[The low shrub-oak]
More commonly known as the scrub oak.
The grasslands of Asiatic Russia.
[enjoy freely a vast horizon]
“Il n’y a d’heureux dans le monde que les êtres qui jouissent librement d’un vaste horizon.” (M. A. Langlois, trans., Harivansa, ou Histoire de la Famille de Hari [Paris, 1834, I, 283]). Again, the English translation is most likely T’s. Damodara is another name for Krishna.
[Re Rusticâ” is my “Cultivator]
T is probably referring to either the Boston Cultivator or the New England Cultivator, both of which were published in Boston in his lifetime.
[the experience of two years]
Note the structure of the book. To give it unity, he combined the experience of two years (and, indeed, some of the experiences of the period from 1847 to 1854, when W was finally published) into one. This was a favorite device of T’s. He had used the unit of a week for his first book, A Week, and in Cape Cod combined several excursions into one. Lane (1969) suggests that combining the two years into one added to the mythic qualities of the book, but in turn lessened the realism.
[me of a certain house]
A house he had seen in the Catskill Mountains in 1844, as he tells us in his Journal (V, 361).
[goddess might trail her garments]
The Iliad (Maxwell).
[if I except a boat]
T built the boat himself and used it on his excursion on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. He sold it to Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was then living in the Old Manse, who in turn passed it on to Ellery Channing. It eventually rotted away and was disposed of. Hawthorne tells at some length the story of his acquiring the boat in his American Notebooks, in the entries for September 1 and 2, 1842.
[like a meat without seasoning]
“Et un séjour sans oiseaux est comme un mets sans assaisonnement” (M. A. Langlois, trans., Harivansa, ou Histoire de la Famille de Hari [Paris, 1834, I, 282]). The English translation is undoubtedly T’s.
[possible site of a house]
In his copy of W, Ellery Channing lists Weird Dell, the orchard side of Fairhaven Hill, the Cliff Hill, and Baker Farm as other sites T considered.
[each farmer’s premises]
Poirier (86), in a discussion of T’s use of puns, points out that “premises” here can appropriately mean both property and proposition from which a conclusion is drawn.
The “picturesque” school of landscape architecture, popular in T’s day, reveled in displaying deformed trees.
[can afford to let alone]
The first, second, third, and fifth paragraphs of this chapter were first published in Sartain’s Union Magazine (XI, 1852, 127), with slight variations in wording and punctuation. A short segment from “Sounds” was published in the same volume. Since they were the last issues of Sartain’s published, it raises the question of whether T intended to serialize more of W, only to have the magazine fail on him.
An old farm on the Sudbury River just below Hubbard’s Bridge.
[monarch of all I survey]
The word is italicized to call attention to the pun on T’s own means of earning a living.
[there is none to dispute]
From “Verses supposed to be written by Alexander Selkirk” by William Cowper.
[have frequently seen a poet]
Undoubtedly Ellery Channing, who often accompanied T on his walks and who often described Concord landscapes in his poetry.
[carry it on; like Atlas]
According to Greek mythology, Atlas carried the world on his shoulders.
[have always cultivated a garden]
T was famous in Concord for his gardens. He delighted particularly in raising many varieties of melons and each fall gave a melon party, which was one of Concord’s social events of the year (Harding, 1993, 89).
[you, if it is good]
Cato, De Agri Cultura 1.1. T would have little complaint about the current Ash-Hooper translation. “When you are thinking of acquiring a farm, keep in mind these points: that you be not over eager in buying nor spare your pains in examining, and that you consider it not sufficient to go over it once. However often you go, a good piece of land will please you more at each visit.”
[As I have said]
He said this before on the title page, where these lines are set forth as the theme of the book. The “ode to dejection” refers to Coleridge’s poem of that name.
[as lustily as a chanticleer]
The rooster, a standard symbol of dawn.
[ears that hear it. Olympus]
The residence of the gods in Greek mythology. Cavell (56) suggests, “The abode of the gods is to be entered not merely at the outermost point of the earth or at the top of the highest mountain, and maybe not at all; but anywhere, only at the point of the present.”
[abode, for I found myself]
Cavell (53-4) notes how frequently T speaks of “finding himself” and suggests its transcendentalist implications.
[scarlet tanager, the field-sparrow]
T is mistaken here about the field sparrow, for as the name implies, it is a bird of the open fields rather than of the woods.
[a mile and a half]
T did not retire far from civilization. He was within easy walking distance of Concord village and only twenty miles from Boston.
[to fame, Concord Battle Ground]
Site of the battle of April 19, 1775, the opening skirmish of the American Revolution.
[up of some nocturnal conventicle]
A secret or illegal religious meeting.
As he tells us later, in “The Ponds,” the lake is l/2 mile long, 1 3/4 miles in circumference, and covers about 61 1/2 acres.
[important. From a hill top]
Channing identifies this as Heywood’s Peak, which is directly south of Walden Pond.
[and more distant mountain ranges]
The Peterborough range in southern New Hampshire.
[that it keeps butter cool]
In the days before refrigeration, butter was submerged in the well on summer days to keep it from melting and becoming rancid.
[which in time of flood]
The rivers of Concord (including the Sudbury) still overflow their banks each spring.
within paragraphs 10, 11, and 12 Thoreau describes his the exhilarating experience he has when looking out at the pond. As he experiences the nature surrounding his existence is awakened. Thoreau recognizes his satisfaction with his life as he states “There are none happy in the world but beings who enjoy freely a vast horizon,” unlike the town which Thoreau had previously been living in, his new house in nature has provided him with the space to grow as a human and discover himself without the interference of society’s burdens.
In paragraph 12 Thoreau talks about how happiness can be profound within looking farther away from Earth. To pay attention to the lovely horizon. He took the time to describe the way he feels towards using his imagination to locate farther away from reality. In paragraph 11 it talks about how the neighborhood can be looked differently. To look away from your surrounding that’s there is more than just land, there’s beauty to look at.
Thoreau’s comparison to a bragging rooster “standing on his roost” can be seen as an almost religious awakening. He is enlightened and declaring it to all who can hear. However, he is also elevating himself above others, showing that he finds himself superior from this vantage point his newfound wisdom has provided him with.
I think this is an apt comparison, Jennifer — and interestingly consistent with the suggestion in the TAL episode that Wake Up Now is a kind of cult. It may not be an accident that Thoreau was writing shortly after a period of religious revival in the U.S. that historians call “The Second Great Awakening.”
[Wherever I sat, there I might live, and the landscape radiated from me accordingly.]
The portion of this paragraph from this point to the end forms the text for composer Gregory Spears’ song “Where I Lived, And What I Lived For,” Track #8 of The Opera America Songbook – Volume 1. The song is performed by baritone Jesse Blumberg and pianist Djordje Nesic.
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.
I think it’s really interesting that Thoreau is talking of the time in which people are sort of looking for a home, and it’s interesting to me because he was 27 at the time he left to live in the woods. At around a similar age these days, I think people start to think about where they might want to live, and are also thinking of potentially buying a home for the first time. In some senses time hasn’t changed the age at which people look for a home. Just based on some quick research the average homeowner in the United States buys their first home at age 31 or 32, but nonetheless it’s interesting that the age has only increased by 5 years in the past 200 years, at least if you use Thoreau’s age at the time as the average age someone bought their first home at the time.
It is very interesting me how he just left to go live in the woods. He looks at life as a whole, not just something that is passing by, looking at the whole picture and all the aspects that play into that.
I think this is a very interesting idea. He uses the analogy of seeds becoming less productive with time and compares that essentially to one being forced into the life they shouldn’t have over time. “As long as possible live free and uncommitted”, I believe he is referring to one avoiding the “normalized” daily life of man and trying to sustain one that is free of those chains and more in-tune with a natural life.
Thoreau seems to be talking about productivity here, in reference to his seeds and how when he does decide to plant them, in time, he will likely be satisfied from what they bring, instead of hastily planting seeds that may not sprout without the intended patience and placement. I think this carries through to his view on people, which he goes on to recommend that people live free and uncommitted to the mechanism of daily life because it makes little difference.
[I found thus that I had been a rich man without any damage to my poverty.]
Thoreau makes an interesting point here about society’s concept of wealth. Though Thoreau has very little money he considers himself rich because of the rich experiences of his life.
People today are incredibly focused on money, but focusing on experience instead of money might be a better way to assess how satisfied someone is with his life because he will always have his experiences and memories, while money can be easily taken.
I agree with that completely, I think that people should definitely take time and look whats around them instead of focusing on what they need all the time.
[stitch in time saves nine]
A proverb that can be traced at least as far back as Thomas Fuller’s Gnomologia (1732).
[Shams and delusions are esteemed]
For a complex analysis of the remaining paragraphs of this chapter, see Balthazor.
[sincere a worshiper of Aurora]
The Roman Goddess of dawn.
[and again, and forever again]
Confucius, The Great Learning, “Commentary of the Philosopher Tsang,” chap. I, p. 1.
[that ever sang of fame]
“And the trumpet that sings of fame” (Felicia Hemans, “The Landing of the Pilgrims”).
[It was Homer’s requiem]
T was probably thinking of Homer’s tribute to the mosquito in the Iliad (17.567-73) (Weissman).
[have the Saint Vitus’ dance]
A nervous disease characterized by involuntary motions of the limbs.
[never old! “Kieou-pe-yu]
Shanley (1971, 397) has corrected the typographical error of the first edition of W, which read “Kieou-Pe-you.”
Cannot accomplish it: In the first edition of W, this reads “cannot come to the end of them,” but in his personal copy of W, T changed it to the present reading, which Shanley accepts.
[messenger! What a worthy messenger]
Confucian Analects, XIV, xxvi, 2.
[end of the week,—for]
According to Genesis, the Sabbath is the last day of the week, rather than the first, as in the modern calendar. The Seventh-Day Adventists were particularly active in calling attention to this in T’s day.
The idea, which was common to the English romanticists and the American transcendentalists and most notably expressed in Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality,” is that the child has a superior understanding of the universe which he loses as he grows older.
[a Hindoo book]
The Sanchya Karika, translated by Henry Thomas Colebrooke and H. V. Wilson (Oxford, 1837, 72) (Stein, 1970; Hoch, 1970).
[to Aldebaran or Altair]
The names of various stars and constellations
[did hourly feed him by]
The author of these lines is unknown, but they were set to music in 1611 by Robert Jones as the ninth song in The Muses Gardin of Delights, or The Fift Booke of Ayres (Leach; Schultz).
[its own wrath and wanderings]
The Iliad opens with a reference to Achilles’ wrath, and the Odyssey to the wanderings of Odysseus.
[a standing advertisement, till forbidden]
“Till forbidden,” abbreviated to “tf,” was a printer’s term for a standing advertisement.
[intelligences awake with the morning]
The Sanchya Karika, translated by Henry Thomas Colebrooke and H. V. Wilson (Oxford, 1837, LXXII, Comment) (Stein, 1970, 304).
[to the woods]
“He went to the woods … with no intention of abandoning society or of going primitive. Instead, by beginning from scratch, he would relive all human life and history and test the achievement of civilization by what he found, hoping, of course to demonstrate that choice was still possible and to reorient society by showing what had been lost on the way” (Paul, 306). For an exceptionally interesting stylistic analysis of T’s paragraph, see Shwartz, 67-8.
[it in my next excursion]
T usually referred to his travel essays as “excursions.”
[like ants; though the fable]
Aeacus, son of Jupiter in Greek mythology, was king of Oenopia. When a pestilence destroyed his subjects, he entreated Jupiter to repopulate his kingdom by changing all the ants in an old oak tree into men.
[pygmies we fight with cranes]
The opening lines of Iliad III compare the Trojans to cranes fighting with pygmies
[error, and clout upon clout]
“If we can get a garment to cover without / Our other garments are clout upon clout.” From “New England Annoyances,” with which T was familiar, in John Warner Barber’s Historical Collections … of … Massachusetts (Worcester, 1841, 195).
[the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity]
If T really meant simplicity seriously, why did he repeat it twice? A number of critics have asked – I trust facetiously.
[at all, by dead reckoning]
A method of determining the location of a ship by its last known position and its course and direction. Dead reckoning was used especially in bad weather or when stars could not be seen.
[is like a German Confederacy]
The German Confederation was constantly changing its borders, until national unification in 1871.
[and export ice]
As we shall see in “The Pond in Winter,” the practice of shipping ice from New England to warmer regions for refrigeration was just beginning.
[and talk through a telegraph]
The Morse telegraph had been invented in 1835, and by the 1840s was rapidly spreading through the nation.
[ride thirty miles an hour]
Railroad trains, the first vehicles to reach such speeds, were just coming into the area, and in fact had reached Concord just the year before T moved out to Walden. While T admired the vigor of the railroads, he despaired of its devotion to material ends (Cronkhite).
[do not get out sleepers]
Ties upon which the railroad tracks were laid. Note the pun, which T makes much of later.
[shall we get to heaven]
Another reference to Hawthorne’s satire “The Celestial Railroad.”
[them. They are sound sleepers]
Moldenhauer (1964) discusses at length T’s use of paradox here and throughout W.
[of riding on a rail]
Note the punning allusion to running a person out of town.
[is, without setting the bell]
The parish bell was rung in one way (known as “setting the bell”) to call people to church, and in another to call them to a fire.
[not set it on fire]
In May 1844 T and his friend Edward Hoar accidentally set the woods on fire at Fairhaven Bay, destroying a number of acres of trees. T felt guilty about it for years. For his own account of the fire, see his Journal (II, 21- 5). For a contemporary newspaper account, see Thoreau Society Bulletin 32 (1950).
[morning on the Wachito River]
The Washito (or Ouachita, as it is now called) flows from Arkansas into the Red River in Louisiana. According to Allen, when the residents of that area got into a fight, they would try to gouge out their opponents’ eyes with a turn of the thumb.
[the dark unfathomed mammoth cave]
“Dark unfathomed caves of ocean” (Thomas Gray, “Elegy in a Country Churchyard”). T is referring to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, noted for its blind fish.
[that were worth the postage]
Actually T was a fairly regular letter writer; the new edition of his correspondence, being prepared for the Princeton edition of his writings, will fill three volumes.
[that penny for his thoughts]
“A penny for your thought” can be traced at least as far back as John Heywood’s Proverbs (1546).
England had established the so-called penny post in 1839. At the time of the publication of W, letter postage in the United States was three cents.
[over on the Western Railroad]
A railroad formerly connecting Worcester and Albany, now a part of the Boston and Albany Railroad.
[Pedro and Seville and Granada]
“The persons here named appear prominently in the annals of Spain during the ‘thirties and early ‘forties. During the first part of the period, King Ferdinand and his brother Don Carlos were struggling for power. With the death of the king in 1839, Maria Christina succeeded to the throne as regent. In 1841 she was temporarily replaced by General Espartero, also as regent; but in 1843 the thirteen-year-old Infanta was crowned Queen Isabella” (Crawford, 367).
[was the revolution of 1649]
When the Commonwealth, under Cromwell, abolished the British monarchy.
[be thrown off the track]
The trains then spreading their tracks over New England were easily derailed.
[that terrible rapid and whirlpool]
An allusion to the Scylla and Charybdis of Ulysses’ journey, recorded in the Odyssey.
Still the name of the business center of Concord, so called because it was originally built on the dam of a mill pond, long since filled in.
[the day I was born]
Another allusion to the romantic belief in the superior wisdom of the child.
[so by the divining rod]
According to folklore, a stick, usually of willow, that when held in a certain way would, of its own volition, point to the nearest underground source of water (Noverr).
[dinner, situated in the meridian]
[to the mast like Ulysses]
So that he might hear the song of the Sirens yet not succumb to the fatal desire to go to them, Ulysses had himself tied to the mast of his ship and had his sailors’ ears filled with wax.
[a point d’appui]
A point of support.
[a gauge, not a Nilometer]
“Because of the anxiety occasioned by the rise of the river the kings have constructed a Nilometer at Memphis, where those who are charged with the administration of it accurately measure the rise and despatch messages to the cities” (Diodorus 1.36.10 ).
[if it were a cimeter]
A scimitar, a sword with a curved blade.
[thundering voice,—“Pause! Avast]
Possibly an allusion to Father Taylor of the Boston Seamen’s Bethel, who was famous for the nautical allusions in his sermons. He was the model for the character of Father Mappie in Melville’s Moby-Dick.
The first line of the paragraph is such a wonderful one- I get a sense of how living should be done: simple, without stressing out too much about how everything is. To me, especially being a modern reader, I think that we all too well that we shouldn’t make life any harder than it has to be, which is a wonderful concept.
“To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”
This line suggests our ability to change the way our day is perceived. We can allow our emotions to be dulled down by say, a rainy day, or we can look at what we see in a different light. Instead of focusing on the negative we make it into a positive and it is in that moment, that change, that we will “affect” how that day is, which, Thoreau seems to consider an art of its own.
To add to this comment, Thoreau is stating at the beginning of this paragraph how he finds nature to be the prominent component of his happiness. He seems to find that with a simple life, he can be happier, since he has less to worry about. This is a concept that few recognize in today’s society, where lives are becoming increasingly complicated and increasingly negative. By having the opportunity to observe the always-present beauty of nature, Thoreau has little else on his mind, and as a result is quite happy.
I agree. If we can affect our day and make it better and more positive that can influence how you feel and make you change. Thoreau believes that “it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look.” The idea of art and change and affect seems to be important also, art is everything including the emotions that we feel.
I agree with your statement because chapter 14 talks about how he wakes up every morning with a cheerful matter. when he so explains, ” To be awake is to be alive. I have never met a man who was quite awake.” Thoreau seems like a man with hope in nature. He wakes up every morning and takes his time to observe the morning with a nature view.
If we look at the bright side of life, not only that but by waking up every morning with a bright, happy view of the day. Like Thoreau I would think that if we had a different perspective of nature and paying more attention to it life would be better. As he says, ” Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.” is our responsibility to make a difference in our lives.
This reminds me of Sherlock Holmes’s theory of the brain being like an attic, and his proclamation that it’s foolish to crowd it with useless facts that aren’t directly relevant to everyday life. This was his reason for not knowing basic facts like the content of the solar system. I think Thoreau’s ideas may make life simpler and more peaceful, and give him a greater focus on living deliberately and getting in tune with himself, but in practice I believe that ignorance often leads to trouble and conflict, especially when you must coexist with other people.
“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep” is so far one of my favorite quotes of Thoreau’s. I really like the meaning behind it about not living our lives “asleep” so to speak and we need to appreciate each day and live to the fullest, not being so fully absorbed in material things.
I really love this paragraph in particular, because I feel like the happiest people in life are those who can find good in any situation. A person who can take an environment that many others would find depressing or bothersome, and see it as an opportunity or simply view in a better light is a very powerful person. To me, Thoreau can sound pretentious in a lot of his writing, but this section is one that I really appreciated him putting into words. I think this idea of manipulating your view of the world into something good is a very important takeaway from this book, and a teaching that would benefit a lot of people today.
Thoreau’s litany of “simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” encapsulates his dismay towards technology. In this section, Thoreau champions introspection and an uncomplicated lifestyle. He censures humanity for their desire to innovate, focusing on the railroad. He does not believe advanced transportation to be a necessity, but more importantly, he considers the project consuming and detrimental. He claims that if people detached from their desires for speed, wealth and material things, we could live more meaningful lives. The line , “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us,” demonstrates the power and control that technology wields over humans. Thoreau is disconcerted with “sleepers” or workers who willingly and ignorantly devote their life work to constructing a steel track. He calls for everyone to wake up from dreams of modernization, and avoid society’s obsession and devotion to technology. I could only imagine how disgusted Thoreau would be with smartphones. However, I cannot agree with his aversion for advancement. I acknowledge that people are bound to ringtones, notifications and text messages, and that we as the creators have ironically become enslaved by our own products. But, it will always be our choice whether or not to hit the power button or look at the screen. Additionally, technology has had obvious beneficial impacts, and I think that it would be absurd and unsafe to live without it completely. Thoreau is correct in the captivating potentials of technology, but he fails to credit human accountability, and recognize how technological advancement, in moderation, has transcended us.
I feel that Walden has made a good point here, but he is living in conflict with his own beliefs. In a lot of ways I view his sojourn into the woods to be a break from reality. Here he is exhaulting the goodness of being one with nature and how it can transform anyone’s life, but he does not understand the true implications of this life. He has not lived it his entire existance. He does not understand the toils of working the land consistantly to survive, he has not felt the gnawing hunger of starvation, and so I don’t feel he has the authority to comment on this. I do realize that he has mentioned that his decsion is for everyone. I read this passage and felt that he was waxing poetic on a lifestyle he does not fully understand.
Living deliberately is something that Thoreau felt was lacking in his society, and I believe that this concept is still absent in our society today. So many people go through life on the conveyor belt of school to college to working a 9-5 job with little thought as to what they really want to accomplish in their lives. High school seniors are basically mandated to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives at the young age of 17 or 18 in order to keep going on that conveyor belt. It is abnormal, or even looked down upon if someone decides to forgo college and take the road less travelled. Living deliberately is the way to truly enjoying life and getting the most out of the endeavors you go through, and I believe that our society needs to make a change in this direction to have happier, and healthier future generations.
To add to this discussion of hope in the morning, Thoreau captures the renewal, power, and energy that can be found in the morning time. When one performs this of her own ambition, there is an incredible opportunity for productivity, or even simple tranquility. However, I don’t think that T is merely arguing that the time of day which constitutes morning is what must be experienced. T argues that the world needs to throw off its sleepiness and actively participate in life: “Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me… It matters not what the clock says…” This is yet another section where T eerily speaks to our contemporary society, one that could be seen as constantly sleeping, physically or otherwise. I see this as a call to arms against idleness, particularly the idleness of mind.
Thoreau explains how living a life in complete solitude and restricting himself to only the bare essentials is truly living. Through this he feels he is getting a more realistic idea at how life actually is. Although I believe Thoreau may be finding his own serenity and living simply, it is an unrealistic way of life. I disagree that isolating oneself is a more genuine way of living. People are social beings and rely on each other not only to survive, but for interaction too. I do see a reasoning for removing from society, to get a feel for doing things on your own. By removing himself from everyone he may have taken a step too far.
This passage harbors plenty of meaningful messages but particularly at the end. Beginning from “Moral reform is…” to “How could I have…”, Thoreau challenges his audience to become aware of their lives or to rise from slumber. Thoreau claimed there are millions of productive workers who are unconsciously laboring away; the mentality of a person half-asleep, functioning on autopilot. The contextual use of “morning” can then be interpreted as a time of awakening oneself both physically and intellectually.
By applying one’s intelligence and conscientiousness into the pursuit of life’s greater goals, he or she will then lead a divine life. A life that Thoreau has never met.
[Little is to be expected of that day, if it can be called a day, to which we are not awakened by our Genius, but by the mechanical nudgings of some servitor, are not awakened by our own newly-acquired force and aspirations from within, accompanied by the undulations of celestial music, instead of factory bells, and a fragrance filling the air—to a higher life than we fell asleep from; and thus the darkness bear its fruit, and prove itself to be good, no less than the light. ]
Interesting solely if taken at face value but even more so, if thought about metaphorically. Maybe the mechanical nudgings of a servitor are not only the tones of an alarm clock, but the aspirations and meanings given to us by society? Perhaps the Genius that physically awakes us in the morning if we allow it, is also the pull to think above the conventions society has established and to seek our own purpose separate of them as Thoreau seeks to do in is retreat to Walden.
To me, this passage perfectly encapsulates the point that Thoreau is trying to get across throughout the entirety of Walden. “I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life.” Thoreau went to the woods because he is a transcendentalist thinker who is challenging what his society had to offer. He wanted to go to the woods to to immerse himself in the simplicity of life, to find out what the true meaning of being a human was. To find out the true meaning of being a man, without the hindrance of society, to find out what living life at its foundation truly means. As a side note, I also thought that it was interesting that he brought religion into the passage. Once again, he is challenging society, challenging man’s fixation with religion, and stating that one must fruitfully live their life on earth as opposed to just simply accepting that God is “the chief end of man.”
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.
[To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?]
These three sentences seem to comment on how routine most of society is. People generally go through each day simply doing the same thing as the day before, not necessarily fully engaged in the present. They also might be worrying about one thing or another, which would add to their distraction from their current surroundings. These people are not “awake”, as Thoreau describes them, but somewhere between wakefulness and sleep. To see someone fully awake would be so intense and unusual, Thoreau would have had a hard time directly looking at him.
This is even more applicable today. How often do we check our e-mail ten times to avoid starting work? With endless new apps, news sources, and social media, people are constantly distracted. For many people, every opportunity of free time is filled with these apps (especially social media)- despite knowing that social media is linked to higher rates of depression. However, research shows that many of these platforms are addicting. Unfortunately, much of the information we receive is unimportant in benefiting our lives. While I personally believe that the point of view presented here is extreme (connections to one another are important!), I do agree that there is too much hype related to news. Negativity is spread through the news and it is usually filled with bias. This has been an issue and continues to be an issue, with no end in sight. What might Thoreau think about the outrageous prices we pay for cell phones and internet access? He believes that the post-office is unnecessary. This business is slowly fading out today, but it has been replaced by so many other businesses and technology. While it can look like we simplified life, it can also look like we have made things more difficult.
“Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails.” This makes me think of sustainable living. From the communities I have learned about, one thing seems to be prevalent in them all: a need to get away from the “real” world. As in Thoreau’s writings, there’s a need to get back to nature, get back to the root of all things without any kind of distractions. This paragraph and this sentence make me think of that idea, and that’s what I think sustainability is: the ability to live on your own, without any distractions. Similarly, it seems that by living this way, Thoreau thinks a person can sustain themselves.
In reading this and reflecting on sustainability, I find an interesting tension here between awake and asleep. Thoreau acknowledges that he has “never yet met a man who was quite awake.” By his logic, such a man would be fully divine. Humans have the capacity to touch this divinity but not necessarily to fully embody it because of the inevitable necessity for sleep. Rest is necessary in many senses, and I’m wondering where the sustainable balance is between striving for awakeness and allowing one’s self rest.
I am wondering what Thoreau would have thought reading about having student read his work as a standard in high school. Would he think this a good thing? That it would help everyone to live deliberately? Live less meanly?
Thoreau’s idea of sustainability works for him but his methods of farming and simplicity would likely be much harder to accomplish if he had a large family. Once someone has a family they will likely want to provide them with medicine if they are sick. his sustainable life style also relies on the docility of his neighbors. Without community how can a man protect his family from robbers or brigands. Also his desire to eat simply is fine but is very susceptible to outside forces like disease or nature destroying crops.
[the chief end of man]
“What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever” (the Shorter Catechism, from The New England Primer). While T quotes twice from this major document of orthodox Protestantism, he was anything but orthodox in his own religious beliefs (Bush).
[According to Evelyn]
John Evelyn, Sylva; or, A Discourse of Forest Trees (London, 1679, 227).
[we should cut our nails]
“The nails neither to exceed nor come short of the finger tips” (Hippocrates, “In the Surgery,” Works [Loeb, 1928, III, 63]).
[I wrote the following pages]
Morse (150), choosing these opening lines as a notable example, says, “In truth W is a self-dramatizing, self-advertising and deeply duplicitous book that seeks to mask its excessive ambitions behind a facade of commonsense and practicality.” W is filled with wordplay of all sorts. Lane (1970) analyzes at length the puns in the first three paragraphs of the book. Donald Ross (1971) provides a checklist of the wordplay T uses.
[rather the bulk of them]
T wrote no more than half the text while at the pond. The rest was worked on in the later versions before publication (Shanley, 1957, 125). “The bulk of them” is an aside quite typical of T, as Broderick (1982) wittily demonstrates – a sort of precursor of the modern footnote – and T uses it deftly.
[the notice of my readers]
For a particularly thoughtful study of the relationship between T and his intended audience, see Railton.
Although T is undoubtedly referring to many direct inquiries, some of which he describes later in the book, he is also probably referring to the fact that he was asked by his fellow townsmen to give three lectures before the Concord Lyceum on his experiences at Walden. The texts of these lectures were later incorporated into the book itself. Much of the material on this page, for example, was taken from his lecture of February 10, 1847. Rossi (251) suggests that T started his account of his life at Walden earlier and used the inquiries as a rhetorical pretext for explaining his purpose in writing.
[who have lived seventy years]
“The days of our years are three-score and ten” (Psalms 90:10).
[some would call impertinent]
Note that “impertinent” can refer to “inquiries,” “townsmen,” or “life” (Cavell, 45).
[always on the limits]
On the limits: to the point of overdrawing a bank account.
[debt, a very ancient slough]
T is undoubtedly referring to the “Slough of Despond” in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress where insolvent debtors were mired.
[only not state-prison offences]
Misdemeanors are punished by imprisonment in county jail; felonies, in state prison.
[contracting yourselves into a nutshell]
“I could be bounded in a nutshell” (Hamlet, II, ii, 260).
[lead lives of quiet desperation]
T uses the words “desperation” and “desperate” six times in this one brief paragraph (Cavell, 55).
[bravery of minks and muskrats]
Minks and muskrats, when caught in steel traps, will even chew their own feet off to free themselves (Dean).
[a mile from any neighbor]
Actually there was a whole hamlet of huts and shanties occupied by Irish railroad laborers less than half a mile from T’s cabin, but T chose to ignore them. Hawthorne (395) gives a vivid description of this colony. While there is a general impression that T lived in a hut or shanty at Walden, he himself, in W, refers to it more than eighty times as a “house,” only twice as a “hut,” and never as a shanty. It was undoubtedly much better built than many other houses in Concord (Robbins).
[dry wood under a pot]
Dry wood under a pot: a reference to railroads, which in the 1840s were beginning to spread throughout the country.
[people, as the phrase is]
I have been unable to find this phrase in any collection of sayings or proverbs.
Although T was eight days short of twenty-eight years of age when he went to Walden Pond to live, he wrote a large portion of the book in later years, not completing it until 1854, when he was thirty-six. In the campus rebellions of the 196os and ’70s, a common cry of college students was ‘”Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” T, appropriately, was one of the few heroes of those rebelling students.
[earnest advice from my seniors]
Yet T quotes continually from his “seniors” – Confucius, Darwin, Chapman, and so on – throughout the book (Bickman, 35).
[cannot live on vegetable food]
Although T was not an absolute vegetarian, as were some of his transcendentalist friends, he did follow a modified vegetarian diet for many years. See the chapter “Higher Laws.” See also Joseph Jones.
[of life in some circles]
For an elaborate discussion of the circle images in W, see Tuerk.
[what thou hast left undone]
“Be not afflicted, my child, for who shall efface what thou hast formerly done, or shall assign to thee what thou hast left undone?” (H. H. Wilson, trans., The Vishnu Purana [London, 1840, p. 871]).
[the shore of Walden Pond]
Lyon discusses Walden Pond as a symbol. “Walden remains Thoreau’s ultimate image of God upon Earth and the central symbol of the work to which it gives its name” (299).
Concord, then a village of about 2,000 people, is 18 miles northwest of Boston. It is now a prosperous suburb with a population of 15,000.
[two years and two months]
Exactly two years, two months, and two days—that is, from July 4, 1845, to September 6, 1847.
“In all, the first-person pronoun occurs almost three thousand times in W: ‘I’ 1816 times, ‘my’ 723 times, ‘me’ 306 times, and ‘myself’ 65 times” (Neufeldt, 1989, 181). In fact, T used “I” so frequently that the printer ran out of the letter occasionally in setting type (Stern, 145).
[a simple and sincere account]
There are those who question just how “simple and sincere” T’s own account is—and not without reason.
“Poor” in the sense of needy, rather than inferior. Note the particular audience to whom T is addressing the book. He later suggests W is primarily for those who are dissatisfied with their present life.
[the Chinese and Sandwich Islanders]
The common nineteenth-century name for Hawaiians.
[of another like stranded vessels]
Both Bonner (1985) and Springer discuss the surprisingly large number of nautical images throughout W.
[heard of Brahmins]
Upper-caste Hindus who frequently subjected themselves to various penances as acts of devotion. For an extensive analysis of Hindu influences on this chapter, see Stein (1969).
[the face of the sun]
The sun acts as a key symbol in W; see Hyman.
[can pass into the stomach]
T is quoting from The Library of Entertaining Knowledge: The Hindoos (London, 1834, II, 57-8), which in turn quotes from James Mill, The History of India (1817; London, 1848, I, 410). Hoch (1971 and 1975) gives good brief surveys of Hindu influences on T, as does McShane.
[and suckled by a wolf]
Romulus, the founder of Rome, and his brother Remus are fabled to have been stranded as babies at the foot of the Palatine hill and adopted and suckled by a she-wolf.
[they eat their sixty acres]
The then typical size of a farm in the Concord area.
[only his peck of dirt]
“We must eat a peck of dirt before we die” is a proverb that can be traced at least as far back as Oswald Dyke’s English Proverbs of 1709.
[by four, its Augean stables]
Augeas had 3,000 oxen, and his stables had not been cleaned for thirty years.
Called: T, by the use of this word, stresses how frequently we are misled by the names of things (Cavell, 65).
[says in an old book]
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” (Matthew 6:19). T’s referring to the Bible as “an old book” did not ingratiate him among his religiously conservative contemporaries. For a checklist of biblical allusions in W, see Long.
[Deucalion and Pyrrha]
Deucalion, the son of Prometheus, and his wife Pyrrha were the only mortals saved when Zeus decided to annihilate the degenerate race of man. Upon the advice of Themis, they covered their heads and cast stones over their shoulders which turned into men, thereby repopulating the earth.
[damus quâ simus origine nati]
Ovid, Metamorphoses, I, 414-5.
[in his sonorous way]
Sir Walter Raleigh, History of the World, book 1, part 1, chap. 2, sec. 5.
[a stocking behind the plastering]
Traditional places to hide one’s savings.
[but somewhat foreign]
“Foreign” because it was limited to the southern states.
[to have a southern overseer]
Overseer: supervisor of slaves. T was an active abolitionist all his adult life.
[to have a northern one]
Despite the popular understanding that T fled the problems of modem civilization, he was one of the earliest Americans to protest the northern factory system. He favored beginning one’s reforms at home, rather than in a distant land.
[of a divinity in man]
Although the Puritans concerned themselves with man as a sinner, the transcendentalists of T’s day talked more of the divinity of man. See, for example, Emerson’s “Divinity School Address.”
[reflect that this my Mentors]
Mentor was the friend and counselor of Telemachus, the son of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. The term has come to mean a wise counselor.
[twelve labors of Hercules]
Hercules, the most celebrated of all heroes of antiquity, was commanded to perform twelve feats before he could obtain his release from servitude to Eurystheus. They included such tasks as fetching the golden apples of the Hesperides and cleaning the stables of Augeas.
[They have no friend Iolas]
One of the labors of Hercules was to fight the Lernean Hydra, a serpent with nine heads. As fast as Hercules cut off one head, two · grew in its place. But finally with the aid of his servant Iolas he burned away the heads and buried the ninth, immortal one beneath a rock. T took this sentence almost word for word from Lemprière’s Classical Dictionary, including the spelling of lolas. The more common spelling is Iolaus (Eddleman, 63).
[any divinity stir within him]
“Tis the Divinity that stirs within us” (Joseph Addison, Cato, V, 1).
[for Squire Make-a-stir]
This name does not occur in Pilgrim’s Progress, but it is certainly in that tradition.
[of the fancy and imagination]
The transcendentalists regularly contrasted two types of creative power, fancy and imagination, with the former thought of as more superficial and decorative, and the latter deeper and more serious.
[fancy and imagination,—what Wilberforce]
William Wilberforce (1759-1833), an English antislavery crusader who led the parliamentary battle for the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies.
[the land weaving toilet cushions]
Embroidered cushions popular in ladies’ dressing rooms in T’s day.
Saunders suggests that T’s surprising use of economic terms to convey the joys of a natural and spiritual life is intended to demonstrate how overwhelmingly our vision of life is dominated by commercial values. For further discussion of T’s use of the word “economy,” see Werge and see Heinzelman. Blasing’s “The Economics of W” is a thoughtful and much broader study than its title implies. It includes a good discussion of W as autobiography. Neufeldt (1966, 156) points out that T in his earliest version of the W manuscript used one series of page numberings for “Economy” and a second for the rest of the book, as though “Economy” were an extended preface to W. The most extensive analysis of T’s economic theories is Neufeldt (1989). Birch and Metting give an interesting contrast of T’s economic theory with that of his contemporaries, saying, “T wanted to make it clear that the real quarrel between himself and his neighbors did not involve the necessity of work and industry but centered on the Calvinist doctrine that earthly duties, such as work, were necessarily a hardship to be endured and that accumulation of material wealth was a symbol of spiritual success.”
[As if you could kill time without injuring eternity]
I recently saw this quotation on the Henry David Thoreau twitter handle as a stand-alone tweet, without the context of the entire book, or even the immediate context of the passage. It’s interesting to consider how quotations can accurately sum up a theme of a whole section of a book, and can stand alone (as this one seems to be able to do nicely enough)– however, do things like focusing on “nice quotations” lead us to be lazy and not read the whole book, and thus lose the essential(?) support for the quotation? Will things like this easy quoting, tweeting, etc., only, go against the very meaning of this line itself if we don’t bother to read the book itself and merely rely on the “spark notes edition” of things? “I sometimes wonder that we can be so frivolous.” I think T himself would be somewhat disappointed in how his name was being used, for quotable twitter handles, unless these “scaffolding” type tools like spark notes and easy-to-remember quotations led us to read the actual work.
I think that quotations allow us to inspect a text from a different angle, which may, I admit, lead to a quotation being used in a way that is different from that the author had intended. Somewhat like looking at a detail of a painting. It can be something missed or overlooked. Thoreau himself was a quoter, not always attributing it, and not always quoiting correctly when it suited him to do otherwise (look at how he quoted Etzler’s text in “Paradise (to be) Regained.”) And I do think a single quotation can lead a person to the text, somewhat like how a single potato chip can lead you to the whole bag.
Title: As Thoreau explains later in the chapter, the title means something like “philosophy of living,” economy meaning “the thrifty management of resources” – hence one of the major themes: materialism vs. economy
I feel that Thoreau’s use of the word Economy, based on the Greek origin of Oikos (house) and Oikonomia (household management), is to relate us to our inner household (the temple) and that his intent on waking us up is to have us “manage” ourselves more intentionally. He say in the chapter Reading that ‘a written word is the choicest of relics” and that as a reader of his writing we have to “stand on tip-toe to read and devote our most alert and wakeful hours” to an accounting of our “nobler faculties”.
I would welcome any insight into the comment above that “There are those who question just how “simple and sincere” T’s own account is—and not without reason.” Why was this so, and who are the ones who question Thoreau’s account. To me, Thoreau’s account of his life in respect to simplicity and sincerity is near to being the most perfect statement in American literature.
I sense that Thoreau is intimating much about the mythic adventure he has taken (called Walden) in these opening pages. It is very reminiscent of J. Cambell’s “Hero With A Thousand Faces” where he speaks about the “call to adventure” that the Hero (or Heroine) first hears if ready for such an adventure -or an awakening to self. Within myths handed down to us in story, if one is fortunate enough to hear that call one often then finds themselves in “unknown territory” (the inner world) populated by polymorphous beings that need to be vanquished. These are the “monsters” that I believe Thoreau is wishing to see his fellow townsmen slaying as opposed to being the slaves of the machine age. This the mistaken labor that he refers to a bit further on in paragraph #5.
I think our reading labors are often mistaken too, and I find it interesting that it (Reading) is the very next chapter after he tells us where he lived, and what he lived for.
The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling.
This sentence, as an educator, strikes me most forcefully as our current industrial model of education is in need of some quality attention.
Or like a pearl galvanizing us to dive deep in search of further treasure.
I can’t help but wonder what Thoreau would have thought about the game Monopoly? As a member of the GAMES Magazine Hall of Fame, Monopoly is the most popular board game in the world; sold in 103 countries and produced in 41 languages since 1935, it is still the best-selling board game in the world. The game, simply put, is played by taking turns rolling the dice, traveling around a circular board, buying, selling and trading real estate, collecting and paying rent, fines, and taxes. The object of Monopoly is to bankrupt your opponents and become the wealthiest player, to become “monarch of the world.” Talk about living lives of quiet desperation!
Is Thoreau merely asking us to do our own thinking? That if we have experienced nothing for ourselves, we have not done anything at all? When I think of Thoreau’s interest, and understanding, of Native American life I often reflect upon a piece from “I Become Part Of It: Sacred Dimensions in Native American Life” (Parabola Books 1989) titled “Doing Your Thinking” by Thomas Buckley. The piece speaks about the recognition in Native American culture that all education is really self-education, and that to explain too much is to steal the gift of learning from the learner. One learns how to do something well if one is interested and able, or one doesn’t. If one were to explain too much it would actually be an insult, inferring that one was incapable of doing there own thinking, or stupid.
I love Thoreau’s use of paradox, forever reminding us that “every stick has two ends” or never to get all that comfortable with a static thought. Look at how he presents the capacity to “look through each other’s eyes for an instant” as a greater miracle, when in paragraph #10 he tells us that the “old have no very important advice to give the young” and again, further ahead in paragraph #14 he hears “an irresistible voice which invites” him away from whatever the wisest have to say to him. I believe Thoreau is a master at inviting us to do our own thinking and to stay forever on our toes when reading intentionally.
