Wednesday, December 18th, 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
September 16, 2017 at 8:59 am
Thoreau borrows liberally here from a now largely forgotten treatise, Loring Dudley Chapin’s Vegetable Kingdom; or, Handbook of Plants and Fruits (New York, J. Lott, 1843). From Sattelmeyer’s Thoreau’s Reading (1988), item. 289, page 150, we learn that this book was part of Thoreau’s personal library, however without links to references in any of Thoreau’s notes, journals or published works. I discuss the passage in an article called “Figuring Henry” in The Concord Saunterer (22, 2014), and quote from there: “Chapin’s The Vegetable Kingdom not only sanctions Thoreau’s mentioned liber associations but suggests them outright, and in so doing deserves to be quoted at some length. In his section on exogenous plants, applicable to ”outside growers, such as the oak” (102; cf. 9), Chapin introduces the thick stem as a multilayered structure: ”The epidermis, cellular integument and cortex constitute the bark.” He then proceeds to describe the respective layers thus: ”The epidermis /…/ is also called the cuticle, as the scarf or outer skin of animals is called. It varies in thickness in plants, from the delicate rose-leaf to the ragged bark of the oak or walnut /…/. It peels off in the birch, etc., as with animals, not possessing, as with them, vitality” (65f.) In turn, ”[t]he cellular integument or texture is next beneath the epidermis, or cuticle. It is the ’true skin’ and the depository of color as in animals and man, alike in the white Caucasian and black African” (66). And further into the layer, Chapin explains, ”[t]he cortex [ensues] directly beneath the cellular structure. /—/ The inner part [of the cortex], called the liber, is the seat of the principle and vital functions of the plant. The name is from a book, the leaves of which it resembles in its annual layers deposited by the descending sap. It is a kind of net work resembling cloth. As a new layer is formed, the old one of bark is pushed outward which readily loses its vital principle and forms an inert crust. It is of liber that cloth is made, as with flax, the paper-mulberry, etc. This being the vital part of the plant, it cannot be destroyed with impunity. The most recently formed part of the liber, between the wood and the bark, remains inactive during the repose of vegetation. After affecting the development of buds and the formation of new wood and bark it hardens, as in previous years, and loses its power” (66). [It would be gratifying to be able to consult Thoreau’s copy of Chapin regarding possible annotations at the relevant junctures, but the volume evidently passed into private hands in 1963, as made clear by Walter Harding in his annex article ”A New Checklist of the Books in Henry David Thoreau’s Library” in Studies in the American Renaissance 1983, ed. J. Myerson (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1984), p. 158; cf. Harding’s original notation regarding Chapin’s botany in Thoreau’s Library (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1957), p. 40.]” -I have not seen reference to Chapin made to date in any published, annotated edition of Walden, of which the most ambitious remain Harding’s, van Doren Stern’s and Cramer’s, while over twenty have been issued over the years.
June 27, 2016 at 10:21 am
Posted in: Thoreau Society AG 2016
As a teenager, I had not a care in the world. I was never a good student. I spent my time off playing baseball, a game I loved. In June, 1966, I was Drafted. I spent the next three years in the Army. The middle year was spent fighting in an ill conceived war where we had no business being. During my last year in the Army, I decided I wanted to become a social worker, in an attempt to give back to humanity what I had taken away from others. That did not work out. Instead I became a Respiratory Therapist (1970) and spent the next 45 years working in hospitals.
My “experiment” was to practice and excel at my profession, go to college, and pursue my interests, as well as the usual “American Dream” stuff that we all grew up with, and then be able to stop working while I was still a viable human being. So, from when I entered the Army, until my retirement in February, 2015, I was involved with death, more often then not on a daily basis. This reality, that life is fleeting, helped me live in the moment, more often than not. I learned as a 20 year old that the next moment is not always there to do what one wanted to do.
My aspirations were predicated on the thought that if I can get to sleep that day, and awaken after that sleep, and still have my senses about me, and be able to walk and talk, I was ahead of the vast majority of people that whine about every possible thing.
