December 18, 2013
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Posted in: Panel of Experts
[WALDEN; OR, LIFE IN THE WOODS]
Although the first edition gives the title Walden; or, Life in the Woods, on March 4, 1862, two months before he died, T wrote to his publishers, Ticknor & Fields, asking them to omit the subtitle in a new edition. They complied with this request, although it has rarely been followed since. Paul (75) suggests that T may have dropped the subtitle because he feared his audience was taking it too literally and thus missing the more important philosophy permeating the book. T could have derived the subtitle from his friend Charles Lane’s essay “Life in the Woods” in the Dial (IV, 1844, 415) or from John S. Williams, “Our Cabin; or, Life in the Woods” in the October 1843 American Pioneer (DeMott), but not from the then popular The Adirondack; or Life in the Woods, by J.T. Headley (New York, 1849), which did not appear until after T had used the subtitle in an advertisement for W in the back pages of the first edition of A Week. For a comprehensive study of the types of books on which T based the structure of W, see Linck Johnson. For a discussion of the organic structure of W, see Lane (1960). Kurtz is one o the most straightforward analyses of W’s style.
Posted in: General Discussion
Is there any possibility of Thoreau borrowing from the Christian tradition and positing “the woods” as a corollary of “wilderness”, where the demons (in us) are often portrayed and living? To reach one’s “higher self”, one must wake up inwardly to those elements that lead the soul (psychological and emotional state) astray.
In his new book, Cryptic Subtexts in Literature and Film: Secret Messages and Buried Treasure (New York: Routledge, 2019), Steven F. Walker offers a new interpretation of Walden’s 1854 subtitle, “Life in the Woods.” It is well known that that subtitle was hardly original, having appeared in several publications prior to the publication of Walden, including an article of that name by Charles Lane which appears in the final issue of The Dial. Walker grants that Thoreau may have used the title “ironically,” that is, “as a vigorous rejoinder to the thesis of Lane’s Dial essay” (13). More intriguing, however, is Walker’s argument that Thoreau may have associated “life in the woods” with a phase of life known in Hindu as “vanaprastha” (literally translated as “life in the woods”)—“the third stage of life—that of the solitary, contemplative hermit living in the forest on the outskirts of the village—as described in The Laws of Manu” (14) which Thoreau read in Emerson’s library in 1840. “Such a new framing,” Walker says, “certainly provides a new perspective on Thoreau’s life-in-the-woods enterprise, which, for all its Yankee originality, also can be seen as a spiritual retreat based on an ancient Hindu paradigm of the stages of life” (16).
Find references in JSTOR articles
The drawing of T’s cabin was made by his sister Sophia, an amateur artist. T himself complained of it, “Thoreau would suggest a little alteration, chiefly in the door, in the wide projection of the roof at the front; and that the bank more immediately about the house be brought out more distinctly” (Sanborn, 1917, 338). Sanborn adds, “He must have noticed that her trees were first and pines, with a few deciduous tress that did not then grow there.” Ellery Channing thought it a “feeble caricature.” Other contemporary drawings of the cabin may be found in Meltzer and Harding (144-5).
[to wake my neighbors up]
The epigraph is quoted from the second chapter of W. It is omitted from many modern editions, and unfortunately so, for it sets the mood for the whole book. Broderick (1954) points out how this awakening and morning theme is a basic image carried throughout W. A possible source for T’s idea is Orestes Brownson’s statement in his Boston Quarterly Review in 1839 that he “aimed to startle, and made it a point to be as paradoxical and extravagant as he could.”
February 17, 2019 at 5:50 pm
See in context
December 17, 2014 at 4:55 pm
January 3, 2014 at 5:18 pm
January 3, 2014 at 5:25 pm
January 3, 2014 at 5:22 pm
November 26, 2019 at 2:18 pm
Posted in: Emerson-Thoreau SUNY Geneseo
This is a very magically strange characteristic for a mirror. Mirrors are supposed to reflect all the impurities presented to them back to the presenter, that is to the one who is standing before them.
In a most subtle way, Thoreau shows us here that Walden is not just for the bathing of the body, we can purify our souls in it — only if we are standing before it with honesty.