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” This is definitely a “take-away” line from Walden— the kind of line that people get tattooed down their spine or quoted one late night on twitter, with absolutely no prior knowledge of Thoreau. Hearing this line in the context of Walden, however, it takes on a deeper meaning. Thoreau speaks of how separating himself from “the masses of men” is the way to lead a happy life. It is almost a mantra, that can be used as a reminder as to why Thoreau is isolating himself
Thoreau’s use of the word “sojourner” proves that he has no intention of remaining in civilized life. From the very beginning of this book, he is trying to convince the reader that living in a house at Walden should be the ideal lifestyle for everyone. This is the beginning of Thoreau explaining what he believes is “living deliberately”.
[The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation] I feel this is the epitome of the piece as a whole, a good representation of the general theme.
[The twelve labors of Hercules were trifling in comparison with those which my neighbors have undertaken; for they were only twelve, and had an end; but I could never see that these men slew or captured any monster or finished any labor.]
Comparable to Pope Francis’ views on the state of materialism present in our world. May be possible to live virtuously if we could live simply
This comment was only posted as a trial run. I was not serious about this comment.
I think this paragraph is congruent with the concepts from the multiple other texts we have analyized this semester, and it supports the debate we have had ongoing. Walden argues that man is so focused on its superficial, moneary goods that we have failed to notice are humanistic decline, that we have depreciated to “machines”.
The “civilized life” he is in now seems to be more of a social life then say civilized. He still seemed to have the necessities of being civilized when he lived in the woods.
[The portion less, who struggle with no such unnecessary inherited encumbrances, find it labor enough to subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh.]
Comparable to Marx’s view of the haves and have nots
[I lived alone]
Did he really though? What does it actually mean to live alone? Maybe we need to consider variations on common assumptions here.
Society forces people into roles they do not desire.
I found this passage to be especially interesting. The idea that age itself does not make one wise contradicts the common thought that elders in society have lived long lives and have much experience to share with youth on their mistakes. Here, Thoreau poses the notion that elders are actually living in the past, and out of the loop essentially from new methods and ideas that weren’t even thought of when they were younger.
[ see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of. Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in.]
On the values of what both ‘being given’ and ‘having earned’ mean. He is comparing inheritance to having to earn things in your life, implying what is earned can be far more than what is given by alluding to Romulus and Remus – Having inherited nothing, they were able to create one of the the greatest empires in history
[Age is no better, hardly so well, qualified for an instructor as youth, for it has not profited so much as it has lost. One may almost doubt if the wisest man has learned any thing of absolute value by living.]
Does age really give us an advantage in how much we know and how well we know it? Times change so rapidly that everyone’s experience on earth is shockingly different.
Here do we have a statement on the fluidity of human morals, or of human nature? Two similar concepts, yet it is certain that they are different in meaning and in impact.
Where else can we draw insight on the ideas referenced here? (including the biblical and nautical referenced brought in)
[Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them]
This paragraph emphasizes man’s obsession with obtaining more possessions or “factitious cares” that are not actually needed for survival. People become so obsessed that they lose what makes them human.
I believe this quote exemplifies the expectation of society on men and women. Men and women are supposed to suffer to live, but suffer quietly. This imposes something on citizens. When someone asks you “How are you?” the polite response is “I’m well” even if the world feels like its falling apart beneath your feet.
Here Thoreau is speaking of how some humans are born into their future, specifically farmers. He thing this is unfortunate because people will struggle to get rid of being in this. It is human nature to do what the individual wishes to do and benefit themselves but if they are born into something they do not enjoy it may not be a fulfilled life. Compared to lock which says from labor we obtain property and he may look at this as a open door to perform labor and gain property if already born into it.
[Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.]
I feel this is a good example of Thoreau’s opinion of both the individual and the society that individual is in. He talks of how individuals are often their own slave-drivers, that by simply accepting their place or their role, they are imprisoning themselves. Just before this quote he asks about the teamsters ambitions and imagination, saying these things are limitless; with these thoughts he is “Godlike … immortal”. But he cowers from this and lives in fear, becoming a prisoner of his own self deprecating thoughts. Thoreau says while it may seem a society is the restricting factor in an individuals life, there is nothing more harmful than that individuals own thoughts. “What a man thinks of himself… indicates his fate”.
Human nature is depicted as being stone-cold. It is here that Raleigh specifically states that, “From thence our kind hard-hearted is, enduring pain and care, approving that our bodies of a stony nature are”. He uses words like “heard-hearted” and “stony nature” that illustrate human nature as not only permanent, but cold.
Locke writes on self-actualization through work. Laboring to create and then enjoying the fruits of said labor to enrich the quality of one’s life, or the estrangement of labor to acquire currency in order to purchase that which one cannot themselves produce. Here, Thoreau claims that labor for currency is in a sense ruining man, with “the better part of man soon ploughed into the soil for compost. He argues that to work for currency which one spends to acquire necessities for their lifestyle is a foolish endeavor. Perhaps in his efforts to estrange himself from society through isolation in the woods, he is attempting to prove he can live a satisfying life without the need of labor, other than that which he engages in to provide for his own sustenance.
Society treats people inhumanely in the market economy. “He has no time to be anything but a machine” (Thoreau, 1854). The labor that people have to offer becomes one’s primary purpose and other endeavors of the individual are left to waste because they are deemed as irrelevant when compared to the importance of work. “Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them” (Thoreau, 1854). When people are so completely dedicated to their work, they are not truly free.
[It is hard to have a southern overseer; it is worse to have a northern one; but worst of all when you are the slave-driver of yourself. Talk of a divinity in man! Look at the teamster on the highway, wending to market by day or night; does any divinity stir within him? His highest duty to fodder and water his horses!]
Thoreau seems to be questioning the purpose of man here. When he says, “his highest duty to fodder and water his horses,” he seems excited by the absurdity that could be all someone is living for. He asks, “does any divinity stir within him?” The “purpose” of man, for Thoreau seems to be more than just watering horses—something greater than man, in his own words, “divine.” But that purpose is overshadowed sometimes by one’s self. To Thoreau, the greatest slavery is to be a slave to yourself. Locke talks about slavery in an external, tangible way that requires rules and laws. Here, Thoreau talks about slavery on an individual level, a level untouched by rules and regulations. Locke says, all men should be equal—that no person should hold power over you, ever. You belong to yourself. But what happens when you’re the one holding the power over yourself?
I think the point of the piece is to defy this quote. Thoreau’s cabin in the woods is to let him escape the masses of men and live the life that satisfies him.
When Thoreau says “The great part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of any thing it is very likely to be my good behavior,” I think this connects back to his essay “Civil Disobedience”(“Resistance to Civil Government”) as he talks about how people should stand up for what they truly believe in rather than simply abiding by what the government deems to be right.
[The better part of the man is soon ploughed into the soil for compost. ]
The idea of being born into a profession or onto a piece of land that one must till until the end of his days is a trap for man. Any parts of him that are valuable and capable of learning and expanding reason and genius is tilled into the ground and left for compost because the fact that so many mindless days are spent on this labor, intellect suffers. The cyclical schedule and nature of this life only builds the body and not the mind. They work but in working they do not work their intellect (genius) but bury them as they turn the ground.
Sometimes old people always give us their suggestions which cased on their personal experience and want us to follow their advice. In china, there is a proverb is “If the old dog barks, he gives counsel”. It seems that there is an interesting controversy and in my view I think both these two side hold water. I think because nowadays everything is changing so fast that old people’s experiences may not as helpful as they think but these advice can still be some kind warnings for us to set up our own ideas.
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.
Wonder what he means by that…
[Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in. Who made them serfs of the soil? ]
It is interesting to note how Thoreau describes the pitfalls of inheritance. He sees these things as almost damaging to a person because they are blinded and condemned to work
[ Leave a comment on paragraph 6 4 Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them. ]
Thoreau again makes the point that most people are forced into labor and because of that, are unable to see the truly great and natural things in life. They are so focused on their labor that they miss the worlds’ true beauty
Do you agree?
I think Thoreau is unfairly prejudiced against men and their traditions. It seems like Thoreau is the same fallacy that many teenagers make. “If I cannot understand why something is being done, surely it has no purpose”.
It’s interesting to me that Thoreau identifies farmers specifically as people who are limited by their inheritance and commodities. Many intentional communities have sustenance as an integral part of their work, with farms or community gardens providing food. This is the humble work of existence. I don’t see the alternative; if you need to eat, you depend on SOMEONE farming. If you rely on someone else to do that for you, and don’t offer love or labor in return, then are you really liberated from need?
I think that by students he means the people who like to learn from reading. Students of literature, you could say, with the literature in this case being his book. In this context, a student is not necessarily our typical image of a young person attending classes and doing homework assignments. It encompasses a much wider range of people, any one who has made it their business to learn from books. He may believe the poor students to be particularly interested in his mode of life – eating, feelings of loneliness, income – because he made for himself, with no income, the basic necessities which they lack.
In Reece’s chapter, he tells of Thoreau’s belief that no wealth can buy the freedom of walking and the leisure of a life not weighed down. Here, Thoreau undermines the value of farms, houses, barns cattles, and farming tools, useful only for their ability to produce wealth. The way he sees it, these “unnecessary inherited encumbrances” only tie people down to the difficult and smothering life of a laborer. Because they have inherited these tools, they will of course use them, and proceed with maintaining acres and acres of land for the purpose of accruing wealth to further take care of the land and its buildings. Were they without such misfortunes, they might be independent of all these responsibilities weighing them down. They could walk through life without “pushing a barn” before them, and accrue enough wealth to meet the minor day-to-day needs. They would have more time for leisure and thought, rather than feeling smothered by the land, tillage, mowing, pasture, etc.
“The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly.”
In Reece’s writing, we find out that Thoreau believed in our human nature as a moral compass, one that we can trust because it is part of a larger nature. Here, Thoreau expresses that idea through a comparison with a familiar element of nature – the bloom. It is a common subject of poems, paintings, home decor. By choosing such a commonly studied piece of nature, he makes it easy for a reader to feel that their nature shares something with the larger nature. The idea of treating ourselves delicately to reveal the finer qualities of our nature agrees very well with the parallel of a compass. One handle a compass with care so that it stays intact and can point them in the right direction. To Thoreau, humans in the industrialized, ambitious society have broken that compass, and so have forgotten to trust in and live freely with a larger nature.
I wonder if Thoreau is being shortsighted here because it is unlikely that people could survive famine and droughts if we only grew what we could by hand
The French translator of Walden considers Thoreau’s mode of life to be impertinent, which I agree. I believe that Thoreau is contrasting his own mode of life to the people who lived in the town. When Thoreau says, “they” do not appear to me at all impertinent, I think he is referring to his affairs.
The German translator, however, thinks that the questions are impertinent.
What do you think?
By the way, I am the Persian translator of Walden.
Dear Mark, Is it “my mode of life” which is impertinent? Does “what” refer to “my mode of life”?
See Harding’s note above, referencing Stanley Cavell, on the antecedent of which (what in versions A-B). Inquiries seems to me the likeliest primary referent, but the ambiguity is interesting. At some point, presumably in version C, what became which: Was Thoreau trying to narrow the range of possible referents, reducing ambiguity? Mode of life is a bit of a stretch as antecedent, since it’s a mismatch, in number, with they. But the pun on impertinent (= rude but also beside the point, hence the follow-on very natural and pertinent) is a reminder that you can never rule out the possibility that Thoreau has deliberately crafted his writing with an eye towards increasing, rather than reducing, the number of ways he can be read.
Thank you, Paul. This was very helpful.
It seems, as you say, tried to expand the meaning in a way that keeps his readers’ mind between three words.
The description he gives of his lifestyle here is somewhat misleading, because in reality he lived near a town that he visited often, and received gifts from friends with relative frequency.
Thoreau is very interestingly concerned with the motivations and actions of the men of his day. He feels they don’t work and have the proper motivations comparatively with what he feels is ideal. The labors of Hercules reference speaks to this idea very well.
Again Thoreau criticizes the lack of focus by humanity on what is truly important and necessary in life. “games and amusements of mankind” are seen by Thoreau as completely trivial and unimportant, and it’s easy to understand why he thinks so. Thus his continuation of advocacy for a simple lifestyle illustrates how men can be wise and avoid doing “desperate things”
[My nearest neighbor]
As has been pointed out, there was a much nearer community of Irish shanties along the railroad track, but T preferred to ignore these in W.
[To fish for pouts]
A common New England freshwater fish.
[The world to darkness]
“And leaves the world to darkness and to me” (Thomas Gray, “Elegy in a Country Churchyard”).
Once again, Harvard College, from which T had graduated.
[What is the pill]
T is probably thinking of Morrison’s Pill, which Carlyle describes in the chapter of that name in Past and Present.
[dark, though the witches are]
Salem had been the site of witch trials in the late seventeenth century.
[Beautiful daughter of Toscar]
From Patrick MacGregor’s “translation” of Ossian, The Genuine Remains of Ossian, “Croma” (London, 1841, 193).
[Hill, or the Five Points]
Beacon Hill is the eminence on which the state house stands in Boston. Five Points was a section of lower Manhattan notorious for its squalor and crime.
[and the mud to Brighton]
Brighton, now part of Boston, was then the site of numerous slaughterhouses and farmers’ markets. “Bright” was a common farm name for a favored ox.
[environ us on all sides]
Confucius, The Doctrine of the Mean, XVI, 1-3.
[must of necessity have neighbors]
Confucian Analects, IV, xxv.
[sky looking down on it]
In Hindu mythology, the Vedic god who presides over the deities in the middle realm (the air).
[another. However intense my experience]
T was constantly aware of the fact that he was never able to lose himself completely in any emotion.
In the first edition a comma appeared after “remunerate,” but T struck it out in his copy.
[alone, hardly in their dreams]
A famous social experiment of the time was conducted in Lowell, Massachusetts, where girls were hired to work in the textile mills and lived in factory dormitories nearby. Reformers roundly praised the artistic products of their leisure time, but T questioned the effect on their individual spirits.
[lost in the woods and dying]
I have been unable to discover the source of this story.
[has not the blue devils]
Blue devils: a popular name for hypochondriac melancholy.
[one is a mock sun]
A common natural phenomenon known as a parhelion or sundog.
When Jesus cast the evil spirit out of an unclean man, “He asked him, ‘What is thy name?’ and he answered, saying, ‘My name is Legion: for we are many'” (Mark 5:9).
[than the Mill Brook]
The Mill Brook still flows through the center of Concord, although now partly underground.
[wood, from an old settler]
Since a few lines later T refers to the old settler as someone thought to be dead, it is likely that he is referring to Pan, the Greek god of all the inhabitants of the country. “The great God Pan is dead” is from Plutarch’s “Why the Oracles Cease to Give Answers.” Charles Anderson (77-8) questions the usual interpretation of this as Pan. Cameron (1991) suggests T is referring to Hawthorne’s “Gray Champion.”
[ever did Goffe or Whalley]
Two of the regicides under indictment for killing King Charles I in 1649. They fled to America and hid in various places in the Connecticut River Valley.
[is buried. An elderly dame]
[persons, in whose odorous herb]
[outlived so many old Parrs]
Thomas Parr, reputedly born in 1483, who died in Salop, England, in 1635 at the age of 152.
[one of those quack vials]
Patent medicines of the day, hawked from village to village in covered wagons.
The modern Souli River, which according to Greek mythology was in communication with the realms of Pluto.
[westward the steps of Aurora]
A Roman goddess, the forerunner of the sun.
[am no worshipper of Hygeia]
The Greek goddess of health.
[that old herb-doctor Aesculapius]
The “blameless physician” of the Iliad.
[but rather of Hebe]
According to some ancient authorities, Juno conceived Hebe after eating lettuce. As Eddleman demonstrates, T is quoting almost word for word from Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary.
For an analysis of the structure of this chapter, see Ross (1970).
[visitors have been there and left their cards, either a bunch of flowers, or a wreath of evergreen, or a name in pencil on a yellow walnut leaf or a chip] So Thoreau had groupies even in his own time. I wasn’t sure if he was considered more of an eccentric than a local celebrity, but I guess it was both. It’s pretty comical, though, that they left him flowers and wreaths and a ring from a willow – those sound like little kid gifts, like “mud pie” or something. I guess that’s the stuff Thoreau likes, though. Nature.
I find it interesting that Thoreau chooses to to describe himself “more favored by the gods” compared to other men. I know there has been a few discussions in class that have been brought up about how people feel Thoreau at times shows off the fact he came from a well-educated background and had the means for him to be able to live in the woods, and I feel that this is another point where he shows that off. He had claimed this lifestyle is not for everyone, but describes to us in this paragraph here how he himself has “never felt lonesome” in his time of solitude in the woods, and is very much enjoying the company of Nature
“When the play, it may be the tragedy, of life is over, the spectator goes his way.” This comment resonated with me. I realized that all too often human beings are concentrated entirely on themselves and on nothing else. In many cases I would rather complain about my own trials and tribulations than worry about others. This passage is causing me to reflect upon the fact that people can be self centered and this can hurt them spiritually.
To me, I find this paragraph quintessential to the theme of Walden, almost the equivalent of John 3:16 from the New Testament, which is considered to encapsulate the entire message of Christianity in one verse. Thoreau reiterates several main themes of his work, such as his isolation, being in his “own world,” and the reclamation of nature. If I was to introduce someone to the work of Thoreau and they did not have time to read the whole work, I would make sure that they were aware of this paragraph. His last line, which even brings up religious themes and the fear imbibed by the dark, only serves to drive home the biblical comparisons.
I wonder, how would Thoreau feel about methods of communication like email, texting, and talking on the phone? Would he condemn these types of technology or find them more tolerable than forced face-to-face conversations?
In this paragraph, Thoreau goes into great detail about how he is basically a better human because of his ability to appreciate his “oneness” with Nature. While this idea comes across in a very presumptuous manner, i think he does have a point. I think the ability for someone to be content and one with themselves and their surroundings when completely on their own is actually an important ability. Thoreau is explaining here how he is able to connect on such a level with Nature, that the technological advances of societal life are completely insignificant. While i do not think it is that easy or intelligent to completely disengage with society in today’s day in age, i do think it is important to be aware of how technology can be an amazing resource but also a detriment to our connection with the environment around us if we let it be. In today’s society, i think this has happened. We have reached a state of affluence that in my opinion, has been largely influenced by the exponential growth of technology. If we were able to take some of Thoreau’s ideas about being one with Nature, and focus on finding a correct balance between that mindset and technological advances, we would be in a far greater place today.
Thoreau’s description of his surroundings tempts the reader to drop everything and go to Walden pond. The serenity and his appreciation for the little things in nature makes the reader stop and enter this mindset. This simplistic way of thinking makes the reader more observant to his or her surroundings as well.
While reading this paragraph, I questioned if Thoreau would have felt this way if he was more extroverted. Similarly to Thoreau, I myself appreciate the time that I spend alone as I reflect upon my own thoughts. When he says that “We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers,” I believe that this statement rings true for many people who are in the presence of someone that they do not relate to whatsoever. Thoreau believes that we do not have to be in the presence of others in order to learn. Rather, it is possible to expand our knowledge while we are alone, because there is no one there to distract or exhaust us. When performing work within a designated field, it is impossible to feel lonely because this will make it possible to work in solitude.
[I could always tell if visitors had called in my absence, either by the bended twigs or grass, or the print of their shoes, and generally of what sex or age or quality they were by some slight trace left,]
I wonder what Thoreau means here by quality. Does your quality depend on the type of trace you leave? What trace could one leave behind that makes you higher quality in Thoreau’s eyes?
This section reinforces that Thoreau was not a big fan of people. By his tone of voice, one can assume that Thoreau is not happy about his visitors. He is able to draw conclusions about the people who visit from very small details. This implies that he pays very close attention to his surroundings and knows exactly when something changes. The idea of Thoreau being in touch with his surroundings is once again touched on in this section, as it has been throughout Walden.
[To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating.]
This quote, and entire paragraph reminds me of the quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, The Great Gatsby, when Jordan Baker tell the protagonist Nick, “And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”For, even among the intimate company of others or among large crowds, like Thoreau states,it is tiresome to be around others. Always putting in effort to focus on those around us and indulge their thoughts and ideas, solitude provides a sole focus on the self. This self-reflection and introspection may serve as restorative time whether in the fields or in the home as a student.
[ She was probably the only thoroughly sound-conditioned, healthy, and robust young lady that ever walked the globe]
This is certainly an intriguing judgment. Is it meant to be as gender-related as it sounds, do you suppose? (If so, what does it say about the author? About his times?)
“I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” While this is a paradox, it is a great awareness and consciousness to solitude. To embrace the company of being alone, is courageous. Not many people today embrace the strength of solitude. But to do so is to travel within our soul and find a deeper understanding of life. “We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will. Solitude is not measured by the miles of space that intervene between a man and his fellows.” Thoreau is embracing solitude. To be comfortably alone is a strength. This is solitude. To be with others may be more lonely–for we are influenced by others, and not as close to our truest self with others. To be in solitude is to be alone with our closest, most well known friend: ourselves.
“I should not talk so much about myself if there were any body else whom I knew as well.” (Economy)
“I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” (Visitors)
Much of Thoreau’s passages are metaphorical as well as humorous.
As we have discussed in class today (4/4/16) there are various interpretations of what solitude means to Thoreau, especially if it were to be placed in the context of today’s more technologically “plugged in” society. Two view points / questions offered in class were:
1. Does technology serve as a means of connection and interconnectedness . . an extension of company?
2. Is the use of technology used to fill the void / fear of loneliness and solitude?
However, in my opinion, it would seem as though the use of technology has increased our means of solitude and isolation by allowing us to disconnect from face to face interactions. The distance of our minds keeps us from having to exert our attention on others ideas, thoughts, and feelings which, as Thoreau states, can be tiresome. Technology gives us the ability to put company down, away, or turned off so that we may still look introspectively at ourselves to enjoy solitude at a moments notice. Although, it would not seem as though this generation takes to enjoying solitude often, the convenience that technology provides us to do so is worth conversation when considering Thoreau’s ideas/thoughts about the quality of solitude.
This might be my favorite line of Thoreau’s thus far. I feel that he perfectly described the separation of the minds that every individual feels, while addressing the question of loneliness due to his isolation. I found this entire paragraph to be very thought provoking, as he brought in a lot of different elements to the conversation.
I found it particularly interesting when he addressed the issue of enormity in the universe. I enjoyed the quote, “This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky Way?” I felt that he perfectly put in perspective the isolation that our planet as a whole experiences. In retrospect, living outside of the village is merely a few hundred feet of distance, compared to the immense distance between all aspects of the universe that we are a part of.
One will never find another man who completely understands his mind. Therefore, isolation will always exist. Without isolation of the minds, we would lose the ability for original thought. I felt that he brought in the positives of isolation through this paragraph, and brought to light a new perspective to loneliness.
“I believe that men are generally still a little afraid of the dark, though the witches are all hung, and Christianity and candles have been introduced.” I find this sentence really interesting because he touches upon two “religious” ideas; that of Christianity and Paganism. Religion as whole can be viewed as a way to bring people together that may fear life and the unknown. When Th. talks about how many men are still afraid of the dark, this darkness goes deeper than just absence of light. I believe that this darkness encompasses a whole other Truth or area of awareness and knowledge that most men may still shrink from. This darkness and the fear of it can be seen as the fear of the unknown and rather than welcoming it and befriending it, learning from it, they run and hide. Those who are not willing to take the time to learn from Nature entrap themselves in their societal ideals. Religion can be viewed as a way to subdue fears but it never explains where the fear comes from or why there may be no reason to feel it at all. Th. says that he has no reason to be afraid and perhaps it is that he has taken the time to understand the darkness that he has welcomed it as an essential part of life and Nature.
This has a very Emersonian tone to it. Emerson, in Nature, wrote when you seek the beauty of Nature it is often not there for you to see because nature likes to sneak up on you and leave you staring in awe. This sentence makes me think of something similar, when you entrap all that there is in the world to physical objects and ideas, the essence of them is often lost. There is an ethereal aspect within each object that people may see or identify with but this is not the entirety of the substance it is merely what holds the essence. If the essence is forgotten and only understood as the tangible object the understanding and appreciation is shallow. Seeking the objects, we think to contain the essence, is not the right way to go about it. Searching in these places that we thought to last see them does not guarantee their presence or existence. It also does not guarantee that they will show themselves. They are everywhere, they only stop to visit the substances we connect them with.
” how I could bring my mind to give up so many of the comforts of life”
This particular statement makes me think back to when Th. decided to walk to Fitchburg instead of working like another man might to earn the fare for a train. Passages like these remind the reader of the differences between what is viewed as “comfort” or “luxury” and what is indeed the more comfortable and luxurious path.
[and, being good for the grass, it would be good for me. ]
I find the simplicity of this line beautiful and peaceful. It touches something inside me like a zen mantra. By stating so simply that what is good for one, is good for another Thoreau emphasizes the cyclical nature of life. Though the rain might destroy his crops, he has faith that in the grand scheme of things it benefits all. His later lines undercut this profound thought with what I can only describe as spiritual narcissism, and show that he might only have been thinking of his own gain from the health of the grass. The line by itself is a meditation on life, but joined with the rest of the passage becomes an ego-filled musing. I personally prefer to take the line by itself, for its purity, or maybe to look at the “favor” he feels from the god’s as a feeling of unity with nature that anyone would have, being one with divinity and the earth.
I think you make a good point in asserting that face-to-face interactions happen less often now due to technology’s abundant presence in our lives. While I think that it is certainly possible, as you say, to turn off the phones and thus ‘put the company away,’ I’m wondering if that’s something that ever happens anymore. I don’t think I’m presuming too much when I infer that not all of us can find company in anything like the pattering of rain drops; however, Thoreau says, “Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me” (Walden, 86). I think what technology has really done, is not provided us with a lack of company, but rather a lack of introspection. No longer do people often sit by themselves and simply go through their own thoughts or appreciate nature. It is these moments that Thoreau so enjoys that he actually schedules times to experience them that we no longer have much respect for at all – not when there are phones in our hands that can so easily take us away from our thoughts and surroundings.
[God is alone,—but the devil, he is far from being alone; he sees a great deal of company; he is legion]
This line struck me the first time through reading Solitude. I know that Thoreau took this quote from the book of Mark, and so did not compose it entirely on his own; however, he did choose to add it here. Why?
After our class discussion on Wednesday, I thought about it more, and I think it can be connected to our thoughts on Thoreau’s potential misanthropy, or at least his cynicism. He states earlier that the lake has the company of ‘blue angels,’ not devils, but now chooses to indicate that there are less people in Heaven than there are in Hell. I think it’s fairly clear through most of Thoreau’s works that he favors the company of nature more than that of humans, or at least that he thinks the essence of nature is more beneficial than the institutions of society. To place this quote here seems to me, then, that Thoreau consciously indicated his dislike, or at least doubt, in the genuine nature of human beings.
In “Solitude” Thoreau explores the greater concept of being “alone” and in paragraph 12 specifically addresses the defining qualities of loneliness:
“The farmer can work alone in the field or the woods all day, hoeing or chopping, and not feel lonesome, because he is employed; but when he comes home at night he cannot sit down in a room alone, at the mercy of his thoughts, but must be where he can “see the folks,” and recreate, and as he thinks remunerate himself for his day’s solitude…”
Essentially, is the word alone defined as a physical or mental state? A person may be surrounded by others, but alone with his own thought. Physical proximity does not equate to loneliness. Likewise, a person may be physically alone, but at the company of his own thoughts.
I believe that language is failing Thoreau. Thoreau enjoys the state of being physically alone, but I do not believe that he is experiencing the affects of loneliness because he still has the company of his own thoughts. If Thoreau is never leaving “his field” much like the farm worker, he is never truly experiencing loneliness.
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.
Finally once he is alone for a little while, he begins to feel one with nature.
In my book he references feeling like his house could have been as far away as Africa or Asia, although his neighbors are just a mile down the road. The fact that he feels so distant to his neighbors, describes how much he enjoyed the ability to be alone.
At this part, I was able to understand how it was okay to be alone and how it is nice to get away from a city or town.
Yes, he finally is able to one with nature and takes in all that is around him.
[repeating our a b abs]
This is the first part of a mnemonic device once used in country schools to teach children the alphabet.
[the lowest and foremost form]
In one-room country schools, the youngest children sat on the lowest benches in the front row.
[Circulating Library entitled Little Reading]
Little Reading (New York, 1827) (Gross, 1988).
[a town of that name]
Reading, Massachusetts, north of Boston.
[who, like cormorants and ostriches]
An old bit of folklore that T may have become familiar with through Sir Thomas Browne’s discussion of “That the Ostrich Digesteth Iron,” in Pseudodoxia Epiclemica, book III, chap. 22.
[a woodchopper, of middle age]
Allen (383) identifies this man as Alex Therien, who is described at greater length in the “Visitors” chapter. Therien is called middle-aged here, but T later describes him as being twenty-eight years old. His actual age was thirty-four.
[as far as Easy Reading]
T may have been thinking of Easy Reading for Little Folks (Boston, n.d.).
[a race of tit-men]
“Tit” means “little,” as in the bird name “titlark.”
[the reading of a book]
And for many a man, W has been that book!
[has had his second birth]
The religious conversion of a person is often spoken of as his second birth.
[is not true; but Zoroaster]
A Persian religious teacher of about the year 1000 B.C.
[church” go by the board]
To fall overboard – that is, permit to be lost.
[starved Lyceum in the winter]
The lyceum was a common educational institution in the small towns of New England in the mid-nineteenth century. Its main purpose was to sponsor a series of lectures each winter. T was a frequent lecturer at such lyceums and was for a time one of the curators of the Concord Lyceum (Hoeltie; Harding, 1951).
[library suggested by the state]
On May 24, 1851, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts authorized and encouraged its towns to establish public libraries but did little else to assist them.
[that we had uncommon schools]
T may have derived some of these ideas from his friend Elizabeth Peabody, the Boston publisher (Joseph Jones, “Universities”).
[we not hire some Abelard]
A French teacher and theologian (1079-1142).
[house, thank fortune or politics]
Concord built its present town offices on the square in 1851 (Wheeler, 171).
[hundred and twenty-five dollars]
T was curator of the Concord Lyceum for the year 1842-43. With a budget of $109.20, he rented a lecture hall, paid for its lighting and heating, and invited twenty-three speakers, including such men as Emerson, Horace Greeley, Theodore Parker, and Wendell Phillips. Yet he was able to turn $9.20 back to the treasury at the end of the year (Sanborn, Recollections, 569-70 ).
[pap of “neutral family” papers]
Periodicals that did not take sides on political issues but provided a variety of reading matter for every member of the family.
[Branches” here in New England]
The Olive Branch was published weekly in Boston, under the editorship of the Reverend Thomas F. Norris.
[Harper & Brothers and Redding & Co]
Harper & Brothers was a New York City book publisher. Redding & Co., booksellers and publishers, had offices at 8 State Street, Boston.
[to select our reading]
T is playing on the fact that Harper & Brothers published a series of books entitled “Select Library of Valuable Standard Literature.” T preferred to do his own selecting.
[parish library, and three selectmen]
The elected governing officials in most 4 New England towns, including Concord, were a small group known as selectmen.
[because our pilgrim forefathers]
The founders of Plymouth, the earliest colony in Massachusetts.
[board them round the while]
In lieu of part of their salary, New England teachers were often given board and room by their students’ parents.
[of the ordinary circulating library]
T is exaggerating here, for Albert Stacy ran a bookstore with a circulating library (that is, book rental) in Concord for many years.
[may read Homer or Æschylus]
Greek dramatist (525-456 B.C.) whose Prometheus Bound and Seven Against Thebes T had translated (Rossi).
[in the Greek]
T had perhaps a better knowledge of Greek and Latin than any other transcendentalist, and translated a number of classical works into modern English.
[tale about Zebulon and Sophronia]
Apparently an allusion to typical characters in the sentimental novels of T’s day.
[their true love run smooth]
“The course of true love never did run smooth” (Midsummer Night’s Dream, I, i).
[got up onto a steeple]
Perhaps a reference to a well-known Baron Munchausen tale in which, during a great snowstorm, he ties his horse to a post, only to discover when the snow melts that he has tied it to the top of a church steeple.
[Romance of the Middle Ages]
Perhaps a jibe at James Fenimore Cooper’s The Wept of the Wish-ton-Wish, or possibly taken from the Arabian Nights (Leisy).
[the primers and class-books]
School textbooks for younger children were known as primers, and those for older children as classbooks.
[from the statue of the divinity]
To lift the veil of Isis, the principal goddess of ancient Egypt, is to pierce the heart of a great mystery. In the Hindu religion, the successful unveiling of Maya, the cosmic illusion, results in a direct knowledge of God and the secret of creation.
[poet Mîr Camar Uddîn Mast]
“Etant assis, parcourir la région du monde spiritual: j’ai eu cet avantage dans les livres. Etre enivré par une seule coupe de Yin: j’ai éprouvé ce plaisir lorsque j’ai bu la liqueur des doctrines ésoteriques” (M. Garcin de Tassy, Histoire de La Littérature Hindoui, Paris, 1839, I,331). The translation from the French is undoubtedly T’s own. Mast was a Hindu poet of the eighteenth century.
[Homer’s Iliad on my table]
For the influence of Homer upon T, particularly in the writing of W, see Seybold.
[them as Delphi and Dodona]
The two most famous oracles of ancient Greece.
[again in order to speak]
“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
[a few scholars read]
Some of the ancient classics have survived only because churchmen of the Middle Ages, not appreciating their value, used the manuscripts as scrap paper for their own notes.
[eloquence in the forum]
T was not always a successful lecturer, and after a failure was wont to deride the value of the lecture platform.
[carried the Iliad with him]
This fact is recorded in Plutarch’s life of Alexander.
[yet been printed in English]
It need hardly be said that T did not in- tend us to take this statement literally. He means simply that no translation has ever succeeded in carrying over fully the spirit of the original.
[further accumulated, when the Vaticans]
The Vatican in Rome houses one of the greatest libraries of ancient classics in the world.
[Vedas and Zendavestas and Bibles]
The Vedas are the entire sacred scriptures of the Hindus; the Zendavesta, the scripture of Zoroastrianism. T was always ready to point out that the bibles of other religions meant as much to him as did the Christian one.
[to scale heaven at last]
An allusion to the building of the Tower of Babel.
[two shallow books of travel]
T was actually an inveterate reader of travel books, averaging about one a month (Christie).
[author of ‘Tittle-Tol-Tan]
In his essay “Walking” (V, 236), T speaks of “the child’s rigmarole, Iery wiery ichery van, tittle-tol-tan.”
[rush; don’t all come together]
In the mid-nineteenth century long novels often first appeared in monthly installments. Dickens is the outstanding example.
[little four-year-old bencher]
Again, a reference to the fact that in country schools small children sat on low benches in the front of the room.
[Indian in almost every oven]
Just at the time T was at Walden, Dr. Sylvester Graham, the inventor of the graham cracker, was leading a campaign to change people’s diets by substituting whole grain flours for the more highly milled products. Many of T’s friends among the transcendentalists were followers of Graham.
For an extensive analysis of this chapter, see Knott.
[It is not enough even to be able to speak the language of that nation by which they are written…]
Thoreau seems to feel that written language is not as easily accessible to the masses, as we do not tune into it as easily as we do spoken words in our native tongue. To be able to read the “works of genius,” he suggests, is a more noble pursuit. In modern times however, written scholarship is much more accessible since literacy is more prevalent. Would Thoreau still view reading so highly? Perhaps today it is not so much about having the ability to read these texts, but choosing to do so and reading deeply and thoughtfully rather than simply glossing over it all.
What with the democratization of literature and much higher literacy rate today, it could be said that Thoreau’s belief, “Most men have learned to read to serve as a paltry convenience,” is outdated. However, his insistence that reading should not be merely an escape or a pastime but a challenging exercise is much easier to relate to modern readers. Surely Thoreau would see the popularity of reading for fun today as irreverent; students and scholars may actively study the classics, but many more people pick up literature for personal entertainment. Perhaps this could be the modern application of Thoreau’s statement about people reading for their own convenience.
The line; “If we live in the nineteenth century, why should we not enjoy the advantages which the nineteenth century offers?” sttod out to me because it’s still relevant today. Obviously, we are not in the 19th century but the concept of moving forward with our culture and accepting changes/new things is still up for debate in the 21st century. For us, it’s less about what types of literature we’re immersing ourselves in and more about technology. We live in the era of the selfie, Google, and online social networks. Many believe that this relatively fresh dependency on electronic devices is negatively impacting our society. However, as Walden pointed out, why not allow ourselves to enjoy the advantages that our century offers? We are the ones who put ourselves in this situation. We invented computers (the internet), cell phones, long-distance communication (video-chatting), etc. We should take pride in our accomplishments , not be ashamed to move on to bigger/better things and allow ourselves to continue bettering society through our use of education and innovation.
It seems that Thoreau values education above everything else in this paragraph, and is willing to spend a great deal of money on it. That being said, I wonder what he would think of the current situation in higher education, in which students have to pay exorbitant costs and often take out large amounts of money in loans to be educated at the level he appears to think is suitable. Would he applaud educators for putting such a high price tag on learning, or reprimand them for making it so financially difficult for students to go to university?
The point I believe Thoreau is trying to make is that we should remain students all of our lives. I agree that everyone should take full advantage of their education. It’s interesting to see his point of view from a different time period, specifically when he states, “Shall the world be confirmed to one Paris or one Oxford forever?” Since then, we have established many elitist universities and have made a further education more accessible to more and more people. I wonder how Thoreau would feel about what we have accomplished today?
The phrase “all men would perhaps become essential students and observers” stood out to me. The idea that you are always learning something new and that everyone you meet will teach you something is an idea I like to keep prominent in my mind. With my goals for being a teacher in the future, I have to remember to keep an open mind to new ways of teaching and that even though my students will be young they will teach me as well. I think it is important for people to keep an open mind to the world around them in order to understand themselves and how they think as well how others may think and see the world as well.
I agree, Kasey. This idea has become an important one in our contemporary thinking about education. It’s interesting that in paragraph 12, Thoreau writes, “It is time that we had uncommon schools, that we did not leave off our education when we begin to be men and women. It is time that villages were universities, and their elder inhabitants the fellows of universities, with leisure—if they are, indeed, so well off—to pursue liberal studies the rest of their lives.” He clearly has in mind the ideal of what we these days call “life-long learning.” He also has the idea of education as a public good. In spite of what looks like elitism in his discussion of modern popular reading vs. the “classics” in this chapter, there’s something fundamentally democratic in the notion that education should be a value of the community.
[ …the adventurous student…]
What does it mean to be an adventurous student? Can you only be an adventurous student by reading the classics or is just having an excitement towards learning and reading enough?
What are your own thoughts about this, Jess? And do you think Thoreau himself offers any kind of answer?
What I see Thoreau saying here is that education, though encouraged and even demanded by our society, is undertaken in the wrong way. He wishes “that we did not leave off our education when we begin to be men and women.” He also points out the trend in our education system to learn what we need to, and not all that we can. When he claims a village should be both a university and a “patron of the fine arts,” he is saying that learning subjects like math and science just so that we can become a functioning member of society isn’t enough. We need to have a passion and drive to learn more than what is necessary.
There is obviously a divide between written and spoken language, but the recent development of the language used through technology (such as email, online forums, blogs and text messaging) has slowly been bridging that gap. David Crystal’s Language and the Internet provides more information on this.
I think that in today’s society with technology constantly expanding it is hard to satisfy Thoreau’s idea of the adventurous student. When i picture the image of Thoreau’s adventurous student I see somebody who is constantly in the library looking up new information and spending most of their time devoted to searching. With today’s search engines the tedious process of searching for information or definitions is cut down immensely due to the ease of finding what it is you are looking for. I think that as long as the need, passion, and excitement towards learning is still there anybody can be an adventurous student. As long as students are ambitious and constantly seeking out new information, the adventure is still there, the ambition is still there. As long as the thirst for knowledge remains unquenchable, there will always be an adventure to seek out knowledge.
An interesting irony here is that the classics Thoreau cites were, in fact, written for oral performance. Silent reading didn’t take hold in Western society until the middle ages. And some classics, such as the Odyssey and Iliad, did not exist in any authoritative “written” form until recent centuries.
Thoreau’s emphasized importance of the “classics” is an idea that is still very present today, especially in classrooms. I recently read an article about reading programs in schools, and the majority of schools in the United States give students little to no choice when it comes to their reading material. One teacher in the article even said that she would not give her students an option, because the students will pick books less important than the classics, and that of all the modern books they will choose from, very few will have the potential to be as good as one of the classics. At the same time, a teacher who gave her students the option to pick their own books noticed that students enjoyed reading more and participated in analyzing their choices more enthusiastically. Even though the books they chose may not have stood up to other teachers’ standards of good reading, the students were being active readers. I think an important question for classrooms today is which is more important: reading “good” books (the classics), or developing a love of reading? Personally I think that the latter is more important, but I could imagine that many would argue otherwise.
Thoreau seems to have very conflicted ideas about higher education. Earlier he points out that people would be better off not going to college and just learning things by living. Here, though, he talks about how undervalued education is. Ultimately, I think he does think higher education theoretically serves a good purpose, but maybe he thinks it’s not executed ideally. It would be difficult to learn to read the classics in Greek and Latin if there’s no one to teach you the languages.
[The modern cheap and fertile press, with all its translations, has done little to bring us nearer to the heroic writers of antiquity.]
“Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed, and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden, not a benefit.”- William Pollard
I think that this is fitting because much like information books are a source of learning, but unless they are available to the right people then they become a burden rather than a benefit. The original bible, the Old Testament, was written in Hebrew, but then translated into Greek. Those that wanted to keep it written in Hebrew rather than having it translated argued that if it was translated it could be used for ill intentions. Despite their arguments it was translated and no longer in the hands of the ‘holy men’ and could be read by the commoners whom the ‘holy men’ and the proponents to the translation were afraid of using it for ill intentions. Perhaps Thoreau instead wishes people could read the classics in their native tongue because they would obtain more knowledge and gain more from reading texts in their original Latin and Greek. They would also not lose words in translation, which is what has happened through revisions and different versions of the Bible. Though the Bible and Homer are of two different genres they are both very much a part of the Western Humanities.
