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.
February 23, 2018 at 9:19 am
Posted in: General Discussion
This is a very good question. As Thoreau’s next paragraph § 82 makes clear, the numbers given here are to be seen as “comparative” at best. In a generous mood, one might say that Thoreau’s narrator strives to enumerate what he can – while evaluating the costs of dinners and snacks granted by friends and family would be harder (and indeed impolite) to do. Most of us could probably relate to his experience as well – Thoreau was not, after all, striving for an isolated hermitage, cut off from all social relations. And he was evidently not more of a curmudgeon than that he received a fair amount of free meals, freely offered too.
One might also ponder the incomplete numbers as symbolic of the impossibility of leaving an absolute autobiographical “account” at any time and place. Thoreau plays on this word in this chapter and others, from the looser sense of “narrative” over bookkeeping to the very ultimate statement: musing that his books have not at length been fully accounted for (i.e. audited), he hints (at least to this opinion) of the final Day of Accounts, and hence the verdict of a divine auditor for whom all numbers and balances are clear and can be weighed accurately.
Something like this seems to be going on too in the earlier, dense passage on our donning our garments, and particularly on “liber” as synonymous of “shirt”. Liber also connotes bark and the leaves of a book – such as Thoreau is presenting us in “Walden”. He says it is possible to shed the outer bark without harm to the living tree, but eventually one reaches a limit beyond which further stripping becomes fatal. Perhaps then, Thoreau’s narrator is signaling the limits of privacy and ultimately of life possible to convey in writing, at least to human eyes: once he has given his account and/or shed bark/skin to us, it is at length up to us what to make of it. How do we compare to his project?
See in context
February 10, 2018 at 11:26 pm
Posted in: Emerson-Thoreau SUNY Geneseo
This is extremely subtle. He is not living in a cabin, he does not think he is nearer to the forest or the pond or even Concord. He believes he is nearer to those places in “the universe” and “those eras in history” which most attracts him. Reminds me of a line from Rumi who says, “The whole seven heavens are like a shirt which is too tight for me.” From Iran, Ali
February 6, 2018 at 10:11 am
There could be a pun in “it is well”. It may mean it is good or pleasing and at the same time it may mean that it is “healthy” to have a body of water nearby. In Iran’s classical architecture there were always a pool in all buildings. If you look at Sa’di’s shrine you will see a small pool next to his grave. Sa’di is the Persian poet Thoreau and Emerson highly admired.
February 3, 2018 at 12:24 pm
Thoreau’s emphasis is on his neighbor not on his distance from his neighbor. Thoreau is happy that he is still within two miles of the village.
January 4, 2018 at 3:05 pm
Posted in: Willamette University
I agree, especially since his philosophy was centered around personal action. He went to jail rather than pay a tax to a government he disagreed with, but he wasn’t able to disassociate from consumerism.
December 9, 2017 at 7:44 pm
Posted in: Into the Woods
It might have been interesting to ask the monks at the abbey about this passage. 🙂
December 5, 2017 at 11:37 am
It is extremely odd for a man who believed his house was in the most remote corners of the Milky Way to consider his place “low” in the woods and to limit his horizon to the opposite shore. Why is he speaking like this? Walden is tormentingly difficult. In such moments, I always tend to say to myself, “Okay, never mind. He did not know what he was talking about or how he was writing this.” But what if I’m wrong and there is something profound in the sentence?
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?
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