I’ve reached the end of my college career. I’m shocked to admit, though, that few of the classes I took matched [my] expectations of a “higher” education. In fact, of over fifty courses across four years, I’d say a half-dozen were actually worth my time.
How can this be, you ask. Well, by senior year, my classmates and I mastered the fine art of sculpting our essays to each instructor’s specifications. The format looked something like: quote author, summarize their points, then repeat until the assignment is complete.
Countering The Standard Structure
Thankfully, I had one professor who acknowledged the collective problem. He chose to help us combat it. And through his guidance, I finally learned how to give an adequate analysis. By the end of his class, I actually felt like I’d grown as a writer.
Here’s my favorite clip:
No one counters the concept of religion with more brilliance than Ralph Waldo Emerson. In his 1844 essay “The Poet,” he writes: “The religions of the world are the ejaculations of a few imaginative men.” Simple, blunt, even a little humorous, but Emerson gets his point across.
He opens by including religion of any kind, noting that he speaks to the beliefs “of the world.” He uses a powerful metaphor to illustrate the value he places on religion, referring to it as an ejaculation. Emerson’s choice of words carries several layers. “Ejaculation,” as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, holds a most interesting meaning.
On one hand, it reads as a quick and hasty emotional prayer directed at God during a moment of emergency. Emerson’s declaration towards religion, then, holds that it is merely a blind and wishful hope for meant o focus on in times of trouble.
At the same time, “ejaculation” also refers to the fluid released by male sperm.
Both definitions fantastically emphasize the opinion that religion is a sham, invented by “a few imaginative men”; religion is the product of the imagination. It’s a system created to give order and allow people a sense of faith.
Writing With Intent
The above passage contains two full paragraphs based off of one short sentence from Emerson’s essay. The key, I’ve learned, is dissecting the smallest bits. Not a generic analysis of a writer’s theme, but the minute meaning behind a single word choice.
In Emerson’s case, it’s a genius way to express his voice through his writing. The snippet drips with a tongue-in-cheek perspective on religion. On its place in society. All from a carefully selected choice of word.
You could argue that authors don’t intend for their writing to be so deep in meaning. But it’s worth paying attention to your intent. Words are powerful. And your choice of words and phrasing matter. People pay attention. They take the effort to analyze the finer details. But that’s the beauty of language.