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” -Sir Francis Bacon
Perhaps Thoreau would argue that the classics, like the Iliad, are to be “chewed and digested” and “read wholly [with] diligence and attention” and not be read with haste, but rather read at length so their concepts can be fully understood and grasped. These concepts can ‘intoxicate the mind’ for they are to be enjoyed and make the reader ‘drunk’ with ideas and thoughts about themselves and the world around them. If someone were to read but a portion of such books then they are only understanding a part of what is said and not all that is said. Like taking a quotation from a book and not understanding the full meaning of what is being said during that portion of the text or what is happening within the text during that particular chapter, scene, etc., so they cannot fully wrap their heads around the quote and what is meant by it.
[in founding a family or a state, or acquiring fame even, we are mortal]
I wonder what Locke would have to say about T’s idea here; it strikes me that T is trying to degrade, to some degree, the high perception individuals hold towards politics.
I agree with the statement that Thoreau wanted us to be students throughout our life. I think he didn’t want us to theoretically restrict our learning to one part of our lives (hence his dislike of university,) but wanted us to learn like students for our entire lives. However I think his view is colored by his own upbringing and incredible intellect; not everyone can master the greek works or survive in a cabin from scratch
This paragraph interests me because Thoreau explains how people can be students for the rest of their lives. There is no reason to ever stop learning, or to stop improving. It seems that Thoreau believes that people can become more intelligent by just challenging themselves to think a different way. He also appreciates all levels of genius such as culture, art, music, intelligence, etc. In our time it seems we are moving away from the arts and tend to value practical and problem solving intelligence more.
I agree that Thoreau wants people to challenge themselves to learn their entire life. This can be through reading, school, experience, thinking differently, etc. I also I believe Thoreau sees just as much value in people that are not “traditionally intelligent.” Based on the other passages I see Thoreau appreciating all intelligence alike. He sees how one can benefit from learning something that another person may not value the same way. He sees a constant need for self-improvement and intelligence should not determine how much we can learn or improve.
[all men would perhaps become essentially students and observers]
This is a moment where Thoreau, I believe, lets us in on one of those etymological word-games he likes to play. “Students” have been given special attention since Walden‘s second paragraph, when the author posits that his book may be particularly addressed to “poor students.” Yet it’s clear he doesn’t generally mean to invoke only those in school in a traditional sense. He likely has the original Latin sense of the word in mind–which would have focused on visual observation, as in “Study how those squirrels behave” or “Study this painting.” Thoreau’s “students and observers” phrasing seemingly confirms the older root sense. We all get to be students, therefore, if we’ll commit to the sort of deliberation with which Thoreau urges us to approach our lives. Students are necessarily awake, alert and alive.
I agree that we all have the chance to be students–if we create and allow ourselves to be. To do so however is a different story. To make the time to indulge in our surroundings and observe our world is to be patient with our selves and with our earth–this is a discovery and a virtue.
Walden begins with Economy. Thoreau, in this passage as you mention, addresses his audience in the second paragraph: “Perhaps these pages are more particularly addressed to poor students.”
Students may in fact be observers. Observers who are intentionally focused on the study of life; On the profound meditations which are at our finger tips through a higher sense of awareness. Whether this be an intellectual, or spiritual experience, it is a profound experience to recognize the real. Our surroundings which many of us take for granted: the beauty of the sunrise, or the sound of a bird.
I agree that we all can be students, because we are always learning. Even if we are not actual “students” in a classroom, we are still learning new things every day of our life. I agree with Alexis in the sense that we have to allow ourselves to be students. We must, as Emerson would say, immerse ourselves in nature and everything around us. When we do this, we are learning from our surroundings and we are therefore “students.”
[Yet I sustained myself by the prospect of such reading in future.]
This sentence stuck out to me as a small, but clear, example of Thoreau’s “why”. Although Thoreau had a bigger “why” that was the main contributor to his survival, smaller daily parts of his life, such as reading, also added meaning to his life. As someone who enjoys reading, I can relate to Thoreau.
This paragraph is really striking because of the way Thoreau discusses the learning process. He seems to feel as if humans learning must ideally be very well focused on what they’re learning, and that the learning they do should be through certain books. His point about the necessary context and experience with language is also very interesting, and I have to agree with him. Language has nuances that are often only learned through experience and exposure to cultural factors related to the speaking of the language.
In response to Thoreau’s claim that “books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations”, I’d say that while he makes a good point, I think books reflect history really well, however they are all somewhat biased and opinionated in some sense. They offer an array of different ways to see the past, and the fact that none of them are truly representative of what happened is due to natural human error in perception.
[By such a pile we may hope to scale heaven at last.]
Thoreau holds books in high regard, as seen by this use of imagery. By using books as a means to reach heaven, which is the ultimate goal to most people, Thoreau is illustrating his deep appreciation of books and literature.
One of the things that connects Thoreau to me as an Iranian is his interest in the books in other cultures. I must say it had a very fundamental role in creating this huge interest in him. He studied Sa’di’s Gulistan and quoted from it at the end of Economy, and I see huge similarities between him and Sa’di in Walden.
[The buck-eye does not grow]
A relative of the horse chestnut. A native of the Midwest, it has become very common since its introduction into New England.
[the mocking-bird is rarely heard here]
Although the mockingbird was indeed rare in New England in T’s day, it has in recent years become quite common.
[Tierra del Fuego]
A group of islands at the southern tip of South America.
[look over the tafferel of our craft]
Taffrail, the rail around the stem of a ship.
[stupid sailors picking oakum]
On sailing vessels, sailors were often kept busy untwisting old pieces of rope to use in caulking the seams of the ship.
[is only a great-circle sailing]
The shortest distance between two points on a sphere is the arc of a circular plane passed through the center of the sphere, thus ships (and now airplanes) navigate between any two points on the great circle (Cameron, 1972).
[Snipes and woodcocks also may afford]
Two marsh game birds now no longer legally hunted.
[Expert in home-cosmography]
William Hahington, “To My Honored Friend Sir Ed. P. Knight,” which T probably found in Chalmers, Works of the English Poets (VI, 468). T has modernized the text and misread “sight” as “right,” which Shanley (1971, 402) corrected from the first edition.
[Is it the source of the Nile]
Hunting for the source of the Nile River was one of the great exploratory challenges of the mid-nineteenth century, as was the search for the Northwest Passage.
[Is Franklin the only man who is lost]
Sir John Franklin (1786-1847), a British explorer who was lost in the Arctic. Many expeditions were sent out to search for him.
[so earnest to find him?]
Henry Grinnell of New York was the author, advocate, and patron of an American expedition to find Franklin.
[Be rather the Mungo Park]
Mungo Park (1771-1806?) was a Scottish explorer in Africa; Lewis and Clark led an expedition through the Louisiana Purchase to the West Coast; and Sir Martin Frobisher (1535?- 1594) was a British navigator and explorer.
[pile the empty cans sky-high for a sign]
Elisha Kent Kane, in The United States Grinnell Expedition in Search of Sir John Franklin (Philadelphia, 1856, 164), describes the finding of six hundred preserved-meat cans left by Franklin.
[Nay, be a Columbus to whole new]
Doloff finds many parallels between this passage and Byron’s Don Juan (canto XIV, stanzas 101-2).
[earthly empire of the Czar]
In T’s time the realms of the czar of Russia comprised the largest body of land under one dominion.
[South-Sea Exploring Expedition]
Charles Wilkes led an expedition to the Antarctic islands of the Pacific from 1839 to 1842.
[they more of the road]
In his Journal for May 10, 1841 (1, 259- 6o), T tells us that these are the last verses of Claudian’s “Old Man of Verona.” T has changed lberos (Spaniards) to Australians to make the reference more appropriate to his time.
[count the cats in Zanzibar]
T was undoubtedly thinking of Charles Pickering, The Races of Man (London, 1851), which, according to his Journal (V, 392), he read in 1853. Pickering’s book, an account of his world tour, amazingly reports (349) on the domestic cats of Zanzibar.
[find some “Symmes’ Hole”]
Capt. John Cleves Symmes in 1818 proposed that the earth was hollow and open at both poles. A detailed description of his theory can be found in Blackwood’s Magazine (CCXXVI, 1829, 856-7).
[cause the Sphinx to dash her head]
A mythical monster of Thebes who killed those unable to solve her riddle. When Oedipus solved it, she dashed her head against a rock, killing herself.
[her head against a stone]
“They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone” (Psalms 91:12).
[the old philosopher, and Explore thyself]
The apothegm “Know thyself” has been attributed at various times to nearly all of the great Greek philosophers.
[on that farthest western way]
T wrote W at the height of the migration to the American West.
[Mirabeau took to highway robbery]
The Comte de Mirabeau (1749-1791) was a statesman of the French Revolution. In his Journal for July 21, 1851 (II, 332-3), T quotes the passage at greater length from Harper’s New Monthly (1, 648).
[so much courage as a foot-pad]
Robber on foot.
[I left the woods for as good]
The immediate reason for T’s leaving Walden was that Emerson planned to go abroad on a lecture tour and wished T to take over the care of his house and family. Later in his Journal (III, 214-5) T confessed, “Why I left the woods I do not think I can tell. I have often wished myself back. I do not know any better how I ever came to go there. . . . Perhaps if I lived there much longer, I might live there forever. One would think twice before he accepted heaven on such terms.”
[before my feet wore a path]
The path from T’s cabin site to the pond is still there, kept open nowadays by visitors who come from all over the world.
[before the mast and on the deck]
On sailing vessels, sailors slept before (that is, in front of) the mast. T’s Harvard classmate Richard Henry Dana was the author of the celebrated Two Years Before the Mast.
[see the moonlight amid the mountains]
Channing has said that T refers to a boat trip they took together in 1844 on the Hudson River, when they spent the night in the bow of the ship because there was bright moonlight.
[and hush and whoa, which Bright]
Then a common farm name for an ox.
[Extra vagrance! it depends]
Neufeldt (1971) discusses T’s use of “extravagance” in W. Stern suggests that T splits the word to emphasize its roots – extra (outside) and vagari (to wander).
[to men in their waking moments]
Berkowitz suggests that T is probably parodying Richard Baxter’s Autobiography (London, 1696), “as a dying man to dying men.”
[insensible perspiration toward the sun]
“Insensible perspiration” was coined by the Italian physician Sanctorius (1561-1636) as a synonym for metabolism.
I have never found a satisfactory explanation of this sentence. An early Journal version (Princeton edition, I, 429) reads: “In view of the possible and future – we should live quite laxly – and be more straightened behind than before. If there were a true and natural development we should be all defined in front, our outlines dim and shadowy on that side – as the crown of a rising flower shows newly from day to day – and from hour to hour.” But that enlightens me, at least, no further.
[that the verses of Kabir]
“On pretend que les vers de Kabir ont quatre sens differents: L’illusion (maya), l’esprit (atma), l’intellect (man), et la doctrine exoterique des Vedas” (M. Garcin de Tassy, Histoire de la Littirature Hindout [Paris, 1839, 279]). The translation is apparently T’s.
Kabir (1440-1518) was an Indian mystic and poet.
[to cure the potato-rot]
The potato blight, or rot, struck the United States in 1845 and the British Isles in 1846.
[A living dog is better]
“A living dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4).
“The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels.”
Everywhere we go we leave a mark. Think about when you are walking on a muddy trail or how a dirt driveway takes the shape of the abuse it’s given. Out shoe prints will stick out on that dirt trail and our tire tracks leave deep impressions on the drive way when the land is wet. While this is a literal meaning it was one we cannot ignore. Just as similar as what we do leaves an impression in our mind. If we allow ourselves to be open to love – as cheesy as it sounds – that love will stick around as a memory, an impression that we let our minds travel.
“The volatile truth of our words should continually betray the inadequacy of the residual statement.”
There is something to be said about a sentence that sticks out. It means one should give it a second look, perhaps a third, or – quite frankly – as many that is needed to understand what you are reading. The truth of our words should always carry a validity that we can either be proud or disappointed in. There should be something lasting with our words that will make people remember us for what we’ve said, more so than what we’ve done. If the truth doesn’t hurt, you are doing it wrong, and that is the point. If we spoke the truth, without worrying about what others think, they would have a more lasting impact if we did care, because when we do, we are vague with our speech and the impact is just not the same.
Like Martha, I wanted to focus on this sentence: “The volatile truth of our words should continually betray the inadequacy of the residual statement.” We begin with the idea of truth–but not a fixed, immortal truth like Plato’s forms, rather a volatile truth: a truth that is changeable, erratic, impossible to contain. This mercurial thing, the volatile truth, belongs to our words. That is, our words possess a kind of inner wildness that is their truth, and this wildness, when we are writing as we should, betrays–that is, reveals, discloses, but also, is disloyal to, breaks faith with–the inadequacy of the residual statement, that which remains after the essential thing is gone, the residue or husk. The residual statement (the material form of the sentence, printed on the page) thus exists in a vexed and paradoxical relation to the volatile truth of our words (the wild essence of our meanings). But statement and words are also obviously inseparable: if the truth belongs to one it must also belong to the other. The double meaning of betray captures the way that words can both reveal and resist their own inadequacy, their failures to contain their own wild meanings. To read Walden with this sentence in mind is to imagine the physical text as a series of residual statements that must be reanimated, brought back to their volatile truths by a reader sufficiently awake to perform the task.
Does anyone else feel a little shiver go down their spine when Thoreau says, “we think that if railfences are pulled down and stone-walls piled up on our farms, bounds are henceforth set to our lives and our fates decided”? It’s so chillingly true, isn’t it? And think of how, by sheer habit, we condemn ourselves to live like deep-cave-dwelling fish, swimming around sightless in the same pools, because we think that’s all we can do. But even more chilling, strangely, is the idea that I could – could – walk out of my door, with nothing but a pocketful of bus fare, and ride to a different part of the country, begin a new life – that in fact, the boundaries of our lives are not set. Such a simple thought, and yet one that chills with both excitement and fear.
“I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one.”
I found this moment on of the most significant in Walden. Through my readings, I often felt conflicted at Thoreau’s message to his readers. Did he want us to live at our own Walden pond? Did he encourage us to forsake our societal comforts? He certainly put great effort into assuring us that this lifestyle wasn’t for everyone, but for those that it was, should we keep it forever?
No, this quote says. The silent, awed contemplation of nature is a worthy and wonderful pursuit, but it is not the only pursuit. Thoreau recognizes this, both for himself and for his views as society as a whole.
While we too benefit from silent meditation, our reflections lack meaning without sharing them.
And not only do we as humans leave marks, but all living things leave marks: dogs, leaves, birds. And, like human love, we must also remain open to the impressions of the living world.
Thoreau’s interest in the ruts of tradition and conformity is important to our personal impressions as well-we must remain open to love and other positive influences, but must carefully shield ourselves from impressions that would seek to trod upon us like the “worn and dusty…highways of the world.”
I think that Thoreau generally is urging his readers to “live at their own Walden pond” in a very metaphorical sense. If one wants to do what Thoreau did and abandon a conventional life, that person should by all means do so. But, if one wants to live with modern societal comforts, they should do so also. “Living deliberately” is something that can be done in any environment.
Hannah, I agree that these lines are particularly loaded with meaning – and scary at that! It certainly feels to me like Thoreau is challenging us to do something bigger, to find our own Walden Pond and search for inner fulfillment there.
It calls to mind the famous lines from paragraph 16 of “Where I Lived, And What I Lived For,” where Thoreau writes of going to the pond to “learn what it had to teach.” He’s not going out to see what he can do while at the pond, as many of us would, but to see what living at the pond can do for him. He is unsure of what it can teach, at least going in. I think this is reflected beautifully in the last line of this paragraph: “The universe is wider than our views of it.” So simple a concept, and yet one we can all benefit from taking to heart.
This is very inspirational and eloquent, and I’m surprised it’s not quoted more often. But I think Thoreau addresses a (false) criticism that comes up a lot — “poets/kids/communication/education/etc. just aren’t what they used to be…” Of course, that’s a silly claim. Many of the thinkers and creators we consider great today lived in relative obscurity during their lifetimes. Hey, Thoreau loves quoting the Bible so much, so here’s one for him: “‘Truly I tell you,’ he [Jesus] continued, ‘no prophet is accepted in his hometown'” (Luke 4:24). Jesus and Thoreau are making a similar observation here – you need a little distance from your own era and philosophies to appreciate them for what they are.
The line “The commonest sense is the sense of men asleep, which they express by snoring” reminds me of another line from earlier in the book, “To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake” (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For p14). When examining these quotes together, it would seem that Thoreau thinks that even those who aren’t completely alive should possess common sense, and that we should place any value on it.
From this paragraph I believe that Thoreau is explaning why in the first place he decided to live out in the woods. He was not trying to make a point but rather he wanted to learn how to live deliberately. He talks about how it is very easy to fall into a routine and do what is culturally recommended. He wanted to get away from what is familiar and discover the unknown. Even in his discovery he finds himself creating a pattern (with his path to the pond) and this could be the changing point. He realizes from this experience that in order to live deliberately he must explore the “mast and deck of the world”.
“Yet some can be patriotic who have no self-respect, and sacrifice the greater to the less. They love the soil which makes their graves, but have no sympathy with the spirit which may still animate their clay? Patriotism is a maggot in their heads.”
I found this part of the conclusion to be especially interesting because of the way that Thoreau is talking about people who claim to have patriotism. The interpretation that I got from this passage is that Thoreau feels that no one is a true patriot anymore, as they have lost the initial meaning of the term; now the concept of patriotism is simply an issue, hence the “maggot” reference. It seems that no one is searching for anything new or defending their patriotism in a way that Thoreau believes to be appropriate, and that maybe part of his reason for being at Walden was a way through which he felt he was expressing his patriotism.
“The volatile truth of our words should continually betray the inadequacy of the residual statement. Their truth is instantly translated; its literal monument alone remains. ”
This statement reminds me of a topic that I talked about way back in high school about the inadequacies of language and what it does to the truth. It seems to me that when we put things into words, we simplify it and break it down so that it fits into our vocabulary. Even if there are no words to completely describe a feeling, image, sound, etc., we find the words that come as close as possible. Even so, these words aren’t the whole truth, but a sort of copy. At the same time, we alter the situation by forcing it into our perspective, as that’s the only way that we can describe it in a way that we believe to be true. It’s not as if we lie by telling the story from our perspective, but we might not be giving the same picture to our listener as the listener would have gotten had she been there herself.
“Nay, be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.”
I think this quote essentially sums up why Thoreau benefited from the time he spent at Walden Pond. Being isolated from the influences society gave him the opportunity to journey into the depths of his mind. In effect, I believe that the observations he makes about the natural world throughout Walden are reflections of his own soul. When there are no other people around, he imprints his own ideals onto what he sees, and the way he finds meaning in the little details of his surroundings is a sort of self discovery.
Section 9 of “conclusion” brings about some interesting points. Thoreau goes on to state “Let every one mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made.” This “hands off” approach contradicts his ideology of telling people that they must participate in experiential learning. Thoreau also perplexes the reader by stating “Some are dinning in our ears that we Americans, and moderns generally, are intellectual dwarfs compared with the ancients, or even the Elizabethan men.” Thoreau makes it seem as if the people who think this way are incorrect, but Thoreau himself has romanticized ancient Greek literature while at the same time demonizing modern day society.
This section of text reminded me of William Cronon’s article “The Trouble With Wilderness” from the very first sentence, when Thoreau reminds us of human purposes for nature. The article explained that the meditative atmosphere that nature took on in popular sentiment had little to do with nature and everything to do with society. However, I think it’s interesting that Thoreau doesn’t seem to object to this, as long as his fellow man was experiencing the outdoors in order to enlighten themselves. It’s a viewpoint addressed in the article and perhaps not sympathized with, but Thoreau becomes it well.
Paragraph 9 of Conclusion, and the last sentence in particular, bring up some interesting points that i think are important to consider. Throughout this novel, there has been a question about Thoreau’s idea of what the “correct” pedagogy is. The reader has seen Thoreau himself throughout the novel use observational learning (when observing, for example, the family on Baker Farm), but also say things like “We cannot but pity the boy who has never fired a gun” and clearly advocate for experiential learning. Thoreau has also stated that one must read the classics, thus lending himself towards the idea of traditional education as well. This constant contradiction is also brought up in the last sentence. Thoreau attempts to backtrack on his dictatorial and confined idea of education through specific experiences once again by stating that every man has made something different for himself and that the endeavors into these different experiences are what should be used to become fulfilled. Adding this to a section entitled “Conclusion” (where most report their findings) after clearly advocating for different ideas all throughout the book show just how conflicted Thoreau is as a human being.
[explore your own higher latitudes,—with shiploads of preserved meats to support you]
When bodies were finally located, it developed that many members of the Franklin expedition suffered from severe lead poisoning. One widely held theory held that the lead-based solder sealing their canned supplies had tainted the food. (Others have claimed that the toxic lead came from the ship’s water supply system.)
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.
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.
[what was in the wind]
Pribeck discusses the many wind images in W, saying, “T consistently uses the wind to symbolize the spirit at the heart of man and nature, both the ‘sublime’ and the ‘mean.'”
[have appeared in the Gazette]
T was probably thinking of Concord’s own Yeoman’s Gazette (1826-1841).
[over the old day-books]
In several places in his Journal (1, 474; VI, 69) T records his delight in going over old account books of Concord merchants. See the chapter “Winter Animals.”
[at undergoing such a roasting]
“We were well clothed, and though sitting close to the fire, were far from too warm; yet these naked savages, though further off, were observed, to our great surprise, to be streaming with perspiration at undergoing such a roasting” (Charles Darwin, Voyage of a Naturalist Round the World [New York, 1846, I, 284]).
[the New Hollander]
New Holland was an early name for Australia. T’s reference is to Darwin, Voyage of a Naturalist, 220-1.
Bonner (1969) points out that T is referring to the then prevalent custom of using semaphore to announce the progress of ships along the coast.
[evening on the hill-tops]
When T lived on Staten Island in 1843, he loved to climb a hilltop and watch the ships coming and going in New York harbor (T, 1958, 99).
[much, and that, manna-wise]
Manna: the food God provided the children of Israel in the Sinai desert which rained from the heavens (Exodus 16).
[it on my stick too]
T was probably thinking of Robinson Crusoe’s method of keeping his calendar.
[the meeting of two eternities]
“One life, a little gleam of Time between two Eternities” (Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes and Hero-Worship, lecture V). Tripp (1969) suggests another source in Marcus Aurelius.
[bay horse, and a turtledove]
See the Appendix.
Confucian Analects, II, xvii. For analysis of this and other quotations from Confucius, see Cady.
[what are the grossest groceries]
Except for the fact that so many have called T “without humor,” it would seem almost pointless to note that he particularly delighted in puns. For a catalog of puns in W, see Skwire.
Interestingly enough, when five years after the publication of W Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species, refuting this statement, T became one of the earlier admirers of Darwin’s thesis.
[According to Liebig]
Justus Liebig (1803-1873), a professor of chemistry at the University of Giessen, wrote many volumes using this metaphor, among them Animal Chemistry (Philadelphia, 1842).
[a sort of Elysian life]
In Greek mythology, Elysium was the home of the virtuous in the afterlife.
[other side of the globe]
When T wrote his book, the clipper trade with the Orient was at its height.
[Ã la mode]
In the current fashion.
[above?—for the nobler plants]
It was a pet theory of T’s friend and neighbor Bronson Alcott that man’s diet should not be confined to vegetables merely, but to those species of plants that showed their higher nature by growing up toward the sun and not down into the earth. Thus one should eat corn, but not carrots, which were considered “humbler” (Sears, 39)
[like the humbler esculents]
The carrot, for instance.
[of men who are discontented]
T once again calls the reader’s attention to the fact that he is addressing his book not to the general public but to a special audience – those who are dissatisfied with their present life.
[own golden or silver fetters]
“A fool I to him firmly hold, that loves his fetters though they were of gold” (Spenser, The Faerie Queene, III, vii).
[enterprise, farmers starting for Boston]
Many Concord farmers raised crops especially for the Boston market.
[was reporter to a journal]
T may be referring facetiously either to his own journal, which was not published until forty-four years after his death, or to the Dial, whose editors, Emerson and Margaret Fuller, rejected a number of his contributions, and whose circulation never exceeded several hundred.
[I was self-appointed inspector]
T felt the day was wasted if he did not spend at least four or five hours walking in the woods and fields of Concord, taking note of the world of nature. In his later years he became more and more concerned with keeping a precise record of the progress of the seasons and, with the urging of Bronson Alcott, hoped to publish an “Adas of Concord” with a complete record of its natural phenomena. He died before he was able to do this.
[did my duty faithfully; surveyor]
For the last ten or fifteen years of his life, T earned a large portion of his income by surveying (Chase).
[grape and the yellow violet]
All of these species were rarities in Concord and so especially cherished.
There is a duplication of the last two sentences in this paragraph.
It is sometimes said that a miracle is the action of a higher world’s law operating in a lower world (as presented in Edwin Abbott’s Flatland for example), yet this is truly what is happening when we contemplate phenomena deeply. I sense the influence of Goethe’s Italian Journey, where the young Goethe is struck by the concept of the Archetypal Plant.
To adventure on life is a sweet call for us embark upon the Hero’s journey.
I don’t think Thoreau is measuring time here in any way, or passing time to be specific. To be purely perceptive of, and attuned through the senses to the present moment where one is in that moment, as opposed to being of it, is a critical faculty to possess. Thoreau often refers to the lack of this faculty as being asleep, slumbering, or not experiencing or anticipating the dawn. His quality of attentiveness to where he is inwardly and outwardly in the moment is what brings forth the intuitive moment of the philosopher. I often wonder if his “hound, bay horse, and turtle dove” in the paragraph that follows is in reference to his head, heart, and hand working in concert within any moment? The hound dog being the intellectual capacity to sense, track, and be attentive to the moment, while the bay horse represents the emotional fortitude of the heart to be open and free of like/dislike, while the turtle dove represent the loving hand of wisdom responding humbly to what might be a moment of grace. The obscurities and secrets of this trade resonate well with what the perennial philosophies have been intimating throughout the ages, and what Thoreau is truly after in his experiment called Walden.
Thanks for pointing out the duplicated sentence! We’ve fixed it. We know that there are other instances scattered throughout our text and are on the look out for them.
I really like the comment on Pribeck’s take on Thoreau’s symbolic use of wind; I had never carried that image before but I will now take note! A good one -thanks.
[It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.]
The key work here is practical; something in short order these days.
[I never assisted the sun materially in his rising, but, doubt not, it was of the last importance only to be present at it.]
Living in the moment inwardly, with attention to both worlds (outer & inner) is truly more important than merely being the witness to the physical event. The dawn thus rises in Thoreau I believe, regadless of actual time of day.
This is saying that when people start attaining material luxuries they develop a need to only gather more and can never truly appreciate what they have. I believe it results from the nature of luxuries. They serve no true purpose in our survival, but solely act as a comfort item we spend resources and labor on. In a way it validates the amount of time and energy we spend working jobs that make us feel detached from ourselves.
This section talks a lot about going beyond the basic necessities of life. He talks about specific things in this passage that are important to living comfortably.
[à la mode]
Could this be an example of where Thoreau uses humor to balance his instruction?
[None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty.]
An explanation as to why Thoreau felt it necessary to live in the woods on his own for two years, in order to grasp a better understanding of human life. With less distractions there is more clarity.
[but mainly to the mass of men who are discontented, and idly complaining of the hardness of their lot or of the times, when they might improve them]
Thoreau implies that most of man kind are living their lives continuously unhappy while looking for ways to better it. He then goes on to say that the worst type of poverty is from the wealthy, that have so much but still live their lives with desire. It seems that this desire isn’t the desire for warmth and necessities previously talked about, but a desire to live a complete, happy life, that every man- no matter how rich or poor- strives to obtain.
[The incessant anxiety and strain of some is a well nigh incurable form of disease. We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us!]
Humans are made to make themselves look better than they are for society. Those who are well off exaggerate and make it sound as if they did all of the necessary work by themselves to get where they are but this is not always the case. The backbone of big companies are its workers, and deserve their fair cut of the praise.
[ I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment;]
T talks about trying to better the present moment. He then describes the present as being the in-between of the future and the past. This speaks to the way society thinks, always reminiscing about the past of having anxiety towards the future. Learning how to live in the present could lead to self fulfillment.
[We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us! or, what if we had been taken sick? How vigilant we are! determined not to live by faith if we can avoid it; all the day long on the alert, at night we unwillingly say our prayers and commit ourselves to uncertainties. ]
This particular sentence reminds me of a connection with Diderot . Thoreau talks about how we go through the motions of life, doing our labor, having families and lives and our faith and yet at the end of the day we all submit ourselves to persistent uncertainty. This goes with the argument that I and Him have in Rameaus Nephew. I argues for an ethical and moral lifestyle, doing what is right and going through the traditional motions of living while in contrast Him does whatever he needs through whichever ever means to get what he needs and wants. in these two situations, I lives the life of uncertainty that Thoreau speaks of in this passage, whereas Him is not uncertain as he will always do whatever needs to be done in order to have that certainty, he is not deterred for moral or ethical or societal reasons. If Thoreau were to have read Rameau’s Nephew i think Thoreau would agree with the beliefs and lifestyle of Him. Him uses what he has to accomplish his goals. He works with the skills he has been given and is able to manipulate himself and his environment to remove the uncertainties that most experience in life.
The difference between Thoreau’s opinion of poverty as being deprived of self actualization and happiness, compared to Marx’s opinion that poverty is purely based off of monetary standing and fulfilling basic needs for life
In paragraph 15, T begins to describe man’s relationship to nature. He acknowledges how man puts faith in nature to just work correctly, recognizing that humanity does not understand nature as well as it should. He ends by invoking the notion of miracles, and suggests, through the use of his Confucius quote, that man has adopted a sort of ignorance or stupidity towards the natural world, which in turn seeps into man’s daily life.
T’s claim seems like a logical preface to some of Pope Francis’ claims in Laudato si. Pope Francis calls on man to recognize what he already knows about nature and make political and economic changes based on that knowledge. The Pope rationalizes his suggestions by emphasizing the relationship between humanity and nature, arguing that no matter how far removed we try to make ourselves from the natural world, we are very much a part of it. T sees this inherent connection to the natural world, which is why he calls out his peers for choosing to live in ignorance towards the world around them.
T does not acknowledge the economic and political realities of thinking in such a way, but failing to do so makes sense when considering the state of political development still being carried out in T’s lifetime. Further, the lack of understanding that T describes would, in turn, suggest a lack of knowledge about the specific needs for the persistence of life on Earth.
As we read historically back towards Pope Francis’ encyclical, it is interesting to consider how T is the first writer we have encountered who starts to make specific claims about the philosophical relationship between humanity and nature. Up to this point, the writers we have considered have chosen to primarily reframe the man/nature relationship as a pragmatic concern (Locke) or social-economic issue (Marx). It will be interesting to see if T’s genuine anxiety about the state of this man/nature relationship continues to build as we move closer to Francis’ similar worries.
Thoreau starts off by defining the term “necessary of life” which are all the things a man acquires in his life that is essential for his growth and well-being. This relates to Locke’s views on the importance of property to an individual, that it is everything pertaining to life, including life itself.
In regards to the individual, he talks about the different necessaries of life (food, clothing, shelter etc.) and how important it is to said individual. Man has taken those raw materials and developed it into something valuable, such as fire for warmth and cooking food & materials to make houses. These necessaries are a man’s own private property, which is something exempt from the government and is an end within itself
Although Thoreau asks us to think about the advantages of leading a primitive lifestyle, even while living within society, he seems to be emphasizing that it would be most beneficial to do so if the only reason were to learn of the basic necessities of life and how our ancestors have obtained and lived by them. This would somehow enrich our virtues. This idea is very similar to the discussion of philosophers’ lifestyles (in contrast to the luxurious life of many in society) and Greek Diogenes in Diderot’s Rameaus Nephew. Diogrenes was sustained by the basic but plentiful resources in nature. Both Diderot and Thoreau may have agreed that these philosophers were better off – both physically and in virtue (“the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meager life than the poor”). Also, to introduce another opinion to the discussion we can observe that John Locke, in his second treatise, valued nature for what it provided for human sustenance, yet did not express the same feeling as Thoreau, that the luxuries and comforts of life were “hindrances to the elevation of mankind”. Locke did affirm that hoarding food or goods was taking away from the rest of society, but made no critique of these actions that would likely result with the introduction of currency in his chapter on private property.
The idea here is similar to Pope Francis’s encyclical: “Living creatures only need food and shelter to survive.” However, only humans value luxury, which is destroying the nature which all the creatures live in. Thoreau believes minimizing one’s needs is preferable and identifies only four necessities: food, shelter, clothing, and fuel. Since nature itself does much to provide these, a person willing to accept the basic gifts of nature can live off the land with minimal toil. Any attempt at luxury is likely to prove more a hindrance than a help to an individual’s improvement.
I agree with Thoreau when he says “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” I think that this applys perfectly to today’s society because many people are primarily concerned with obtaining the newest technology rather than reflecting on ways to improve humanity.
I find it so interesting that although most people think of Thoreau in such a simple-minded way that suggests he just wants to “escape society”, when even he acknowledges one of his basic needs as fuel. I think it is extremely interesting that he went into Nature and attempted to live deliberately, although he was only a mile and a half from town, and quite close to the railroad.
What i like most about HDT is that he attempts to reconnect individuals with Nature in the places where they actually reside. It is less about rebelling and “leaving society” for Nature, and more about just being present in your environment and living deliberately not only in the place that you are, but the actual physical SPACE. It makes the conclusions he makes much more realistic, and is a response to those critics who try to bash him for being too much of an idealist.
I find it so interesting that most people think of Thoreau in such a simple-minded way that suggests he just wants to “escape society”, even though he acknowledges himself one of his basic needs is fuel. I think it is extremely interesting that he went into Nature and attempted to live deliberately, although he was only a mile and a half from town, and quite close to the railroad (both ‘civilized’ entities).
What i like most about Thoreau is that he attempts to reconnect individuals with Nature in the places where they actually reside. It is less about rebelling and “leaving society” for Nature, and more about just being present in your environment and living deliberately not only in the place that you are, but the actual physical SPACE. It makes the conclusions he makes much more realistic, and is a response to those critics who try to bash him for being too much of an idealist.
[Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind]
This notion he would share with a lot of communards.
I’ve encountered a different phrase that takes this a bit further in a somewhat obtuseness about being poor — “clever poverty.”
[ Leave a comment on paragraph 19 6 Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meager life than the poor.]
Thoreau notes how the comforts and luxuries of our lives often hinder us from its true beauty. He explains how the wisest of us have lived with few to none of these in order to truly experience life. He views luxuries as a road block in the way of the advancement of mankind because it distracts and deters from growth.
Thoreau makes a good point here that luxuries quickly blind us and can make us stupid. Also Thoreau’s understanding of philosophers is a good one because it requires words being put into action to make them fully real.
Lambden discusses the artistry of this chapter. Stein (1972) analyzes this chapter from the standpoint of yoga.
[But while we are]
Notice how the opening paragraph carries over the idea from the preceding chapter. This was one of the many devices T used to unify the seemingly unrelated essays of the book. Note also that the sounds described in the chapter follow a chronological order starting with morning, going on through afternoon, evening, night, and ending up with morning once more. Just as the whole book epitomizes the year, so this chapter epitomizes the day, and both end on the theme of renewal – the book on the renewal of spring, and the chapter on the renewal of dawn.
[when the shutter is wholly removed]
Although some suggest this refers to a camera shutter, mechanical shutters did not come into use until after the first publication of W. T is more likely referring to window shutters, which were used in New England to keep the sun off parlor rugs.
[or a seer]
Seer: a favorite term among transcendentalists for a person with extraordinary perceptions.
[I did not read books]
This paragraph is considered by many to be one of the outstanding expressions of the mystical experience in literature. For an analysis of T’s use of sound and silence in achieving the mystical experience, see Paul (1949).
[taken my accustomed bath]
T took his daily bath in the cove nearest his cabin.
[on the distant highway]
The road from Concord to Lincoln was then the closest highway to T’s cabin. Route 2, the road just north of the pond, was not constructed until well into the twentieth century.
[those seasons like corn]
Corn is among the fastest growing of the common garden vegetables.
[the stamp of any heathen deity]
The days of our week are named after heathen deities — Thor, Woden, etc.
[remove the books and pen and ink]
When T went to Staten Island in 1843 to tutor Emerson’s nephews, he was given an inkstand by his friend and neighbor Elizabeth Hoar. He kept it throughout his life, and it is now on exhibit in the Concord Museum.
[sits on the next bough]
A common weed of the genus Gnaphalium.
[half a dozen rods]
A rod, a surveyor’s measure, is 16 1/2 feet. Surprisingly, since T was a professional surveyor, he greatly underestimated the distance, which was 204 feet, or more than twelve rods (Robbins, 9-10).
[fell over in wreaths like rays]
Compare this with T’s description of the time he heard a tree fall at night in the Maine wilderness (Maine Woods, 103), which he thought one of the most impressive sounds he had ever heard. T emphasizes sounds and onomatopoeia throughout this chapter.
[As I sit at my window]
The following nine paragraphs were first published as “The Iron Horse,” in Sartain’s Union Magazine (XI, 1852, 66-8), with numerous revisions of spelling, punctuation, and word choice.
[the tantivy of wild pigeons]
Tantivy: at full gallop – or, in this case, fast flying.
[wild pigeons, flying by two]
Probably passenger pigeons, once so numerous, but in T’s day becoming rarer, and now for nearly a century completely extinct.
[a mink steals out of the marsh]
The mink was not in T’s original journal for August 6, 1845, but was added later after, he had left Walden and forgotten that he could not see the marsh from his doorstep (Robbins, 17).
[reed-birds flitting hither and thither]
Then a common name for bobolinks.
[like the beat of a partridge]
The partridge, or ruffed grouse, produces a loud noise during the mating season by beating its wings rapidly.
[its soothing sound is—Concord]
From Ellery Channing, “Walden Spring,” The Woodman and Other Poems (Boston, 1849).
[The Fitchburg Railroad touches]
For discussions ofT’s literary use of the railroad, see Cronkhite and see Torsney.
[all the weary and heavy laden]
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
[traveling demigod, this cloud-compeller]
Zeus was sometimes referred to as “cloud- compeller.”
[iron horse make the hills echo]
This passage parallels in many respects Job 39:19-25.
[heroic deeds, or a beneficent]
Beneficient; Shanley (1971, 398) adds here the words “to men,” which are not in the first edition. They are in the uncorrected page proof, and T did not indicate a deletion.
[stretching far behind and rising higher]
The antithesis here points out the triviality of the passengers’ errands.
[a celestial train beside which]
Still another reference to Hawthorne’s satire “The Celestial Railroad.”
[like a following drill-barrow]
Tate points out that the drill-barrow or seed-drill, a device that sows seeds evenly, was invented only four years before T went to Walden and would not have been widely known in Concord. This is another indication of how well T kept up with his times – remarkable for someone who supposedly fled from civilization.
[the next in the Dismal Swamp]
An extensive swamp in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.
[conveyance, were on hand when]
The first edition reads “are on hand,” but T, in his personal copy of W, changed it to the present reading.
[stopping to read the riot act]
According to the Riot Act, which became law in England in 1715, if twelve or more individuals assemble and disturb the peace, they must disperse after being read the law or face felony charges.
[constructed a fate, an Atropos]
In Greek mythology Atropus, one of the three Fates who preside over mankind, cuts the thread of human destiny. “Atropus” means “never turn aside.”
[educated thus to be sons of Tell]
William Tell, the fourteenth-century Swiss folk hero, was required to shoot an apple from the head of his own son.
[the front line at Buena Vista]
A battlefield in northern Mexico where American forces withstood a severe attack in 1847. T opposed the Mexican War, which might have resulted in extending slavery to new territory.
In Memorial de Sainte Helene (Dec. 4-5, 1815) Las Cases explains Napoleon’s meaning, though the reference is to two o’clock: “As to moral courage, he had, he said, very rarely met with the two o’clock in the morning courage, unprepared courage.” As Gottesman points out, “Courage not painstakingly worked up but coming forth spontaneously, as when a soldier is awakened suddenly in the dead of night.”
[On this morning of the Great Snow]
T was probably thinking of the “Great Snow” of February 17, 1717, which Cotton Mather recorded in his Magnalia Christi Americana.
[heads peering, above the mould-board]
[and the nests of field-mice]
T is referring to Robert Burns’s poems “To a Mouse” and “To a Mountain Daisy.”
[of the Sierra Nevada]
Mountain range in Spain.
[I lived like the Puri Indians]
Ida Pfeiffer, A Lady’s Voyage Round the World (New York, 1852, 36). The Puri Indians are natives of eastern Brazil.
[I should not have been found wanting]
“Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting” (Daniel 5:27).
[Will you be a reader?]
Here, I feel that the text has this sense of itself, I feel, because we are literally reading and not experiencing what Thoreau has done in a true sense. This goes back to how Thoreau talks about experience in Economy and how you cannot just take the word of someone else because true experience comes from the self and your own experience. What I appreciate most in this ending of this paragraph is that the passage is almost telling the reader not to always read, but to experience life for yourself. I don’t know if anyone has read Don Quixote, but the moral the friends of Don are trying to say is that reading is harmful and you lose out on experiences that you yourself can make, rather than being trapped in other experiences that aren’t your own. (If you haven’t read Don Quixote, definitely take a look at it!)