A dervish arrived at a temple and asked the doorman: “What kind of a place is this?” The doorman answered: “This is a place where you must leave envy, lust, greed, anger, hostility, meanness, rudeness, impatience and the like behind and enter.” The dervish said, “If I am able to put all these negative traits behind why would I need to enter this place anyway? I need a place where I can carry all these impurities inside with me and come out without.”
As a reader of Walden from Iran, I am surprised to see Thoreau is introducing the very place that Persian dervish was looking for.
November 5, 2019 at 9:28 pm
I have been reading Walden for fifteen years and Emerson’s Nature for three years now. The comparison between these great books is the joy of my life.
In Nature, Emerson says, “In God, every end is converted into a new means. Thus the use of commodity, regarded by itself, is mean and squalid.” This means that there should first be an end and then a means. What Thoreau is saying here is that man has not learned this lesson from God and is fascinated by a tool as merely a tool. By becoming a tool of our tools, we not only lose our own dignity and goal in life, but we also lose our connection to God and what he truly created us for.
I am so glad that this site, The Thoreau Reader, keeps me connected to the parts of the US which I love.
Ali from Iran
October 31, 2019 at 12:54 am
It is interesting to notice that Walden is not as egotistically restricted to this “first person singular” as T claims it to be. Walden is indeed full of stories about other people. As an Iranian, I find it to be very similar to Rumi’s book of mystical poetry called Masnavi. In that book too, Rumi mingles his own personal journal with many stories about other people.
June 7, 2019 at 9:42 pm
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
Thoreau is comparing the gossip with lesser sounds in nature. However sweet the peeping frogs may sound to T, they cannot be compared with the songs of the birds or crows of his wild cockerels which seem to be filling the world: ““To walk in a winter morning in a wood where these birds abounded, their native woods, and hear the wild cockerels crow on the trees, clear and shrill for miles over the resounding earth, drowning the feebler notes of other birds—think of it!”
May 13, 2019 at 7:17 pm
[When first I took up my abode in the woods, that is, began to spend my nights as well as days there, which, by accident, was on Independence Day, or the fourth of July, 1845, my house was not finished for the winter, but was merely a defence against the rain, without plastering or chimney, the walls being of rough, weather-stained boards, with wide chinks, which made it cool at night.]
Find Thoreau’s cabin on the map here
May 13, 2019 at 7:11 pm
[ by a chain of small ponds coming from that quarter, and on the other directly and manifestly to Concord River, which is lower, by a similar chain of ponds through which in some other geological period it may have flowed, and by a little digging, which God forbid, it can be made to flow thither again]
Find Concord River on the map here
May 13, 2019 at 7:08 pm
[We have one other pond just like this, White Pond, in Nine Acre Corner, about two and a half miles westerly; but, though I am acquainted with most of the ponds within a dozen miles of this centre, I do not know a third of this pure and well-like character. Successive nations perchance have drank at, admired, and fathomed it, and passed away, and still its water is green and pellucid as ever. ]
Find White Pond on the map here
May 13, 2019 at 7:03 pm
[or, while the sun was setting, made my supper of huckleberries and blueberries on Fair Haven Hill, and laid up a store for several days. The fruits do not yield their true flavor to the purchaser of them, nor to him who raises them for the market. There is but one way to obtain it, yet few take that way]
Find Fair Haven Hill on the map here
May 13, 2019 at 12:43 pm
[I was seated by the shore of a small pond, about a mile and a half south of the village of Concord and somewhat higher than it, in the midst of an extensive wood between that town and Lincoln, and about two miles south of that our only field known to fame, Concord Battle Ground; but I was so low in the woods that the opposite shore, half a mile off, like the rest, shore, half a mile off, like the rest covered with wood, was my most distant horizon.]
View Concord Battle Ground on a map here.
May 13, 2019 at 11:25 am
[For human society I was obliged to conjure up the former occupants of these woods. Within the memory of many of my townsmen the road near which my house stands resounded with the laugh and gossip of inhabitants]
Link to Walden Woods on Google Maps
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