[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.
When Thoreau goes to live in the wood he is, in some ways asserting or guaranteeing his freedom, by assuring that he is not confined by a job or society’s rules.
Thoreau uses smilies, metaphors, and personification to describe the Pond’s natural beauty. His in-depth descriptions demonstrates he connection and love for the beauty nature can provide.
Thoreau is also really big on self reliance and how he values interpersonal relations over neediness or wealth.
Its also interesting to think he could do that. There is little places someone could go now a days to be away from civilization, but also not being unwanted on private property.
It is very interesting to think that someone could withstand that isolation for so long.
I agree, later on he also says “the town’s poor seem to me often live the most independent lives of any”
It’s very interesting how, even with such a low-quality, unfinished home that doesn’t protect him as much as it could, he still feels as if there are no faults with it, and he compares it to the Greek gods’ residence on Mount Olympus.
This quote of his in paragraph 2 sounds so regal, like he feels practically one with nature. It is very awe-inspiring.
I agree, I feel that if I didn’t have human company for a while that I would possibly go crazy. It’s amazing that he was able to manage like this, his mind must have been very strong.
The second half of the title “What I Live For” reminds me of a book by Viktor Frankl were he attributes his own survival to the the discovery of a personal meaning for his life.
I think the second half of the quote is funny because the idea that no one can dispute his right implies that he has some authority and power but in reality there is simply no one around to dispute him.
Definitely, this theme is also earlier in economy where Thoreau talks about how it is the poorest of people who are the wisest.
Thoreau seems to be modeling the idea of the old American dream. He is only striving to fulfill his duty to himself and seems to be avoiding the responsibilities people have to their communities. He’s looking for what the world can do for him and not what he can do for the world. Theres nothing wrong with that, I’m simply surprised to see capitalistic themes repeated continuously in this book. Though considering a major theme is self reliance I probably shouldn’t be.
This makes sense with paragraph 8, as Thoreau despite not having a completed of protective house sees no faults in it because it is the most he has ever truly had proving that he is thankful with the simple things in life, a lesson we could all learn from.
Jumping off of what you said Ben, I agree it’s pretty funny how he talks as if no one can dispute him when no one really can, hence why he probably thinks that he is in some position of power because in a way he kind of is as just as there is no one to dispute him there is no one to dispute him so he in this case he is the monarch of himself
We have an ongoing discussion on this chapter in Iran based on my Persian translation. It is hard for us to imagine that Thoreau is merely referring to early adulthood by the phrase “at a certain season of our life” in the beginning of this chapter. It also seems hard to imagine he is looking for a permanent residence. Thoreau may not be looking for a physical residence in the material world at all. The reason I think so is that later in the chapter, he says, “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?” A permanent house was never on T’s mind. He says, “Wherever I sat, there I might live, and the landscape radiated from me accordingly. What is a house but a sedes, a seat?” Even in the beginning of Walden he considers himself “a sojourner of civilized life.” Rumi says, “The whole seven universes are too small for me.” It is most pleasant mysteries of Walden for us in Iran. What certain season and what spot is really Thoreau speaking about here?
It should be remembered that when T says, “it surpassed my arithmetic to tell, if I was that man who had ten cents, or who had a farm, or ten dollars, or all together.” He is doing this whole calculation using only his fingers and in this extreme case his toes too, for elsewhere in Walden he says, “An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest.” I am sure he is honest enough to stick to his own words and do not use any other tool in these situations.
Thoreau is a great admirer of the Greek mythology, but his admiration is not absolute. His critical spirit reaches even this favorite part of the Greek culture. I believe that the sentence “I never heard what compensation he received for that” is a mild criticism of Atlas. To me, this is one of the very powerful analogies of Walden. He compares owning a farm to carrying the world on his shoulders.پ
Perhaps the criticism of Atlas is in jest, but I think the criticism of current values is in earnest. Asking “what compensation” the giant received for carrying his burden is the sort of practical-minded inquiry that Thoreau found typical among his Yankee neighbors. If remuneration was decidedly not of concern to the Greek tale-tellers, what Thoreau “never heard” in his classical studies says something, then, about the distance between ancient values and modern ones?