This is a wonderful observation, Hunter. It’s really almost disconcerting – it’s almost as if he’s chastising us for reading his book! It’s also a particular Thoreauvian moment, in my mind, and an instance of what I think of as Thoreau’s sense of “neighboring”: on the one hand he comes very close to us here, addressing the reader directly, in the act of reading, as a you. On the other hand, he does that in order to tell us, basically, that we should put the book down (at least from time to time) and go live our own lives, find our own truths. So the intimate and direct address becomes a way of insisting upon a distance…
Great observation, Hunter. It’s really almost disconcerting – it’s almost as if he’s chastising us for reading his book! It’s also a particular Thoreauvian moment, in my mind, and an instance of what I think of as Thoreau’s sense of “neighboring”: on the one hand he comes very close to us here, addressing the reader directly, in the act of reading, as a you. On the other hand, he does that in order to tell us, basically, that we should put the book down (at least from time to time) and go live our own lives, find our own truths. So the intimate and direct address becomes a way of insisting upon a distance…
The intimacy of this passage is troublingly Quixotic, and I love it. I personally feel a bit of good-natured prodding from Thoreau, like a friend berating you for posting on your exercise blog instead of hopping on the treadmill!
The value of experience is far greater than what can be read, but Thoreau recognizes that we all will experience life differently. Therefore, despite his comments to the contrary, Thoreau knows that we can gain valuable insight through his personal experiences.
Follow your genius closely enough, and it will not fail to show you a fresh prospect every hour.
Genius: (in some mythologies) a guardian spirit associated with a person, place, or institution.
a person regarded as exerting a powerful influence over another for good or evil:
“he sees Adams as the man’s evil genius”
OR the prevalent character or spirit of something such as a nation or age:
“Boucher’s paintings did not suit the austere genius of neoclassicism”.
With Thoreau having the genius within him he has the influence of good over the nature around him, but with Thoreau having a spirit over him then he is then shown the beauty of nature by another perhaps nature herself.
Thoreau’s ideology of learning can be clearly seen throughout this passage. When he states “Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer?” he is speaking on his admiration for learning practically. Thoreau believes learning through experience and application furthers the knowledge, and humanity within a person. These ideas help preface his later statements of not reading his first summer away. Thoreau had a much stronger fixation on practical learning/experience than that of simple memorization from text.
Thoreau’s pedagogy can be easily pointed out here. “No method nor discipline can supersede the necessity of being forever on the alert.” To Thoreau, this process of always seeking and finding information is an important part of the learning process. This act of constantly seeking and expanding one’s mind through query and action, are important to Thoreau. This idea is reiterated again in paragraph 2 when he states that he did not spend his summer reading, but working, and learning that way. This pedagogy argues that to better fully understand, we must step away from memorizing text and instead go out into Nature with open minds and enthusiasm, and partake in practical experiences. This raises the question of if interest and enthusiasm are vital in a truly successful and empowering learning process.
“Read your fate, see what is before you, and walk on into futurity.”
This paragraph acts as a bridge between reading and sounds. It speaks of the importance of reading, but that there is so much our there, it all cannot be read. The last quote of the paragraph is telling the reader to read what you believe will guide you in your life. The writings of the past will help in your future endeavors. The quote ties into the chapter of Sounds because this chapter focus’s on how listening to and noticing the sounds of the world is a form of “reading” as well. So “reading your fate” also can connect to paying attention to the world around you and noticing what you may have never noticed before.
This is a really important point, Kasey. Thoreau repeatedly invokes the very traditional religious notion of the “book of Nature,” seeing the natural world as inherently meaningful and as having something to say to us as humans. Like his fellow nineteenth-century transcendentalists, and the earlier romantic poets from whom they drew inspiration, Thoreau adapts this idea of a “readable” Nature in a way that makes Nature a reflection of the divinity in humans themselves. So in reading Nature we read ourselves. In “The Ponds,” par. 17, he writes that “A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.” Sometimes Thoreau plays verbal games with the metaphor of Nature as a book, as when he writes in “The Ponds” par. 9 of a line left by footprints in the snow: “The snow reprints it, as it were, in
clear white type alto-relievo.” But one of the best examples is in “Spring,” par. 9, where he rejects the idea of Nature as a physical book in favor of the idea of Nature as “living poetry”: “The earth is not a mere fragment of dead history, stratum upon stratum like the leaves of a book, to be studied by geologists and antiquaries chiefly, but living poetry like the leaves of a tree, which precede flowers and fruit—not a fossil earth, but a living earth.”
If we were always indeed getting our living, and regulating our lives according to the last and best mode we had learned, we should never be troubled with ennui. Follow your genius closely enough, and it will not fail to show you a fresh prospect every hour. Housework was a pleasant pastime.
In my opinion, these lines, and continuing throughout the paragraph, Thoreau is making a point about how the little things in life should be appreciated. He is glorifying the beauty of nature and the beauty of solitude.
It’s interesting to hear about what ties Thoreau had to civilization during his time on Walden Pond.
[Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer?]
As a number have aptly commented here, Thoreau really challenges us with this query. Though he has previously offered much favorable comment about the “reader” and “student,” praising their care and attentiveness, he urges a shift from a passive posture to an active one now. It’s a place where the legacy of Emerson seems particularly present. “The American Scholar” oration of 1838 called books a secondary influence, noting that “The first in time and the first in importance of the influences upon the mind is that of nature.” Furthermore, Emerson’s ideal scholar makes use of both influences by translating them into action: “A great soul will be strong to live, as well as strong to think.”
“I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans.”
Thoreau is seizing the day. He is using his moments preciously. Thoreau is embracing the day, by hoeing beans. Not by reading books, but by doing what he knows to be true to himself.
Throughout “Sounds,” Thoreau, eliminates the constraints of time and the normalcy of societies’ everyday expectations. While he could be spending the day doing many things, he actively chooses to pay no attention to time. “I minded not how the hours went. The day advanced as if to light some work of mine; it was morning, and lo, now it is evening…” Time is relative to Thoreau. And truth is in the eyes of the beholder.
Thoreau is meditating. He is immersing himself in his space and living in the present moment to the best of his ability.
Thoreau is self aware, while actively choosing to be unaware of time. “This was sheer idleness to my fellow-townsmen, no doubt…” It is easy to find “idleness” in everyday actions people do, when we do not stop to recognize that there is a reason for everything we do, no matter how small. We are constantly growing through these “idle” actions. Enjoying the “idleness” and embracing a Walt Whitman-esque “Song to Myself,” style of life. Freeing, liberating, and simply living in nature. Thoreau recognizes the purpose of his actions, no matter how “idle” they seem–he is living “deliberately,” through “simplicity, simplicity.” He is actively pursuing the future which he creates.
While Thoreau’s actions in that moment may have seemed like “idleness” to his fellow-townsmen, what he is pursuing, is not lazy or idle, but profoundly the opposite. He actively chooses to live a life awake. A life of meditation he lives. With thoughtful realizations into his own self awareness, Thoreau lives deliberately.
This sentence reminds me of something that Emerson would say. I love how vivid the imagery is that Thoreau uses here. It is so well written that I can imagine myself sitting in a chair directly in the sun, admiring my beautiful surroundings and immersing myself in nature. Thoreau is so calm and at peace in this section. He is so caught up in the beauty of nature that several hours pass by and he doesn’t even realize it. I would love to live in a world where this was possible. Now a days, it is so hard to get away from everything and just be one with nature, especially with the never-ending presence of technology.
I find it interesting that Thoreau uses the term “restless” when discussing the city merchants. When I hear restless I often think of unable to relax or constantly in motion and that seems to be exactly what Thoreau wants to part with. It seems to me that Thoreau has buried himself so deep into solitude that it is difficult for him to think about the outside world in a positive light. Just the sound of the train coming into town represents unease and tension surrounding the outside world.
[different drummer. Let him step to]
A favorite image of T’s, found often in his writings.
[an artist in the city of Kouroo]
Many scholars have searched for T’s source for this tale. Cameron (1991) has found a possible source in the Indian fable of the Carpenter (or Wood Carver) of the State of Lu, but has been unable to discover where T could have read it. Paul (1958, 353) suggests that “Kouroo was clearly Kuru, Kooroo, or Curu, the nation that fought the Pandoos in the Mahabharata, the sacred land that Arjuna was assigned to protect in the Bhagavad-Gita. T may have come across it in the Laws of Menu, where it is referred to as the country of the Brahmanical sages (see the Dial, III , 332). These Brahmins also carried staves.”
“I have long thought of it as an allegory of T’s own life, of his love for the Beautiful, the True, and the Good, and of his search for Perfection,” says Christy (193). “I find in it a veiled suggestion of the reason he went to Walden, of his indifference to criticism and the social standards of his time.”
[a stock in all respects]
Stock: “Stick” seems a more likely reading of this word, though Shanley (1971, 327) accepts the reading of the first edition.
[smoothed and polished the staff Kalpa]
In Hindu literature, Kalpa is not a star but a long period of time, cited specifically by some authors as 4,354,56o,ooo years. The Hindus also knew that over a great period of time the pole star changed. In his Journal (Princeton edition, I, 413) T says, 4,320,000,000 years says Murray form “the grand anomalistic period called a calpa, and fantastically assigned as a day of Brahma.”‘ Sattelmeyer (242) identifies the source of the internal quotation as Hugh Murray, Historical and Descriptive Account of British India . . . (New York, 1832).
[he had put on the ferrule]
Woodward points out that a ferule (usually spelled ferule) is an iron ring around the end of a staff.
[Brahma had awoke and slumbered]
A day of Brahma supposedly lasted two billion, one hundred and sixty million years, at the end of which time he slept.
[Tom Hyde, the tinker]
In one of the early W manuscripts in the Huntington Library, T adds, “You Boston folks & Roxbury people will want Tom Hyde to mend your kettle,” which seems to imply that Hyde was an eastern Massachusetts character either in folklore or fact. Moseley suggests that he might have been derived from Sam Hyde, an early New England trickster. She also points out that his advice to tailors has been attributed to Till Eulenspiegel of German folklore.
[“From an army of three divisions]
Confucian Analects, IX, xxv.
[creation widens to our view]
“And lo! Creation widened in man’s view” (Joseph Blanco White, “To Night”).
[the wealth of Croesus]
A ruler of Lydia in ancient times who was known as the richest of men.
[life near the bone]
“The nearer the bone, the sweeter the flesh” (English proverb).
[my ears a confused tintinnabulum]
A small tinkling bell.
[of the Hon. Mr. – – – of Georgia]
C. B. Cooper (206) suggests that this was probably Senator Robert Toombs, but does not explain why.
[ready to leap from their court-yard]
In 1811, Muhammad Ali Pasha of Egypt ordered the massacre of all the Mamelukes. They were trapped in a citadel, but one escaped by leaping on his horse from the ramparts and fleeing to Syria.
[and Webster is his orator]
Daniel Webster (1782-1852), senator from Massachusetts and the most famous orator of his day. Gottesman (1737) suggests that T is playing on the Islamic affirmation “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.”
[play at kitty-benders]
A children’s game of running out onto thin ice without breaking through.
[the swamp before him had a hard bottom]
This story was told in the Concord Yeoman’s Gazette for November 22, 1828, T’s most likely source. Many variations on the tale are given in Hunt and Maxwell (100-9).
[let me feel for the furring]
The furring are studs to which laths are nailed. Shanley (1971, 402) has corrected this from the first edition’s “furrowing,” although both spellings are found.
[ashamed to invoke the Muse]
It was the custom to invoke the aid of the Muses whenever one embarked upon a major literary effort.
[I sat at a table where were rich food]
T often complained about the ostentation of Emerson’s dinner table.
[who lived in a hollow tree]
Emerson, in his journal, as quoted in Edward Emerson (210), also mentions “a divine man dwelt near me in a hollow tree,” but I have been unable to trace the allusion further. But see the previous hollow tree allusion, page 223.
[we have done great deeds, and sung]
I have been unable to trace the source of this quotation.
[have had the seven-years’ itch]
A long-lasting itch. Interestingly, the Dictionary of American English gives its earliest entry for this term as 1899.
When T visited Staten Island in 1843, he was much impressed with the seventeen-year locust (cicada) there, which was not known in Concord.
[with a mere pellicle of the globe]
[like the water in the river]
D’Avanzo (1981) suggests that this penultimate paragraph of W “summarizes the theme of the entire narrative through symbol and illusion.”
[which will drown out all our muskrats]
Muskrats build their houses with the upper chamber above water level and the entrance below. Thus if the water rises high enough, they run the risk of being drowned. T was apparently inspired in this comment by the high waters of 1850 in Concord (Journal, II, 18, 33).
[Every one has heard the story]
This story reached print in a number of places (Harding, 1956) in T’s day, and he saw it both in Timothy Dwight, Travels in New England and New York (New Haven, 1821, II, 398), and in J. W. Barber, Massachusetts Historical Collections (Worcester, 1839, 108-9). The story could be true, because long-homed beetles have been known to hatch out from wood after more than fifty years.
[perfect summer life at last]
Saunders points out that this passage echoes that about the maggot in “Economy,” but while the earlier passage seems one of cynical disappointment, this is one of affirmation and faith.
[John or Jonathan]
Names used for a typical British and a typical American citizen, respectively.
[The light which puts out our eyes]
Jacobs and Jacobs suggest as a source for this, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in dark places, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts” (II Peter 1:19).
[The sun is but a morning star]
Friesen suggests many possible sources for this image, among them Emerson, Wordsworth, Tennyson, and the Old and New Testaments.
This has got to be one of my favorite parts of the entire book. As a writer, I relate to this desire to create something beautiful and with something of yourself in it, but more than anything, I find the idea thrilling that you can create “a new system in making a staff, a world with full and fair proportions.” Is this not what artists do, all the time, often not thinking that their efforts are anything really out of the ordinary? They can think lightly of the way that they spin new worlds off from their fingertips, upsetting old orders and a thousand preconceptions, but with what force their efforts strike the world and the people who behold the finished art! I talk about art because it’s the first thing I think of, but Thoreau seems to believe that any calling, pursued by someone who really cares about it, can do the same. How many of us know what we want to do, with what J.K. Rowling called “the deepest and most desperate desire of our hearts”? How many of us believe that we can do it, let alone create the suggestion of an alternate world in so doing? Perhaps this sounds like fatuous praise of Thoreau’s anecdote, without criticism, but I find, and found when I first read it, this passage so exciting, I just had to express it.
It’s so strange to hear Thoreau talk about his contemporaries, well over a century ago, “congratulate [themselves] on being the last of an illustrious line; and in Boston and London and Paris and Rome … [speak] of [their] progress in art and science and literature with satisfaction”. Thoreau meant to point out, and rightly so, that ours was a young species, barely at the beginning of its lifespan, and that, like Adam, we shouldn’t congratulate ourselves when we had so much before us left to achieve. But another possible interpretation of this passage lies in the fact that human beings always seem to think, for one reason or another, that they are at the end of their species’ run. How could things get any better, or even be any different than they are? The world must be about to end, next week at the latest. That’s often how we seem to think in our subconscious mind, or at least we assume that nothing new can ever happen to us in the span we have left. To see something new, something like the Civil War that Thoreau seemed to sense in the air around him, or something like climate instability that we face today, must mean that we can’t adapt. And yet, one of the foremost points of the conclusion is to suggest to the reader the idea that our money, our culture, and our empires are not infallible, that they are not the last forms in which money, culture, and empire will appear, any more than they were the first. Thoreau seems to take this frightening prospect and make it liberating: we did create art, science, and literature, after all, or people very like us who came before us did. It’s such a basic idea, yet one so seldom considered, that Thoreau puts forth: that after money, culture, and empires fail, and perhaps leave their former possessors in ruin, then in the aftermath, maybe the survivors can find that they always had the potential in them to create something at least as great as what came before – very possibly greater.
Hannah, I also find this passage exciting!
Something Thoreau also mentions here, that I think is worth adding on to your observations is the idea of sacrifice. In this anecdote, the artist’s friends desert him and eventually die, leaving the artist alone in his creation. The artist is forced to sacrifice connections for the immortality of his work.
As with much of Thoreau’s advice to the reader of Walden, this prospect is daunting to most, and impossible to many. Most of us are not willing to make this sacrifice, because we fear, or because we lack desire.
The purity of the artist’s work is told in this form to show the impossibility of capturing such purity, the singular focus, the drive, while also showing the reward for any brave enough to make the attempt.
“The life in us is like the water in the river. It may rise this year higher than man has ever known it.”
I found this passage to be spectacularly beautiful, and incredibly optimistic. Instead of the slow decay of humanity, the circle of life of rotting slowly away from the day we are born, Thoreau shows us that we can be better than ourselves.
Like the rivers, lives are subject to constant change: change in weather, roughness, even physical form, but the flow remains continuous.
“Shall we with pains erect a heaven of blue grass over ourselves, though when it is done we shall be sure to gaze still at the true ethereal heaven far above, as if the former were not?”
Here, Thoreau revisits his reasoning for going to the woods. In one of the first chapters, Thoreau explains his biggest fear: laying on his death bed only to realize that he failed to “suck the marrow out of life”. In the conclusion he reiterates the necessity of shunning convention. Thoreau encourages individuality, and a patient, soul-searching lifestyle. He recoils at the artificial reality that humans have created for themselves- an arena for competition and strict societal roles. Thoreau asks his readers to abandon our man-made “heaven of blue grass”. Then, we may recognize the true heaven, which floats over us as Nature, and live a purposeful life.
Although I’m a proponent for individuality, I can’t help but envision a world of disconnected, delusional woodsmen if we were all to lead this Transcendentalist lifestyle.
Thoreau wrote Walden to inspire others to escape societal norms and pursue a pure lifestyle. Yet he concludes his work assuming “John or Jonathan will not realize all this.” The generalized name he uses connects back to the prejudices he held against John Field. Why would an author publish a book that will never reach the audience they feel needs it?
[and that the United States are a first-rate power]
Note the plural reference, which also may be found in Walt Whitman’s introduction to the 1855 Leaves of Grass. It was only after the American Civil War that “United States” came to signify a country, rather than a “union” of component states.
I feel that the last few chapters have allegorical images to references we would find in the bible. He alludes Spring (especially the climate change) as a form of rebirth, and evokes the creation of the Cosmos. This becomes especially important because a specific amount of Thoreau’s verse have preacher-like tones. He does not necessarily only inform, but commands. He urges his readers to [Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.] Whereas some of his prose may seem condescending in earlier chapters of Walden, his “commands” are very advice-like and direct, rendering readers to view Thoreau as admirable in his final messages to us.
To me, the whole last chapter seems to be a direct contradiction to “Pond Scum.” Within this chapter, one can see a certain humility possessed by Thoreau, such as when he discusses himself looking down at the ants. Along with this, it seems clear that he does not have animosity towards humans, but rather seems to possess an animosity towards society. Within this chapter, he discusses how money and fame and riches corrupt people by distracting them from the true values of life. Much like Emerson, he seems to have infinite hope for humanity, if only they can recognize their divine possibilities.
[The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.]
It is morning by the end of Walden. Thoreau lets his readers know it is time to wake up. The day is young. Good things are going to happen to us if we embrace the message of spring and rise.
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.
[much cant and hypocrisy,—chaff]
One of many biblical allusions (as Jeremiah 23:28) to the difficulty of separating the wheat from the chaff.
[broad as it is long]
This expression can be traced back at least to John Ray, English Proverbs (1678).
[humility become the devil’s attorney]
In the Roman Catholic Church it is customary to appoint a cardinal as devil’s advocate to bring up every conceivable argument against the raising of a candidate to sainthood.
Harvard College, from which T graduated in 1837.
[in the fourth story]
T had his own problems with a fourth floor dormitory room, for he occupied one in Hollis Hall when he was at Harvard (Salt, 9).
[speculation, and he employs Irishmen]
Another reference to the fact that recent Irish immigrants were hired chiefly to do menial labor.
[are the keepers of men]
“I understand you well, said my master, it is now very plain, from all you have spoken, that whatever share of reason the Yahoos pretend to, the Houyhnhnms are your masters” (Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, IV, iv).
[I did eat $8 74]
Charles Anderson (27) points out that this is almost exactly the sum recommended by William Alcott, in The Young Housekeeper (Boston, 1838), for a healthy diet for that period of time. Since William Alcott was Bronson Alcott’s cousin, Anderson suggests T might have been familiar with the book. But as Yanella (24) says, such family budgets were common at the time, and T’s friend Horace Greeley printed them regularly in his New York Tribune. Wesolowski (141) evaluates T’s diet against modern nutritional standards and states that it does not imply “nutritional frugality.”
[to construct a magnetic telegraph]
Samuel F. B. Morse had invented the magnetic telegraph in 1835. It first reached Concord in 1851 after T had left Walden Pond.
[to a distinguished deaf woman]
Harriet Martineau, who made a famous tour of America in 1834 and 1835.
[to tunnel under the Atlantic]
They were not thinking seriously of tunneling the Atlantic, but they were attempting to lay an Atlantic cable.
[be that the Princess Adelaide]
Possibly the Princess Adelaide (1792- 1849) who in 1818 married the Duke of Clarence, who became William IV in 1830. Although I have not succeeded in finding it, I would not be surprised if T was thinking of a specific item he had seen in a newspaper.
[eating locusts and wild honey]
Wild honey: the food of John the Baptist in the desert (Matthew 3:4).
A famous racehorse in eighteenth-century England, owned by a Mr. Childers of Carr House.
[cars and go to Fitchburg]
The terminus of the Boston and Fitchburg Railroad, which passed by Walden Pond.
It is an indication of T’s preciseness that in the manuscript this reads one dollar, then is corrected to seventy cents, only to be changed in the page proof to ninety cents, with the marginal comment to the printer, “They have changed the fare within the last week” (Shanley, 1957, 36).
[will be, “A melancholy accident]
A typical newspaper headline of T’s time.
[reminds me of the Englishman]
T may be thinking of Robert Clive (Baron Clive of Passey), who served the British government in India and also wrote poetry.
[any on the main street]
Main Street in Concord still displays a notable line of grand and luxurious mansions, some of the loveliest in any New England town. Ironically, shortly after T left the pond and before he published W, his parents purchased one of these mansions, spent money to make it even grander, and T lived there with them for the remainder of his life. The house was sold in 1988 for well over a million dollars.
[to lay the foundation themselves]
One of Thoreau’s acquaintances, Horace Mann, then the president of Antioch College in Ohio, was developing a curriculum that involved studying and working outside the classroom.
[discover new satellites to Neptune]
In 1846 William Lassell discovered a satellite of Neptune, a few months after the planet itself was first observed.
[the motes in his eyes]
“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own?” (Luke 6:41).
[on metallurgy at the Institute]
In the 1840s technological institutes, such as the Rochester Institute of Technology, were being established in many American cities to help further the education of workingmen.
Manufactured by Joseph Rodgers & Sons of Sheffield, England, long one of the most noted cutlers. Although T had written “Rogers’,” Shanley (1971, 397) corrected the spelling.
[that I had studied navigation]
The Harvard College catalogs of the 1830s list “nautical astronomy” as one part of sophomore mathematics.
[Adam Smith, Ricardo, and Say]
Adam Smith (1723-1790), Scottish economist, author of The Wealth of Nations; David Ricardo (1772-1823), English economist; and Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832), French economist (Yanella).
In 1859 T replanted his old garden to trees, chiefly pines, for Emerson. Although the last of these trees has long since died, most of them having burned or blown down, their stumps can still easily be discerned a hundred feet or so north of his cabin site.
[and hickories, and was sold]
Emerson records the purchase of this first of his Walden Pond woodlots in a letter to his brother William on October 4, 1844 (Rusk, III, 262). The lot was pie-shaped, with only the point touching the shore on what is now known as Thoreau’s Cove. Over the years, Emerson purchased other parcels, until he had bought most of the land around the pond. In 1922 his heirs deeded the property to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and it eventually became a state park.
[I put no manure whatever]
The printer ignored T’s deletion of the word “whatever” in the page proof.
[a third of an acre]
Richardson (175) suggests that T had a smaller crop the second year because a severe frost on June 12, 1846, destroyed many of his vegetables. But his decision to spade up less ground that year would normally have been made weeks earlier than that.
Arthur Young wrote many books on agriculture, including Rural Oeconomy (London, 1773).
[use the labor of animals]
T may have been thinking of his friend Bronson Alcott, whose transcendentalist community at nearby Harvard, Massachusetts, did not use work animals.
[gain is not another’s loss]
“Gain cannot be made without some other person’s loss” (Publilius Syrus).
[free worship or free speech]
T was speaking from bitter experience. In 1844 when Emerson wished to address a gathering of abolitionists on the anniversary of the liberation of the West Indian slaves, no Concord church would open its doors to the convention, and T finally obtained the use of the courthouse and rang the bell to announce the meeting (Cabot, 430).
[more admirable the Bhagvat-Geeta]
This classic of Hindu religious literature was T’s favorite Oriental work. Stein, in his three articles on W, discusses at length the impact of the book on T.
A pastoral region in ancient Greece, now used figuratively as the name of an ideal land. Rees expounds at some length on the hammering stone. See also Reginald Cook.
[place. The grandeur of Thebes]
Not the famous Greek city, but an ancient city in Egypt, also called Hecatompylos for its hundred gates. Thoreau may have read about it in Diodorus 1.15.
[a rod of stone wall]
Since New England is a heavily glaciated area, the farmers gathered the many boulders on their land and formed stone walls to mark boundaries and fence in their farm animals.
[alive. As for the Pyramids]
Emerson, in his Journal for August 18, 1852 (VIII, 320 ), attributes a very similar opinion of the worth of the pyramids to Horatio Greenough. But Greenough apparently made his statement that month, whereas T’s is recorded in his own Journal for April 21, 1852 (III, 454).
[or the United States Bank]
A vogue for Egyptian-style architecture flourished in Philadelphia in the mid-nineteenth century, and the Second Bank of the United States there is a notable example of that style.
[bread and butter. Mr. Balcom]
While there is a Balcomb family listed in the Concord records of T’s time, I can find no one of that name in the list of Massachusetts architects of that period. I suspect T was playing a little joke on one of his neighbors.
[the back of his Vitruvius]
A celebrated architect in the age of Augustus. His is the only classical work on architecture that is still extant.
[let out to Dobson & Sons]
I can find no trace of any Dobsons in Concord records or in the directories of Massachusetts stonecutters of T’s time.
[stonecutters. When the thirty centuries]
T probably meant to say forty centuries. Napoleon, in a short address to his soldiers in Egypt, said of the pyramids, “From the summit of those monuments forty centuries look down upon you.”
[to dig through to China]
There is in the Easterbrook Woods, north of Concord center, a slight excavation that is still pointed out as “the hole to China.”
[1 73 ½]
Cavell (30) suggests that T, in his use of fractions of cents, is parodying American methods of bookkeeping, but half-cent coins were still in circulation in the United States until the 1850s (Paul Williams, 1987).
[Experiment which failed]
In the first edition, the bracket covering “experiments which failed” did not include salt, but through a printer’s error, the bracket was extended in many later editions. This detail offers a simple check as to whether a particular edition has been edited with care.
There is a little legend, probably apocryphal, that T caught alive in a box trap one of the woodchucks that had been ravaging his beans. But not having the heart to kill it, he carted it off two miles and freed it, letting it become someone else’s worry (Canby, 219).
[his transmigration, as a Tartar]
A resident of central Asia. Most Oriental religions include the doctrine of transmigration of the soul after death, even for animals. Sattelmeyer (63) suggests T is referring to Évariste Régis Hue’s Recollections of a Journey Through Tartary, Thibet and China.
[the house, and their bills]
Their bills: his mother and sisters did most such work for him as a friendly service.
Although Crawford asserts that the fractions did not appear in the original manuscript, that they were “whimsical additions” by T, Shanley has informed me that they are indeed there.
Here Thoreau condemns “‘modern improvements,'” and especially those that exist to improve the speed and efficiency of communication. He thinks that these advances improve the pace but not the quality of conversation.
It’s hard to imagine, then, the disdain that he would’ve held for modern technology of today– especially social media platforms. I’m sure he would be dismayed by these websites in which one could argue that “the main object [is] to talk fast and not to talk sensibly” and which are full of celebrity gossip not much more interesting than Princess Adelaide having the whooping cough.
This sounds like an early advocate of “service learning.”
[At Cambridge College the mere rent of a student’s room, which is only a little larger than my own, is thirty dollars each year,]
It is very interesting how he built a house all by himself for only $28.50 and have it for life, yet going to college is that expensive each year.
Accomplishing a lot on a little budget seems to bring him great pride. He likes to be self sufficient and we see this theme throughout the rest of the work.
There are some college founded on just this notion. Berea, for example.
it’s interesting how he’s dismantling everything those with power in his age would find important.
This seems to be a common trope of professors today — not exactly the latter part of this excerpt but certainly, the part about cheating one’s self out of a wealth of knowledge, whether it come from books or from lived experience. I think this can be connected back to Reece in that the paths to Thoreau’s remade cabin are filled with tourists from all over the world. Perhaps they are followers of a particular movement, but often times, they simply visit a famous site for the ability to tell people that they have lived this particular experience. These experiences are commodified often times through the obvious form, social media, in order to define social, economic, and intellectual barriers that distinguish them from others they find inferior.
Rather than ask the visitors if Walden had played “some role in the German and Scandavian enthusiasm for alternative fuel sources” or if they had “really come this far on pilgrimage,” he recognizes the language barrier and decides to isolate himself (Reece 267). Although understandable in Reece’s situation, I think about the similarities between Reece and Thoreau. Reece himself admits in an earlier chapter on Twin Oaks that he can’t see himself thriving in a real intentional community, preferring solitude and introspection. Thoreau of course returns to the outside world after two years in isolation but he, too, finds a special importance in the freedom of solitude.
He’s definitely a blunt guy.
Well I originally left a lengthy comment on this excerpt but I pretty much talked about the commodification of experiences rather than the value brought by knowledge or specific experiences. In Reece’s chapter, he mentions not knowing if the many visitors traveled to Walden Pond as a pilgrimage. Rather than asking (language barrier), he returns to his happy solitude, something it seems Thoreau enjoyed for quite some time.
I think that this passage relates very closely to Reece’s connection between Thoreau and biblical Adam. Here, Thoreau engages in an indirect dialogue with people so blinded by their faith that they are made inactive by it. They seek the afterlife so dearly that they forget that the present time is as much a gift from the heavens as Heaven itself (at least as Thoreau might see it).
I think this image of the man tilling the earth for a railroad and the promise of a greater future is tied to the confines of religion. Work, and you will be rewarded by a higher power. Tend to the earth in order to repay the creator for the original sin. It’s almost Marxist in a way, but Thoreau has a big problem with this sense of feeling all your life like you owe someone something. Living on his own for two years, Thoreau didn’t owe anyone anything, let alone a god. He worked for his own enjoyment and for his own purpose. As Reece mentions in the chapter I think Thoreau would support Emerson’s claim that we are ” ‘part or particle of God’ ” (268). We have something shared within all of us and are far closer than we are divided.
Although I personally see the advantages of technology that globalizes the human experience and greater story, I see what Thoreau is trying to say here about the people who are consumed by their work and not by seeking their own form of pleasure. Religion causes people to forget that there is “heaven enough a half mile from Concord” (Reece 268). He encourages six days to consume nature’s “sublime revelations” and one day for physical exertion (Reece 261). I guess in summary, Thoreau contemplates the role of humans in both the Biblical and realistic sense a lot. His view of the world could be seen as its own doctrine.
In a brief aside, Thoreau and doomsday preppers would not get along. They do not see the beauty of the earth, only its near demise and the promise of a wonderful afterlife. It’s kind of the way many of us live our lives knowing that extreme damage is being done to the earth but reassure ourselves by thinking we are happy in the moment. Are we getting the most out of this experience with life? Thoreau might think not.
[Most of the stone a nation hammers goes toward its tomb only. It buries itself alive.]
Wow. First thing that comes to mind is the debate over statues of Confederate generals and soldiers. I listened to an interesting debate on NPR when the monuments were being pulled down and one commentator mentioned that some countries do not erect statues that celebrate civil war heroes. These are simply further reminders of our differences and, moreso, our violence towards fellow citizens.
Here, Thoreau is again commenting on the social class hierarchies: the worker restrained by the boss. Better to work for one’s self rather than spend one’s whole life creating a monument for someone else’s inevitable death.
I think this relates to our discussion last time, when we said that even when we are not working, we are still working. Similarly, there’s the idea that you’re supposedly to work hard your whole life and you can have fun when and only when you retire.
And I agree with what Dana said, that this work relates to religion. You have to work hard and diligently to reach Heaven. And as we see in this paragraph, Thoreau is disagreeing with this notion.
I like that he said a “questionable liberty.” It makes me think of his freedom found at Walden Pond. You don’t have to travel to find that kind of freedom, because sometimes it will happen anywhere, anytime, as long as you are in tune with yourself.
Makes me think of the previous comment I made, where I said we have to keep working. In this sentence, I think of a farmer who is almost forced to keep working while the herds are just existing, taking their time and enjoying life. Truly, I think animals are much freer than humans as they don’t have the same kind of need to do something. But with the existence of animals, man has to work. So I agree with Thoreau saying that the herds are the keepers of men while they get to live freely.
Professor Schleef —
What did you think about the segment where he writes, “Maine and Texas…have nothing important to communicate”? From my reading of it, it seems like he is saying that people from such different parts of the same country are so different that they need not share experiences with one another, or have no experiences to share at all.
A similar thought came across my mind right after Donald Trump was elected: not many had expected this… We surround ourselves by those who agree with us, and often these fundamental agreements are separated by geographical location. Maybe the US is just too big to be operated by one government. Maybe our differences outnumber our similarities. What would Thoreau have to say about secession? Do we belong in our own “great utopia[s] of solitude” (Reece 256)?
The shakers did not believe they should be allowed to live in beauty. As a result, every aspect in their lives were created beautifully. Beauty followed utility as everything had a purpose in their society. I believe the Shakers would agree with Thoreau in this matter. The train would be considered a frivolous matter to the Shaker’s who would take the same walk as Thoreau.
wonder if Thoreau knew of the Shakers (probably) and they of Transcendentalism? And I think the Shakers would approve of Thoreau, but not the other way around.
My take was slightly different, namely, isn’t creating all of these technological advances putting the cart before the horse? What if Maine and Texas DON’T have anything to say to each other? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but rather like creating Facebook and mostly what people have to talk about are Candy Crush and their cute cats (exaggerating of course).
as for succession — Paul? I believe talk of the South seceding had been thrown around for a while prior to it actually happening, but I don’t know if HDT thought about it.
I enjoyed reading what you have to say about animal and human life. Humans are really just animals with larger brains comparatively to other animals. Thus I’d ask you if humans and animals have the same emotions and are equally free, and just have more complex or simple emotions? For example while I may worry about my grades in school, an animal may worry to the same extent about not having enough to eat. I think we are just as free as other animals, because while it often feels like we are restrained from the freedoms animals seem to have, the complexity of our species has given us opportunities other animals cannot fathom. Do you agree?
This is an interesting connection, and I agree that Reece and Thoreau present similar viewpoints. In what ways do their views differ? I’m not as familiar with Reece so that’s why I’m asking.
[its coves for a stint]
When M. Fabulet was translating W into French, he had difficulty with “stint.” Finding that in England the word was also the name of a small sandpiper, he translated “for a stint” as “en chasse d’une bécassine,” that is, “in pursuit of a snipe” (Allen, 1952).
Homeopathic remedies are taken in minute doses.
Redding & Company were booksellers at 8 State Street, Boston.
[them like the Etesian winds]
A Mediterranean summer wind from the north, frequently mentioned by classical writers.
[or as if inhaling ether]
Ether came into general use in Boston in the late 1840s. Emerson’s brother-in-law, Dr. Charles Jackson and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., were early proponents of the use of ether.
[in their pockets, like caryatides]
Caryatid: a female figure used as a supporting column in Greek architecture.
[had to run the gantlet]
A punishment formerly used on sailing ships. The crew, provided with rope ends, were lined up in two rows, and the delinquent sailor had to run between them as the crew delivered as many lashes as they could.
[slight ground or window tax]
In colonial times, houses were taxed according to the number of windows.
[and kept out of danger]
Sir Francis Bacon, De Sapienta Veterum, chap. 31; apparently T’s translation (Woodson, 1975).
[cabin fire ‘as I sailed’]
The refrain of the old American “Ballad of Captain Robert Kidd.”
[as I have elsewhere related]
T has told in further detail the story of his personal rebellion against slavery in “Resistance to Civil Government” (better known as “Civil Disobedience”), which has had a worldwide impact on such people as Gandhi and Martin Luther King and their followers.
A pun on the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization.
[huckleberries on Fair-Haven Hill]
A short distance southwest of Walden, on the shore of the Sudbury River (Gleason).
[spent a fortnight in the woods of Maine]
T left Walden for Maine on August 31, 1846. His account of this excursion can be found in the first chapter (“Ktaadn”) of The Maine Woods.
In his copy of W, T inserted the comma after “invariably.”
[their way two young men]
As Thomas Blanding has suggested to me, these were quite probably George William Curtis and his brother Burrill, who lived for a time on the Hosmer farm on Lincoln Road and who had helped T build his cabin (Gleason).
[we begin to find ourselves]
“He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:39).
[book, a volume of Homer]
It was the first volume of the Pope translation of the Iliad (Baltimore, 1812; Harding, 1983). It was apparently “borrowed” by the French-Canadian woodcutter Alex Therien, for it was found in his family’s possession more than a century later (Harding, 1993, 190-1). It has since disappeared again. Therien was apparently attracted to it by T’s reading to him from it (see “Visitors”). Interestingly, in his chapter “Reading” T denounces the use of translations of the great books, but he kept Pope’s translation in his Walden cabin.
[a solider of our camp]
In the “Sayings of Confucius,” which T edited for the Dial (III, 494), he quotes, “A soldier of the kingdom of Ci lost his buckler; and having sought after it a long time in vain, he comforted himself with this reflection: ‘A soldier has lost his buckler, but a soldier in our camp will find it; he will use it.’” He had apparently found this fable in The Phenix: A Collection of Old and Rare Fragments (New York, 1836, 83), where it is printed as one of the “Morals of Confucius.”
[beechen bowls were in request]
“Nev bella fuerant, Faginus abstabat quum [sic] scyphus ante dapes” (Elegies of Tibullus 3.11.7-8). It is interesting to note that John Evelyn quotes these two lines and gives almost exactly the same translation in Silva; or, A Discourse of Forest-Trees (London, 1679, 46), so it is quite possible that T derived the quotation from this secondary source.
[wind passes over it, bends]
Confucian Analects, XII, xix
This is the shortest chapter in the book, implying village matters are of little importance to T.
[to make an irruption]
T was likely thinking of Emerson here, for it was but a short walk from Emerson’s back door, through the fields and woods, to the Walden cabin.
[I frequently had to … without assistance]In this passage, Thoreau is commenting on how he would often get “lost” in the darkness as he made his way home without a light to guide him. I find it interesting because in our contemporary society, this type of wandering would not only be unsafe, but would rarely happen. Even the most basic of cell phones have bright enough lights to be used as flashlights, and most streets (and even some back roads) are lit by streetlights at night.I can’t help but imagine that a part of Thoreau enjoyed this walk in the dark. Sure, he appreciated his solitude every once in a while, but there’s also a special kind of challenge when man is forced to live in a way that is different than what he is used to. When I was younger and the power would go out, my family would gather in the living room with candles, flashlights, board games, and a battery-operated radio, waiting for the power to come back on. Nostalgic or not, this was one of my favorite times, because something forced my family to meet in one place, connect, and enjoy ourselves with the added challenge of doing so in a dimly-lit room. I think Thoreau would have liked these gatherings too.
[I frequently had to … without assistance] In this passage, Thoreau is commenting on how he would often get “lost” in the darkness as he made his way home without a light to guide him. I find it interesting because in our contemporary society, this type of wandering would not only be unsafe, but would rarely happen. Even the most basic of cell phones have bright enough lights to be used as flashlights, and most streets (and even some back roads) are lit by streetlights at night.I can’t help but imagine that a part of Thoreau enjoyed this walk in the dark. Sure, he appreciated his solitude every once in a while, but there’s also a special kind of challenge when man is forced to live in a way that is different than what he is used to. When I was younger and the power would go out, my family would gather in the living room with candles, flashlights, board games, and a battery-operated radio, waiting for the power to come back on. Nostalgic or not, this was one of my favorite times, because something forced my family to meet in one place, connect, and enjoy ourselves with the added challenge of doing so in a dimly-lit room. I think Thoreau would have liked these gatherings too.
[I was seized and put into jail] Wow, I love how Thoreau just breezes over the fact that he was incarcerated for tax evasion. Considering the man can spend an entire chapter detailing the adventures of a squirrel, you think he could at least treat us to his edgy prison stories…
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Every day or two I strolled to the village to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly going on there, circulating either from mouth to mouth, or from newspaper to newspaper, and which, taken in homœopathic doses, was really as refreshing in its way as the rustle of leaves and the peeping of frogs.
I found this especially interesting because I was under the impression that since Thoreau willingly established his residence so far away from others at Walden pond, that he would have no desire to listen to gossip in the town. However, after reading on, he seemed to compare the people and the life in the village to the woods and the woodland life.By saying that visiting the town and hearing the sounds a human life was as refreshing to him as listening to the frogs and leaves, I believe that Thoreau visited the town as a way to get a change of scenery, as someone who lives in the village would visit the woods for some fresh air and a walk through nature.
