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.
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.
January 4, 2018 at 3:05 pm
Posted in: Willamette University
I agree, especially since his philosophy was centered around personal action. He went to jail rather than pay a tax to a government he disagreed with, but he wasn’t able to disassociate from consumerism.
See in context
December 9, 2017 at 7:44 pm
Posted in: Into the Woods
It might have been interesting to ask the monks at the abbey about this passage. 🙂
December 5, 2017 at 11:37 am
Posted in: Emerson-Thoreau SUNY Geneseo
It is extremely odd for a man who believed his house was in the most remote corners of the Milky Way to consider his place “low” in the woods and to limit his horizon to the opposite shore. Why is he speaking like this? Walden is tormentingly difficult. In such moments, I always tend to say to myself, “Okay, never mind. He did not know what he was talking about or how he was writing this.” But what if I’m wrong and there is something profound in the sentence?
December 5, 2017 at 11:25 am
T sometimes contrasted Walden Pond to the village. Here he is contrasting the pond to other lakes. It is easy to understand why Walden Pond stands above the village for T, but in what sense is this pond’s bottom above the surface of other lakes? Is he not humiliating other lakes by contrasting Walden’s bottom to their surface? What do you think is the mystery here?
December 3, 2017 at 3:44 pm
A serenade can be a music by a lover. T is contrasting the greed in a garden or an orchard to the love that exists in nature. The birds do not serenade a villager because he treats nature greedily for his own profits through the fruits he cultivates in his orchard. Nature is aware and intelligent.
December 3, 2017 at 3:30 pm
Thoreau’s boat went on the same stream in which Thoreau used to fish: “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.” In what way Thoreau believed this boat is moving on the stream of time? What is the significance of this sentence? Does it mean that Thoreau is asking us to join him in this boat?
December 2, 2017 at 1:05 am
Walden is a journey from the mundane physical world to the metaphysical spiritual world. Using different techniques Thoreau continuously takes our minds away from the familiar objects around us to his own unknown ethereal world. Here, I believe the word “substantial” carries both a physical and metaphysical meaning. In its physical sense, it refers to the substance Thoreau has used in the making of his cabin. We have a detailed report of it down to the nails, hair, hinges, etc. In its ethereal, metaphysical sense, however, I believe that the word refers to the woods around him and the might he finds in nature in contrast to the flimsy, mundane life of the people in the town. In my humble opinion, this word is just another miraculous pun Thoreau has used in Walden.
November 29, 2017 at 1:32 am
Posted in: General Discussion
We are having a wonderful time with Thoreau in our discussion groups in Iran. We find this to be an extremely subtle sentence: “It was not so much within doors as behind a door where I sat” First, it shows that T’s real house is the whole universe. The sentence is consistent with this: “Where I lived was as far off as many a region viewed nightly by astronomers.” Therefore, T’s house cannot be limited to a cabin in the woods. No one is able to discover where T’s real house was. Like Persian dervishes he was a man who found a house wherever he happened to be when the night fell. What is more profound is that “a door” usually opens on another world. As we arrive at this sentence, T is in fact implying that he is going to open a door on the secrets of nature, the universe and on human soul for us. That is what Walden is truly about.
November 26, 2017 at 1:47 am
Henrik, I can’t tell you how happy I am to be among you and read your comment. Forgive me for my late reply. My decade long journey in Walden has only added to a sweet sense of amazement and wondering. Walden fills me with wonders and mysteries. Here, as you pointed out, Thoreau is both speaking of a site both for his own cabin, his own soul and at the same time moving beyond himself as an individual. Thoreau started Walden with his famous “I” giving the book an egotistic odor, but he immediately moves to “we” in the first sentence of the second chapter. He then tries to take our minds away from a single cabin and the woods around it to other spots. I personally believe by “every spot” he is referring to all possible places in the universe. The season that opens the mind to such an expansion is not just a natural season. It is a quality in our soul which Thoreau would call “wakefulness.” We should seek such a season in Thoreau’s own words when he says, “I have, as it were, my own sun and moon and stars, and a little world all to myself.” In this little world seasons are also represented on a little scale. He says, “The day is an epitome of the year. The night is the winter, the morning and evening are the spring and fall, and the noon is the summer.” Thoreau’s Spring and morning arrive only when we are awake: “Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me.” A mere rising of the sun is not enough. Therefore, when this season dawns in our soul we will be able to discover the whole universe as a possible site of our house: “Where I lived was as far off as many a region viewed nightly by astronomers. We are wont to imagine rare and delectable places in some remote and more celestial corner of the system, behind the constellation of Cassiopeia’s Chair, far from noise and disturbance. I discovered that my house actually had its site in such a withdrawn, but forever new and unprofaned, part of the universe.”
But the most astounding aspect of Thoreau profound thought here is that even when he conquers those inaccessible corners of the universe, he does not believe that he has settled there and says, “Such was that part of creation where I had squatted;” He is still a squatter. It means that at an even higher level of wakefulness he will still be looking for more remote places for other types of houses. That is why in the beginning of Walden he considers himself a sojourner of civilized life. The same sense of place or lack of place exists in my culture. Dervishes are know to be homeless, wanderer people. You can even see this culture right in Walden when Thoreau says, “as a dervish in the desert.” It is not that these dervishes were unable to obtain a house. It is that they thought the universe was too small for them. I am sorry I wrote too much!
November 10, 2017 at 3:05 am
This is a perceptive comment by Alireza, which asks us to probe deeper into Thoreau’s writing; always difficult, but always rewarding in the end. As inspired by Alireza, I wonder if the passage also touches on the complex/intricate temporalities at play in Walden. To begin with the well-known 101 literal level, two years and more have been conflated into one in the book. This makes for good narrative sense, of course, but also hints toward the mythological, archetypical, and ultimately representative in Thoreau’s account. Perhaps there is even a sort of eschatology hinted in the passage in question, as a “season of life” would seem to indicate a life not necessarily bounded by linear time. In other words, “a certain season of life” can at once be seen as a straightforward, temporal season – here as yet relatively young adulthood, as we may infer from the specific vantage of Walden‘s narrator. But a “season of life” can also be something recurrent, largely independent of chronological life: there can be “spring in me,” as I seem to recall Thoreau writing somewhere else in gratitude over the gift of such a feeling. And this independently of whether winter rages outside, or whether Thoreau’s own tally of years would seem to preclude such a statement. And finally, a “season of life” may hint beyond the individual life as well, by the rudimentary logic that seasons are by definition recurrent, not gone once and for all in a linear progression (or so we hope). James Guthrie, Richard Tuerk and several others have studied the wonder of Thoreau’s handling of time in his writings, and from recent work by Branka Arsic and Audrey Raden on Thoreau’s concepts of grief and dying, respectively, we may learn more. The hurt and challenge, it would seem, is the realisation of the loss of time, and what to do about this from an existential vantage. // This commentary aside, I hope we may hear more of Thoreau’s relationship to Persian poets Saadi, Rumi, Khayyam and others; on how to live a poetic life in the highest sense. This is an area yet to be explored and made known to the wider body of Thoreau scholars. I hope Alireza will return with more. As it is, I am very thankful for the note offered by him to this passage.
Register to join a group and leave comments.