Walden has never been a boring book with rigid ideas to me, but I take Thoreau’s jest a little seriously. In my opinion, that is true about all cases of Thoreau’s humor. Rumi’s book of mystical poetry called Masnavi is replete with humorous stories, in several cases erotic ones. I have been comparing Walden and Nature with Rumi and Sa’di’s works for a long time. You are right. By searching for values in what Atlas does, Thoreau is inviting us to pay attention to the results and consequences of our own actions. Perhaps Henry Thought we were carrying a world full of Augean Stables on our shoulders.
I am delighted to be here and discussing Thoreau and Emerson with you. We have a large group of Iranians who are reading my translation of Walden with me. There are two translations of Walden in Iran. Mine is never going to end. As long as I am alive, my translation is going to grow. I find Thoreau and Emerson extremely close to the soul of my soul. (Rumi frequently uses the term: soul of the soul, and I think it is very close to Emerson’s “Oversoul.”)
I believe the reason Thoreau tells us that the beginning of his stay at Walden Pond on America’s Independence Day was an accident is that he does want that particular day to be considered more important. He preferred the Independence Day to coincide with his first day in the woods rather than the opposite.
Thoreau did not drink wine, or even tea or coffee, but here he is about to drink his own house! The way he talks of the sweetness of the gum in the timber of his house one would imagine he was really about to drink it.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
Thoreau was eating his own house. He was tasting life in all its details. This is part of the deliberate life he followed at Walden Pond.
There is a parallelism here between Thoreau himself and the house in which he will live. The house is unfinished since Thoreau has just begun to construct his new life. There may also be a suggestion that he hasn’t decided if the house should ever be finished lest it diminish his hearing of the morning wind blowing over his home carrying the poem of creation. Will the completed plastered cabin be a place where the poem of creation can be sung?
In paragraph 3, Thoreau talks about the farm in the sense that he, as the poet, gained more from the farm than the farmer ever will. In a literary sense, he has drained the farm for every admirable trait, leaving the farmer with the “skimmed milk” while Thoreau now has all the valuable parts. This can also be an indication that now he has dominion over this farm because it is now apart of this narrative. He may not own the land but he has put an “invisible fence” around it through his poetry.
[Many think that seeds improve with age. I have no doubt that time discriminates between the good and the bad; and when at last I shall plant, I shall be less likely to be disappointed. But I would say to my fellows, once for all, As long as possible live free and uncommitted. It makes but little difference whether you are committed to a farm or the county jail.]
Thoreau uses conversational dialogue (They Say/ I Say). When discussing cultivating a garden for his land, he says that the “many” think that the seeds mature with age. He nonetheless agrees that time discriminates between good and bad, however, he says to them to live “free and uncommitted”. This takes it back to his statement in ‘Economy’ in which he states that working your life away on an inherited farm and never differentiating yourself from your ancestors lives is more of a prison, than a farm.
Thoreau uses the They Say/I Say format in order to describe how time can decipher between the good and bad but also that one should live how they decide because there is no difference between being “committed to a farm or the county jail.”
Thoreau seems to continue to emphasize that the enjoyment of nature is a big part of helping to process who we are as elements of nature that in many cases don’t act so natural.
[This was an airy and unplastered cabin, fit to entertain a travelling god, and where a goddess might trail her garments. ]
Thoreau built his own cabin and felt that it was fit for a god and goddess. It was his own home. It was his creation and he seems that he was very proud of it. I love how he feels it is worthy of a god.
[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.
[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.
[the pond appeared like a thin crust insulated and floated even by this small sheet of intervening water]
You can see Sudbury on a map here
[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.
[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
Thoreau discusses how he enjoys his endless view of nature, his unobstructed horizon. As technology has progressed and there has been more development, it has become more uncommon in our modern world to find such an unobstructed horizon. When someone does, it is something to be treasured — like when you enjoy the view from the top of a mountain. Glieck describes that as “telegraph towers spread across Europe and beyond,” people were “struck by the towers’ height and by their beauty” (134-5). While many enjoyed the convenience of the unprecedented speed of communication the telegraph offered over distance, few were bothered by the cluttering of the earth’s surface they caused. Some admirers may describe these towers as beautiful, but how beautiful does one find a power poles throughout our own streets that are increasingly becoming replaced with underground systems? Development requires space. It complicates things while offering more convenience. As our world has become so cluttered and noisy with all the technology we have in our lives, we appreciate the simple beauty of the natural world less and less.