Every day or two I strolled to the village to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly going on there, circulating either from mouth to mouth, or from newspaper to newspaper, and which, taken in homœopathic doses, was really as refreshing in its way as the rustle of leaves and the peeping of frogs.
I found this especially interesting because I was under the impression that since Thoreau willingly established his residence so far away from others at Walden pond, that he would have no desire to listen to gossip in the town. However, after reading on, he seemed to compare the people and the life in the village to the woods and the woodland life.By saying that visiting the town and hearing the sounds a human life was as refreshing to him as listening to the frogs and leaves, I believe that Thoreau visited the town as a way to get a change of scenery, as someone who lives in the village would visit the woods for some fresh air and a walk through nature.
It is interesting to read how Thoreau felt about slavery here. In the 1840’s we really see the reform movement picking up speed, and in this paragraph it feels like Thoreau is on board with reform. However, when reading this chapter and selections from his journals concurrently, the reader is left with the sense that Thoreau’s thoughts on reform were ambiguous or “luke-warm” to say the least. In an entry dated June 17, 1853 Thoreau describes some reformers staying in his house with unflattering language. I would be very interested to learn more about Thoreau’s thoughts on reform as this passage leaves the reader without a sense of certainty in this regard.
I was very surprised to read that Thoreau went into the village with such frequency, as it seemed that he wanted to escape the gossip and other goings on that he seems to detest. However, it appears as though his excursions into the village act as reminders for him of why he is otherwise so secluded, a way of justifying his lifestyle. His reference to the Sirens is also interesting, and connects back to the other mentions of mythology in “The Bean-Field,” again drawing himself in am almost heroic light, this time for being able to draw away from petty gossip.
Here it seems Thoreau is once again displaying his distaste for generic community rules and regulations. Earlier in Reading he displayed contempt for the way in which we are taught by society to claim and conform to a niche. He objects, claiming that society should support the quest for knowledge. In this section he once again points out that without the community’s overbearing presence, his life has actually become more wholesome.
I feel this passage is interesting because of the connections between immersion and nature and immersion in text. In a class that is dedicated to the study of literature in the digital age, the question of how contemporary (thus, digital) life affects out immersion with the text. Similarly, Thoreau is pointing out the difference between his own experience and immersion in nature and those of the villagers through their ability to walk through the woods in darkness. This is strikingly similar to the argument that the modern reader is far less likely to have memorized portions of text they study or read, where, for example, in Shakespeare’s time, memorization was considered far more important than it is now.
You’re right, Jake. The incident he describes here is the basis of his famous essay “Civil Disobedience,” in which he explains his refusal to support, through taxation, a government engaged in immoral actions — specifically, slavery and the war with Mexico.
“I had no lock nor bolt but for the desk which held my papers, not even a nail to put over my latch or windows. I never fastened my door night or day, though I was to be absent several days; not even when the next fall I spent a fortnight in the woods of Maine. And yet my house was more respected than if it had been surrounded by a file of soldiers”
I found this particular part of the paragraph especially interesting because it shows just how comfortable Thoreau is with his life in the woods. It shows that, not only does he have nothing to hide regarding his lifestyle and belongings, but that he also trusts whomever it is that may stumble upon his home. The whole time Thoreau is living by the pond he is “living deliberately”, and to do this in its entirety he must demonstrate his full comfort levels regarding his situation, these comfort levels being extremely high.
This passage finds Thoreau setting up a man vs. the state sort of situation. While I appreciate his resistance to an unjust institution, some of his observations beg a closer reading. He describes living without locks with a sort of “open-door” living policy, just after he makes a point of noting that the only people that give him any sort of problem are representatives of the state. This seems to suggest that there is a difference in the type of person that represents the state and the one who does not. Or, it could suggest that working for the state has a corrupting effect on individuals, making them incompatible with his manufactured world. Additionally, he suggests something that reminds me here of Politeia, where Plato describes his ideal kallipolis. Ideally, he notes that the city would not need protection, as protectors have a level of power that could be dangerous. Plato only allows for the guardians when he notes that wealth demands it. Thus, Thoreau here is not in an isolated place in western thought. He is, though, in application. Plato cedes such a city would be impossible, while Thoreau appears dedicated to its necessity.
“Every day or two I strolled to the village to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly going on there, circulating either from mouth to mouth, or from newspaper to newspaper, and which, taken in homœopathic doses, was really as refreshing in its way as the rustle of leaves and the peeping of frogs.”
This quote is interesting because it furthers the notion of Thoreau’s hypocrisy. He states that he chooses to live his life in the woods in order to escape the flaws of society, yet he finds his solace in observing society. This further proves the point of Thoreau’s uncertainty on his philosophical beliefs. He entered the woods in order to broaden himself, not in order to escape society.
I think this paragraph is showing Thoreau’s devotion to the concept of isolation, not his hypocrisy. When he goes into the village, he seems to embrace the role of an ‘outsider’ rather than an actual member. I think he is analyzing in order to better appreciate or even further confirm his thoughts on living in solidarity. He observes and studies the village, maybe similar to the thought that you can not understand or appreciate something (in this case his solidarity) without understanding its counterpart (society and the lives people live). I think the best example of this is when he compares himself to Orpheus of all people. He walks through the village, “loudly singing the praises of the gods to his lyre, drowned the voices of the Sirens, and kept out of danger.” Orpheus had walked to Hades, and much like Thoreau had surrounded himself with evil. He had not associated himself with that around him, and had actively refused to accept anything that may seem to tempt him. What is important to consider is that both had made their journey for a reason; to take something with them which in Thoreau’s case is knowledge and insight.
Here, Thoreau seems to capture his feelings on solitude and loneliness. As we discussed in class, Thoreau may not actually want to be alone, considering the fact that he spends a lot of his time talking about his visitors and social exchanges with people while on the topic of solitude. This passage helps clarify that perhaps Thoreau is seeking a deeper human connection with people; one that lacks words and shallow exchanges like the ones people have in the Village. Instead, Thoreau would prefer to be alone, among other independent people and have shared experiences, shared silences, shared appreciations for the moments they have together and not clog the air with gossip. I think Thoreau challenges the people around him and his readers to lose themselves in silence, in the woods, in a place that does not ground us to our own realities. We cant be found until we are lost, and I think Thoreau wants people to find each other in this remoteness too.
[These take place only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient while others have not enough.]
It’s interesting how Thoreau recognizes thieves, rather then feeling upset or anger, he is able to rationalize the reasoning behind their actions.
Thoreau doesn’t seem like the type of person who would be fazed by going to jail, given his intellectual and thoughtful nature. So while his experiences in jail would be interesting for the reader, I’m not surprised he didn’t include them.
It was interesting to read about how he goes into the village to get some gossip. It is almost like he wants to stay up to date about the things that go on around. But why did he go to live in the forest to find himself but also go into the village and get caught up to date with things that are going on?
[a particular form, my tailoress]
She has been identified by Sanborn (1909, I, 79) as Mary Minot of Concord.
[at beholding the costume]
T originally made these statements on costume about a group of Tyrolian singers who visited Concord in 1841 (Journal, 1906, I, 196).
T is here using the common generic term for islands inhabited by uncivilized natives.
[be obtained. As for Clothing]
The relationship of the following material on clothing to the “clothes philosophy” of Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus will quickly be seen by any student familiar with that work.
Samuel Laing, Journal of a Residence in Norway (London, 1837, 295).
[believe that our factory system]
Here again, it is significant that T was an early protester against the evils of the factory system, which was already producing slums and paupers in New England cities.
[We worship not the Graces]
Graces: the Roman goddesses of charm and beauty.
[nor the Parcæ]
Parcæ: the Fates in Roman mythology.
[forget that some Egyptian wheat]
The Concord Freeman for Nov. 12, 1841, gives such an account, and T probably saw it there. Such stories have appeared in many places, and although they have often been dismissed as myth, present-day scientists acknowledge that dormant seeds can germinate even after thousands of years. See, for example, the New York Times for March 7, 1951.
[of any people. Let Harlequin]
A droll character in comedy and pantomime usually dressed in parti-colored clothes.
[are as becoming as purple]
The color of royal garments.
Ellery Channing, in his notes on W, points out that T had visited the Bigelow mills in Clinton, Massachusetts. T reports at length on this visit in his Journal (1906, II, 134-6).
[the coast, in some Salem]
Salem, Massachusetts, was the center of trade with China, the Celestial Empire. The products listed were all prominent in that trade (Morison).
[discharged upon a Jersey shore]
The coast of New Jersey was long noted as the site of many shipwrecks.
[untold fate of La Perouse]
Jean-Francois de Galaup, Comte de La Perouse (1741-1788), a French explorer who disappeared in 1788 while exploring the Pacific. His fate was not learned until 1826, when his shipwreck was discovered on Vanikoro Island, north of the New Hebrides.
[in this state of society]
T did not have the usual mid-Victorian objections to nudity, but delighted in swimming and wading naked in rivers. Modern nudists often claim him as one of their precursors (MacDonald).
[Eve, according to the fable]
Genesis 3:7. Calling the Bible a fable alienated some of T’s more devout contemporaries, but he was not one to mince words to soothe his neighbors’ feelings.
[in a workhouse, a labyrinth]
Labyrinth: any complicated structure, but specifically a building in Crete built by Daedalus where the Minotaur was housed. Theseus was able to penetrate it, slay the Minotaur, and escape with the aid of Ariadne, who gave him the clue – a thread to follow.
[I have seen Penobscot Indians]
The Penobscots of northern Maine frequently visited Concord and camped outside the town
[to see a large box]
Although T suggests a man might well live in a large box, only seven pages later he condemns the “degraded poor” for living in “sties,” which Bridgman (79) says are surely more livable than boxes.
[his soul be free]
“If I have freedom in my love,/ And in my soul am free” (Richard Lovelace, “To Althea from Prison”).
[a strolling Indian]
American Indians were always of great interest to T. He gathered more than 2,800 pages of notes from his readings on them and mentions them nearly fifty times in W (Sayre).
[of a well-known lawyer]
In his Journal (II, 84) T identifies the well-known lawyer as Samuel Hoar, the town’s leading citizen and father of T’s friends Elizabeth and Edward Hoar.
[one’s while to buy them]
Tripp (1988) suggests that T may be echoing both Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (VI, 444-6) and Virgil’s Eclogues (X, 70-2).
Paul (1958, 322) suggests that T is here giving a thinly veiled account of the publishing failure of his Week.
[to transact some private business]
At least one piece of “private business” that T wished to transact at Walden Pond was the writing of A Week, his memorial tribute to his brother John, who had died in 1842. For three years he had been kept from the task by worldly affairs. By retiring to the pond, he was able to find time to complete the book.
[adventurers and merchants, from Hanno]
Hanno was a Carthaginian navigator of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.
[interest, of tare and tret]
The two ordinary deductions in calculating the net weight of goods to be sold by retail, “tare” making allowance for the weight of the container, “tret” for that of waste matter.
[railroad and the ice trade]
Both the railroad and the ice trade were new to Walden Pond when T lived there. See the chapter “The Pond in Winter.”
[it is a good port]
In T’s own copy of W, he corrected “post” to “port,” and it is clearly “port” in the manuscript. Either word makes sense, and critics have argued for both.
[good foundation. No Neva marshes]
St. Petersburg is built in the lowlands of the Neva River.
[no better than wooden horses]
Clothes horses: wooden frames used to air out clothes, and also persons who think clothes are all-important.
The New York Times for May 16, 1969, reported that thieves in Trujillo, Peru, used this technique to rob houses. I doubt they got the idea from W.
[When Madam Pfeiffer]
Ida Pfeiffer, A Lady’s Voyage Round the World (New York, 1852, 265).
[hero ever has a valet]
“No man is a hero to his valet” (Madame Cornuel, 1605-1694).
[new wine in old bottles]
“Neither do men put new wine into old bottles else the bottles break” (Matthew 9:17).
[outmost cuticle and mortal coil]
“When we have shuffled off this mortal coil” (Hamlet, III, i, 67).
[we grew like exogenous plants]
Plants that grow by adding an annual layer just beneath the bark.
[like the old philosopher]
T was thinking of Bias (c. sixth century B.c.), as he indicates in his Journal (1906, I, 169-70).
Daniel Gookin, Historical Collections of the Indians in New England (Boston, 1792, chap. III, 9).
[is never done]
“Man may work from sun to sun, / But woman’s work is never done” (Bartlett, 920).
[found sailing under false colors]
Pirates and other unscrupulous merchantmen often sailed flying the flag of another nation to disguise their activities.
The strict business habits required when dealing with the “celestial empire” appear to be those habits of head and heart that allow one to mine the wealth of human resource deep within at native bottom.
[I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit?]
Or the manner of the inner man being more important than the look of the outer. Remembering this comment has saved, and served, me often over the years. One of my favorites!
[according to the fable]
Perhaps better to use Myth? Which, like Thoreau’s Walden, the Bible certainly is. Good myth I suspect for those who mine the depths, but not something born out by history.
[Economy is a subject which admits of being treated with levity, but it cannot so be disposed of.]
I like Jeff Crammer’s comment on Thoreau’s use of the word Economy in his annotated edition where he reminds us that Thoreau wrote “that the economy of living is synonymous with philosophy” further on in the chapter (paragraph #72 in this version).Oikonomia, from the Greek, meaning management of the (inner) household, which really is the business that Thoreau is about doing.
[as if we grew by exogenous plants by addition without.]
In a recent episode of the podcast RadioLab titled “Worth,” one segment posed the question, “How Do You Put a Price Tag on Nature?” After considering the pros and cons of valuing Nature in either monetary or aesthetic terms, the segment asked (at just after 19′ 00″) if there might be “another way to think about the value of Nature” — a way that doesn’t invoke either money or beauty as measurement. One of the authors interviewed for the segment, J.B. MacKinnon, suggests that we might think about the diversity of Nature as “an extension of our own brains,” a “pool of imagination and creativity from which we, as humans, are able to draw.”
Thoreau’s persistent practice as a writer is to do just that: to make the phenomena and processes of Nature a means of investigating and characterizing who we are as human beings, how we live, and how we might live. In doing so, he also makes it a means of investigating the concept of worth itself. Walden is not simply a work that asks us to value Nature, but a work that asks us to examine and re-assess our values using the imaginative resources that Nature provides.
[the lawyer had only to weave arguments]
The use of “weave” here cleverly compares the lawyer’s livelihood with that of the Indian. It shows that they both do what they can do.
[Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man’s to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other’s while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy.]
Marx may sympathize with the above comment, in current society our worth, as well as others is contingent upon the material concrete value they can supply. Rather than exist in such a society Thoreau finds it preferable to live in Walden where he may determine his own worth
[No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes; yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience.]
Thoreau’s observation of society here is similar to Pope Francis’s in On Care for Our Common Home, Lui’s in Rameau’s Nephew, and Marx’s in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. We live in a society in which materialism, more specifically how well one conforms to the conventions of our materialist society, can be seen as more important than being a good person. At the very least, it’s better for getting ahead.
[Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind]
Is the avoiding the necessity of selling baskets, a form of opting out of society? Is it possible to exist in society without engaging in the buying and selling?
[ He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other’s while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy.]
This correlates well with what HIM said in Rameau’s Nephew. HIM describes his lifestyle as selling himself to others as something valuable. He passes himself off as an accomplished musical tutor, despite being quite inadequate and never imparting any knowledge unto others. But because he is perceived by an individual to have value, he does. The opposite occurs with the Indians baskets, because he might not have made something worth while, and failed to convince others that it was so, then he did not have valuable merchandise. Therefore value is only found in the individuals perception of a good or service. No value is actually seen in the inherent worth of an object only the importance placed on it by an individual.
Society has wronged the protagonist by not giving him the credit for all the work he has done. The previous paragraphs (P27-29) explain the toil that the protagonist has done for society and has yet to be recognized for them.
[As this business was to be entered into without the usual capital, it may not be easy to conjecture where those means, that will still be indispensable to every such undertaking, were to be obtained. As for Clothing, to come at once to the practical part of the question, perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty, and a regard for the opinions of men, in procuring it, than by a true utility. Let him who has work to do recollect that the object of clothing is, first, to retain the vital heat, and secondly, in this state of society, to cover nakedness, and he may judge how much of any necessary or important work may be accomplished without adding to his wardrobe.]
Here Thoreau analyzes man’s use of clothing. He suggests people are more concerned with the way they are perceived by others in society then the benefits the clothing offers to their survival. “Perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty, and a regard for the opinions of men, in procuring it, than by a true utility.” This is comparable to Marx’s view about how the need for more possessions in a capitalistic society forces us to abandon part of who we are.
[He was at first bare and out of doors; but though this was pleasant enough in serene and warm weather, by daylight, the rainy season and the winter, to say nothing of the torrid sun, would perhaps have nipped his race in the bud if he had not made haste to clothe himself with the shelter of a house. Adam and Eve, according to the fable, wore the bower before other clothes. Man wanted a home, a place of warmth, or or comfort, first of physical warmth, then the warmth of the affections.]
This quote shows the importance of shelter and protection. It relates to divinity because it mentions Adam and Eve, found in the Bible. This brings up the creation of Adam and Eve and how they valued shelter from the weather before clothes. This theme is still seen in the 19th century, where Walden is talking about how men would die if they didn’t create shelter. Relating to Locke, he talks about how people give up their natural freedom to assure the protection of their lives and their property. A shelter is necessary for survival and that can be seen since the beginnings of Christianity.
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.
I had not seen this motivation put quite this way — not feeling a part of civic life.
[et not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. ]
This compares two men both making baskets but one focussing on how he can sell and the other, the complete opposite. This is interesting to note because the second man goes completely against what a normal person in society would think generally when making something.
I was transfixed by this as well. Is the idea to make the baskets solely for oneself?
Thoreau makes a good point here that new enterprises should first be engaged in by ones old clothes. It is only when we recognize that we need to change our appearance to match how we are on the inside that we are safe from the common danger of being told to change our inside to match our appearance.
I agree here with Thoreau that there is no right or wrong way to live your life. The way he communicates that is nuanced, though interesting, and well put.
I would say that the idea is definitely to make the baskets for oneself, and to focus on one’s own path metaphorically as opposed to making baskets for someone else, and living one’s life in whatever way the individual values it should be lived.
I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the two ways to make baskets, so to speak. I agree with you about people conforming to societal standards. However I’d be interested to hear whether you think society would function properly if all producers of goods made things according to their own interests? While Thoreau makes an intriguing point, would it realistically be applicable for everyone in a given society?
This reminds me of a quote from Toni Morrison: “you can’t let the past strangle you if you’re going to go forward. but nevertheless, the past is not going anywhere.”
[to play on the common]
Most New England towns have an area near the center of town that was originally owned in common for the pasturing of farm animals. Nowadays town commons are used as public parks.
[that I was studying ornithology]
T developed a life-long interest in the study of birds and was one of the earliest to advocate studying them in the wild rather than shooting them and studying their carcasses. He made a number of contributions to our knowledge of birds (Thoreau, 1993; Griscom).
[hunters as well as fishers of men]
“And Jesus said unto them, Come after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17).
[ben not holy men.’]
“He yaf nat of that text a pulled hen. / That seith that hunters beth nat hooly men”(Chaucer, Prologue to Canterbury Tales, II, 178-9). But this is said of the monk, rather than the nun.
A generic term for charitable organizations formed to protect domestic animals from cruel treatment.
[“best men”, as the Algonquins]
Indians of northeastern North America.
Literally, “love of man”. T is merely pointing out that his love is wider than that.
[seize and devour him raw]
“Cynics may be inclined to suspect that an almost exclusive diet of rice, Indian meal, and molasses might reasonably be expected to make even woodchuck look strangely attractive to any man” (Krutch, 83).
[that wildness which he represented]
T had a strong belief, as he said in his essay “Walking, or the Wild,” that “In wildness is the preservation of the world,” and this has become the motto of the present-day conservation movement (Burroughs; Oelschlaeger).
[it to me]
Boudreau (1992) discusses T’s changing attitudes toward hunting, fishing, and trapping. In general T grew more ill at ease regarding these activities.
[the Falls of St. Mary]
The falls of the St. Mary River, in southeastern British Columbia.
[that man is a carnivorous]
T misspelled this as “carniverous” in the first edition.
[sometimes eat a fried rat]
T was probably referring here to the muskrat, which by some is considered edible (Bridgman, 295).
[of herself,” says Thseng-tseu]
Confucius, The Great Learning, “Commentary of the Philosopher Tsang” (chap. VII, 2).
[from being the Good Shepherd]
“I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).
[The governor and his council]
In Massachusetts, a Governor’s Council is elected to advise the governor in affairs of state.
[hooks to be used there]
Limiting the number of hooks on a fishing line was a conservation measure.
[my case was its uncleanness]
In the 1840s and 1850s, vegetarians and food faddists – Dr. Sylvester Graham among them – called for radical changes in diet. Adams and Hutter gives an amusing account of some of the food reforms suggested. Seybold (42) suggests that some of T’s vegetarian ideas were derived from his reading of Porphyry’s “On Abstinence from Animal Food.”
[to leave off eating animals]
Although T generally practiced vegetarianism, he did not confine himself wholly to that diet. For a discussion of his vegetarianism, see Joseph Jones, 1957.
[genius till it misled him]
See Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” for the most noted exposition of this theme, an idea central to transcendentalism.
[to an opium-eater’s heaven]
Opium addiction was common in T’s day. Witness Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater.
[ones to whom the Ved]
Rajah Rammohun Roy, Translation of Several … of the Veds (London, 1832, 21).
[appetite as ever an alderman]
Aldermen are often depicted as lovers of exotic foods.
[with which it is eaten]
“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man” (Matthew 15:18).
[in us, which awakens]
T is probably thinking of Hawthorne’s short story “Egotism, or the Bosom Serpent” (Davidson, 1947).
[lower jaw of a hog]
T describes this incident in his Journal for June 9, 1850 (II, 36). A later discovery of a hog’s jawbones is discussed by Sanborn (1909, I, 320).
[from brute beasts,” says Mencius]
Mencius, Works (book IV [“Le Low”], part II, chap. XIX, p. 1).
[are declared by the Ved]
[grossest sensuality into purityand devotion]
T’s views on sexuality were even more conservative than those of most of his fellow Victorians and seem outlandish today. For a discussion of his sexuality, see Harding (1991).
[only as fauns and satyrs]
In Roman mythology, a class of deities part human and part goat.
[rage and made them worse]
John Donne, “To Sr Edward Herbert at Iulyers.
[be at cleaning a stable]
That T practiced what he preached is evident in his Journal entry for April 20, 1841 (I, 250-1): “To-day I earned seventy-five cents heaving manure out of a pen.”
[fill the reader with shame]
T was undoubtedly thinking of the Hindu Laws of Menu, or the Vishnu Purana, which he had read in the H. H. Wilson translation (London, 1840).
[to the god he worships]
“Ye are the temple of God” (I Corinthians 3:16).
[John Farmer sat at his door]
Farmer is used as a type name, rather than referring to a specific individual. In the original manuscript it read “John Spaulding” (Stern). Spaulding was a common name in Concord in those days, though there seems to be no John Spaulding listed in the town records.
[he sat down to recreate]
In the first edition, this word came at the end of a line of type and was broken into “rec-reate.” In T’s own copy, he corrected the syllabification, and a hyphen has crept into the word in some editions.
[one playing on a flute]
T himself often loved to play his flute, particularly when in his rowboat on the pond.
[it in Kirby and Spence]
William Kirby and William Spence, An Introduction to Entomology (Philadelphia, 1846, 258).
The phrase “Higher Laws” was very popular in the years prior to the Civil War, particularly among transcendentalists and abolitionists in their fight against the proslavery laws passed by Congress. As Theordore Parker once said, “To say that there is no law higher than what the State can make is practical atheism (Commager, 208). Higher laws, then, are the laws of one’s conscience. For an extended exposition of the term contemporary to Thoreau, see Hosmer. For a modern evaluation of the movement, see Madden. T’s most important discussion of the idea is in his essay “Civil Disobedience.” Pickard stresses that while the religious beliefs expressed in this chapter are highly unconventional by Christian standards, they contain the essentials of all religious experience. For more on the place of religion in this chapter, see Wolf. Rose discusses the humor in this chapter.
[the laws of the universe] I’m taking an philosophy course called “Ethical Theory,” which is fascinating. Before reading this paragraph, I would have pegged Thoreau for an ethical relativist — that is, someone who believed we should respect and not interfere with the moral conventions of other cultures. He seems so worldly and is constantly enlightening readers with pearls of wisdom from around the world. Yet, here he presupposes moral absolutes, a “law of the universe” that operates independently of whatever “the youth” consider to be morally fashionable. You know, now that I think about it, Thoreau’s moral commentary is pretty irresponsible. Some of his asides are very flippant and end up creating an incoherent, unorganized portrait of what he believes. I mean of course he worships nature and all that, but can we place him in a moral category? Transcendentalism is a literary and philosophical movement, not really a moral one. Maybe I’m just trying to slap labels on something that can’t be labeled: a personal philosophy. Either way, I think his thoughts on morality could use a bit more organization and consistency.
[higher principles]- the pursuit in life.
Aristotle’s Four Cardinal Virtues- Prudence, temperance, courage, and justice. Aristotle’s highest good is happiness.
Kant’s highest good is good will. If there are not good intentions behind what is done then what is done is not good.
Summum bonum- “the highest good” in Greek. The life of the righteous and/or the life led in Communion with God and according to God’s precepts.
Thoreau is making the claim that humans will never be “civilized” until they give up eating animals. This begs the question of what it means to be civilized. In urging others to not eat meat, it seems as though he is suggesting that as humans, we should not disturb nature and instead should try to live in harmony with it. Yet, the word civilization often lends the mind to the idea that humans should overcome or transcend nature—perhaps to harness it.
Great point, Emily. Thoreau’s equation of a “natural” way of living with “civilization” seems problematic. Is this in part because the concepts “nature” and “civilization” (or “culture”) are in themselves problematic?
The phrase, “fishers of men” struck me. Thoreau’s use of the Sunday school term reveals that he finds his greatness on par with that of Jesus. He thinks his way of life is divine, and recognizing the role of Christianity in Thoreau’s zeitgeist, it is an excellent term to elevate his ideology with the masses.
This is a moment where Thoreau’s transcendentalist views come through very clearly. Thoreau expounds upon the critical role that nature plays in his life, describing the details of his surroundings as “the highest reality.” He is once again pointing to the importance of nature and of our roles in it as individuals with unique perspectives and interpretations of the world, over the importance of our role in society and the regulations that come with such an existence. To him, “the faintest assured objection,” of an individual must come before “the arguments and customs of mankind.”
When Thoreau writes, “He goes thither at first as a hunter and fisher, until at last, if he has the seeds of a better life in him, he distinguishes his proper objects, as a poet or naturalist it may be, and leaves the gun and fish-pole behind. The mass of men are still and always young in this respect” I believe he touches on a core issue in our society. He points out that largely our society teaches us to understand things by solely their utility – inevitably tied up in their ability to produce – and because of that too often we don’t fully mature as holistic human beings. The dichotomy he is engaging in about the importance of understanding nature in its relationship to ourself not as hunters and fishers but as poets and naturalists is the same as the one we today engage in when arguing for the importance of the humanities.
The quote “We cannot but pity the boy who has never fired a gun” stuck out to me.” I interpreted this quote meaning that we cannot pity those who may not have had the same experiences as yourself. I feel this quote is important because a person has to remember that just because someone may not have the same experiences as you, it does not make them less than.
T is discovering what is it is to be a human in nature, with all efforts going to self preservation. To refer to Harding’s comment on the passage, when one must forage and grow and hunt their own food as humans once did in the wilds, the prospect of small prey such as a woodchuck is a far more valuable take than anyone living in the modern community could appreciate. Human history is that of the hunter-gatherer, and here we see T entering the mindset and habits after being left to his own devices for some time.
Sandra Harbert Petrulionis examines the political uses of this phrase in “The ‘Higher Law’: Then and Now,” Thoreau Society Bulletin 262, Spring 2008 (5-7), available at the Internet Archive
Very interesting how this paragraph corresponds with the second paragraph of the “Sounds” chapter. There are all kinds of inversions: morning becomes evening, warmth becomes coolness, the reverie of spirit is disrupted by the sounds of commerce (wagons on the road) in one, while incessant thoughts of work and practical plans become disrupted by the enchantment of a flute in the other.
Professor Harding suggests that John Farmer is a sort of everyman figure. But the parallelism noted above tells me that Henry Thoreau saw himself in this everyman quite clearly. The penetrating question which an inner voice asks of him–“But how to come out of this condition and actually migrate thither?”–seems genuine and heartfelt. This strikes me as an occasion to perceive that Thoreau’s counsels, which strike some as hectoring and egotistical, are often reflective. Rather than putting himself above or outside our experience of life, he fixes himself firmly within it, showing us that the issues that command our most serious attention also commanded his. I can’t help thinking that the wonderful final line was a resolution he himself had reached.
This seems like it should be a paragraph that would greatly confound readers. When Thoreau states, “The wonder is how they, how you and I, can live this slimy beastly life, eating and drinking,” it seems like this should be deterring to readers in some ways. Eating and drinking are such natural, sustaining ways of life for humans, yet here Emerson emphasizes that these things make us “slimy and beastly.” I think his argument can get confusing at times like these, when he really seems to be nitpicking humanity’s typical ways of life, and asking readers to become so intensely aware of activities that seem so natural to them at first.
The line “Nature is hard to be overcome, but she must be overcome” confuses me. It seems as if his main theme throughout the book is to be one with Nature, by overcoming societal pressures and fully immersing your life in Nature and living by the simple standards of Nature. Now telling readers to overcome Nature seems to be contradicting his message. Is Man’s natural inclination shameful and morally bad?
At first I thought that Thoreau would see vegetarianism as unnatural because part of the “animal instinct” is to eat meat. Animals eat animals without a second thought, but perhaps it is humanity’s ability to think and sympathize that makes vegetarianism natural. Thoreau dislikes the messiness of hunting and sees it as preserving his “higher or poetic faculties” in abstaining from meat.
I thought that Thoreau’s arguments against eating meat throughout the “Higher Laws” chapter were a bit lacking. The impression that I got after reading this was that Thoreau did not stop eating animal flesh because he was overly concerned with animal welfare, rather, it seems he became a vegetarian merely because he felt it helped to “preserve his higher or poetic faculties” and that it elevated him to a greater spiritual level. He admits in paragraph 3 that he, “did not pity the fishes nor the worms”. In fact, he describes how he was born and raised with a hunting gun or fishing pole in his hand (he even states that this was the best education of his life…although perhaps partly due to the fact that this led him to spend large quantities of time in Nature). He decided to end his carnivorous ways when he developed the belief that vegetarianism was something that seemed to be “more civilized” and the “destiny of the human race”. Thus, vegetarianism, according to Thoreau, is ultimately about improving oneself, not necessarily about improving the lives and condition of other creatures (he is positioned on the anthropocentric side of the scale much more so than the biocentric side). As a vegetarian, I was personally a bit dissatisfied with Thoreau’s arguments. His claim that meat is “unclean” and “filthy” seemed to me to be almost ludicrous. However, I think the biggest issue that I have with this chapter is the fact that Thoreau seems to hold his own personal elevation and spiritual ascension as the ultimate good–being a vegetarian merely helps him to achieve this egotistical goal. Personally, I do not partake in the vegetarian diet because I believe it to help me, but because I think that it is innately good in and of itself. Overall, I was a bit frustrated with Thoreau’s lack of giving any substantial reason for vegetarianism. However, it should also be remembered that Thoreau is new to the herbivore lifestyle (he was literally just describing his fishing practices in the last chapter). Perhaps this chapter should not be read as an argument primarily about vegetarianism (I personally don’t think Thoreau is a great authority on the subject), but rather as Thoreau’s personal contemplations concerning a new lifestyle choice and his inward struggle to reach a state of “glorious existence”.
I read this passage slightly differently. While he does talk about the beastly lives that we may live when we consume flesh it is not so much the fact that we are spending time to eat but how we are eating. Prior to this he explains that it is ” Not that food which entereth into the mouth defileth a man, but the appetite with which it is eaten”. When he opens the chapter by talking about the woodchuck and the savage instinct that possesses him when it crossed his path, I believe that it is not the eating of meat that he is truly detesting as much as the idea that it is instinct and not intellect that propels the man forth. A man being blinded by instinct does not give time to intellect and in this way digresses as he follows those impulses to feed himself with meat and other delicacies. Man should have an appetite for genius not for meat, meat is as superficial as materialism and in a way I feel that Th. in this passage is only identifying yet another stage that man must go through in order to be fully susceptible to the truths of the universe and of existence altogether. Indulging the body in food is the same as man enveloping his life in the pursuit of materialistic joys that go no deeper than the surface. The part that you quoted reminds me of Emerson, he says “A man is fed, not that he may be fed, but that he may work”, this same idea exists in that quote. What we fuel ourselves with should not be a bigger concern than what we accomplish been filled (fueled) up.
Does it help, Natalie, that in context it seems that it is “human nature” Thoreau is referring to? I’m not sure whether that perspective resolves all confusion, myself. Remember, Emerson had insisted that one’s own body was a part of nature. In “Esthetique du Mal” Wallace Stevens writes, “The greatest poverty is not to live / In a physical world.” I regularly celebrate Thoreau for underscoring such an outlook. Yet some passages in “Higher Laws” seem hung up on the suspicions of the body which may be found in certain long-lived Christian traditions (St. Paul, St. Augustine, etc.).
“We cannot but pity the boy who has never fired a gun; he is no more humane, while his education has been sadly neglected.”
This quote is by far the most significant when discussing what stood out to me in this book. I have had always been a more white collar worker and there was no time where that was more obvious than when i had to use a chisel on the Cabin. Never before had i put much stock into the skills that blue collar workers had. I always thought, I was smart and coordinated enough to figure it out. But actually there is definitely a true skill, one of the utmost practical importance, to an individual being good with their hands. It allows one to live and act deliberately, making their own choices and relying more on independence than anything else. While there is no doubt a vast amount of things one can learn as an intellectual, that does not elevate them to any higher status than their counterparts.
I think it is definitely vital for one to get an education, but since my work on the cabin and remembrance of this quote, i have undoubtedly garnered a new respect and admiration for blue collar workers and the skills that go into it. And i realize now i could definitely be much more well-rounded in my thoughts and skills.
“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.
I did not expect Thoreau to support vegetarianism mainly because I assumed he was like most people in that they thought eating meat was a natural way of life. However, Thoreau is not like most people, as he willingly lived alone in a cabin in the woods for two years, so my assumption that he would hold a common belief on food was not exactly logical. I respect his choice to avoid eating animals and can relate to his decision.
[her disease sciatica. My furniture]
Most of the furniture that T used at Walden is now on display in a room at the Concord Museum. In his Journal (III, 200) T says he carted all his furniture out to Walden in a hay-rigging.
[the auction of a deacon’s]
Ellery Channing comments in his copy of W, “Deacon Brown, a penurious old curmudgeon, who lived next house to me in the middle of town, – a human rat.” T gives further details of this auction in his Journal (VI, 80).
[men do lives after them]
Julius Caesar, III, ii.
[instead of a bonfire]
The word was formerly applied to fires for the burning of heretics, proscribed books, etc.
[there was an auction]
The emphasis is on the derivation of the word from the Latin auctio, meaning an increase, that is, in the price by bidding.
[semblance of casting their slough]
A snake sheds its skin.
[objections of some inveterate cavillers]
Although those cavillers still try to assert that T hastened to heed the sound of Mrs. Emerson’s dinner bell, since his cabin was a mile and a quarter from her kitchen door, he would have had to have remarkable hearing in order to hear it. Cooke (81) tells us, “It was T’s custom while at Walden to dine on Sundays with Emerson, and to stop at [Edmund] Hosmer’s on his way back to the pond, often remaining to supper.”
[use as simple a diet]
Much comment has been made about T’s diet. Many have thought it accounted for his poor health, but in general it was no worse, according to present-day standards, than that of most of his contemporaries. For a comprehensive analysis of his diet, see Stephen and Barbara Adams. See also Wesolowski.
A native of India, purslane is widely used around the world as a potherb. (Paul Williams, 1965).
[savoriness of the trivial name]
He is using the word in the biological sense of a specific, as opposed to a generic, name. T is exceedingly careful in his choice of words, and one will often find his use of them will often find his use of them enlightening.
[he took to drinking water]
The word “water” occurs 177 times in W (Ogden and Keller, 246), and T makes much symbolic use of it, as Gupta demonstrates.
[and salt, genuine hoe-cakes]
A bread made of cornmeal, so called because it was originally baked on the blade of a hoe.
[an Egyptian his hatching eggs]
“For the Egyptians do not use the birds for hatching the eggs, in effecting this themselves artificially by their own wit and skill in an astounding manner, they are not surpassed by the operations of nature” (Diodorus 1.74.4).
[bread,” the staff of life]
“Bread … called the staff of life” (Matthew Henry, Commentaries, 1708).
[preserved like the vestal fire]
In ancient Rome, a fire in the temple of Vesta was kept constantly burning. If the flame went out, it boded calamity.
[rising, swelling, spreading, in cerealian]
Apparently T’s own coinage, but clear in its meaning and a pun on “cerulean.”
[I put any sal soda]
Crystallized sodium carbonate, used as a leavening agent.
[Marcus Porcius Cato]
Marcus Porcius Cato, De Agri Cultura, chap. 74. Seybold (55) points out that T apparently did not have access to this volume until 1851, so it was a late addition to W. Note that T almost invariably follows any Latin or Greek quotation with an English translation, often his own, for the convenience of the reader (Pritchard).
[parsnips and walnut-tree chips]
T undoubtedly used John Warner Barber, Historical Collections … of … Massachusetts (Worcester, 1839, 195), where the whole, an untitled poem, is quoted.
[the man to the farmer]
When Adam was driven out of Eden, he was forced to become a farmer (Genesis 3:23).
[land I cultivated was sold]
Raymond Adams (1948) gives an amusing account of Emerson’s purchase of the Walden land, telling how Emerson was outwitted by the farmer.
[as that a young man]
Swift (103) identifies this young man as Isaac Hecker.
[or who own their thirds]
A widow’s share, according to the laws of inheritance, was a third.
[skillet, and a frying-pan]
Skillet and frying-pan: Although these two terms are now used interchangeably, both referring to round, shallow pans used for frying, then a skillet was sometimes thought of as being deeper and raised on legs.
Japanned lamp: made of lacquer ware.
[That is Spaulding’s]
There seems to be no record of a Concord Spaulding, but it was a common name in some of the neighboring towns.
Latin for “castoff.”
[He was a lucky fox]
A reference to Aesop’s fable “The Fox Without a Tail.”
[is at a dead set]
A collegiate term meaning a complete failure in recitation.
[when I hear some trig]
[up his bed and walk]
“Take up thy bed and walk” (John 5:8).
[moon will not sour milk]
Sour milk: an old superstition.
[furniture or fade my carpet]
Economical New England housewives kept the curtains drawn in their parlors to keep the sun from fading the carpet.
[transported them to their garrets]
A cranny used for storage of seldom-used materials.
[dies he kicks the dust]
T is probably thinking of the Iliad (22.330), wherein the death of Hector is usually described as his “kicking the dust.”
[to celebrate such a “busk]
Davidson (1947) points out the similarity between the description of the husk and Hawthorne’s short story “Earth’s Holocaust,” and suggests that T may have inspired Hawthorne to write the story.
[of first fruits,” as Bartram]
William Bartram, Travels Through North and South Carolina … (Philadelphia, 1791, 507).
William H. Prescott, History of the Conquest of Mexico (New York, 1843, book 1, chap. V).
[an inward and spiritual grace]
Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (Springfield, Mass., 1848, 974).
[by working about six weeks]
In his commencement speech at his graduation from Harvard, T suggested we should reverse the biblical order, working one day and resting six. He thus was practicing roughly what he had preached.
[have thoroughly tried school-keeping]
T had three experiences as a schoolteacher. In order to earn some money, he left Harvard for a few months and taught in Canton. After graduation, he taught for a few weeks in the public schools in Concord. But when the authorities insisted that he use the rod, he whipped six children at random and then resigned. Shortly thereafter he started a private school with his brother John. The school pioneered many of the principles of modern education and was so successful that there was a waiting list of students. But it was later abandoned when John became too ill to teach. T also spent a number of months as a private tutor for Emerson’s nephews on Staten Island.
[to the wishes of friends]
Fink (262) suggests T may here be referring to Emerson’s urging him to publish A Week at his own expense.
[keep the flocks of Admetus]
Apollo, when banished from heaven, was forced to tend the flocks of Admetus, son of the king of Pherae, for nine years. This is a favorite allusion of T’s, and is found again and again in his writings. Seybold (59) thinks that T derived this legend from his reading of Alcestis, but the legend appears so frequently that it might have come from a number of other places.
@walterharding identifies a sentence in “The Ponds,” par. 19, as “The shortest sentence in W.”: “Sky water.” “Furniture!” is even shorter.
[Nothing was given me of which I have not rendered some account.]
Relates in part to the discussion we had regarding Marx’s ideas of the individual and the things one can produce. Much like one cannot create something without also using some contribution from another person, it seems impossible here that one can create or produce something without also putting themselves entirely into what they have produced.
Thoreau talking about waste and excess. It sounds like he’s mocking his neighbors for their wasteful habits, which would fall in line with his feelings throughout Walden.
To be pedantic about it, both “Furniture!” and “Sky water” are technically sentence fragments. By this standard the imperative “Simplify, simplify” of chapter 2 would become the shortest complete sentence in the book–which I kind of like, based on the notion of form following function.
