature. Quite a claim for a clump of daisies.

(7) Unitarian Church

This was (and is) a liberal branch of Christianity that was pretty popular in New England in the first half of the 19th century. Transcendentalism partly developed as response against certain Unitarian ideals, like its emphasis on reason and rationality. There's way more to spirituality than that, the Transcendentalists had to say.

(8) Social Reform

The Transcendentalists were not only literary men and women, they were also activists. They were especially outspoken in their opposition to slavery and the inequality of women. How so, with pickets and petitions? Nah, back to the essays and poems thing—reform's gotta start with ideas, and to get those ideas in their heads, people need to hear 'em somewhere…

(9) The Dial

Cue The Dial: this journal was founded by the Transcendentalists in 1840. Since not so many publishers were down to publish Transcendentalist writing, and the blogosphere wasn't around yet, they got down to spreading the word themselves. 

(10) The Transcendental Club

This informal club brought together many of the leading luminaries of Transcendentalism, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, among others. The Club organized get-togethers beginning in 1836. Think of it as a mix between The Babysitters Club, a nightclub, going camping, and SAT English.

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