Thoreau uses many different forms of figurative language to describe the beauty and the area surrounding it. By going so deep in his descriptions of the area, the reader full understands how much connection he feels to this place, and why he does as well. We see how strong his connection truly is to nature.
This passage regarding room for imagination, and feeling unconfined reminded me immediately of social media. While social platforms allow me to have followers, whether it be my followers on Instagram, my friends on Facebook, or my friends on Snapchat, I still do feel stuck quite frequently. I feel that my imagination is worsening, that social media has provided and/or restricted me with barriers, and that I need to live up to other people’s standards.
I think this passage generally speaks about the role of technology, too. In some ways, technology limits a creative mind/imagination due to the increased usage of the internet and all of the other readily accessible resources. At the same time, though, technology promotes creativity with the vast amount of applications, softwares, and information on the web.
The beginning portion of this paragraph caught my interest. As Thoreau reflects on the location of Hollowell farm, one cannot ignore that throughout the narrative, Thoreau\’s core goal has been to disconnect from technology and to be isolated. While in this particular section, Thoreau is actually happy to be close to the village and to be close to neighbors, one cannot ignore that he has placed himself in a place of some distance away from civilization.
While reading this portion of Walden, I couldn\’t help but think of the \”talking drums\” that Gleick writes about in the first chapter of, The Information. It is interesting to note that the people of Africa, wanted to be near people and to communicate from far distances, maybe because they hadn\’t been exposed to technology like Thoreau had been. Perhaps, Thoreau wishes to remove himself fro, technology and society because its all he has known, while other societies only wish to become immersed in a society full of technology.
Building off of this, Thoreau\’s journey to live simply and to not be surrounded by technology reminds me of people taking 24 hour social media breaks in today\’s society. We constantly try to disconnect, so perhaps Thoreau was onto something all those years ago when he set out to write Walden.
[Why, the owner does not know it for many years when a poet has put his farm in rhyme, the most admirable kind of invisible fence, has fairly impounded it, milked it, skimmed it, and got all the cream, and left the farmer only the skimmed milk.]
This line connects up well with Gleick’s discourse on the dictionary and its fluid interconnectedness. Thoreau does not mention individual words in this quote though, rather choosing to delineate rhyme as the creator of meaning; it is this choice that contrasts well with Gleick. Gleick says this of the lexis “[it is] a measure of shared experience, which comes from interconnectedness” (91). I believe this to be true, meaning of objects is formed through communal work. But, Thoreau, in some ways, reacts against that in this quote by noting that the poet will own the farm far more than the practical farmer ever will. It is Thoreau’s attention to individuality here that subverts Gleick’s statement. Everyone knows what a table is, but only I know what a table is to me. It is this self-recursive networks of meaning that I believe make creating a taxonomy of language so hard, because one will always run into the invisible fence that Thoreau notes. One will always run into a similar, but at once, highly individualized, definition of meaning. In sum, I believe paying attention to both kinds of networks of meaning is important, the interconnected and the self-recursive.
This passage truly shows how incredibly focused people are on possessions and tangible items. Today, people are absolutely obsessed with getting the latest technology. Throeau writes how much he has gained from the farm without earning any profit from it. I believe this is shown in Gleick’s The Information through language regarding the talking drums and morse code. Humans are constantly finding new ways to communicate with each other, whether it is face to face or miles apart. Communication is not a physical item, but it is something that can be shared between two people.
I have been speaking about Thoreau with American scholars for almost 15 years. You put it very beautifully: “Communication is not a physical item, but it is something that can be shared between two people.” For 15 years I have been speaking about Thoreau with many Americans. I have never seen these American friends. I have never been physically close to many of them, yet they are my soul companion. Thoreau has stitched our souls together.
I discovered digital Thoreau after extensive searching. It is a huge gift. I hope I can use it for deeper communications with America. Sadly there has not been any contract between Iran and the US for forty years. It breaks my heart.
I found this paragraph interesting as Thoreau implies that the amount of physical space he had at his disposal did not hinder the abilities of his mind. The same can be applied to technology. There is so much that can be done and essentially another world to enter even within a tiny screen that we can hold in our hands or a computer that we can take with us everywhere.