Seriously, though, I stand by my claim here.
An exclamatory sentence is a kind of sentence, not a fragment, and can consist of a single word. It needn’t contain a verb.
Prof. Gillin, I like the way you are looking at this. I was wondering how one word, such as furniture, could even be considered an actual sentence.
And I stand by my statement!
The above is what I take to be an exclamatory sentence, as opposed to the part of speech known as an interjection.
In my reading, the remark about the preacher in paragraph #20 of “Where I Lived, And What I Lived For” consists of a single sentence. Would you consider Thoreau to be quoting a speech consisting of three separate sentences? (If so, “Furniture!” has some competition.)
[smiley emoticon here, if I knew how]
Seriously? One sentence?
(Another two sentences there, pal. Sorry.)
It would be odd indeed not to consider Pause! as a complete sentence. It’s identical in form to sentences such as Leave! and Stop! All three are verbs in the imperative mood, with an implied subject of [You]. The case of Avast! is a little different. It compresses a Dutch expression that (as I read the dictionary) originally contained both a subject and a predicate into a single English word that can’t take a subject and therefore doesn’t operate as a verb. But used as the only word in a sentence, it enables the sentence to pass one of the typical tests for sentence-ness. It expresses a complete thought. Oxforddictionaries.com classifies it as an exclamation.
But the key word in the antepenultimate sentence of that last paragraph is typical – as typically is the key word in the oxfordictionary.com definition you point to: A set of words that is complete in itself, typically containing a subject and predicate…
English permits many atypical sentences. (Hooray! I hear Thoreau say to that. Interesting problem: If he were to say, Youbetcha! would that be a one-word sentence or a three-word sentence?). There can be sentences with neither subject nor predicate and sentences that are only “complete” when regarded in context, as in the second of these two:
– Did Thoreau build his chimney inside the cabin or outside?
We agree on one thing: Furniture! is no longer than Pause! and Avast! (except in word-length). Of course, the latter two are being reported by Thoreau as spoken by someone other than himself – a distinction worth noting, I think. But they are indisputably “sentences in Walden,” so in some sense it would erroneous to suggest, as I originally did, that Furniture! holds the prize of “shortest sentence” by itself.
By the way, to put a smiley in your post, just type it, like so: :)
CommentPress will convert it to an icon. Is a smiley a sentence? No. But that “No” is. 🙂
Let us continue mountaineering on our mole-hill.
Yes! “No” is a sentence in your last example. So is “Inside” in your prior example. You present the reasoning in your remarks when you point out that key elements of a sentence may be left out but implied by usage or context. That is, “No” implies a clear reading: “No, [a smiley is not a sentence]. “Inside” leaves out this language: “[Thoreau built his chimney] inside [his house].”
The concept of “implied” sentence language is by no means the same as ambiguity. I cannot justly claim “Inside” is a sentence if I take it to mean “Thoreau built his chimney inside a millennium” or “Thoreau filled an inside straight.” Context, context.
I cling to the element in the Oxford definition which your ellipsis dodges: “, and consisting of a main clause and sometimes one or more subordinate clauses.”
Note that we cannot without risk make “Furniture!” serve our will. One cannot argue that the implied elements in this “sentence” is something like “Furniture” [is unnecessary]!” Someone else might equally argue that the “sentence” has a missing predication along these different lines: “I know that] furniture [is a necessity, but sometimes the thought of it drives me bonkers]!” The “implied” concept cannot embrace two opposite meanings, however plausible each may be. Grammar may be loose, but not that loose.
Now an example of my own. Take two (or three, if you must) statements:
Drat, I lost my watch!
Drat! I lost my watch!
To me, there is no essential difference in meaning here. I see an interjection followed by an exclamatory sentence in both instances. You see, in the second instance (I presume) two exclamatory sentences. Seeing no essential difference in meaning (as I do), I ask you: what, in the second instance, makes “Drat!” a sentence? It seems to me your answer comes down to, the exclamation point makes it so. Beware, my friend, for that way lie monsters. Judging what a sentence is by the existence of capitalization or terminal punctuation is the stuff. Of many a poorly constructed “sentence.”
I’m happy enough to follow the school of linguists who discriminate a sentence from an “utterance” based on the rationale above. Sometimes those traditional old definitions serve a purpose.
🙂 And thank you for that!
[The human race is interested in these experiments]
I am reminded how much of these new movements of aestheticism and simplicity are about food and waste. Also that we haven’t yet talked about dumpster diving. We should.
[Yet I find it not to be an essential ingredient, and after going without it for a year am still in the land of the living]
I think we can read into the subtext a little bit here. There are excesses in the bread’s ingredients that are seen as essential in making the best bread just as there are excesses in life that are seen as basic and necessary fundamentals to living a good life. Thoreau is saying, change the recipe a little bit. You might actually like it.
[A lady once offered me a mat, but as I had no room to spare within the house, nor time to spare within or without to shake it, I declined it, preferring to wipe my feet on the sod before my door. It is best to avoid the beginnings of evil.]
What might Thoreau have to say about those who romanticize or aestheticize (not sure that’s even a word but let’s give it a shot) the concept of minimalism? It’s a reappearing phenomenon (there’s even a documentary about it on Netflix). If we are glorifying this lifestyle and commodifying it, are we truly living minimally?
The bread of life. Again, there are religious themes underlying (what seems like) every paragraph. This makes me think of the bread that Catholics receive during mass, which is God’s body. However, Thoreau said that he changed the recipe for the bread and said he went without essential ingredients for a year and is still in the land of the living. I take this to mean that, although there are religious undertones to finding yourself and reaching a certain kind of peace, you can still reach those things without religion. I say that because a lot of people believe you have to return to your religion to find that peace. Thoreau shows us you dont have to.
Goes back to last week when we were talking about Thoreau’s ideas still being relatable today. In this paragraph, he is talking about people owning furniture and too many other things. When you have too many things, he says, you are poor. I can agree with this. Material possessions don’t matter. Also, I like that Thoreau says, “I have pitied him, not because that was his all, but because he had all that to carry.” Sometimes it is hard to part from material possessions, and I can see how Thoreau would think that would drag someone down.
I agree Lane! Are we happier now as a society now that we have material objects that would have been unavailable to us as little as one hundred years ago? Why is it not considered enough to have food and shelter and friends unless we have material objects to accompany them?
I think that’s a good question Savannah. Past the basic necessities to sustain life, why have we created endless material consumptions we think we need? But going off of that, if they are things that make us happy, is that not a good use of our own independent time away from work?
one might even say fetishize… this was sort of the point I was making Monday. People create a new kind of work out of this, which is often extreme. And of course it’s commodified, since there are tools, books, websites, videos etc. TO BUY to make your life less. (not that I am not guilty here).
[Man is an animal who more than any other can adapt himself to all climates and circumstances.]
I like how he refers to “Man” as an animal, as he tends to want to simplify mans activities.
[I have heard of one]
As T points out in his Journal (III, 182- 3), this was Horatio Greenough, the sculptor. Matthiessen (153-7) and Metzger (79) both point out that this paragraph seems to reflect a gross misunderstanding of Greenough’s ideas. But Griffin demonstrates that T’s opinions were based on a letter Greenough had written Emerson, and not on his published theories.
[of March, 1845, I borrowed]
According to tradition, T borrowed the ax from Bronson Alcott, and Alcott states, “When he [T] projected the Walden cabin he came to me and said, ‘Mr. Alcott, lend me an ax,’ and with this he built the temple of a grand primeval man.” But George Willis Cooke (81) says Emerson was the lender, and Ellery Channing, in his personal copy of W, has a note claiming the ax to be his. The real question is, Why did T have to borrow an ax in the first place? The year before he went to Walden to build his cabin, he and his father together built a house for the family, the one usually referred to as the Texas House. Surely he must have had tools to build that. And how do we explain the ax or axes that he refers to numerous times later in W? Did he finally acquire one of his own?
Kappeler discusses the tools T probably used at Walden, thirty-one of them, and includes drawings of some of them.
[pines, still in their youth]
Matson (68) wonders how T could be so naive as to use unseasoned pine for his studs, and what the resulting warping and shrinking of the wood must have done to his cabin. Yet the cabin remained sturdy for a number of years. For its later history, see Harding, Days (1993, 222-4).
[days cutting and hewing timber]
Yannella (18) expresses his astonishment that T did not adopt the much simpler “balloon frame” construction, which was already popular around the country, but actually balloon framing is used only for houses of more than one story.
[of some of my acquaintances]
Cooke (81) says these acquaintances were Alcott, Emerson, Ellery Channing, Burrill and George William Curtis, Edmund Hosmer and his sons John, Edmund, and Andrew. The Curtis brothers had been residents of Brook Farm before moving to Concord. George later became a well-known editor and critic. Hosmer was T’s favorite farmer, and his farm was a short distance from Walden.
[on the 4th of July]
T was declaring his own independence. He was too astute not to take advantage of the symbolism of the day.
[do like cowbirds and cuckoos]
The American cowbird and the English cuckoo lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, avoiding the task of providing for their offspring.
[ninth part of a man]
“Nine tailors make but one man” is an old proverb that can be traced at least as far back as John Ray’s English Proverbs of 1678.
[division of labor to end]
Masteller suggests that T is here parodying the house pattern books so popular in his day.
[have a core of truth]
This is the fundamental theory of modern functional architecture. Significantly, Frank Lloyd Wright, our greatest modern architect, has said in a letter to me, “The history of American architecture would be incomplete without T’s wise observations on the subject.”
[carefully feather-edged and lapped]
On the boards to be nailed horizontally, the top and bottom edges were cut at forty-five-degree angles and overlapped so as to shed rain (Gottesman, 1559).
[same purpose as the Iliad]
As we learn later, T brought his own copy of the Iliad out to the pond.
[built a chimney]
The details of building his chimney can be found in the “House-Warming” chapter.
[the apple of his eye]
“He kept him as the apple of his eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10 ).
[lark and pewee]
T refers to the meadowlark and the phoebe. Both begin singing in the Concord area in late March. He is not referring to the wood pewee, which does not arrive in Concord until late May.
[the winter of man’s discontent]
“Now is the winter of our discontent” (Richard III, I, i).
[Lies high in my thought]
T’s own poem. Although he quotes other authors frequently, he is always careful to put all but his own poetry within quotation marks.
[the shanty of James Collins]
There is no James Collins listed in Concord town records in T’s time, but some years ago I met a James Collins, then a resident of Lowell, Massachusetts, who claimed to be a descendant of this Collins. He was undoubtedly one of the many Irish who left their native country because of the potato famine and came to this country to work on the railroad as day laborers.
[worked on the Fitchburg Railroad]
The railroad, running from Boston to Fitchburg, had reached Concord only the year before, in 1844. The tracks are still in use today.
[for boards. James Collins’ shanty]
The site of Collins’s shanty is not known, but it was probably one of the little community of shanties constructed by the Irish laborers. The cellar holes of these shanties can still be found adjacent to the railroad tracks just north of Walden Pond.
[by a young Patrick]
The name Yankees used for a typical Irishman.
Concord town records list a William Seley at this time, but no Seeleys.
[of the gods of Troy]
T is referring, in Virgil’s Aeneid, either to the theft of the Palladium by Odysseus and Diomedes (II, 351) or to Aeneas’s rescue of his household gods (1, 6). In either case, he is poking fun by contrasting the ne’er-do-well Collins with the heroic Greeks (Miller; Woodson, 1975).
[the side of a hill]
Ellery Channing wrote in his copy of W, “There is nothing like a hill here and never was …. H. means the small rise in the ground, but it is no hill, no 20 foot rise” (Sanborn, no hill, no 20 foot rise” (Sanborn, 1909).
[was but two hours’ work]
Paul Williams (1971) asserts that in digging his cellar, T moved 194.25 cubic feet of dirt, weighing 9.7 tons, lifting it an average of six feet. Translating that into horsepower, one comes up with .03. An average person can work at a rate of from .033 to .05 horsepower, so T should not have had much difficulty in completing his task, as he says, in two hours, since he was digging mostly in sand.
[in the earth]
There is still a noticeable dent in the earth nearly a century and a half after the cabin was moved away.
[a tight shingled and plastered]
He did not plaster the house until late fall (Robbins). See “House-Warming.”
This was no hut or shanty. It was sturdily built and survived being moved twice (Zimmer).
Half-cent coins were still in circulation then (Paul Williams, 1987).
Lime and hair were used to make plaster. The hair was added as a binder (Proulx).
A metal strip above a fireplace opening, supporting the masonry above.
Nails at this time typically sold for three cents a pound. Did he really use 130 pounds of nails (Kenner, 210)? That would have been more than enough to build an entire house. When the site was excavated in 1945, many bent nails were found, but not enough to account for all those nails (Robbins).
The modern replacement value of these materials would probably be four or five thousand dollars.
[of Broadway their Trinity Church]
The famed church in downtown New York had been burned and rebuilt while T was at Walden.
[his virtue on his standard]
T’s precise meaning here eludes me, but he is apparently alluding to ancient soldiers who painted on their shields the symbols of their supposed capabilities.
[which makes them picturesque]
The vogue of the “picturesque” in the early nineteenth century was considerable, and T read avidly all the works of the Reverend William Gilpin on the subject (Templeman).
[hollow, and a September gale]
The strongest winds of the year in the Concord area typically come in September.
[have no olives nor wines]
That is, those who do not have rare and expensive foods in their homes.
In T’s time, one would order a coffin to be made by the local carpenter. In the first edition of W, T placed a comma after “carpenter.”
[his last and narrow house]
[the style of cottage architecture]
For Wordsworth’s influence on this section and other portions of W, see Moldenhauer (1990).
[I claimed by squatter’s right]
Although T liked to pretend that he was no more than a squatter on Emerson’s land, Canby (215) asserts that he had made an arrangement with Emerson to clear the land in return for its use.
When Thoreau wrote in his journal about someone “possessed with the idea of making architectural ornaments having a core of truth,” he had just heard from Emerson about the musings of Horatio Greenough. However, by the time this journal material appeared in his book, Thoreau had had an opportunity to more familiarize himself with Greenough’s ideashttp://www.kouroo.info/kouroo/thumbnails/G/HoratioGreenoughand his derogation no longer pertained to that sculptor. The best fit for the person Thoreau was derogating, in Walden, would I believe be the New England architect Asher Benjamin.http://www.kouroo.info/kouroo/thumbnails/B/AsherBenjamin
[It is difficult to begin without borrowing.]
Although when he wrote these pages Thoreau “lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which [he] had built [himself],” his “experiment” in self-reliance begins, significantly, with an act of reliance on someone else. Through his deliberately graphic depiction of that act (the image of the axe’s owner releasing “his hold on it”) and his concession that it “is difficult to begin without borrowing,” Thoreau gives the lie to any notion that his sojourn in the woods represents a rejection of his fellow humans.
Walter Harding has asked, “Why did T have to borrow an ax in the first place?” If we regard this detail in Thoreau’s narrative as primarily symbolic, the need to answer Harding’s question perhaps drops away.
Though Thoreau seems to respect the closeness with nature and simple lives of the local native populations, here he is much harsher toward them. Referring to them as savages and degenerates, one can’t help but wonder how much he can really respect them while using such descriptors. Especially in light of his harsh critique of whom he here refers to as the “civilized man” through the entirety of Economy
Captured in Thoreau’s prose here is the excitement that I think people find when they first turn toward collective living. The “poetic faculty” of the simple work of determining how one will live is so natural that it could seem unimportant to someone on the outside of this experience. It seems needlessly basic, but that is exactly the point. The poetry is in the needlessness.
“I never in all my walks came across a man engaged in so simple and natural an occupation as building his house”
Are man’s simplest occupations not eating, drinking, etc.?
Robinson looks upon this chapter as a work of fiction and analyzes it as a short story. Scanlon sees this chapter as a parable of the fall of man.
Baker Farm, the home of James Baker, is a short distance south of Walden Pond, in the town of Lincoln (Gleason).
[that the Druids would have]
An ancient Celtic race living in Britain to whom the oak tree was sacred.
[are fit to stand before Valhalla]
In Scandinavian mythology, the hall of immortality into which the souls of heroes slain in battle are received.
[festoons from the black-spruce trees]
In his copy of W, T corrected this to “white-spruce.” For his confusion of the two species, see the note in “Sounds,” p. 125.
[the waxwork grooves and crushes]
Waxwork: now more commonly known as bittersweet.
[a shingle tree]
A tree with wood especially good for making shingles.
[in the very abutment of a rainbow’s arch]
Technically it is impossible to stand in the abutment of a rainbow’s arch, since rainbows are optical illusions and always appear directly ahead of a viewer, but T claims in his Journal (II, 382-3, and IV, 288) to have done this twice. Stewart claims it would have been possible.
[fancy myself one of the elect]
T is here poking fun at the Puritan belief in God’s choosing certain individuals for redemption.
Noted Italian sculptor, artist, and autobiographer (1500-1571).
[the castle of St. Angelo]
A castle in Rome that was originally the tomb of the emperor Hadrian.
[excitable imagination like Cellini’s]
Cellini, Autobiography (book 1, chap. 128). This light is a phenomenon known as Heiligenschein and is explained in Minnaert (230-3).
[led through Pleasant Meadow]
Directly south of Walden Pond, on the shore of Fair Haven Bay (Gleason).
Ellery Channing, “Baker Farm,” Thoreau, the Poet-Naturalist (Boston, 1902, 225), which gives slight variations in the lines.
[I “hooked” the apples]
[and scared the musquash]
The Indian name for muskrat.
[That to destruction steers]
Again, Channing’s “Baker Farm” (371), with slight variations.
[John Field, an Irishman]
John Field was a real person. The birth of his daughter, mentioned just below, is recorded in the vital records of Lincoln for May 1844. T’s rather snide comments about Field reflects the typical stance of Concord Yankees then toward new immigrants. T, once he got to know the Irish better, changed his attitude completely and became their friend and protector. Since this all happened before W was pub- lished, Bridgman (107) quite legitimately asks why T did not modify his criticisms of the Irish in his text.
[to the wrinkled, sibyl-like]
In Greek mythology, a Sibyl was granted as many years of life as she had grains of sand in her hand. The older she grew, the more decrepit and haggard she looked.
[it was as broad as it was long]
“As broad as long.” An English proverb that can be traced back at least as far as John Ray’s English Proverbs (1678).
[men’s beginning to redeem themselves]
T has an unwarranted reputation for wishing to abandon civilization. He states here that he would favor such an abandonment only if it redeemed men’s character – and he obviously believes that that would not be the result.
[giving it tooth and nail]
Tooth and nail: a common phrase that can be traced as far back as Andria (1, 161) by Terence (c. 185-159 B.c.).
[who had been sent to school and college]
Many of T’s contemporaries disparaged him for wasting his time at Walden after having obtained a college education.
[Remember thy Creator in the days]
“Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). See D’Avanzo (1982) for an extended analysis of this allusion.
[like these sedges and brakes]
An imported crop used to feed cattle and horses, and which will grow here only when cultivated.
[And Guy Faux of the state]
Guy Fawkes (1570-1606), who was hanged for conspiring to blow up the houses of Parliament.
[From the tough rafters of the trees]
Ellery Channing, “Baker Farm” (370, 372), again with slight variations.
[his Adam’s grandmother]
Field was following the customs of times so ancient they seemed to date back even further than Adam.
[get talaria to their heels]
The winged sandals worn by several minor Greek gods, giving them swift and unimpeded flight through space.
[O Baker Farm!]We can see in the Fluid Text Edition of Walden that this poem, by Ellery Channing, is not included in any of the earlier editions. These earlier versions, like this one, use paragraph six to focus on living freely and growing “wild according to thy nature,” as well. All, however, end paragraph six with the sentence, “The noblest life is continuous and unintermitting without pauses or waste.” Perhaps Thoreau thought it contradictory to follow this sentence with the poem, which in my reading feels like a slight pause amid the dense blocks of text.
Thoreau’s political beliefs came through strongly with this section. Clearly he is in full support of Capitalism. With a little research I’ve learned that Thoreau was a major classic liberal of the 19th century. This quote from Thoreau really sums up his beliefs; “I heartily accept the motto, ‘That government is best which governs least’; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, ‘That government is best which governs not at all’; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.” (http://thoreau.eserver.org/civil1.html)
Thoreau’s attitude towards the Field family only reminds me of our class discussions about Thoreau’s position of privilege. While he aspires to inspire his neighbors to embrace his philosophy, Thoreau is preaching to a group of people in a situation quite unlike his. An immigrant family, complete with several children (including an infant), would have a considerably more difficult time endeavoring to build their own”tight, light, and clean house” or spending their day fishing to feed the family. While Thoreau aims to improve their lives, he fails to understand how difficult it may be for John Field to drop his source of income or change his lifestyle significantly with so many people to provide for. Thoreau is mainly in charge of himself.
I was shocked by how harsh Thoreau speaks about the Field family in this section. He goes so far as to call the baby a “starveling brat,” and his focus on the baby’s apparent self-delusion rather than its innocence is very off-putting. I can only picture Thoreau sitting with his nose in the air as this family invites him into their home. He also is very quick to lecture them about how to live their lives, and I can only imagine they were eager to get rid of him. All in all, the privileged perspective that Thoreau has really comes through here. He might not have been raised by a rich family, but he clearly has never lived in real poverty, either. Sure he can live simply in Walden Pond, but he isn’t supporting a family in it.
Julia: Can you share any of the sources that characterized Thoreau as a “classic liberal”? It’s no easy job to categorize Thoreau’s political and economic beliefs. More than a few readers have taken Thoreau’s statements in the essay you point to — “Civil Disobedience” — as an indication that he was fundamentally an anarchist. Anarchism can sound a lot like liberalism or even libertarianism because of its hostility to state control. But in some of its varieties (it has many), it’s combined with collective ownership of property as an ideal. That’s an ideal that both 19th c. classical liberalism and modern libertarianism reject. In his Journal entry for January 30, 1861, Thoreau writes that ” … It would be worth the while if in each town there were a committee appointed to see that the beauty of the town received no detriment. If we have the largest boulder in the county, then it should not belong to an individual, nor be made into door-steps.” He seems to doubt whether treating all property as private property is a good thing; and here, at least, he even seems to advocate legal regulations to keep certain areas of natural beauty outside the realm of the marketplace.
You make a good point here, Holly. In addition, Thoreau’s bigoted comments about Irish immigrants are painful to read. See Walter Harding’s comment above about Thoreau’s curious decision to leave these comments in Walden in spite of the fact that his attitude toward Irish immigrants had apparently changed.
In this section, Thoreau uses the Field family and their failed farm to brandish Transcendentalism. He criticizes the farmer’s upkeep and fishing methods, and states that the cause for the family’s suffering is gluttony. Thoreau also pities the family for their “inherited Irish poverty” later on. Although I usually interpret Thoreau’s words with disapproval, I found a sliver of truth behind this paragraph. Thoreau closes with, “Through want of enterprise and faith men are where they are, buying and selling, and spending their lives like serfs”. Since the day on which we can stand on our won, we are subjected to expectations: we grow up following a fixed track of schooling, working, creating a family, working some more, and then dying. Thoreau asks, who is to say that this is the best and only route? People shape themselves to fit a mold; we pursue wealth, religious righteousness and any other virtue deemed desirable by society. And to what avail? Albert Einstein once said, “The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. But the one who walks alone is likely to find themselves in places no one has ever been before”. This idea of straying from the norm for personal betterment is Thoreau’s hope for humanity. Thoreau may pitch far-fetched ideas and offer prejudiced pretensions, but his lobby for nonconformity is admirable. He makes us question why we place such gravity on trivial, man-made matters, and lead lives of ordinary convention.
Thoreau states here that “as I did not work hard, I did not have to eat hard.” This is a perfect example of a law that exists in nature, but not in “civilized” society. In the world of business, many who work very hard do not earn enough money to “eat hard,” and conversely, those who “eat hard” are very often those who do little or no work at all and were merely fortunate enough to be born into wealth. How long in human history has this discrepancy existed? If everyone attempted to live off the land the way Thoreau did at Walden Pond, would this change?
In Where I lived And What I Lived For Thoreau states ” I went to the woods because i wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if i could not learn what it had to teach..” If Thoreau wanted to live deliberately then shouldn’t part of him living deliberately be learning to accept the different ways people live their lives? Also Thoreau discusses how “I did not use tea, nor coffee, nor butter, nor milk, nor fresh meat, and so did not have to work to get them” how is this living deliberately? Not working for anything, but just taking the easy way out. For me i believe this goes against a lot of what Thoreau talks about. It seems like he is really into this idea of going the extra mile in studies. So why does he not apply this mantra to everything in life and not just studies.
Thoreau’s descriptive imagery of nature really tempts the reader to move to a forest and live his lifestyle. His ability to find beauty in simple aspects of nature shows how he values his unmaterialistic lifestyle.
Throughout Walden, it seems as though Thoreau is very unaware of the fact that his life is more privileged than others. When he tells the farmer that his clothes are cheaper than the farmer’s, it is clear Thoreau is not aware that not everyone can live his life and not everyone has his opportunities.
Here we can see the importance of Thoreau’s ideas of waking his neighbors up, and the disappointment he experiences when they choose to stay asleep. In response to Daisy, he’s probably harsh because he feels slighted by the family’s rejection of his offer for a new way of life
The comment in the paragraph suggesting that John Field will never read Walden stood out to. Thoreau seems to be putting down Field’s life style. I feel Thoreau does not want Field reading the novel because he is not worthy. Field is a poor un education Irish farmer, and Thoreau wants his book to reach the general population to spread his word. Apparently his word is meaningless to Fields/ he is not worthy of reading it.
I agree with Jessica. Thoreau tells us at the beginning of Walden that he wished to go into the woods and live deliberately, and he also tells us this way of live may not be for everyone.
He makes that claim his beliefs won’t be imposed on other people, but we see in this section that clearly isn’t the case. He is pointing out the ways that the Field family and how if they live as he is, they will be better off. So I found this paragraph to be interesting, just because it is very contradictory of what we are told of his feelings at the beginning of Walden.
Something that i think is very interesting to point out is Thoreau’s unwavering desire to tell others how they are supposed to live and what their experiences are supposed to be. This is concerning to me because it contradicts Thoreau’s idea of being an adventurous student. When being an adventurous student, one would believe that they would go out and experience whatever life threw at them. It would be a liberating experience. Under the ideology in this chapter, it would seem like Thoreau is actually trying to limit people’s mobility by trying to get them to follow directly in his footsteps. I would assume that following one man’s ideas would not be very intellectually expansive, while his idea of “adventurous student” suggests otherwise.
I think it’s important to point out Thoreau’s ignorance to the working family as a whole. Thoreau thinks he is superior to the Irish immigrant because he thinks John uses his money foolishly. It’s culturally insensitive for Thoreau to say that if the immigrant wasn’t materialistic about the food he bought, he would have more because of the current events of this time. Ireland was just getting over the potato famine, and Thoreau is saying this family should deny themselves “tea, coffee, milk, fresh meat.” Had Thoreau gone through any hardship in his life, he would not deny himself of such delicacy if he was given it.
The Field family are an example of the kind of worker Thoreau examined in economy paragraph 49. He’s working for his home his whole life and yet he’ll never have enough money to afford his own home or live comfortably. I think Thoreau jumped at the opportunity to give his wisdom to one of the poor working class people and reacted badly when his philosophy was rejected. Thoreau made a miscalculation as he’s never had to live in the working class and was educated formally and never had to raise a family. His philosophy couldn’t apply to the Field family and didn’t work as a result. He seems to have forgotten that he said that his philosophy didn’t work for everyone.
[to catch perch with shiners]
In a chapter that has always troubled me a good deal, this element represents a climax of my frustration. I need a fisherman to explain what Thoreau is trying to communicate. Clearly he does better than John Field in their fishing venture, and (I presume) he uses a superior bait. Is it that the shiner/perch combination is inherently bad? Then why won’t Thoreau (who is uncharacteristically forward with advice throughout this chapter) tell “Poor John Field” the better way? In my ignorance of fishing, I have sometimes guessed that Thoreau fishes with worms, and sees Field’s method (using worms to catch shiners to catch perch) as unnecessarily complicated. But while I comprehend the metaphorical significance of this, I still can’t comprehend Thoreau’s (heartless?) refusal to explain. I dislike the way he shares his scorn of Field’s “boggy ways” with the reader, but not with the person who could directly benefit.
Thoreau seems to depict the Irish family in a somewhat negative way. He depicts the children as almost grotesque, “cone headed” “sibyll-like”. And Thoreau also negatively, in that she elicits the pretense of work, but does not follow through, “the never absent mop in one hand, and yet no effects of it visible anywhere.” I was concerned about this depiction of John Field’s family. These depictions suggest that Thoreau is somewhat xenophobic. Something that again suggests this is that Thoreau, hypocritically, criticizes John Fields for “bogging” for money. Thoreau himself did something very similar for his beans, clearing the grass so his beans could grow. Why is John’s work considered more meaningless than Thoreau’s? The sad answer is that it is due to this xenophobic lens through which Thoreau is viewing, writing about the Field’s family.
I just saw Professor Walter Harding’s anecdote on this same subject. Since Thoreau had had some sort of conversion in terms of xenophobia, then perhaps he is writing this section satirically to some degree.
Either way, the narrating-Thoreau suggests Xenophobic tendencies in his depictions of the Field’s family, while Thoreau has in general been very forgiving to other people who don’t quite understand Thoreau’s philosophical views and who don’t live their lives according to his views.
Is this a sympathetic, inspiring or satirical image of this family? It seems to me that in common terms, one should feel sympathy for this immigrant family living all alone and in such poverty. Perhaps one might also see inspiration in the story, by viewing the father as an inspirational figure, by working so hard to feed his large family. In my opinion though, Thoreau seems to frame them in a satirical light, contrasting their style of life, to his more pure and simple mode of life. To me, this seems unfair of him, as him and this family are in such dramatically different situations and have such varying personality types.
I agree with David, it is difficult to see past Thoreau’s Xenophobic tendencies in this passage. He frames the chapter as a whole around the idea that the Irish are less than people. Before Thoreau even arrives at the Field’s dwelling he states after noticing his own sort of halo, that “the shadows of some Irishmen had no halo about them.”
What concerns me further is Thoreau’s opinion that the Field’s poverty is a combination of choice and ignorance. When they are being kind, extending shelter to a strange man in a thunderstorm, he insists on lecturing them on their frivolous expenses, claiming, “if he chose, he might in a month or two build himself a palace of his own; that I did not use tea, nor coffee, nor butter… But alas! the culture of an Irishman is an enterprise to be undertaken with a sort of moral bog hoe.” This is the very sort of language that is still being used against immigrants. This idea of a lack of work ethic of immigrants, or further that it is in their nature to be frivolous or lazy has created a culture of unsympathetic people. Thoreau’s self-reliant philosophy is called into question here, when he attempts to put it into practice. Is this justifiable in any way?
While this entire chapter distresses me greatly, I will defend Thoreau on two minor points that have come up in remarks above.
It seems that he does not disdain John Field because he is “bogging” for money. Since he initially credits Field as “honest” and “hard-working,” it seems rather that he sympathizes with the way he is being taken advantage of by the neighboring farmer. (That farmer, note, is getting an acre of land cultivated for just ten dollars by an immigrant whose only tools are a spade and a hoe; the farmer doesn’t have to hire someone with a plow and oxen to do the work, presumably at a higher rate.) I think the “shiftless man” business is one of those word-plays that sometimes go awry in interpretation. Does Thoreau refer to how Field is unable to shift for himself well against the shrewd Yankee who has manipulated him into so “poor a bargain”?
The second point is that Thoreau doesn’t declare that Irishmen have no halos; he quotes an unnamed visitor. The concept that some optical effect should avoid certain ethnic groups sounds absurd on the surface, of course. As good an observer as Thoreau was, I have to believe he reports this remark to expose the sort of narrow-mindedness and bigotry that the immigrant Irish could expect to endure from his high-minded neighbors.
All of which brings us back to the point that Thoreau often fails to reveal such humanity and understanding elsewhere in the chapter.
Ah, the Baker Farm chapter. In this chapter, Thoreau shows his colors as a bigot, in a way. The way he talks about the Fields family is dripping with ignorance and a heavily condescending tone. It seems as though he doesn’t understand that the Fields family cannot live the life Thoreau does; they are a hardworking Irish farm family, not capable of spending all of their times pondering the finer things in life. Overall, the tone set in this chapter is close minded and does not show Thoreau in a positive light.
I feel that this line perfectly demonstrates the arrogance that Thoreau feels towards John and his wife. He is comparing the water they drink to gruel. I read this line as, “Life here is built upon something as disgusting as gruel, therefore the life is equally as disgusting and of small value.” By comparing the water, a necessary component that is the source of life, to gruel, he is, in essence, saying that the entire life these people have built is disgusting to him.
His arrogance is furthered in the coming lines, when he states “I am not squeamish in such cases where manners are concerned.” He is basically patting himself on the back for not becoming sick at a drink of their water, and showcasing how well-mannered he is. In actuality, though, there is nothing noteworthy about not offending a family’s livelihood. It is nothing to boast of, and is instead a simple aspect of being a decent person. However, due to his arrogance, Thoreau thinks it something to be proud of.
[shutting my eyes, and excluding the motes]
Is there a reference here to Matthew 7: 1-5? We are admonished by Jesus to cast out the “beam” from our own eye before casting out the “mote” in the eye of our brother. In “shutting [his] eyes, and excluding the motes,” is Thoreau attempting to see more clearly as well as avoid ingesting the particulate matter in the water? Granted, a precise parallel to the passage in Matthew would require Thoreau to be excluding “beams,” but a precise parallel would also exclude the pun. And, of course, the general thrust of the passage – This water looks like gruel to me, but as it’s been offered by my brother, the right thing to do is drink it – is thoroughly consistent with the thrust of Matthew 7:1-5, as announced in the first line: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
As a follow-up to my suggestion of a possible Biblical parallel in “shutting my eyes, and excluding the motes,” it’s worth noting that the equation of motes-in-water and motes-in-the-eye is also consistent with Thoreau’s famous equation of water and eyes in “The Ponds”, par. 17: “A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature. In “looking into” the lakelet of water handed him by John Field, Thoreau, then, would necessarily be forced to measure the depth of his own nature, including his own capacity for hypocrisy.
Does he own land and rent it out? Or does he just let people use land if they come to him? This chapter was difficult for me to understand.
[As I was desirous to recover]
David Cooper has a most interesting analysis of this paragraph from a humanist and a post structuralist point of view.
[lost bottom of Walden Pond]
For an extended discussion of T’s use of pond bottoms as a metaphor, see Michaels. See also Boone.
[with compass and chain and sounding line]
In 1939 Edward S. Deevey rechecked T’s survey and analysis of Walden Pond with the latest scientific instruments and concluded that T was amazingly accurate in his observations, when one considers he was using the crudest of instruments, and that his contribution to the science of limnology was original and genuine (Deevey).
[visited two such Bottomless Ponds]
New England has many traditions of “bottomless” ponds. In his Journal for September 15, 1850 (II, 68), T records visiting such ponds in Sudbury and beyond.
I have heard people theorize that Walden connects underground with a spring in the White Mountains, with Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, or with a pond on Cape Cod. Some present-day Concordians even assert that once the body of a man who had drowned in Walden eventually surfaced in nearby White Pond. Suggestions have been made for adding a dye to these other bodies of water to see if it comes out in Walden. To my knowledge, none of these experiments have ever been attempted, but some people still believe these old folktales.
[undoubted source of the Styx]
According to the ancient Greeks, the river that flows around Hades.
[village with a “fifty-six]
A fifty-six pound weight.
[assure my readers that Walden]
See map on page 330.
[one hundred and two feet]
On September 28, 1968, the New England chapter of the Marine Technology Society, using the latest oceanographic instruments, confirmed precisely this measurement (Concord Journal, October 3, 1968).
[A factory owner]
Probably Calvin Damon, who in 1834 had established a factory in West Concord that prospered for many years.
[Of five coves]
Meigs names, describes, and maps each of these coves.
[chasm must it have appeared]
William Gilpin, Observations on the High-lands of Scotland, (London, 1808, II, 4).
[So high as heaved the tumid hills]
Milton, Paradise Lost, VII, 288-90.
[the plain has been necessary]
The first edition reads “have been.”
[Ah, the pickerel of Walden]
For a good discussion of the fish native to Walden Pond, see Ted Williams. There is a legend that some years ago a T admirer introduced into the pond every species of fish that T mentioned in his works. Many of these were trash fish, which soon crowded out the better fish. In 1968 the state deliberately poisoned the entire pond, killing off all the fish, and since then each year restocking the pond with game fish, many of them not natives, to please the “sportsmen” of the area.
Boudreau (1974) gives an extended analysis of the creation of this paragraph, showing the impact of the philologist Richard Trent on T.
[the plains of the ether]
Harivansa, ou Histoire de la Famille de Hari (Paris, 1834, II, 361).
[marmots in the surrounding hills]
[luncheon in stout fear-naughts]
Heavy woolen coats.
[scale of being are filled]
The idea of the “great chain of being” was popular particularly in eighteenth-century England. See Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being (Cambridge, 1933).
[is trumpeted in our streets]
In T’s day, fish peddlers blew horns to announce their presence as they walked through the streets.
[in the animal kingdom Waldenses]
Waldenses were a group of fifteenth-century Christian heretics whose purity and spirituality reflect morally the physical beauty of the pickerel (D’Avanzo, 1971). The pun on Walden hardly needs amplification.
[The Pond in Winter]
Borck and Rothschild discuss this chapter, showing that it is carrying out the philosophy of the book as a whole.
I was wondering if anyone else felt that the key word of this particular chapter would be “Contemplate,” because of how Thoreau is constantly in thought and wonder in regards to nature and the world that he lives in. Through out the text, we do see Thoreau constantly contemplate, question and muse in regards to his surroundings and what he feels commenting about society. But I wonder too, if perhaps there is another focus word for this chapter that I might not be picking up on.
You’ve plainly captured a central mood of Thoreau’s text, even though contemplate appears only twice in the entire work, muse only three times (and each time in the form of “the Muse”) and question only 11 times. But some of the most frequently occurring words in Walden (not counting words such as the, and, and if) are indeed focal points for the work’s mood and thought: man (268), life (194), pond (193), men (189), house (179), day (174), water (165), time (162), woods (150), nature (89). Know (107), think (86), and thought (82) are also high on the list, occurring more often than Walden (82). In “The Pond in Winter” itself, know and thought appear six times each; the most prevalent words are ice (35), pond (29), and water (29). Compare this to “Higher Laws,” where the most frequent words are man (19), life (14), and food (12). These counts come from putting the Gutenberg Project’s text of Walden into Voyant Tools.
This passage again raises the question of learning through experience or reading, a matter Thoreau seems to change his mind on every few pages. He writes “[the fisherman’s] life itself passes deeper Nature than the studies of the naturalist penetrate; himself a subject for the naturalist.” If these fisherman are so close to nature, then why do not naturalists (such as Thoreau) insist on studying them instead of trying to get closer to nature themselves? It seems as though Thoreau considers himself possibly to educated (through books, in this case) to achieve the fisherman’s level of closeness to nature.
> > If these fisherman are so close to nature, then why do not naturalists (such as Thoreau) insist on studying them instead of trying to get closer to nature themselves?
This is a great question, Emily. I wonder if you haven’t answered it yourself! Thoreau is indeed studying the fishermen here — not as completely as, say, an anthropologist might do, but more, perhaps, than his fellow Concordians or most others of his time. He does indeed seem to believe that they have a connection to nature that book-learning can’t provide — that isn’t even provided by the “study” of nature as naturalists (like Thoreau himself) undertake it. And so he’s taken the time here to observe their actions.
Walter Harding’s above comment is very interesting and enlightening. When I first read this strange pluralization, I was not aware of this implication, and the all I could think of was how “Waldenses” sounded like “Hobbitses”, what the gollum repeatedly calls Sam and Frodo in the Lord of the Rings. When you think about it though, Thoreau is living out in the woods, willfully going against what society thinks is right for him, having seemingly given up hope for a conventional lifestyle. He is pursuing something which he feels he can only fully appreciate secluded in nature, something very– shall we say– precious to him. Time and time again, he struggles seemingly against himself, as if there are two arguing voices with opposing agendas contained within his person. These lead to erratic inconsistencies in his dialogue to the reader. Couple all this with his strange and intense affinity for fish, and it seems as if Thoreau shares a great deal of characteristics with Smeagol.
Thoreau is clearly taking a moment to brag about not only his ingenuity in measuring Walden’s depth but his initiative in taking the time to do so and in turn proving so many people wrong. The last line is of particular interest, especially when one considers what he means by “the infinite.” Generally speaking, phrases like that are a nod towards religion, or at the very least unexplainable phenomena. As a transcendentalist, Thoreau’s philosophies are grounded in at least some loose belief in God but as a man of science he detests the idea that anything could possibly be unexplainable
Thoreau seems to have strong interest in the tactics the fisherman utilize, as seen in paragraphs three, and four. This may raise the question that Thoreau does not actually want to learn by experience, but rather learn through critiquing, and closely examining other’s experiences. Thoreau states that he believes in learning through experience, yet his actions here, and his actions in “The Baker Farm” contradict this notion. Thoreau wants to critique other’s experiences without actually partaking in said experiences himself. He is over-analytical, and it prohibits him from experiential learning.
