December 18, 2013
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Posted in: Panel of Experts
[WALDEN; OR, LIFE IN THE WOODS]
Although the first edition gives the title Walden; or, Life in the Woods, on March 4, 1862, two months before he died, T wrote to his publishers, Ticknor & Fields, asking them to omit the subtitle in a new edition. They complied with this request, although it has rarely been followed since. Paul (75) suggests that T may have dropped the subtitle because he feared his audience was taking it too literally and thus missing the more important philosophy permeating the book. T could have derived the subtitle from his friend Charles Lane’s essay “Life in the Woods” in the Dial (IV, 1844, 415) or from John S. Williams, “Our Cabin; or, Life in the Woods” in the October 1843 American Pioneer (DeMott), but not from the then popular The Adirondack; or Life in the Woods, by J.T. Headley (New York, 1849), which did not appear until after T had used the subtitle in an advertisement for W in the back pages of the first edition of A Week. For a comprehensive study of the types of books on which T base the structure of W, see Linck Johnson. For a discussion of the organic structure of W, see Lane (1960). Kurtz is one o the most straightforward analyses of W’s style.
Posted in: General Discussion
Is there any possibility of Thoreau borrowing from the Christian tradition and positing “the woods” as a corollary of “wilderness”, where the demons (in us) are often portrayed and living? To reach one’s “higher self”, one must wake up inwardly to those elements that lead the soul (psychological and emotional state) astray.
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The drawing of T’s cabin was made by his sister Sophia, an amateur artist. T himself complained of it, “Thoreau would suggest a little alteration, chiefly in the door, in the wide projection of the roof at the front; and that the bank more immediately about the house be brought out more distinctly” (Sanborn, 1917, 338). Sanborn adds, “He must have noticed that her trees were first and pines, with a few deciduous tress that did not then grow there.” Ellery Channing thought it a “feeble caricature.” Other contemporary drawings of the cabin may be found in Meltzer and Harding (144-5).
[to wake my neighbors up]
The epigraph is quoted from the second chapter of W. It is omitted from many modern editions, and unfortunately so, for it sets the mood for the whole book. Broderick (1954) points out how this awakening and morning theme is a basic image carried throughout W. A possible source for T’s idea is Orestes Brownson’s statement in his Boston Quarterly Review in 1839 that he “aimed to startle, and made it a point to be as paradoxical and extravagant as he could.”
December 17, 2014 at 4:55 pm
See in context
January 3, 2014 at 5:25 pm
January 3, 2014 at 5:22 pm
January 3, 2014 at 5:18 pm
April 22, 2018 at 7:28 pm
[Sometimes, when I compare myself with other men, it seems as if I were more favored by the gods than they, beyond any deserts that I am conscious of; as if I had a warrant and surety at their hands which my fellows have not, and were especially guided and guarded. ]
Thoreau could not possibly make a more conceited statement than this.
April 22, 2018 at 3:37 pm
There is a parallelism here between Thoreau himself and the house in which he will live. The house is unfinished since Thoreau has just begun to construct his new life. There may also be a suggestion that he hasn’t decided if the house should ever be finished lest it diminish his hearing of the morning wind blowing over his home carrying the poem of creation. Will the completed plastered cabin be a place where the poem of creation can be sung?
March 26, 2018 at 4:51 am
Posted in: Emerson-Thoreau SUNY Geneseo
Thoreau was eating his own house. He was tasting life in all its details. This is part of the deliberate life he followed at Walden Pond.
February 23, 2018 at 9:19 am
This is a very good question. As Thoreau’s next paragraph § 82 makes clear, the numbers given here are to be seen as “comparative” at best. In a generous mood, one might say that Thoreau’s narrator strives to enumerate what he can – while evaluating the costs of dinners and snacks granted by friends and family would be harder (and indeed impolite) to do. Most of us could probably relate to his experience as well – Thoreau was not, after all, striving for an isolated hermitage, cut off from all social relations. And he was evidently not more of a curmudgeon than that he received a fair amount of free meals, freely offered too.
One might also ponder the incomplete numbers as symbolic of the impossibility of leaving an absolute autobiographical “account” at any time and place. Thoreau plays on this word in this chapter and others, from the looser sense of “narrative” over bookkeeping to the very ultimate statement: musing that his books have not at length been fully accounted for (i.e. audited), he hints (at least to this opinion) of the final Day of Accounts, and hence the verdict of a divine auditor for whom all numbers and balances are clear and can be weighed accurately.
Something like this seems to be going on too in the earlier, dense passage on our donning our garments, and particularly on “liber” as synonymous of “shirt”. Liber also connotes bark and the leaves of a book – such as Thoreau is presenting us in “Walden”. He says it is possible to shed the outer bark without harm to the living tree, but eventually one reaches a limit beyond which further stripping becomes fatal. Perhaps then, Thoreau’s narrator is signaling the limits of privacy and ultimately of life possible to convey in writing, at least to human eyes: once he has given his account and/or shed bark/skin to us, it is at length up to us what to make of it. How do we compare to his project?
February 10, 2018 at 11:26 pm
This is extremely subtle. He is not living in a cabin, he does not think he is nearer to the forest or the pond or even Concord. He believes he is nearer to those places in “the universe” and “those eras in history” which most attracts him. Reminds me of a line from Rumi who says, “The whole seven heavens are like a shirt which is too tight for me.” From Iran, Ali
February 6, 2018 at 10:11 am
There could be a pun in “it is well”. It may mean it is good or pleasing and at the same time it may mean that it is “healthy” to have a body of water nearby. In Iran’s classical architecture there were always a pool in all buildings. If you look at Sa’di’s shrine you will see a small pool next to his grave. Sa’di is the Persian poet Thoreau and Emerson highly admired.
February 3, 2018 at 12:24 pm
Thoreau’s emphasis is on his neighbor not on his distance from his neighbor. Thoreau is happy that he is still within two miles of the village.
January 4, 2018 at 3:05 pm
Posted in: Willamette University
I agree, especially since his philosophy was centered around personal action. He went to jail rather than pay a tax to a government he disagreed with, but he wasn’t able to disassociate from consumerism.
December 9, 2017 at 7:44 pm
Posted in: Into the Woods
It might have been interesting to ask the monks at the abbey about this passage. 🙂
December 5, 2017 at 11:37 am
It is extremely odd for a man who believed his house was in the most remote corners of the Milky Way to consider his place “low” in the woods and to limit his horizon to the opposite shore. Why is he speaking like this? Walden is tormentingly difficult. In such moments, I always tend to say to myself, “Okay, never mind. He did not know what he was talking about or how he was writing this.” But what if I’m wrong and there is something profound in the sentence?
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