In reference to Gleick’s “The Information,” I am reminded of the beginning chapter in which the African drums are described as a form of technological communication. Although the rhythms of drums do not seem like they would qualify as a piece of technology, it is important to remember that ancient cultures did not have the resources that we do today and that they had to get creative to achieve what they were intending to.
Thoreau’s complaint about poor translation amuses me, in part because it brings up in my mind what is perhaps the fundamental problem of language: its inconstancy. But that I mean that each word, each phrase, and each sentence do not have some absolute meaning, but rather are all slightly different in the interpretations of different minds. As Dr. Harding’s notes observed, Cato seemed to be indeed “mistranslated” into English. But, of course, the problem of translation is not purely at the level of language or even dialect, but at the level of idiolect. For what is a translation? What is nonsense? These words can be defined, of course, but words can only be defined in relation to other words. Language is a construct, and no absolute meaning exists. To write Cato in English or to respond to Thoreau is a matter of translation in both cases; one must decide what words mean even when their meanings are incorporeal. So, certainly, there is a certain amusement in criticizing translation in a more philosophical sense, even if one can recognize the annoyance of a poorly-translated work in practicality.
A final note of amusement, more of an aside: That WordPress’ software for catching typos does not recognize “idiolect” as a word certainly reflects well the slippery nature of language.
“Many think that seeds improve with age. I have no doubt that time discriminates between the good and the bad”. This quote by Thoreau reminded me of one of the chapters in Gleick that discusses the evolution of language, from oral to written. There are mixed feelings about the transition into written language, and then even a step further into technology. The majority of people, as Thoreau described with the seeds, think that language is improved with time as technology advances. However, since this is a controversial topic, there are obvious pros and cons to the advancement of language.
I compared the versions of Thoreau’s first version to his third, and was amazed by the drastic difference in his writing use and usage of detail. In his initial version, his writing was extremely choppy and unclear, as he included unnecessary detail like Independence Day, that did not pertain to the text. His only use of including this specific detail was to provide a setting and/or time, but it was unnecessary and took away from the flow of the paragraph. He specifically wrote, “which, by accident, was on Independence Day, or the fourth of July…” which adds no content or substance. I also noticed that just as his most recent version shows, in just three versions, his writing style became more focused on himself rather than the outside world. He went from describing his unfinished house, to describing how he felt as a builder. I think these changes reflect his personality and how highly he thinks of himself.
One of the points that my group studied for the final project was Thoreau’s revisions in terms of language and diction – this paragraph, when compared to itself in Version C, isn’t so significantly different – however, Thoreau made a variety of edits. He seemed to be indecisive on phrases such as “uncluttered”, “not cluttered”, “empty”, etc. He wrote down and crossed out many different versions of the same phrase, and eventually settled on none of them. Thoreau did this multiple times throughout the paragraph, and his revisions overall, which is incredibly interesting because it plays into the stereotype that he is a perfectionist.
[The real attractions of the Hollowell farm, to me, were; its complete retirement, being about two miles from the village, half a mile from the nearest neighbor]
The way that he’s describing the farm sounds like to be a place that is peaceful and doesn’t have to worry about the neighbors and only really other animals. The way how it’s described as “complete retirement” sounds to be as a place that is calm and doesn’t create stress, like a vacation on the beach. I really like how they mentioned that the neighbor is half a mile away because it gives the audience the idea that this farm is in the country and is set back in a large plot of land away from the world.
Thoreau uses an intriguing bundle of phrases to describe the fog that lays over the pond when the sun comes up. This gives insight on what he spent many of his mornings observing
In this paragraph, Thoreau gets into how even though he lived in a tent protected from weather and natural forces, he kept close to nature; being among the birds and having fresh air within his shelter to stay connected.
[But I would say to my fellows, once for all, As long as possible live free and uncommitted. It makes but little difference whether you are committed to a farm or the county jail.]
Thoreau is telling the reader that it is important to live free of any personal burden, he has referenced the idea of living like this previously, he is emphasizing this because he wants the reader to understand the importance of living the way they want rather than the way they should.