Group three was discussing this passage earlier, and wondering if this was yet another of Thoreau’s contradictions– he seems to avoid modern technology yet here he employs it by using the stone and string, though it’s a rather simple example of technology. I don’t think Thoreau is quite contradicting himself here, because I don’t think he is totally against innovation. He opposes certain technological advances– guns, the postal service, etc.– but always for reasons that he articulates as other than the fact that they are simply technological advances. He doesn’t hate technology for technology’s sake, it seems. This example of the string and stone is about as advanced as other things he uses like his cabin or boat.
I can honestly say I’d never expect to see a comparison between Thoreau and Smeagle here, but you present a compelling argument, Casey. But assuming Thoreau hasn’t been corrupted by some supernatural allure of the fish, my interpretation of his love for the pickerel takes a slightly different route. I had no knowledge of the Waldenses described in Harding’s footnote and so I attributed Thoreau’s appreciation of the pickerel in the same vein as his appreciation for most under-appreciated ways of life he discusses throughout the book. Since Walden is a call for people to realize there is another way of life he demonstrates this point in some very big ways, by building a cabin in the woods, but by little ways as well; you don’t have to buy into the zeitgeist of haddock superiority when the local pickerel is just as tasty and beautiful to boot.
Thoreau is fascinated by the other fishermen and this leads him to exploring their fishing pails and wondering how they caught the worms to go fishing with. Perhaps he sees this fisherman as primitive because of the tools that they are using, these tools are the simplest tools for fishing that he may have ever seen, just a stick with a line and that is it. Whereas the other fishermen have rods and reels, pails, and their methods for catching worms even in the winter. Thoreau’s own bias can be shown here, his love of ingenuity and craftsmanship and his near loathing of those that stick to their ways of doing things because it is the way that they have always done them, never learning or wanting to learn ‘the new way’ because it is not their way of doing it. Thoreau often contradicts himself and here he is doing it again by saying that a use of use simple tools is primitive while another’s use of reels is superior and that he looks more favorably upon the fisherman who uses technology, when prior to this he has said that he dislikes technology because it keeps humans from being one with nature, “From the cave we have advanced to roofs of palm leaves, of bark and boughs, of linen woven and stretched, of grass and straw, of boards and shingles, of stones and tiles. At last, we know not what it is to live in the open air, and our lives are domestic in more senses than we think. From the hearth to the field is a great distance. It would be well perhaps if we were to spend more of our days and nights without any obstruction between us and the celestial bodies” (28). Thoreau seems like he cannot make up his mind on whether he likes technology or not- he likes it because it is fascinating and it is a showcase of human ingenuity, but he does not like it because it does indeed separate humans even further from nature and our natural state.
Reading Thoreau’s documentation of being stranded alone at the pond during the harsh winter months definitely hit home, as I read this while hauled up in my residence hall during similar harsh winter conditions. Thoreau watches people coming and going around the pond, just as we all watch people going to and from the dining halls, and this clearly gives Thoreau a lot of time to think and speculate on human thought and things of that nature.
This opening passage is a useful response to those (I’m thinking of Kathryn Schulz’s “Pond Scum” article) who view Transcendentalism as a scheme whereby individuals receive special revelations and–in Thoreau’s case–insufferably transmit their personal understandings to the rest of us. Here Thoreau presents his own private consciousness first–what might be styled his ego. He awakens asking those mysterious questions and initially criticizing himself for their lack of clarity or answer. But then he allows his ego to “step aside” in the realization that Nature IS. His personal response to this awareness is utterly passive. He is a follower of Nature, not her high priest or interpreter. He will set about his morning work–“if that be not a dream”–performing humble everyday tasks simply and evenly, but with the fresh reminder that “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” He hasn’t changed the world; the world has changed him.
“For a good discussion of the fish native to Walden Pond, see Ted Williams.”
Of all Walter Harding’s annotations, I think this one is my favorite. 🙂
“It is remarkable how long men will believe in the bottomlessness of a pond without taking the trouble to sound it.”
This quote really stood out to me in my reading of this chapter. I think that it speaks an immense amount to our nature as humans. I think that what Thoreau might be trying to get at is mans innate desire to be trusting. The majority of our lives revolve around following the rules that we have been told to follow and believing things that we are told to believe in. If you heard from numerous people that Walden Pond was bottomless, what reason do you have to go and check yourself if you believe what they are saying.
It forced me to ponder whether Thoreau thinks that a trusting human nature is a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand I think that Thoreau is less than pleased with it because he argues throughout the book that one has to have their own first hand experiences. Hence, why he goes about the business of finding the true depth of the pond and other activities of similar nature. However, on the other hand, I think that he, in a way, might agree somewhat with this even if he would never admit it. He writes Walden with the intent of people learning from his own experiences and questions why people don’t live the way that he does.
Primitive seems to be an interesting choice of word on Thoreau’s part. I think it lends itself to the simple, naturalistic approach that the described fisherman adopts. And indeed Thoreau would probably approve of this method being not overly complicated, and a good use of nature’s potential. Yet, I can’t help but think of all the negative connotations and discourses surrounding “primitive” as a word, and connotations that Thoreau would have almost definitely known about. So, is his use of primitive just a a basic descriptor to move the narrative along or is there more? Like the possibility of reframing the word in different contexts–here I’m thinking of his and other Transcendentalists’ more positive relations with Native Americans who were often labeled as primitive.
The remarkable coincidence of the pond’s greatest depth intersecting the greatest length and breadth, add onto the almost magical qualities of the pond. The amazing depth of 107ft in such a small area, and the clear water that remains the same after years in a water bottle (Professor Gillin), lend the pond an air of mystery and curiosity. Some of the descriptions of the pond seem unbelievable, like how the factory owner doesn’t believe the pond is 107ft, and contribute to the magical qualities of the pond.
I find these few passages very telling of Thoreau’s character, which ultimately I find quite troubling. Though, on a positive note, I enjoy his depiction of the men fishing. Thoreau describes these seemingly mundane activities in such a beautiful way that even if someone has no interest in fish or fishing, they would still become engrossed in his portrayal. Moments like this, I truly appreciate the Walden experiment. Thoreau puts himself in a position where these ordinary events become momentous. As a result, he analyzes them closely, and subsequently, deeply enjoys them. I feel like in today’s society, we are missing this quality. Very rarely do people stop, look around, make observations, and enjoy their surroundings. Thoreau harps the importance of these actions in his writing. However, these passages also bother me because of Thoreau’s subtle arrogance. He acts as though he is viewing animals at a zoo when he is observing these people. I have it engraved in my mind that Thoreau is a pretentious hypocrite, so I might have a biased opinion. Nevertheless, I don’t like his judgmental comments as he relays what he sees. I get the impression that Thoreau cannot be subjective no matter what he is depicting. This really hinders his writing because the reader has a difficult time separating what Thoreau is actually seeing and what Thoreau is thinking.
Throughout my reading of Walden, I have found myself frustrated with some of the comments made by Thoreau; he is incredibly presumptuous and conceited, and he is also very dismissive of anyone that isn’t him, as we see this again here in this paragraph. Thoreau is very insistent that people spend time in nature and appreciate the privacy it has to offer, yet here is a man doing exactly that and Thoreau dismisses him as “primitive” and amusing.
It’s hard to pinpoint what Thoreau wants from other people; they don’t do as he does and he scoffs and wants nothing to do with them. They “follow” his example (or they make their own elective choice to be in nature), and he accuses them of doing it wrong. I almost always find myself asking what Thoreau wants from people, and this paragraph just confuses me further.
I overall would like to comment on Thoreau’s structure and timeline of Walden. We are taking a journey through the seasons, and Thoreau’s life during these seasons. In this chapter, we are deep in winter. He “people watches” the individuals who are doing their part to help themselves and their families survive, fishing and hunting for sustenance.
[What if all ponds were shallow? Would it not react on the minds of men? I am thankful that this pond was made deep and pure for a symbol. While men believe in the infinite some ponds will be thought to be bottomless.]
I am struck by this passage as I feel as though as a species, mankind searches for the infinite and believes in the unknown yet the knowledge of knowing and understanding propels us to try to reach the bottom of any pond we come upon in life. Thoreau knows the depth of Walden Pond, and although it is not as deep as other bodies of water, it is deep for a pond which he will always be able to reach the bottom of. He will never find his footing, both literally and figuratively, if he were to dive into the pond. The infinite hope and curiosity of humankind is almost made arbitrary by Thoreau when he does learn the depth of the pond because it provides a concrete truth, yet the tangible knowing of how deep that is/feels will forever be unknown by him [Thoreau] and others.
This is a great point, Kaitlin. As we have discussed before, Thoreau has often compared the seasons (specifically winter and spring) to the eternal cycle of life. Knowing this, I found it quite completing that the final two chapters before the conclusion document his winter in Walden and its transformation into spring.
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.
[have all heard the tradition]
In T’s copy of W, he has noted that this tale is told of Alexander’s Lake in Killingly, Connecticut, in Barber’s Connecticut Historical Collections (New Haven, 1838, 431). But Cameron (1956) cites an article in the Middlesex Gazette for August 11, 1821, that attributes this legend to Walden Pond itself.
Hanley quotes the geologist Joseph Hartshorn as saying, “Walden Pond could have been a high hill, covered with an earth crust and supporting growing trees. And it could have collapsed into a pond, because the heart of the hill would have been a huge ice pocket left by the glacier. When the ice melted, the thin earth crust would have sunk to become the bottom of Walden Pond.” Skehan (50) advances a similar theory.
[Nine Acre Corner]
Nine Acre Corner is a little over a mile southwest of Walden Pond, near the Sudbury town line (Gleason).
[There have been caught in Walden]
For an excellent account of the fish of Walden Pond, see Ted Williams. According to local legend, at about the turn of the century a local fisherman started adding to Walden Pond specimens of fish T mentioned in his works. Many of these were river fish rather than pond fish, and they upset the ecological balance of the pond. Later, to correct the problem, state officials had all the fish killed off with poison. But then they restocked the pond only with species such as trout and bass, which made fishermen happy but which were not necessarily native species. Today, the pond is restocked every spring, and on the first day of fishing season it is surrounded by hundreds of fishermen pulling out the fish. Incidentally, it has been said that there were no fish at all in Walden Pond until they were transplanted there by man (Shattuck, 200).
[a very few breams]
In his own copy of W, after the word “breams” T inserted “Pomotis obesus [Nov. 26-58] one trout weighing a little over 5 lbs (Nov. 14-57).” In his Journal entry for the latter date, he records the catching of a trout by Gardiner Heywood (X, 180), and for the former date discusses various types of fresh-water fish (XI, 344-7).
[tortoises, and a few mussels]
In the first edition, spelled “muscles,” fresh-water bivalves.
[skim over it]
In his copy of W, T inserted the words “kingfisher dart away from its coves” after the word “it.”
[ancient sect of Coenobites]
Members of a religious order, but here used as one of T’s best or worst puns, that is, “See, no bites.”
George William Curtis tells of a very similar incident involving himself and T on the Concord River. Presumably T simply transferred the incident to Walden, and Curtis is the companion mentioned.
[The scenery of Walden]
Over the years, Emerson and his family and friends bought up the land around Walden Pond as it became available. In 1922 the family gave the land to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to be preserved forever as it ways in the days of Emerson and T. Unfortunately, although there are many other ponds in the vicinity, Walden is the only one accessible to the public, and it has become inundated with swarms of people, who use it for swimming and hiking. Added to these are the tourists making their pilgrimage to see where T had once lived. The stress has been too much for Walden’s environment. As a result, limitations on access to the pond have been imposed on summer weekends. Tourists should try to limit their visits to off-season times if they want to see Walden at its best.
[“whether liquid or solid”]
James D. Forbes, Travels Through the Alps of Savoy (Edinburgh, 1843, 71).
One characteristic of the male figures in Michelangelo’s paintings is their overdeveloped muscles.
T’s telling of this incident seems to echo II Kings 6:1-7 (Paul Williams, 1963, 2).
[in the neighborhood]
In the first edition, this reads “neighhorhood,” an obvious typographical error.
[smooth rounded white stones]
The whereabouts of these stones is now a mystery. I have searched for them many times without success. I have been told by others that they have succeeded in finding a few small ones by diving in deeper water, but otherwise they seem to have disappeared. Probably some have been carted away and others have drifted farther out in the pond.
[Some think it is bottomless]
Seemingly every community in New England has its “bottomless pond.” I am familiar with a number of them, and T mentions some of them in his Journal, such as at II, 68.
A spring sacred to the Muses, flowing from the slope of Parnassus.
The reign of Saturn is usually considered the Golden Age in mythological history. Saturn was king of the Titans and was overthrown by Jupiter.
[a narrow shelf-like path]
The path is still visible and has, in fact, been worn much deeper by visitors to the pond over the years.
Sculpture that stands out in relief.
[will one day be built here]
Presumably Walden Pond has been preserved from such a fate, for in 1922 the Emerson family and some of their friends donated the land surrounding the pond to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and it is now a state park.
[The pond rises and falls]
Walker (1971) gives the first scientific explanation of this. He points out that the rising and falling coincide with the fluctuations of the area’s water table and that the pond is a kind of natural well, having been carved out by glaciers down to the water table. Walden needs no hidden water source, for its watershed is ample to supply the pond. Note that earlier in this chapter T himself refers to the pond as a well. Incidentally, in 1956, when the pond was at so high a level that the beaches had to be closed, officials attempted to lower its level by pumping the water, at the rate of 4,000 gallons a minute, into the Sudbury River. They pumped all summer and did not succeed in lowering the level one inch!
[in a secluded cove]
The cove is now known as Wyman’s Meadow. It still shifts from meadow to cove, depending on the water level of the pond. The cove is a few rods southeast of T’s cabin site.
[has risen steadily for two years]
One of the many indications that a large part of W was written in the seven years between his leaving Walden and the publication of the book in 1854.
Known for many years as Sandy Pond, its name was recently changed back to Flint’s Pond at the request of the Flint family (Lincoln Journal). It is in the town of Lincoln, about a mile southeast of Walden (Gleason), and is now used as a reservoir. T’s college classmate Charles Stearns Wheeler built a hut there in 1836, where he stayed during vacations for the next six years. T spent some time there with him, and perhaps this was a source for the idea of building his own cabin at Walden.
[settler whom I have mentioned]
[here with his divining rod]
Again, a forked stick used to find underground sources of water.
[The temperature of the pond water]
These seemingly unimportant facts, so carefully recorded by T, occasionally bore the modern reader “as do the measurements of whales in Moby-Dick” but they indicate the growing interest in scientific research in mid-nineteenth-century America. In later years T sometimes bewailed the fact that the recording of such minutiae was gradually usurping his time and leaving him little for philosophical speculation. See, for example, his Journal (II, 406).
[the Boiling Spring]
Slightly west of Walden Pond (Gleason). A boiling spring is not a hot spring, but merely one in which the water can be seen bubbling up from the bottom.
[a spring in the neighborhood]
Brister’s Spring, northeast of Walden. It feeds what T called the Fairyland Pond, in what is now the Town Forest.
[have sometimes disturbed a fishhawk]
[a gull, like Fair Haven]
A widening of the Sudbury River about a mile southwest of Walden Pond.
T’s guess was correct. An account of this fish and its nest-building habits will be found in The Fishes of the Connecticut Lakes and Neighboring Waters, by W. C. Kendall and E. L. Goldsborough, published as Document No. 633 of the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries.
[woods and make pastures new]
Milton, “Lycidas,” line 193.
[blueberries on Fair Haven hill]
Again, on the shore of the Sudbury River, south of Walden (Gleason).
[know the flavor of huckleberries]
“Would you know the ripest cherries? Ask the boys and blackbirds” (Goethe, “Sprichwortlich,” lines 458-9).
[some English locality – Saffron Walden]
According to a note in his own copy of W, T got this name from Evelyn’s diary, but the Concord Minot family, which was related to T by marriage, originally came from Saffron Walden, a suburb of London, and it seems likely T heard the name in family tradition. T himself speaks of this tradition in his Journal for December 2, 1857 (X, 219). Yet, in an unpublished manuscript in the Huntington Library (HM 924) he points out that the Minot family did not come to Concord until after Walden was named. The earliest known reference to Walden Pond is a Concord property record of 1652 or 1653.
Walden is a fairly common place name in England. There is, for example, a King’s Walden, a St. Paul’s Walden, and a Walden Bury. Hudson suggests the pond may have been named for Richard Walden, the speaker of the General Court of Massachusetts from 1666 to 1679 and an associate of Major Simon Willard, one of the pioneers of Concord. Olhoff points out that in Old English the word “walden” (also spelled “wealand”) means lord or ruler, and had T been aware of that, he might have expanded greatly on his puns. See also Walker (1972).
Since the German wald means woods, T’s book in Germany is occasionally mistaken for a book on forestry, a fact that would probably have amused T.
Cameron (1956) cites a reference, in the Concord Yeoman’s Gazette for August 21, 1830, to Walden as “Wall’d in,” so T obviously did not coin this pun. It is said in England that the word “walden” might be derived from “walled-in,” as an estate surrounded by a wall.
[of huckleberries ask the cow-boy]
A boy who tends cows in the local pastures, as distinct from the cowboy, of the western ranges.
[grew on her three hills]
Copp’s, Fort, and Beacon Hills, where the city was first founded
[reigns, not one innocent huckleberry]
Huckleberries and blueberries are often confused. It is the blueberry that has a bloom, not the huckleberry.
Woodruff argues that T in this chapter imparts to Walden Pond “a cosmological significance which places it simultaneously both within and outside space and time.”
For an analysis of the structure of this chapter in relation to the book as a whole, see Baker.
It sounds like Thoreau did a lot of fishing out there, largely for sport or the “experience”. He goes on to describe the natural beauty of Walden Pond, and the lushness all around him. However, in his account of the forest fire he started in Selections from the Journals, he shows an utter lack of concern for the hundred acres of nature that he set ablaze, and remarks, “The trivial fishing was all that disturbed me and disturbs me still.” Here it seems that he is unconcerned with the well-being of the Walden Pond fish. Really I guess I just don’t understand why Thoreau wouldn’t mourn the loss of something that seems so important to him and instead focus on the wastefulness of fishing, which he seems to do on a fairly regular basis.
Walden so far has discussed for the most part the impact of nature and technology on a person’s life, but this particular passage calls attention to language and how that can have monumental effects on the way we as people perceive the world around us. [If the name was not derived from that of some English locality, – Saffron Walden, for instance, – one might suppose that is was called, originally, Walled-in Pond.] This line specifically really made me think about how easily the world we live in is shaped by the human language and how even today language is constantly changing and evolving to take a new form in this digital age that we live in today. Less than twenty five years ago the phrase, “electronic mail” was used sparingly, whereas now it has been condensed to “e-mail” and is a part of our daily vocabulary. Language is constantly moving and changing to keep up with the times, and language of course plays a very significant role in how we view the world.
This is another section where Thoreau’s use of imagery really stood out to me. We see once again his love of nature expressed in his writing, which is no surprise by now. I find the comparison to an eye very interesting. Instead of just leaving it about the earth’s eye, he continues to talk about the eyelashes and eyebrows, which I find all very interesting.
[Yet a single glass of its water held up to the light is as colorless as an equal quantity of air]
About ten years ago I made a pilgrimage to Walden Pond and, in true pilgrim spirit, stole away a few ounces of its holy water in a capped plastic bottle. To this day it looks as clear and colorless as if I had just purchased the water from a grocery store. In wonderment about this, a while back I sent an email to Professor Sid Bosch of Geneseo’s Biology Department, an expert in freshwater ecology. I didn’t disclose the particulars of my interest, merely inquiring what ought to happen to a plastic container of pond water scooped up from the water’s edge as I had done. He responded that, in general, after some time photosynthesis and other processes ought to set in, discoloring the sides of the container and also discoloring the water.
So why does my Walden water remain so clear? The romantic in me wants to believe in the special purity Thoreau speaks about–a purity so perfect that it resists the onslaughts of time. My realist side has a vague awareness of the process by which many Adirondack lakes have become so environmentally compromised that their crystal waters indicate that they are ecologically dead. In some terror, I ask: does anyone know what’s going on with my Walden water?
Thoreau seems to feel that the truest tasting huckleberry is one that was not bought or plucked to be bought, but rather taken for one’s sustenance. This seems to be a common theme across Thoreau’s works, with his belief that the use of money somehow mars the object that’s being sold.
Its funny how Thoreau uses his humor to poke fun at the company that is available to him. Despite a fisherman having been fishing since the morning, Thoreau calls him “impatient.” It is odd that he would call a “silent and motionless” person impatient as well, when clearly that would require a great deal of patience.
Moreover, while Thoreau claims that he does not require company in Chapter 6, Visitors, that is not the case here. In this paragraph, Thoreau makes he clear that he enjoys the fisherman’s company and that if he doesn’t have company, he would “raise the echoes by striking” his boat with a paddle. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason for doing this other than to stop his impending lonliness.
There are many such incidents recorded in The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, which were favorite reading for T. See, for example, XVII, 109 (Cleveland, 1898).
“Evil communications corrupt good manners” (I Corinthians 15:33).
[God and enduring him forever]
The opening lines of the Shorter Catechism in The New England Primer are “Man’s chief End is to Glorify God, and to Enjoy Him for ever.”
[of Sheik Sadi of Shiraz]
Musee-Huddeen Sheik Saadi, The Gulistan, or Rose Garden. Saadi, a Persian poet of the thirteenth century, was popular among the transcendentalists. Emerson wrote a preface to an English translation of The Gulistan. T’s quotation comes from chap. VIII, “Rules for Conduct in Life.”
[the Grecian or the Gothic]
The Greek Revival in American architecture was nearing its end by the time T went to Walden, and was being replaced by the more ornate pseudo-Gothic style.
[and get their free papers]
In colonial America, immigrants often indentured themselves to pay for their passage across the Atlantic. They were granted “free papers” when they had paid off their debt.
[sweats easier than I do]
This paragraph, taken almost word for word from a letter T wrote Horace Greeley on May 19, 1848, provides an insight into his methods of composition.
[One young man]
An interesting parallel to the story of the rich young man told in Luke 18.
[mode of living]
It is important to call attention to this line, for so many ask, “What if everyone lived like T?” An anonymous reviewer of W in the National Anti-Slavery Standard for December 16, 1854, aptly commented, “No man could pursue his course who was a mere superficial imitator, any more than it would be a real imitation of Christ if all men were to make it their main business to go about preaching the gospel to each other.”
[fugitive slave keeps the polestar]
Fugitive slaves trying to make their way to Canada used the North Star as their guide.
[thousand, as a large house]
T was probably thinking in particular of J. A. Etzler’s proposals, in his The Paradise Within the Reach of All Men, that the construction of huge apartment houses would save much time, money, and energy. T wrote a devastating review of the book for the Democratic Review (XIII, 1843, 427).
[before the mast]
That is, as a sailor. On sailing vessels the crew traditionally slept in the front portion of the ship, ahead of the mast.
[carrying a bill of exchange]
Bill of exchange: a kind of check directing a person to pay a second person a certain sum of money and charging it to the account of a third person.
[very little in philanthropic enterprises]
Despite T’s protests to the contrary, he did perhaps more than any other Concordian to better the conditions of the Irish laborers of the town (Buckley; Ryan).
[the devil finds employment]
“The devil finds work for idle hands” is an old proverb that can be traced at least as far back as John Ray’s Compleat Collection of English Proverbs, 1670.
[As for Doing-good]
Possibly a reference to Cotton Mather’s Essays to Do Good (1710), to Benjamin Franklin’s Dogood Papers, or, as Doudna suggests, to James Freeman Clarke’s writings.
A merry domestic fairy known also as Puck (Midsummer Night’s Dream, II, i).
[meats, and making darkness visible]
“No light, but rather darkness visible” (Paradise Lost, I, 63).
[him getting good. When Phaeton]
The son of the sun in Greek mythology. The tale is told in Metamorphoses and many other classical sources. As Eddleman (64) shows, T here quotes almost word for word from Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary.
[that will do as much]
“Why a water spaniel would have done as much” (Richard B. Sheridan, The Rivals, I, i) (Stronks). T’s walking companion Ellery Channing owned a Newfoundland that often accompanied them on their walks.
John Howard (1726?-l790), English philanthropist and prison reformer.
[you would be done by]
“And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31).
[by, who loved their enemies]
“Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).
“Then said Jesus, Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
[Irish laborers who cut ice]
For further details of the ice cutting, see “The Pond in Winter” chapter.
[ the extra garments which I offered him]
Latin for “outside” and “inside.”
[than a whole slop-shop]
A store where cheap clothes were sold.
[I once heard a reverend]
In all probability, this was the Reverend Frederick Henry Hedge, the Unitarian clergyman and transcendentalist from Bangor, Maine, who spoke on “The English Nation” before the Concord Lyceum on January 16, 1850 (Cameron, 1959, 164).
[Penn, Howard, and Mrs. Fry]
William Penn (1644-1718), Quaker reformer and founder of Pennsylvania; John Howard (1726?-1790), English prison reformer; and Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845), Quaker prison reformer.
[charity that hides a multitude of sins.]
“Charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8).
[whom we would send light]
T was always skeptical of Christian missionary efforts.
[a pain in his bowels]
An ancient belief, as in Song of Solomon 5:4: “My bowels were moved for him.”
[has been eating green apples]
A traditional source of stomach upsets.
[let your left hand know]
“But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth” (Matthew 6:3).
[by truly Indian, botanic, magnetic]
One of the popular healing fads of T’s day was mesmerism, or animal magnetism.
[an overseer of the poor]
Most New England towns of T’s day had an officer designated “overseer of the poor” who looked after their welfare.
[umbrageous, they call none azad]
For a discussion of T as an azad, or free man, see Douglas Anderson.
[is transitory; for the Dijlah]
Another name for the Tigris River. Also spelled Dijla or Dojail.
[proceeds of every tenth slave]
The biblical injunction to tithe one’s income for the Lord. T, of course, sees the full irony of the situation.
[to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely;]
In a nutshell. Nice.
[pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead.]
Comment on organized religion, perhaps?
I can agree with this thinking. When I get a moment to relax and take a minute to myself, that is when I feel the most myself. I am able to take a breath and think about things that I don’t have the time to when I am working. I can see how taking time to yourself can teach you new things about yourself, because that is when you are “maintaining one’s self”
[ he burned several blocks of houses in the lower streets of heaven, and scorched the surface of the earth, and dried up every spring, and made the great desert of Sahara, till at length Jupiter hurled him headlong to the earth with a thunderbolt, and the sun, through grief at his death, did not shine for a year.]
I’ve been reading a lot of Leslie Marmon Silko lately in class and this is a relationship with the earth that she associates with indigenous peoples. Whereas in Western traditions, the moment we are born we are told we must toil for our sins, the indigenous peoples of the Americas often believe that what is taken must be returned in a reciprocal rather than a greedy fashion.
I think he is overgeneralizing here, as he did when he said that someone older has nothing to teach him. “I never heard of a philanthropic meeting in which it was sincerely proposed to do any good to me, or the like of me.” I disagree with him on this point. I think there are plenty of good people out there that genuinely want to do good and aren’t looking to better themselves through doing that good. Most of the points I disagree with, I happen to do so because of the overgeneralizing Thoreau does.
[It is not necessary that a man should earn his living by the sweat of his brow, unless he sweats easier than I do.]
Even the phrase “earn his living,” we’re constantly thrown back into this guilt trip religion puts many of us through. Why should we be born only to earn our place in society, earn our breath? Didn’t nature provide this?
I find this section interesting as Thoreau mentions the different kind of mentalities of people and their work. For the people who like to work and think it keeps them out of trouble, he seems to not have a negative response to it. He seems to address that some people only work and that those people need to find activities that bring them happiness outside of it.
Yes, reading it now in the vein in which he have been discussing (overstating to make a point) I can see he does this frequently, and that it’s a writing trope. Still doesn’t mean I like it.
I think i am in agreement with Thoreau here. It makes sense that the man that devotes his whole life to the Good is much better than a man that does something evil or just neutral and then gives a tenth of his income to help others. However, I think Thoreau is arrogant when he says that it is not good to give money to the poor because they will use it poorly. He surely does not know to what use it will be done and if an alcoholic will use half the money to feed his children and the other half to drink better booze isn’t it still good to give him money?
What I hear Thoreau advocating for most strongly is for us all to listen deeply to the soft voice of nature within us, our “true course,” and to tap into something bigger than us- our connection to everything else in the world. A deep love for all people and things.
I would lean towards saying it isn’t a specific reference to organized religion, though I’m honestly not sure. He certainly is advocating for listening to your gut, in my opinion.
I view this quote as saying one should simply do what he wants to do in life and not follow someone else’s path.
Don’t we have motivations for doing everything we do, no matter how altruistic we feel our actions are? Agree or disagree?
I really enjoyed his reference to the Newfoundland dog, which is one of my favorite Dog breeds. They are known for being very loyal and nurturing dogs, despite their very large size. Thoreau is implying, however, that people have motivations behind good things they do for other people.
Really interesting anecdote here about the Indians who had the strength to suggest better “modes of torture to their tormentors.” This story is reminiscent of Thoreau’s arrest for refusing to pay taxes.
[Before yet any woodchuck]
Myers analyzes this paragraph at length to explain T’s methods and purposes.
[warned me against it]
The farmers knew more about this than T did, as Paul Williams (1977) points out. Most gardening books say that if bean plants are bruised when wet, they are likely to spread disease.
[throw dust upon their heads]
“And sprinkled dust upon their heads towards heaven” (Job 2:12).
[his rigmarole, his amateur Paganini]
Nicolo Paganini (1782-1840), perhaps the most famous violinist of all time, was noted for his ability to play entire passages on a single string.
[the oratorios. The night-hawk]
Not a hawk at all but a member of the goatsucker family and a relative of the whippoorwill.
[a mote in the eye]
“Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye?” (Matthew 7:3).
[as if a puff ball]
A common fungus that, when ripe, bursts open when touched, spreading its spores in all directions.
[out there soon, either scarlatina]
Scarlatina: now known as scarlet fever. Emerson’s son died of it in 1842.
[with my beans than usual.]
Each year T planted and cultivated a vegetable garden at his parents’ home.
[a pair of hen-hawks]
Common name for any large hawk, but especially the red-tailed hawk.
[and outlandish spotted salamander]
A common amphibian, black with bright yellow spots.
Canker-rash: a form of malignant sore throat.
[me information of the “trainers”]
All young men were required to turn out for military training and were known as trainers.
[if somebody’s bees had swarmed]
Most of T’s references to bees are negative, rejecting them as automatons (Swanson).
The nearest that Virgil seems to have come to that word is in his Georgics, where in book IV he uses the word tinnitusque.
[down into the hive again]
A folk belief that swarming bees could be called back to their hive.
[all safely into the Middlesex]
Concord is in Middlesex County.
[westward through Lincoln and Wayland]
The road past Walden Pond leads from Concord to Lincoln and thence to Wayland (Gleason).
[at their ease in gigs]
A light, two-wheeled, horse-drawn carriage.
[to hoe: the ministerial husbandman]
The Reverend Henry Colman [sic] (1785-1849) published for the state a series of four agricultural surveys of Massachusetts, from 1838 to 1841. T misspelled the name throughout the chapter, and Shanley (1971, 399) has corrected it in each case.
[reins up his grateful dobbin]
Common pet name for a horse.
[recommends a little chip dirt]
Sweepings from an area where wood has been chopped.
The various grass crops grown for fodder in New England were not native but imported, and were known as English hay to distinguish them from meadow hay harvested for bedding.
[Ranz des Vaches]
Hirsh suggests that T was thinking of Friedrich von Schiller’s “Ranz des Vaches,” the opening song of Wilhelm Tell (1804). A ranz des vaches is a Swiss pastoral song for calling cows home. Shanley (1971, 399) corrects T’s first edition misspelling of “Rans.”
[MEANWHILE my beans]
In his Journal for June 3, 1851, T identifies them as a variety of bush bean known as “Phaseolus vulgaris”; later in this chapter he identifies them as “common small white bush beans.” His beanfield was located on the level land just north of the cabin. In 1857 when he and Emerson were walking in the area, T said he thought the ground barren and offered to replant it for Emerson. It was two years before he did it, when he planted four hundred white pines, as well as oaks, birches, and larch trees. The result was a beautiful grove that became a popular picnic site. In 1872 a spark from a passing locomotive started a fire that burned part of it. But a good deal of the grove lasted well into this century, though the great hurricane of 1938 felled most of what was left. One can still identify the beanfield site by the rows of stumps of the pine trees felled by the hurricane.
[was seven miles already planted]
This is not a Thoreauvian hyperbole. He tells us later in the chapter that he planted 2 ½ acres of beans in rows 15 rod long and 3 feet apart, which means approximately 146 rows. Their total length would be approximately 36,000 feet, or just short of seven miles.
Hercules was forced by Zeus to perform twelve labors for Eurystheus, among them the cleaning of the Augean stables and destruction of the Lernean Hydra.
[I got strength like Antaeus]
In Greek mythology, a giant who became stronger whenever he touched his mother, the Earth. Hercules defeated Antaeus by lifting him up in the air and squeezing him to death in his arms.
[flowers, produce instead this pulse]
Pulse: edible seeds of plants having pods.
[and most of all woodchucks]
According to legend, T could not bear to kill and offending woodchuck, so he caught it in a box trap, releasing it several miles away to feed on someone else’s garden. (Canby, 219).
[it appeared by the arrowheads]
T had a lifelong interest in Indians and assembled a large collection of Indian artifacts that is now in the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, Massachusetts (Sayre). Ellery Channing tells a story: In his walk, his companion, a citizen, said, “I do not see where you find your Indian arrowheads.” Stooping to the ground, Henry picked one up, and presented it to him, crying, “Here is one.” T tells a somewhat similar anecdote in his Journal for October 29, 1837 (I, 7).
[I was four years old]
In his Journal for August 1845 (I, 380), T says he was five at the time of this visit.
[to this my native town]
Thoreau was born in Concord. In 1818 his family moved to Chelmsford, and then in 1821 to Boston, returning to Concord to settle permanently in 1823.
[now to-night my flute]
T’s flute can be seen in the Concord Museum.
Gross (1985) describes this chapter as “a wonderfully malicious parody of agricultural reform literature” and points out that beans were never an important money crop in Concord.
Matthews asserts that “careful reading shows that T put W together with the consummate skill of a master craftsman.” Domina sees this chapter as a miniature of the whole book.
I find the difference between Thoreau’s attitude towards his bean field and his attitude towards farming as a living interesting to consider. As Thoreau writes in “Where I Lived, And What I Live For,” “It makes but little difference whether you are committed to a farm or the county jail.” Yet here Thoreau commits himself to what seems a little too extensive (what with two and a half acres of beans) to be considered merely a garden. The distinction, I think, is that he views his labors in the bean field as a fulfilling practice rather than a way to make a living. If a man needs to tend to his crops, does a farm, in Thoreau’s view, then become a chain?
I find it fascinating that Thoreau chooses to compare his tending to the bean-fields to the labors of Hercules. In this quick, seemingly fleeting metaphor, Thoreau reveals much about his character and the overarching meaning of his botanic hobby. The twelve labors of Hercules were placed as a burden upon him as a punishment for his committing of deranged crimes. The tasks included slaying and capturing various creatures and stealing mythical items. For Thoreau to compare his simple gardening hobbies, something that most would find as a soothing past time, to this mythical burden implies that he was using the bean-fields to surpass a personal obstacle. Thoreau also goes on to compare his strength to Antaeus, the mythical rival of Hercules, furthering the comparison.
Of course, Thoreau’s multiple references to ancient Greek/Roman mythology are interesting on their own. However, what I find interesting is how he emphasizes the symbolic aspect of farming through these references as opposed to the practical aspect of farming. He mentions little about his harvest or his pursuit of material sustenance. He’s more interested in what he’s doing rather than what he’s getting out of it. And going along with that, he gains more from the act of farming itself (skills such as patience, hard-work, self-discipline) than he does from the harvest.
I agree with Julia that Thoreau’s description of gardening as a meditative act as opposed to a chore is striking. To me, particularly, I thought of his weeding as a purging of the world he’s left behind. He himself has been “uprooted” from his old ways and transplanted to isolation where he can now grow. I loved the line “making the earth say beans instead of grass.”
Wow I love this observation…the way you described it Morgan it almost sounds like Thoreau feels that he is doing some sort of penance via gardening. Like, his experience is a larger than life religious cleansing of sorts rather than a small task. I think that could have wider implications for Thoreau’s motivations on the whole.
If we agree that Thoreau’s experiment of living in the woods was not a call for everyone to follow in his footsteps but to find their own way to the happiness of simplicity, it’s easy to imagine this paragraph repurposed to fit any number of different pursuits. Here he discusses the happiness provided to him by his bean field and the entertainment he finds in it, but such rewarding feelings are far from exclusive to farming
I agree with Dillon here– this is a very generalized account of farming that could apply to a myriad of different things.
Thoreau feels a closer connection to nature by farming and getting something directly out of his labor and the Earth. He finds great joy and entertainment in his work. When he discovers pieces of the old native civilization he feels like he is reliving history and following in their steps.
It’s not surprising that Thoreau was picking up artifacts left behind, because his style of life during the book is very similar to the native Americans. His philosophies also have many parallels to the beliefs of native Americans.
Thoreau’s farming techniques are reflective of his philosophy about nature, which I enjoyed reading about. He is content with his “half-cultivated” field, which shows his interest in valuing the natural processes of nature existing side by side with his cultivation of the crops. He has an admirable harmony with the natural environment around him, and the way he handles his bean field is truly reflective of this.
Paganini is a musician I’ve heard briefly years ago. This is probably his most famous piece:
[all the way from Long Wharf]
One of Boston’s major wharves, the probable destination of much of the freight shipped down past Walden Pond from northern and western New England.
A large lake on the Vermont-New York border.
[reminding me of foreign parts]
In the Sartain’s Union Magazine version of these paragraphs, “parts” reads “ports,” which makes more sense, but Shanley has assured me that it reads “parts” in the manuscript.
[at the sight of the palm-leaf]
Again, the summer hats made from palm leaves that were popular at that time.
[the Manilla hemp and cocoa-nut husks]
Cocoa-nut husks: used in making matting, particularly doormats.
Gunny is a coarse material made from jute and used for making sacks.
[This car-load of torn sails]
Old cloth was frequently pulverized and used in the making of good quality paper for books.
[lumber from the Maine woods]
T frequently visited the Maine woods, where he saw the results of spring freshets on lumber being floated down to the mills: logs strewn high along the banks or washed out to sea.
[Next rolls Thomaston lime]
Thomaston, Maine, one of the primary sources of lime in T’s day.
[before it gets slacked]
More commonly spelled “slaked.”
[now no longer cried up]
Cried up: praised.
[reminding me of the Grand Banks]
An extensive shoal southeast of New-foundland, the Grand Banks is the major fishing ground of New England fishermen.
[thoroughly cured for this world]
T, in Cape Cod, describes in detail the fish-curing process.
[as a Concord trader once did]
Emerson, in his Journal (V, 36-7), says that T told him this storekeeper was Deacon Parkman.
[whether it be animal, vegetable, or mineral]
T was probably thinking of the old parlor game Twenty Questions, in which all substances are classified as animal, vegetable, or mineral.
[will come out an excellent dun fish]
A cod that has turned dun colored (dingy brown) in the curing process.
[retain its natural form]
Charles Wilkins, trans., Fables and Proverbs from the Sanskrit Being the Hitopadesa, “The Lion and the Rabbit,” chap. II, fable IX.
[Here is a hogshead of molasses]
Another of T’s numerous puns.
Although there is a Cuttingsville, Vermont, a village in the town of Shrewsbury, according to the town clerk there has never been a Cuttingsville Times, and while several John Smiths have lived there, none ever ran a store.
[“to be the mast Of some great ammiral”]
Milton, Paradise Lost, I, 293-4.
[the cattle of a thousand hills]
“The cattle upon a thousand hills” (Psalms 50:10).
[do indeed skip like rams]
“The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs” (Psalms 114:4).
A range of hills in southwestern New Hampshire, visible from Concord.
[And the blackberries a-growing]
T’s own poem.
[women their ancient u-lu-lu]
The word seems to have been adapted by T from the Latin word ulalo, to howl.
[Their dismal scream is truly]
T was probably thinking of “Wee give thee a shout: Hoo!” (Ben Jonson, Masque of Queens, II, 317-8).
[Wise midnight hags!]
“How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags?” (Macbeth, IV, i, 47).
[honest and blunt tu-whit tu-who of the]
“Then nightly sings the staring owl, ‘Tu- whit, tu-who!”‘ (Love’s Labour’s Lost, V, ii, 911)
[that I never had been bor-r-r-r-n!]
“Allas! that I was born!” (Chaucer, The Book of the Duchess, I, 686).
[who has left hope behind]
“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here” (Dante, Inferno, 3.1.g).
[where the double spruce stands]
In his own copy of W, T corrected this from “single spruce.” Double spruce is an old name for the black spruce, the common spruce of the New England swamps, found in the neighborhood of Concord. The single or white spruce is more northerly in its range. Adding irony to T’s confusion of the species is the statement in his Journal (VI, 22) for December 22, 1853, before W was published. “It is remarkable how few inhabitants of Concord can tell a spruce from a fir, and probably not two a white from a black spruce, unless they are together.”
[sing a catch in their Stygian lake]
In Greek mythology, the river Styx encircled Hades, so Stygian refers to the lower world.
[The most aldermanic, with his]
Aldermen are often caricatured with vast bellies.
[has gulped down to his mark]
In drinking bouts it was customary to pass around a large cup with marks on the inside to indicate how much each man was expected to drink.
[the patriarch is not under the pond]
That is, under the table.
[Who would not be early to rise]
“Early to bed and early to rise / Makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” (Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1757).
