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
November 30, 2018 at 10:26 am
Posted in: Emerson-Thoreau SUNY Geneseo
I believe there is a double meaning in the words “first or last”. I require from every writer first or last” means
1. I require of every writer whether he or she is first in rank or last a simple and sincere account of his or her own life. Here Thoreau believes that all sorts of writers should deliver such an account
2. My first or last request of every writer is to deliver an account of his own life. Here Thoreau is emphasizing on his own request telling us this is his very first and last request of every writer.
See in context
November 30, 2018 at 10:16 am
The influence of Emerson’s Nature on Thoreau and his Walden is quite obvious. Thoreau built his cabin on the land he borrowed from Emerson and based his book, Walden, on many inspirations he received from Nature and, of course, other books. But in his encounter with other great souls and their books, Thoreau never lost his own creative spirit.
In Nature, Emerson says, “Then, there is a kind of contempt of the landscape felt by him who has just lost by death a dear friend.” When Thoreau moved to Walden Pond, he had just lost his beloved brother John. There is, however, absolutely, no sign of any gloom or sadness in Walden. In fact, in the paragraph where Thoreau explains his purpose of going to the woods, the paragraph that starts with “I went to the woods to live deliberately”, he uses the words life, live and lived eleven times. Death and deprivation only made him more determined to live, and to live more deliberately.
Thoreau says, “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.” Nature could not dictate anything to Thoreau. In the depth of Thoreau’s own nature, there was no room for gloom, depression or sadness. Desparation and depression have no room in Walden. It is not enough to survive. In Walden you live, love and thrive.
November 14, 2018 at 8:01 pm
I’m afraid that I have to respectfully disagree with you, here. I do understand how out of context, Thoreau’s comments that he believes he is “favored by the gods” could read as conceited, but I believe that in context an altogether different and more authentic meaning becomes manifest. Thoreau did not mean to say that he is better or more important than his fellow men in the section you have quoted, he simply meant that when he is alone in nature, enjoying the chapter’s eponymous state of solitude, he feels a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for what he feels is his very lucky lot in life. Being able to contemplate nature and yourself at your own pace, away from the hustle, bustle, and distraction of human interaction was sacred to Thoreau and I believe he treasured every moment he was able to spend by himself in his beloved wilderness.
October 1, 2018 at 11:48 am
Posted in: ENGL 203 Geneseo F18
[ We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us!]
September 27, 2018 at 5:17 pm
[The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. ]
Here, Thoreau makes the shift from experience to theory. He moves from speaking about the simple path he wore through the trees from his cabin to the pond to how easily paths must be worn in other areas of life. If one man can walk a path enough that it endures for years after he’s gone in only a week, what can years of traditions do to a society? In this theorizing, he extrapolates his own experience and projects it onto the greater world around him.
September 27, 2018 at 11:44 am
[ Nay, be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.]
Thoreau seems to move up one level of abstraction here when he gets me, as a reader, to theorize about thought. I really liked this quote because it makes me think about how I think and what my thoughts can be used for. Thoreau wants us to see our thoughts as channels to new discoveries and worlds. This move seems necessary because without new thoughts and discoveries, there wouldn’t be innovation and progression in the world and we would be stuck in the cycle of complacency and ignorance of society that Thoreau seems to despise.
September 27, 2018 at 10:56 am
[There are none happy in the world but beings who enjoy freely a vast horizon]
Earlier in this paragraph Thoreau talks about the pasture being enough for his imagination. He enjoys his sense of freedom. It makes him happy he feels that none are happier than those who enjoy freely a vast horizon.
September 27, 2018 at 10:30 am
[It was suggestive somewhat as a picture in outlines. ]
This line in this paragraph also describes his complete and utter pleasure with his work. His previous home was like an artists work that seemed to be missing something. His new home however he felt was perfect and complete.
September 27, 2018 at 1:43 am
[ Why should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky Way? This which you put seems to me not to be the most important question. What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary? I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another. ]
Thoreau explores the idea of solitude through his own experiences and explains that in order to truly be happy, one has to be able to appreciate the simplicity of life. I find this section to be extremely powerful, and was struck by this idea that we, as humans, are always isolated in a sense, but not necessarily alone. By moving up a level of abstraction, Thoreau also allows the reader to dig into their own thoughts and ‘get meta’ themselves. This portion is ultimately grounding despite its universe-oriented themes, and helps to contrast with the previous weather/nature related analogies.
September 26, 2018 at 10:46 pm
[The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality. Perhaps the facts most astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man. ]
We do not appreciate the simple, the “real” we are so easily tempted to ask for more. When there is but all that we can ask right in front of us.
Register to join a group and leave comments.