Interesting connection he makes between successful harvest and the quantity of time. Such an interesting concept to connect to…. time. For contains all the right ingredients for success but at the very same time contains all the tight reason for failure
I love the line, “but I never got my fingers burned by actual possession.” Thoreau makes his views on material possessions clear throughout his writing and I believe this line perfectly portrays those ideals. The idea of possession burning ones’ fingers is an excellent portrayal of his modest lifestyle.
I love the idea Thoreau is getting across here; how a poet will get far more out of a farm than the farmer ever will. The poet spends his days watching the farm with a new, bright, perspective while “the crusty farmer supposed that he got a few wild apples only.” With the farmer only focused on the profit his farm will yield, he has failed to get the most of it.
[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.
I wonder whether Thoreau considers himself to be “awake” or not. Perhaps he realizes that this is not something someone can judge for themselves because everyone believes themselves to be awake.
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
Thoreau comments on those who live life resembling sleepwalkers, lacking true purpose and meaning in their existence. Is Thoreau himself awake? This criticism of his, unlike some of his other points of contention, seems to be solely directed toward other people.
Thoreau makes the argument that, “All intelligences awake with the morning.” This is especially interesting because of the time-period he writes this, preceding the commercial availability of the electric light by more than 10 years. He argues that part of his excursion involves some sort of aesthetic ideal, which is for him, to be truly awake. A feeling, or ‘Genius,’ elicited most profoundly by a pleasant morning. The kind of morning, Thoreau claims, that’s found frequently on Walden Pond.
[Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.]
This reminds me of Macintyre’s idea of accountability in narrative. The little critical details of a life make up the whole and you are still accountable for those critical hours in your narrative. Thoreau asks them to “elevate” their lives. Each hour, you decide to spend usefully, or waste, and your accountable for how you spent that time when you detail your life.
This line is incredibly interesting and insightful. What should we think Thoreau is getting at here? Does he mean to claim that the shepherd is not aware and so he is not insightful? Or is he proclaiming that the shepherds thoughts can only go as high as the sheep can?
This point can contrast with the ideas that Thoreau supported such as individualism. This sort of dependence is opposition.
Thoreau seems to be stating that we need to start living with the purpose to live and to not just survive through means that only bring hardship and don’t help to elevate the mind.
Wow. He wanted to to simplify life in the most basic and in some cases gritty ways. He wanted to “start from the beginning,” and to tell the world of his experience. To find what there is to find.
We have resulted to clout, things that we have created to block our own progress, or maybe it was the wrong type of progress. Or maybe we have progressed so much that we have forgotten what it is to truly enjoy life, and to not live for superficial means.
Do we not see what is beyond because we do not wish too? Is it our clout of “reality” that hinders us spiritually and insight-fully? The universe seems to be right in front of us, and yet we continue to miss the signs.
In this sentence Thoreau seems to claim that we need to look past all in which we have created, and the ideas in which history has implemented and to look at what is on common ground. To see what reality is for what reality is.
[ Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep. Why is it that men give so poor an account of their day if they have not been slumbering? They are not such poor calculators. If they had not been overcome with drowsiness they would have performed something. The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. 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?]
I find this very interesting. How come no one is quite alive? People are alive and able to do work, but they can still not be able to think. I feel this way several times. Like I can be alert for my grueling 8 hour job, but coming time to read and study my mind can not be truly there.
[To be awake is to be alive.]
This sentence really spoke to me because as simple as it may seem, it is packed with a much more deeper meaning. In this passage, Thoreau talks about being truly awake and alive by participating and being active in your life instead of just letting it pass by. People seem to be focused on what’s coming next–what plans they have, where they have to go, and what they have to buy rather than focusing on the here and now.
[It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep. ]
I found his definition of the morning to be interesting. I think it represents his view of society because he doesn’t wish to follow societal norms. He would rather go about his day how he wishes without being told what to do or when to do it.
Especially in modern day there is such a push to complete tasks and to worry about trivial problems. I definitely agree that we shouldn’t be letting societal pressures have as much of an impact our lives. Sometimes we should have time to take a deep breath and appreciate life in the moment.
Thoreau discusses his idea that people are too caught up in unimportant things, and that as a result, we are severely limited in what we experience and in what we can do because our focus lies somewhere completely unnecessary.