In large part, I believe I was successful in my experiment, and able to accomplish my aspirations while in the work force. I never hated my job. Granted, some places were more trying than others, but I would just move to another hospital, which I found to be very beneficial in the learning process. I took a very long road in completing a degree, and am thankful to the professors and students I encountered. And, I was never so consumed by work or studies, so as to not enjoy my life doing other things.
Now that my life is my own, I take joy in most things around me. I go to bed when I chose, as well as getting up when I decide I am ready, whether it be 3 AM or 7:15 AM. An alarm clock is a thing of the past. The garden outside the kitchen window that is overgrown with Lemon Balm, gives me daffodils in the early Spring, Evening Primrose in June, Tiger Lilies later in the Summer as well as a beautiful red colored flower. I watch the chipmunks dashing about, as well as the squirrels. Mother Groundhog had twins this Spring, so I can watch them, and the beautiful deer and fawns that visit. If I am fortunate, I will see the hen turkey watch over her 8 chicks feeding as they traverse the yard. Not cutting the grass too short in the back yard allows them all a sense of security. And than there are the birds, including all the various woodpeckers. When the weather cools, the same cast of characters will be here, except for the bear. The chicks will be grown and the fawns will have lost their spots. Occasionally, the bear comes to see what is left in the bird feeders or visits me when I am trapped within the garden, picking greens for lunch. Fortunately, I do not seem to be on its list of things to eat.
My life, I believe is simple. I do not need things. Granted my computer is an extravagance, as well as my TV, and my Honda, and then there are my books, but I acquired all these, except for a few books, when I was still working. Retirement has allowed me to do what I chose to do. My goal of never again having to earn a penny is intact. My benefactors are SSI, a pension from my first hospital job, and the Veterans Administration.
My life is lived by what I remember of the 10 Commandments, although I have considered myself an atheist for over four decades. My interest in Buddhism has guided much of my life. My “higher laws” come from living and observing. I believe I understand Right from Wrong and that we are all the same, and killing others and animals will only complicate the future. In this period of devisiveness, I find sadness and sorrow, but realize that there are those that will continue along these paths in attempts to become powerful, and accumulate wealth, while leaving destruction of various types, in their wake.
I really do not know if I built castles in the air. What I am convinced of is that what has preceded this moment has allowed me to live on a firm foundation, and enjoy.
Whether or not I stayed true to the subject of Mark’s question/request is for you who may read this to decide. I am happy with it, and will welcome any comments.
June 25, 2016 at 5:28 pm
One of the most quoted lines in all of American literature. It has sold countless coffee mugs and motivational calendars, to be sure, but the source is a proverb that goes back into the English tradition as far as the writings of Jonathan Swift and before that, too. While it was a commonplace in Thoreau’s day, the source for Thoreau’s “castles in the air” may have been more specific. Some believe that Thoreau is revising the proverb as he found it in the writings of seventeenth-century English writer Sir Thomas Browne. In his “Letter to a Friend” (1656), Browne writes, “They build not castles in the air who would build churches on earth; and though they leave no such structures here, may lay good foundations in heaven.” Thoreau’s revision thus reads like a refutation to Browne’s Christian humanism. Rather than postpone your dreams for another world, Thoreau says, realize them in the here and now. See Stefano Paolucci, “The Foundations of Thoreau’s ‘Castles in the Air'” in the Thoreau Society Bulletin 290 (Summer 2015), 10. For a history of “castles in the air” as a proverbial expression, see “To Build Castles in Spain” in Wolfgang Mieder, Behold the Proverbs of a People: Proverbial Wisdom in Culture, Literature, and Politics (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014), 415-435.
