Enlightenment is the obtainment of inner peace and true wisdom. How to achieve this seemingly unattainable idea has been a prevalent question since the dawn of time. Two authors, Matthew Arnold in his poem “Self Dependence and N. Scott Momaday in his nonfiction text “A Vision Beyond Time and Place”, attempt to answer this complex question. In each of their texts, they look to nature for spiritual enlightenment. Because they are posing the same question and both are looking to nature for answers, one would assume they would come up with similar processes for achieving spiritual enlightenment. However, this is not the case due to the contrasting points of view each author takes. The texts are similar in many ways, such as the importance they stress on nature. Although due to the difference in points of view, they end up conveying entirely different messages: one supporting self-dependence and the other supporting expansion of the mind.
The question Momaday and Arnold answer through their writing is fundamentally the same: how to achieve enlightenment. The crucial difference between the two texts is the contrasting points of view. While Arnold explores the attainment of enlightenment from an individual’s standpoint, Momaday explores it from a society’s standpoint. Arnold is essentially asking the question: “How do I reach spiritual enlightenment, whereas, Momaday is asking: “How can we as a society reach enlightenment?” Arnold’s speaker desperately seeks advice in order to help him find out who he is supposed to be, “Weary of myself, and sick of asking What I am, and what I ought to be”(1-2). Through the rhetorical device of anaphora: the speaker’s hopelessness is emphasized. The author repeats the phrase “what I am” which highlights how lost the speaker is. He is struggling to find his place and needs guidance to help him find his way. While Arnold talks about a single person’s search for enlightenment, Momaday focuses on society’s search for enlightenment, “…most of us in this society are afflicted with a kind of cultural nearsightedness…we fail to see the nature and meaning of our own humanity” (Momaday). Momaday expresses that a common problem with society is the inability to expand one’s mind. People can’t break the barrier that traps their mind and therefor remain ignorant and closed off. It is shown here that “A Vision Beyond Time and Place” focuses on society’s problem, rather than an individual’s problem. This key difference between the texts, along with dissimilar literary techniques and contrasting diction, causes each work to convey dissimilar messages. Nature has always been viewed a place of power, awe, and purity. Both authors recognize this and look to the sky when searching for enlightenment. In “Self Dependence”, the speaker desperately seeks advice from the stars, “And a look of passionate desire O’er the sea and to the stars I send”(5-6). The speaker in this poem admires nature greatly and wishes to become like it, all-powerful and supreme. The same reverence for nature is expressed in Momaday’s work, “Every morning, my father tells me, Cheney would paint his wrinkled face, go out, and pray aloud to the rising sun” (Momaday). Cheney’s unwavering devotion to the sun is demonstrated through this quote. This proves the great resect that Cheney has for nature. The unnamed speaker from the poem looks to the stars as a source of comfort and solace, seeking advice from it. Cheney prays to the sun every day and views it with great reverence. These acts of dedication and admiration prove the importance role nature plays in both of these texts. It is evident that nature plays a significant part in both works, however, the message nature conveys in each text is starkly different. When the unnamed speaker in the poem asks how to become more like the stars, the stars respond with these words: “Bounded by themselves, and unregardful In what state God’s other works may be”(26-28). Through