[Even the sailor on the Atlantic]
Cape Cod ship captains often took a coop of hens along on their whaling vessels to provide fresh meat and eggs.
[the whippoorwills chanted]
A nocturnal bird (Caprimulgus vociferns), once common in the eastern United States, that often rested on house roofs at night to sing.
[a screech-owl or a cat-owl behind it]
Now known as the great horned owl.
[Not even a lark or an oriole]
The meadowlark, a common resident of New England fields.
[Instead of a scuttle]
Scuttle: a kind of bucket for carrying coal and other objects.
[gate in the Great Snow]
Another reference to Cotton Mather’s Great Snow.
[a vast and undeveloped nature which men have not recognized] I sometimes have a hard time understanding how Thoreau feels about mankind. It’s clear that he thinks simplicity is key, and that he believes in not only living within one’s means, but by being so frugal, one can survive on almost nothing. And yet, isn’t he himself living on someone else’s land for free? Also, he does a fair amount of advising and criticizing of mankind, like here when he says, “… suggesting a vast and undeveloped nature which men have not recognized,” and in many other places in the text. It’s hard to say whether he is a hypocrite, a genius, a lover, a hater, or somehow all of the above.
Thoreau’s not living on someone else’s land for free. He’s living on Emerson’s land but he bartered for permission to live there, doing work for Emerson, including the planting on pine trees on Emerson’s land (a wood lot). In fact, Thoreau never lived for free anywhere.
[Who would not be early to rise, and rise earlier and earlier every successive day of his life, till he became unspeakably healthy, wealthy, and wise?] This particular sentence struck me because I felt that it was a striking contrast to the mindset on sleep that we have in today’s society. High school and college age students face a daily struggle to complete their assignments and get off the internet before the crack of dawn, and as a consequence of this usually wind up sleeping until the afternoon hours. I believe that the Internet, smart phones, gaming devices, and other technologies play a large role as to why many people’s sleep schedules have reverted to almost a nocturnal state, and it seems that because Thoreau is not faced with these technologies, or even the technologies of his own time, he cannot seem to understand why others would not want to or be able to follow the exact regimen that he does. The contrast between Thoreau’s life in the woods and the way that we live in 2015 is a continuous theme throughout Walden.
I kept neither dog, cat, cow, pig, nor hens, so that you would have said there was a deficiency of domestic sounds; neither the churn, nor the spinning wheel, nor even the singing of the kettle, nor the hissing of the urn, nor the children crying to comfort one. An old-fashioned man would have lost his senses or died of ennui before this.
This particular passage stood out to me the most for multiple reasons. It made me put a new perspective on the loneliness of Walden Pond. The average person is so used to those sounds that we don’t necessarily notice them anymore, however; we would notice it more if we didn’t hear them on a daily basis. By saying that an “old-fashioned man would have lost his senses or died of ennui before this”, is essentially referring to the idea of not being able to survive after becoming accustomed to the every day scenarios by which average societies deal with. Having such a simplified lifestyle could really make a difference for those of us who are more accustomed to, in a sense, our chaotic lives. We don’t take the time to appreciate quiet because we don’t really know what true quietness is. By pointing out the difference of sounds at Walden Pond, Thoreau is demonstrating what it is that we take for granted in our every day lives, such as domestic animals and house noises. It is a strong, but reasonable point that Thoreau makes through the idea of domestic sounds.
The ring of the transcendental heart resounds in the paragraph. Mentions of the sounds of nature, its tranquility and beauty, abound. Mentions of “our woods” and a “walk in a winter morning” inspire imagery of a simple life. However, I begin to wonder how this natural spiritualism is reconciled with the apparent intellectual arrogance of Reading. Thoreau seems to believe that any claim of intellectualism is voided by the virtue of the mere act of reading the great authors. “The student may read Homer or Æschylus in the Greek without danger of dissipation or luxuriousness, for it implies that he in some measure emulate their heroes, and consecrate morning hours to their pages,” Thoreau remarks in Reading. I suppose these interacts with his transcendentalist dream by accessing the soul of the reader. The reader is entertained not by the hustle and bustle of the world around, but instead by the authors of antiquity, judged in an obviously subjective way as “heroic,” and therefore worth reading. I again can’t help but noting a “chicken-and-the-egg” type logical inconsistency. Are the writers heroic because they are worthwhile, or worthwhile because they are heroic?
Leave a comment on paragraph 3
This is powerful, in my opinion, as on homage to just how alone Thoreau was.
On Thoreau’s spelling, see the following explanation from the online project, “Information Infrastructure: Methods of Information Transfer in Nineteenth Century Wisconsin”:
“Until 1835, when the Milwaukie Post Office was established under Postmaster Solomon Juneau, there was no standard way to spell the name of the city. Juneau preferred ‘Milwaukie,’ so that is what he used. Between 1833-1843 the name appeared on maps, in newspapers, and in correspondence with a variety of spellings, including Miliwaki, Milawakee, Milwaki, Milwaukee, Milwalky, and Milwauk, as well as the version favored by Postmaster Juneau, a Democrat.
“In 1843, Josiah A. Noonan, a Whig, was elected postmaster. Postmaster Noonan preferred the spelling ‘Milwaukee,’ and changed all date stamps to reflect his preference. Noonan lost the office to Juneau in 1849, and with a Democrat back in charge the name reverted to ‘Milwaukie’. Two successive postmasters retained that spelling, but Noonan regained the office in 1853 and once again the name was changed to ‘Milwaukee’ on the date stamps.
“1857 saw another change, as Noonan was defeated by Democrat J. R. Sharpstein. Although Sharpstein held office for only one year, he succeeded in changing the date stamps back to ‘Milwaukie’ once again. The change stayed in effect until the end of 1861. Meanwhile, in 1860, the new Republican party, successor to the Whigs, had soundly defeated the Democrats in most areas of the city’s political arena. In 1862, the name was changed for the last time. Through use by exclusively Republican postmasters over several decades, Milwaukee has become the accepted, ‘non-partisan’ spelling used today.”
Jeffrey Cramer gives the following note in his, Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition, (2004, Yale UP), noting that Thoreau’s sense of Milwaukee’s temporal delay in fashionability may have come from his reading of Fuller’s Summer on the Lakes: “Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which in Thoreau’s day was a rapidly growing city, but would not have had the same fashion sense as Boston or New York. Thoreau may have had in mind Margaret Fuller’s Summer on the Lakes, in 1843, in which she wrote that Milwaukee ‘‘promises to be, some time,a fine one. . . . During the fine weather, the poor refugees arrive daily, in their national dresses, all travel-soiled and worn.’”
[ponds so severe a trial]
T here reflects the mid-nineteenth-century fascination with scientific phenomena almost for their own sake – an interest that Melville parodied in portions of Moby-Dick. To his dismay, T found that as he grew older he became more interested in merely recording statistics and less interested in interpreting those statistics for a better understanding of life.
[year take place every day]
It was a favorite fancy of T’s to see the world in microcosm – the Atlantic Ocean as Walden Pond, etc.
[alive and covered with papillæ]
Tiny protruding cells.
[about the 7th of April]
Since in his Journal for March 28, 1854 (VI, 176), T notes that he has received the first proofs of W, this last entry must have been inserted into the final text, which means that he kept revising the book up to the last moment. In his Journal for April 9, 1854 (VI, 191), he records his discovery that Walden had opened several days before.
[to the age of Methuselah]
“All the days of Methuselah were 969 years” (Genesis 5:27).
[down without obstruction from Sudbury]
The next town southwest of Concord (Gleason).
[sand and clay assume]
Few passages in W have been analyzed with more frequency and at greater length than these paragraphs. Bigelow cites them as an outstanding early example of “how the modern symbolist mind works.” Saucerman discusses it in the light of contemporary theories of geology. Perhaps the best general discussion can be found in Paul (1958, 346-9).
[deep cut on the railroad]
Just northwest of Walden Pond, where the earth was cut away to some depth to avoid too great an incline on the railroad (Gleason).
[and excrements of all kinds]
Many have suggested that T’s comments here indicate the psychological orientation that Freud called anal. West (1974), in fact, finds scattered throughout W, particularly in some of T’s puns, many scatological references.
[than acanthus, chiccory, ivy, vine]
All of these leaves have been used as decorative motifs in various schools of architecture.
[a word especially applicable]
T was often fascinated with word origins but was not always correct in his theories (Gura).
[a mass of thawing clay]
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground” (Genesis 2:7).
Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832), the French Egyptologist who deciphered the Rosetta stone and launched a widespread interest in the study of hieroglyphics (Irwin).
[the heaps of liver lights]
The bowels were thought to be the source of compassion and sympathy.
[still in her swaddling clothes]
“Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes” (Luke 2:12).
[studied by geologists and antiquaries]
T once again is reflecting his interest in the archeological discoveries made in the Middle East during his lifetime.
[which precede flowers and fruit]
As Sattelmeyer (88) points out, T is here giving “a fairly explicit refutation of the contemporary squabbles over the meaning of the geologic record.”
[the hands of the potter]
“As clay is in the potter’s hand” (Jeremiah 18:6).
[is more powerful than Thor]
The Norse god of thunder.
[the earliest birds,— decent weeds]
A widow’s mourning costume is known as weeds.
[of spring the red-squirrels]
Whether T was aware of the fact or not, the squirrels were obviously engaged in a mating ritual.
A common name for squirrels, supposedly based on one of their calls.
[oritur herba imbribus primoribus evocata]
“And the grass which is called forth by the early rains is just growing” (M. Terenti Varronis [Varro], Rerum Rusticarum [On Agriculture] 2.2.14).
[told that in the experiment]
The Concord Freeman for September 30, 1842, announced that “they are building a reservoir on a very large scale at Fresh Pond, for the purpose of manufacturing ice, the coming winter. It is intended to pump up the water into the basin and allow it to freeze, which it will more readily do, than in the pond, as the depth will be but little, and it can be but slightly disturbed.”
For a discussion of the spring and rebirth imagery throughout the book, and particularly in this chapter, see Richard Adams (424-8). Hume gives a detailed analysis of this chapter as a psychological preparation for the advent of spring. Sweeney discusses the particular influence of Oriental philosophies on this chapter.
[and still puts forth its green blade to eternity]
Simply, I found this whole paragraph full of beautiful imagery, but this line line in particular is a very democratic and optimistic idea, drawing on a metaphoric spring to rebirth humanity, which is symbolized as a field of growing grass, and each of us is a single “blade” fighting ever onward. Many people have heard misconceptions about T, the full extent of his solitude, his perceived dryness, etc., but he really is a beautiful writer as well as a deep thinker.
[whose veins are filled with the blood of winter]
While I have always considered the changing of seasons to be routine, possibly because we live in an area with the sort of extremes Thoreau mentions, he views the melting ice in a way that gives the seasons life. I was particularly drawn in by this description of winter as a being, with the ice and snow being its blood. At this point, the passage seems to be moving from a scientific evaluation of the melting ice to a more spiritual description – showing how varied Thoreau’s approach towards nature can be. He sometimes shifts between scientist and poet.
The juxtaposition of the change of season to the beginning of the end of Walden is prevalent in this paragraph. He describes the temperature change in comparison to the melting of the pond. Could he be comparing himself to the pond: how he has come full circle now just as nature’s course?
It is interesting to see the more scientific-minded side of Thoreau here. When reading Walden it can be easy to get caught up in all of Thoreau’s grand metaphors and observations of society. I found this passage to read quite like a field journal—simply a scientific account of the lake’s thawing process. I think that it was important for Thoreau to not lose that scientific connection with nature. The combination of scientific observation and social observation really speaks to the complex workings of Thoreau’s mind.
Here Thoreau’s transcendental vision is displayed with some clarity. “You here see perchance how blood vessels are formed,” he muses. Clearly, Thoreau identifies more with the order of nature than with its entropy. Two unrelated things are compared here: rivers and blood vessels. They are united under this abstract principle of “the law,” an apparent inherent guideline nature provides. The transcendental approach here can be poignantly compared with the works of the early twentieth century: Thoreau finds himself amongst the last batch of authors who yearn so steadfastly for the uncovering of truth. A truth which the modernists and the postmodernists after them describe as insufficient. If there were a way of identifying a unifying truth, Thoreau exhaustively attempts to find it in this passage.
[The phenomena of the year take place every day in a pond on a small scale]
Here we see again Thoreau’s theme of circles. The progress of a day at the pond is mirrored by the progress of a year in Massachusetts, such as the time spent at Walden Pond is a smaller circle of the entirety of Thoreau’s life. Through this theme we see the point of Walden as a work of literature. The life we live must be reflective of the miniature life spent at Walden Pond. Not necessarily a point for point guide on how to live (we must move into a small house in the woods and live meekly forever), but rather through nature realize how to live. We must pay heed to its rituals and cycles and imitate them in a way that they correspond with our own lives.
simply a scientific account of the lake’s thawing process. I think that it was important for Thoreau to not lose that scientific connection with nature. The combination of scientific observation and social observation really speaks to the complex workings of Thoreau’s mind
Emily makes a good point here. I’m reminded strongly of the chapters in Melville’s Moby Dick where he describes, rather scientifically and taxonomically, cetology, the scientific study of whales. This seems like a good crossroads for the meeting of both Romantic writing and a bit of Enlightenment scientific writing. It appeals to both the artistic and logical aspects of the human mind, which strengthens the writings of both movements.
[The whole bank, which is from twenty to forty feet high, is sometimes overlaid with a mass of this kind of foliage, or sandy rupture, for a quarter of a mile on one or both sides, the produce of one spring day. What makes this sand foliage remarkable is its springing into existence thus suddenly. ]
“This kind of foliage” is not real foliage. Foliage, or the leaves of a plant, collectively, or leafage, is not what Thoreau is talking about in this passage. However, I enjoy the pun: “is its springing into existence…” In this passage, Thoreau is echoing in solitude, and also celebrating that Spring can do anything.
“These foliaceous heaps lie along the bank like the slag of a furnace, showing that Nature is “in full blast” within. The earth is not a mere fragment of dead history, stratum upon stratum like the leaves of a book, to be studied by geologist and antiquaries chiefly, but living poetry like the leaves of a tree, which precede flowers and fruit,–not a fossil earth, but a living earth…”
The imagery of leaves continues beautifully in this passage, through the “foliaceous heaps”. To me, this passage creates an image of a book full of pages of leaves. Simply, leaves are the pages to a book.
Natures’ renewal in Spring keeps happening–we are all growing through nature, and this is the beginning.
[The first sparrow of spring! The year beginning with younger hope than ever!]
To Thoreau, Everyday can be Spring. Everyday we can atone for our sins.
I agree. Thoreau is a well-know figure, so people will have various opinions and perceptions of him, regardless of what his true character is.
[One old hunter]
Woodson (1975, 554) argues convincingly that this is T’s old friend George Minott.
[used to come to]
As T knew only too well, the hunter with his one bath a year was probably outdoing many of his neighbors. In his Journal for July 8, 1852 (IV, 202), T says, “One farmer, who came to bathe in Walden one Sunday while I lived there, told me it was the first bath he had had for fifteen years.”
[could remember one Sam Nutting]
In his Journal for March 10, 1853 (V, 16), T calls him “Old Fox” Nutting and records that he had killed moose as well as bear. T also says that he lived in Jacob Baker’s house in Lincoln (Gleason).
[bears on Fair Haven Ledges]
On Fair Haven Hill, southwest of Walden (Gleason).
[he had seen a moose]
After a lapse of nearly two centuries, moose have occasionally wandered down to Concord from the New Hampshire mountains in recent years.
[In the “Wast Book”]
This old record book was found in Deacon Brown’s attic, and T quotes at length from it in his Journal for January 27, 1854 (VI, 77-9). Channing says it was Ephraim Jones’s book.
[credit “by ½ a Catt]
Catt: in his copy of W, T queried whether this should be “calf” and adds “v. Mott ledger near beginning.” But various types of wildcat have been caught in Concord, and on October 15, 186o, T wrote a letter to the Boston Society of Natural History, presenting it with the skin of a Canada lynx killed in nearby Carlisle.
[of nothing but Baffin’s Bay]
Baffin Bay, a part of the Arctic Ocean between Greenland and the Canadian arctic islands. T had a particular interest in the arctic regions and read widely about them.
[passed for sealers or Esquimaux]
Now generally spelled “Eskimo.”
[when I went to lecture]
In his Journal for January 7, 1852 (III, 177), T describes walking to Lincoln in a snowstorm to lecture. He lectured professionally most of his adult life, and W, like many of his other works, was in large part first heard by his lecture audiences (Harding, 1948).
[the very lingua vernacula]
The native language of an area.
[for a day or two]
Although T, in one of the W drafts, attributes this quotation to Audubon, I have been unable to find it in any of Audubon’s writings.
[as he walked the Wayland]
A small town south of Concord.
[nearer, now from Well-Meadow]
Well-Meadow was on the shore of Fair Haven Bay, about a mile southwest of Walden (Gleason).
[in the old French war]
The French and Indian War of 1754 to 1763.
[horns of the last deer]
Deer nowadays overrun the area. With the return of forests, Concord is much wilder today than it was in T’s day.
[one gaunt Nimrod]
“Nimrod, the mighty hunter before the Lord” (Genesis 10:9).
[One had her form]
Form: the resting place of a hare.
[the breed of nobler bloods]
“Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods” Julius Caesar, I, ii).
[levipes, light-foot, some think]
“Lucius Aelius thought that the hare received its name lepus because of its swiftness, being levipes, nimblefoot” (Varro, Rerum Rusticarum 3.12).
[walk, beset with twiggy fences]
Small fence built of twigs and placed across a rabbit’s run to divert it into a snare.
[snares, which some cow-boy]
Not in the modern sense of the word, but a boy who attends cows.
[house between my own hut]
Although many people refer to the building at Walden as a hut, T uses that term only twice in the whole book, once here and again eight paragraphs below. Robbins (10) points out that T refers to it as a house eighty-odd times, a lodge three times, a dwelling twice, and a homestead once.
[In Goose Pond]
Strangely enough, Goose Pond is about a quarter of a mile northeast of Walden, while Lincoln is southeast.
[was my yard]
In wintertime, moose tramp out an area in the woods where they herd together. A few lines above, T has tramped out his own yard.
[Suddenly an unmistakable cat-owl]
Great horned owl.
[mean by alarming the citadel]
T is undoubtedly referring to the incident of the geese alarming the citadel when the Gauls took Rome in 390 B.C. See Livy, History of Rome 5.47.
[heard the whooping of the ice]
Caused by expansion and contraction of the ice. See “The Pond in Winter.”
[an inch wide]
T tells of this incident in his Journal for November 3, 1852 (IV, 409).
[inconceivable haste with his “trotters]
[expression and a gratuitous somerset]
Old spelling of somersault.
[those of a dancing girl]
Dhawan (75) sees this as an allusion to Maya-Shakti, the creative activity of Brahma, but I doubt if T had this in mind.
[you could say Jack Robinson]
Bartlett says this phrase is derived from a popular song written by a London tobacconist by the name of Hudson.
[up his clock]
The squirrel when angry makes a chattering noise much like a noisy clock.
In his copy of W, T corrected “brisk” to “frisk.”
[woods at sunset to “bud”]
To feed on the tree’s buds.
[on buds and diet-drink]
T was hardly thinking of our present-day diet sodas, but of some nineteenth-century health food.
[following pack pursuing their Actæon]
An ancient Greek hunter who, when he saw Artemis bathing, was changed into a stag and then devoured by his own dogs.
[returning with a single brush]
T gives the detailed conversation with this man in his Journal (I, 398-9).
[woods again. That evening a]
T is probably punning on Squire Weston, a character in Henry Fielding’s novel Tom Jones. Weston is a village a few miles southeast of Concord.
Charles Anderson (183) points out that there are more than seven hundred references to animals in W.
[The squirrels also]
In the Princeton Edition of the manuscript (the original), Thoreau preceded this sentence with, “All the emotions and the life of the squirrel imply spectators.” During his first revision, Version A, Thoreau opted for the simplified sentence in this text, which survived the subsequent six revisions. I can only speculate as to why Thoreau took it out, but I agree with his decision. Sometimes, being caught up in an artistic moment, a writer can be moved to make a profound statement where a simple one does the job more effectively without putting on airs. And seeing as he’s writing about squirrels… no airs necessary.
[Sometimes I heard the foxes] This entire paragraph gives me the chills. I live in the countryside and always hear wild animals at night. Sometimes, I even hear coyotes howling and fighting one another. It really freaks me out. I wonder if Thoreau ever got scared at night when he heard sounds around his cabin, particularly when foxes would come near his window. The human mind tends to create stories, especially when alone! I would have gone a little crazy, I think.
I find Thoreau’s descriptions of the winter evening sounds here intriguing because I think most people associate winter, particularly winter nights, with silence. We always hear about quiet snowfall, and the only sound I personally associate with winter nights is the sound of a snowplow driving past my house in the early morning hours.The sound descriptions here serve to emphasize for me the varying degrees of solitude humans experience. Lying in bed and hearing the plow pass at night, I’m peacefully alone but the evidence of mankind is all around, from the objects in my house to the transient presence of another human driving on the street. We think of Thoreau as having more solitude, but this passage reminds us that he’s constantly accompanied by the natural presences of animals even in the quietest of times, and is never truly alone.
The value Thoreau places on having a sparrow land on his shoulder highlights his view towards nature – the honors and adornments he could receive from society would mean little, but being so in tune with nature that animals are comfortable with his presence? That is what Thoreau takes pride in. It’s hard to imagine having such close contact with animals, especially when most I come across seem to be conditioned to be extremely wary of humans.
I think the whole concept of the Pond being frozen, different from it’s natural state, and thus offering a different view or perspective is a pretty interesting concept that i believe can be tied in with Thoreau’s ideology on learning. Thoreau is conflicted in that he wants one to go out and experience all the different things life has to offer, but also wants to confine those experiences to just what he thinks is right. I think this pond being frozen and offering a different view could be seen as a metaphor for the things that Thoreau does not take into account when deciding upon what an experience should mean to a person.
Thoreau’s reiteration of the idea that animals and humans are somehow the same indicates to me that it’s an idea that’s pretty crucial to the book. I especially think comparing the foxes’ social order to “civilization” is striking because civilization is usually used to mean something that is very distinctly human– sometimes the word is reserved to refer to what is thought of as only the most “cultured” people. But Thoreau is (again) suggesting that there is something that ties all species together. We all have anxieties and struggles, the need for expression and to “run freely in the streets…”
It is interesting to consider Thoreau being awakened by the sounds of the earth cracking from the bitter cold. His stay out in the woods definitely attributes to his keen sense of his surroundings. It seems Thoreau is perhaps a bit dramatic about his account of winter in this piece. I think fresh fallen snow, and a a pond thickly frozen over with ice are serene albeit cold images. I think Thoreau takes the idea of a cold harsh winter to a new level when describing a crack in the earth causes by the winter frost.
[an old man, a potter]
Tommy Wyman, whose pottery was at the northeast end of the pond. T recounts Wyman’s story in his Journal for June 16, 1853 (V, 260).
The shortest sentence in W.
[suddenly the dimples ceased]
1852, according to his Journal (IV, 424).
[there was an iron chest]
D’Avanzo (1979) expounds at length on biblical echoes of this image.
[or the teacher’s desk]
T had been previously employed as a schoolteacher and as a worker in his father’s pencil factory.
[still further laid them waste]
Now, thanks to the fact that Walden Pond is a state reservation, the woods have returned to its shores, though the great hurricane of 1938 and a misguided attempt by park commissioners in 1957 to put in a new parking lot destroyed many of the trees.
[When you invert your head]
It was a habit of T’s to bend over and peer at the landscape through his legs, providing a novel view – a device sometimes used by artists.
[where the skater insects]
T inserted “(Hydrometer)” after “insects” in his copy of W.
[murder will out]
“Mordre wol out” (Chaucer, “The Prioress’s Tale,” i.1766).
[to the village in a pipe]
That plan was never carried out, and Concord now gets its water from Nagog Pond in Acton.
Locomotive, which in T’s day needed regularly to replenish its water and wood for its steam engine.
The Greek’s were finally able to pierce Troy’s defenses by hiding in a wooden horse and persuading the Trojans to drag it into the city as a god.
[Moore of Moore Hall]
“But More of More-Hall, with nothing at all, / He slew the dragon of Wantley” (Bishop Percy, “The Dragon of Wantley,” Reliques of Ancient English Poetry).
[between the ribs]
Just northwest of Walden Pond, the earth was cut away to some depth to permit the railroad to proceed on a level track.
[the Irish have built]
Another reference to the Irish railroad workers’ shanties about half a mile northwest of T’s cabin site.
[there was no guile]
“Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47).
[high in my thought]
T’s own poem. Critics vary widely in their interpretation of it, though most agree that he is speaking of his own identity with Walden Pond. For further explication see Paul Williams (1964) and see Bode.
The financial district in Boston.
[thus reserved and austere]
“He lived reserved and austere” (Andrew Marvell, “An Horatian Ode,” line 30).
[and waste its sweetness]
“And waste its sweetness on the desert air” (Thomas Gray, “Elegy in a Country Churchyard”).
[I went a-chestnutting there]
Although the American chestnut had been one of the commonest trees in T’s day, it was almost completely obliterated by a blight early in this century.
[right had the unclean and stupid]
T had originally hoped to build his cabin on the shore of Flint’s Pond but had been thwarted by the owner, Mr. Flint – which explains his anger (Edison, 53).
In Greek mythology, a harpy is a filthy, hideous winged monster.
[and it was no privilege]
Landowners in New England were required to obtain a written “privilege” from the community before they could dam up a stream for water power.
[at least as the clarion Sea]
The part of the Aegean Sea where Icarus was drowned.
[the shore’ a ‘brave attempt]
“For still the shore my brave attempt resounds” (William Drummond of Hawthornden, “Icarus”).
[Goose Pond, of small extent]
Originally two tiny ponds just east of Walden. One has in recent years been filled in by the Concord town dump.
[This is my lake country]
England’s scenic Lake District, made famous by Wordsworth.
[to make sandpaper with]
Part of the Thoreau family business was the manufacture of sandpaper, no piece of which, to my knowledge, now exists.
Sanborn (1909, II, 323) suggests that it was Ellery Channing who gave White Pond this name.
[Topographical Description of the Town]
William Jones, “A Topographical Description of Concord,” Massachusetts Historical Society Collections (I, 1792, 238).
[man who lives nearest the pond]
A Mr. Haynes. His grandson, Adrian Hayward, gives an amusing account of the pulling out of the tree. Haynes later commented to his son, “T was as anxious for all the particulars as if apples of gold had grown on it.”
Usually spelled “but-end”.
[after the diamond of Kohinoor]
One of the world’s largest diamonds – 109 carats – first discovered in India and now part of the British crown jewels.
Emerson thus refers to Walden Pond in his Journal for April 9, 1840 (V, 381). Benoit suggests the term was derived from the Hindu concept of Bindu.
These balls are a green alga of the genus Cladophora. A detailed description of them can be found in Smith (424-31).
[devilish Iron Horse]
Twenty-first century readers of Walden might think that Thoreau was being imaginative when he described the railroad as a “devilish Iron Horse,” and they would be justified in thinking so. And yet, it may be helpful to tease out what particularly is imaginative about this animal-machine metaphor. What’s imaginative about this passage, I’d like to suggest, isn’t the bare fact that Thoreau decided to use the vehicle “horse” to describe the tenor “railroad,” but the very linguistic act of collapsing these two entities into one metaphor. Horses and railroads are already conceptually linked for anyone living in early to middle nineteenth-century America because, in the first few decades of railway transportation, passenger trains were literally horse-powered. Even as late as 1844, some United States railway lines—such as the storied P&C (Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad)—would include horse-drawn trains, even going so far as to allow horse-power at certain hours of the day and steam power during other times. Thoreau, in other words, is imaginatively collapsing two terms—horses and railroads—that are already linked in the popular imagination of the day. Thus the specifically imaginative aspect about this passage isn’t how Thoreau decided to compare railroads to horses, but how he linguistically united them into an apocalyptic vision of forest degradation.
There is no evidence for Edison’s claim which he does not document in any way. Both Thoreau and Ellery Channing refer to potential sites other than Walden. Neither mentions Flint’s Pond.
After noticing a fact provided courtesy of Walter Harding in one of his comments on this paragraph – about how Thoreau originally intended to build his cabin on the shore of Flint’s pond but had been thwarted by the owner makes this an interesting paragraph. Keeping in mind Thoreau’s original intentions for wanting to live at Walden pond, to find himself and live deliberately in nature, should where he did that have mattered? Would it have been any different if he had in fact been able to build his cabin on the shore of Flint’s pond?
I like how closely Thoreau identifies with Walden itself here – it’s as if he is aiming to acquire the same purity he believes the pond has due to its apparent separation from a larger water source. Just as Thoreau admires Walden’s isolation, he attempts to remove himself from a “comparatively impure” society. This raises a question of motive; clearly Thoreau’s lifelong enjoyment of the pond and its beauty were contributing factors, but did he also choose to live on Walden’s shores because he saw it as an embodiment of his goals? Or did he make this connection only after living in solitude?
Thoreau says “Nations come and go without defiling [Walden],” so does he consider his dwelling, built within close proximity to the pond, to not alter the landscape in any significant way? Does it lack the permanence of the pond and nature, therefore making it irrelevant?
On a slightly different note, we can certainly say in the modern world that many nations, especially the United States, have defiled great areas of nature, though Walden Pond itself is currently protected by the government of Massachusetts, mainly due to this text. I can’t help but wonder what Thoreau might have to say (or write) about the current state of nature, as well as the attempts at preservation.
You make some great points here, Emily. As William Cronon’s essay “The Trouble with Wilderness” suggests, Thoreau’s idea that “in wildness is the preservation of the world” (from his essay “Walking”) helped fuel the modern environmental movement. So there’s strong reason to believe that Thoreau would have been in favor of modern attempts to preserve nature from being “defiled” by commercial use or even just excessive human presence. In addition, his Journal entry for January 30, 1861 points toward the need to block off areas of natural beauty from private ownership. And even by the final paragraph of the present chapter of Walden, he’s clear about his view that humans are in some sense a “disgrace” to the earth.
But as both Cronon and you point out, this attitude leaves us wondering what to make of Thoreau’s own human activity in nature. If what we value in nature is only its otherness from us, how do we justify even the “natural” intrusion into nature’s beauty that Thoreau (however briefly) attempts?
I find the comment “gilding nature continually repairs” interesting. Is it true that nature will be able to repair all of the damage that humans have created? When Thoreau claims that “nations come and go without defiling it” does he beileve this because he is born and living in a earlier time than us? Are we still able to say that nature will be able to fix itself?
In fact, this honor would appear to belong to a one-word sentence in “Economy,” par. 89: “Furniture!”
[Twenty-five or thirty souls]
Although it may seem that this would crowd his ten-by-fifteen-foot cabin, it was found by experimenting at the 1992 annual Thoreau Society meeting that thirty people could easily fit into that space and still leave room for a cot, a desk, a fireplace, and three chairs – as long as everyone stood up.
For an analysis of the structure of this chapter, see Ross (1970).
[Tremont or Astor or Middlesex House]
Three well-known hotels in T’s day, in Boston, New York, and Concord, respectively.
[all inhabitants a ridiculous mouse]
“Mountains will labor, to bring forth a ridiculous mouse” (Horace, De Arte Poetica, I, 139).
[overcome its lateral and ricochet motion]
T here shows a surprising technical knowledge of ballistic science. He refers to, the fact that a bullet travels several yards after leaving the muzzle before overcoming its wobble and achieving gyrostatic stability (Tate).
[however, my withdrawing room]
Originally the drawing room was the room to which ladies withdrew after dinner so that the men remaining behind might drink and smoke.
[to be stirring a hasty-pudding]
Indian-meal mush, a popular New England breakfast dish.
[I could entertain thus a thousand]
T is referring to the parable of the loaves and the fishes (Matthew 15).
[by any kind of Cerberus whatever]
Pluto’s three-headed dog, who stood watch at the entrance to hell.
[noblest mind the best contentment has]
Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, I, i, 35.
[“brought two fishes that he had shot”]
A Relation or Journall of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation at Plimouth in New Engand (London, 1622, part II). As Gottesman (1621) points out, T modernizes and regularizes his text frequendy, and while “bought” is in his original, it seems likely that it should have read “brought.”
[but a true Homeric or Paphlagonian man]
Paphlagonia: an ancient region of northern Asia Minor. Since the mountainous interior was heavily forested, many of its people were woodsmen. The man was Alex Therien, a French Canadian (Shanley, 1957, 170). For a discussion of T’s friendship with Therien, see Bradford and see Harding (1991).
[Achilles’ reproof to Patroclus]
Significantly Achilles, in the Iliad, cultivates the friendship of Patroclus just as T was cultivating that of the woodcutter.
[we should greatly grieve]
The Iliad, beginning of book XVI.
[white-oak bark under his arm]
A powerful astringent frequently used in folk medicine.
[about twenty-eight years old]
According to Concord town records, Therien was born in 1811 and so would have been thirty-four when T went to Walden.
[How thick the pigeons are!]
The passenger pigeons, which were common in T’s day, are now extinct.
[live out his threescore years and ten]
“The days of our years are three-score years and ten” (Psalms 90:10).
Go check out the Fluid Text edition of Walden to see a poem Thoreau put in with Version A that subsequently never reappeared.
What do we ask? | Some worthy task; | Never to run | Till that be done, | That never done | Under the sun…
…Must we still eat | The bread we have spurned? | Must be rekindle | the faggots we’ve burned?
[I think that I love society as much as most] I think the general idea about Walden, particularly held by the people who haven’t read it, is that Thoreau was an antisocial guy, and he built his cabin solely to get away from people. We know this isn’t true for many reasons. Throughout his stay at the Pond, he spent much of his time either walking into the village for company, or inviting visitors to his home. Also, though they aren’t people, Thoreau also enjoyed the animals found in the woods around him. He even says in this paragraph, “I am naturally no hermit.” This doesn’t sound like a man who wishes to be alone, does it? Not like this guy. I wonder if Thoreau would have lasted so long if he really did banish himself from society. I think he was far too social for that.
I feel like Walden makes a good point in this passage. He describes the difference in the interactions when people have to make an effort to visit him. It seems like because it’s harder to get to him, his visitors are focused on making the best of the time they are there. It also seems like Walden is more starved for company so there is many stories and anecdotes to share.
So does Thoreau like people or not? Wasn’t the whole point of Walden to get away from the hustle and bustle of the world and enjoy the simplicity of just being alone? If his whole view point towards people and society is to get away, then why does Thoreau suddenly start talking about how much he loves people? Is he afraid or self conscious about how readers will perceive him if Walden is basically just him telling people that he doesn’t need them and he would rather be alone. At first I didn’t mind Thoreau, although he is pretentious I do agree with some of his views and especially liked how passionate he was towards his ideas. In visitors he is basically saying “I think it is a good idea to get away from the restraints of society and just enjoy the simplicity of being by yourself and being one with nature. But i am not a hermit i love people! In fact if i were a bloodsucking leech i would grab onto somebody because i am so desperate for companionship right now”. I think what Thoreau needs to do is decide on his view and stick with it, it just makes it confusing when somebody says no to something and backs it up with yes.
In a strange place in my life – considering Thoreau in the digital age – I find myself second-guessing previous pages based on this paragraph. Constantly, I am engaging with the world around me in ways unbelievably different than Thoreau ever did. I am plugged in: to my laptop, iPod, iPhone, TV, video games. The list goes on. So, when Thoreau proposes in “Reading” education that it would be ideal to be educated in the writers of antiquity, I begin to understand him as the erudite, but pompous sort. Yet, here he provides a suitable explanation for the relationship between nature and education that he holds in such esteem. Where the modern individual is plugged in all the time, the “wood-chopper” spends his time engaged almost exclusively in natural and literary pursuits. The question that remains, of course, is how a modern individual is supposed to carry out this life of simplicity.
Thoreau’s fickle attitude towards society causes one to wonder about his personality. The point of Walden was to get away from society in order to find himself, and understand the true importances in one’s life. Thoreau preaches the importance of learning through experience, whereas society preaches learning through the recitation of information. Thoreau contradicts himself in this passage in seemingly romanticizing said society. This may cause one to infer that Thoreau is unsure of his philosophical opinions, so he makes the decision to live in the woods in order to properly formulate them.
In agreement with both Jess and Anthony:
This first paragraph seems to prove Thoreau as hypocritical. This whole book, up until this part, acknowledges the importance of leaving society in order to “find” yourself. Thoreau completely changes the thesis of this book in this paragraph. Whether or not you agree with what he says, you respect him for his strong opinion. However, Thoreau’s ideas are unclear which makes the reader question why he has isolated himself in the first place. This proves the point that Thoreau is simply a privileged man who was lucky enough to receive a Harvard education. He thinks he’s superior to those who do not go off and live in the woods, and yet, he “thinks he love[s] society as much as most.” Thoreau should establish one view point and maintain this idea throughout the book.
To me, Thoreau seems like a man who has a lot of conflict in his mind and ideas. I think while Thoreau might not like the direction society was headed, he did go to the woods to try and help people. To show them there were more genuine and natural connections to be made in their lives. Thoreau recognized his audience and how his claims were going to sound, and i think that is what constituted in his pretentious and elitist tone. So i do believe that he is a bit overboard with his elitism, but he does have some really great points that can be applied to both his society and today’s.
Also, just an extra thought, the fact that he spent the time writing the book and trying to make somewhat of a difference, shows at least some sense of caring for others.
I found the beginning of this paragraph especially interesting because of his explanation of the three chairs. Solitude, friendship, and society. These three things clearly have a more significant meaning than being just chairs. It is interesting to see how Thoreau categorized these three things through the use of single chairs. The idea that three chars represents society makes me wonder, because, apparently he does not seem to consider them to be “friends” if the exceed the amount of space that he has, yet he seems to enjoy their company. By friendship, I think Thoreau means that it’s simply being in the company of one other person that makes you friends, but when there are too many people to interact with on a personal level than you are in a society.
I love how you pulled this out. I agree with the number of people inhibiting friendships and that the smaller the amount of people the better. Two is the perfect number because all of your attention may go towards that single person and their attention towards you. However, I believe Th.’s favorite chair and number is one for Solitude. he can pay more attention to himself and his own thoughts and beliefs and at the same time understand each thought or topic he may want to pursue and to truly let his thoughts unfold. When it comes to friendships I believe that Th. would be fully behind the idea of befriending yourself first and knowing yourself so that way you could be more valuable to others.
This passage reminds me of Emerson’s description of Thoreau–that he only needed to take a walk in the woods with a young boy in order to decide whether or not the boy was intelligent and likable. It is through silence and communication beyond our physical bodies and presences that we are able to connect with each other more authentically.
This passage seems to expose both Thoreau’s ignorance and progressiveness all in one. Thoreau’s belief that you need not rest a reputation on a dinner says something about the way Thoreau feels towards women or at least the role of women. It could be argue that Thoreau disagrees with and rejects the notion that women are responsible for housekeeping and that their reputation lies on their dinners. It seems progressive for Thoreau to acknowledge that this role is ridiculous. However, he follows up that sentence by referring to a house as “a man’s house” as if it is the property of men and not women. There is no explicit mention of women at all in this passage and Thoreau’s rejection of gender roles is almost immediately reversed by his inability to address these issues as such.
Is Thoreau playing with “withdrawing'” in this passage? i find it interesting that Walter Harding commented on this specifically. I have never heard of “withdrawing” room before, and when first reading this I Googled the etymology. I discovered that Thoreau’s use is antiquated (used in this way only until the 18th century), and that “drawing room” was the much more common usage at the time. Considering Thoreau uses this old term as the word for his “best” room in the house, does this add any layers of complexity to his position on Visitors? Is it just another instance of nuanced humor? Certainly thought it was funny!
[but the most proper and considerate course.]
I found it interesting that to Thoreau, not offering food to guests was considered polite and proper. This is opposite of today, as people now generally expect food to be offered when visiting someone’s house. If the host does not offer food or drink, the visitor might think less of his hospitality, which is contradictory to what Thoreau considered hospitable. Among many others, this is an example of how the times have changed in the past one hundred years.
Thoreau references the three chairs, “one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” It seems as those each chair is linked in some way, because he reference only three chairs make a society.
Well, since two chairs is considered friendship, and more than two people is a group, one can conclude that three chairs is a group. Society is essentially a group of people with a shared purpose or belief, so three chairs has potential to be a “society.”
“I am naturally no hermit” could be referring to the fact that humans are social beings and, by nature, don’t like to be alone for long periods of time.
Does having those three chairs start a society? Is that how one starts to form?
[My income was]
“The master should have the selling habit, not the buying habit” (Cato, De Agri Cultura 2.7).
[a sacred art]
Cook (1971, 41-2) relates this passage to a primitive use of magic.
[am by nature a Pythagorean]
Pythagoras, an ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician, forbade his disciples to eat beans because he supposed them to have been produced from the same putrefied matter from which, at the creation of the world, man was formed.
[they mean porridge or voting]
In the ancient world beans were often used as voting tallies.
[being in truth,” as Evelyn]
John Evelyn, Terra: A Philosophical Discourse of Earth (London, 1729, 14-16).
T actually paid only about half the going rate at that time (Gross, 1985).
[and Congress help to distribute them]
It was a popular custom in T’s day for congressmen to distribute free seeds to their constituents.
[not excepting our Cattle-shows]
Middlesex County held a cattle show, or county fair, in Concord every year. T delivered his “The Succession of Forest Trees” lecture there in 1860.
[He sacrifices not to Ceres]
The Roman goddess of corn and harvests.