June 25, 2016 at 4:44 pm
This transcendental epiphany becomes a satirical “spiritual lesson” in Herman Melville’s short story, “The Apple-Tree Table; or, Original Spiritual Manifestations,” published in Putnam’s Monthly Magazine in May of 1856 (465-475). Several critics have commented on this, the first being Frank Davidson, who argues that Melville’s story “records its author’s thoughts on religion at a critical time in his life” (479), and that its “inconclusive ending” speaks to the author’s “conflicting and unresolved views” on Calvinism. (See “Melville, Thoreau, and ‘The Apple-Tree Table’.” American Literature 25.4 (1954): 479-488.) If you ask me, Melville’s take on Thoreau is a parody of Transcendental optimism, characterized as a naive faith in “spirit” that blithely ignores the more pessimistic facts of material existence. It may be pretty to think that the bug symbolizes resurrection and immortality, according to Melville, but when the bug dies the next day, what are we to make of that? In Thoreau’s defense, the conclusion does not moralize upon resurrection as such; rather, Thoreau tells his reader how to live without an abiding faith in resurrection and immortality.
June 25, 2016 at 3:38 pm
The first version of Walden, the 1846-47 manuscript held by the Huntington Library (HM 924), begins, “I should not presume to talk so much about myself and my affairs as I shall in this lecture if very particular and personal inquiries had not been made concerning my mode of life,–what some would call impertinent, but they are by no means impertinent to me, but on the contrary very natural and pertinent, consider the circumstances” (1-2). Having already spent a year at the Pond, Thoreau began work on the first draft of Walden, initially conceived as a lyceum lecture for Concord citizens who were curious about his experimental mode of living. For more on Thoreau’s “A History of Myself” lecture, see Richard Smith, “Thoreau’s First Year at
Walden in Fact & Fiction” at the Thoreau E-server website, http://thoreau.eserver.org/smith.html.
May 11, 2016 at 9:48 am
Posted in: Emerson-Thoreau SUNY Geneseo
While I understand Thoreau’s sentiments. I find that my own mind is too limited. I need the thoughts of others to challenge my own ideas and give food for thought later on. In fact I love talking to people who I disagree, provided they are open-minded enough to tolerate my opinions as well. I’m not “at the mercy of my thoughts” when I am alone so much as when I am alone after having a challenging conversation or reading a challenging text. Transcendentalists believe all truth can be found from within, But I still have trouble believing it. I desire other people’s opinions to compare with my own and to expand my ability to think from multiple perspectives.
May 11, 2016 at 9:39 am
I love how Thoreau is recognizing a whole world underneath the ice. When he states, “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads,” I can’t help but think of the dozens of times I have been on a walk through some waterfall trail by the finger lakes or elsewhere. While walking, I am in awe of large towering water falls, but I am still more entranced by the beauty of the small creeks dripping through moss, the little flowers, salamanders, and mushrooms. Seeing “Heaven on earth” is not always the large grand things that scream for our attention. I think the greater things require a patient, watchful eye.
May 11, 2016 at 9:29 am
This paragraph reminds me of Emerson’s ideas of nature and the over-soul. Emerson talked about how nature is a reflection of our own mental state. This paragraph may seem to make the 2 transcendentalists have conflicting ideas, but really they are in harmony. What we see around us is representative of our inner mental state, and by seeing the positive and beautiful aspects of nature around us, we show the positive energy within ourselves.
But I think this passage is not just about a positive perspective, but also about contemplating everything. There are little miracles everywhere to contemplate. We should always keep a sense of child-like wonder for what we see around us, even for the tiniest snail.
May 10, 2016 at 4:27 pm
I really admire how Thoreau finds joy through the simplistic elements of nature, particularly Walden Pond. I wish more people today were willing to take a moment and do the same.
May 3, 2016 at 9:45 pm
“We cannot but pity the boy who has never fired a gun” This quote in essence, is what Thoreau wants to explain to the reader throughout the entirety of this work. He is preaching experiential learning. We cannot but pity the boy who has never fired a gun because he has been stripped of an experience that will make him more alive. Thoreau previously stated in Walden that he does not want to come close to death, and realize that he has never lived. He pities the boy who has never fired a gun, because he is noticing that he is not making the most of his life through experience. The best way to learn in the eyes of Thoreau is through expanding yourself and having a wide array of experiences.
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