[ Children, who play life, discern its true law and relations more clearly than men, who fail to live it worthily, but who think that they are wiser by experience, that is, by failure.]
Thoreau is basically saying that children know more about life than adults do–because they imagine how it will be when they are older, and pretend to experience it as adults, while adults themselves refuse to acknowledge it and just let it fly by without a thought.
This is the part of the passage which I believe is when it shifts to theory. Here we can see Thoreau making broad claims but still making sure to acknowledge exceptions by referring to “most men” instead of “all men.”
Compare “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.” and paragraph 11, the so-called “doubleness” passage, in chapter 5, “Solitude.”
It seems as though Thoreau is most at peace when he has the least amount of technology. Though this particular example is metaphorical, Thoreau is denying the simplest of technologies in favor of sitting inside his own head. He doesn’t want to use the alphabet nor tools that require his hands or feet. He admits that this is making he less wide, and yet he doesn’t feel troubled by that. Instead, he feels like an animal driven by instinct without the worries that come with being human. This is fairly ironic considering he is disconnected from modern technologies in order to write which is something nearly exclusive to the human experience. In Gleick’s The Information, we learn that the alphabet and written word are complex technologies that revolutionized communication and history-keeping. It’s interesting that Thoreau would reject “technology” only to be doing something highly technological, writing about the human experience.
[For my part, I could easily do without the post-office. I think that there are very few important communications made through it.]
As someone who finds a lot of pleasure in reading epistolary novels, I am quick to disagree with Thoreau\’s sentiment that there are \”very few important communications\” made through the postal system. Having said that, I think it\’s worth noting that Thoreau\’s sentiment about news and the hysteria surrounding it- which he labels as \”gossip\”- bears striking similarities to our current fiasco with fake news and the widespread of misinformation. It\’s without a doubt that the development of the internet and modern social media platforms makes it both easier and faster to spread misinformation without having to be directly responsible for the consequences. In fact, I think Thoreau makes a clever observation about the ways in which news can often be a form of entertainment when he recalls hearing about \”a rush\” to learn of foreign news. I think it\’s clear that Thoreau may be commenting on a particular way of life that may not be so different from our own and we ought to remember that just because information is readily available at our fingertips doesn\’t necessarily mean we should blindly trust or accept everything we read or hear on the web because sometimes- it might just very well be gossip.
The part of this paragraph that really stood out to me was his critique of the news in general. His perspective of never having to read about certain unfortunate events more than once i think identifies an issue in today society. With the scope of the media today we are constantly inundated with terrible news. As soon as a terrible thing happens it gets plastered everywhere. Thoreau seems to see these things being all in the newspaper is more like gossip to him. What I think he misses is the issue of monetization of tragedy and its possible effects on the average person. Thoreau writes that “not a few are greedy after this gossip” which I took as there are many people who are interested in this news. Which is similar to today in that many people like to know about the new thing that just happened even if it has a negative effect on their mood/mental health.
In this passage, Thoreau details his peace with nature and his mind. He notes that the “intellectual is a cleaver. . .” meaning that the one who seeks out knowledge will more easily be able to see the truth and simplicity in things. His goal is too live a simple life and he begins his journey in doing this by building his own house, with the knowledge in his head and the materials in his hand. These are the only things he will ever need to live a simple life. In comparison to today, out lives are far but simple. If I were asked to name three things I could not survive without, as pathetic as it may sound, my phone or laptop would be one of those objects. I have grown up learning to use technology and it has manifested its way into our society to the point where many people would not know how to live life without out technological devices. This may not be all bad though. Today, living life simply in the persecutive of one person, may be going through life doing the things you love and not worrying about information that may get in the way of that; technology enables us to live our lives this way. While I may not be living simply by Thoreau’s standards, the technology has enhanced and simplified the way I live my life. It has made communication faster and more efficient. It has transformed the workforce runs and It enables people t connect with those across the world. Thoreau goes on to say his best faculties are concentrated in his head; is our ability to use technology one of best faculties? I have noticed that swiping a screen has become a natural motion for toddlers and I wonder if this is a sign that we are evolving and transforming as a race into an age of technology or that we are forgetting what it means to be human and live a simple life?
Throughout, Thoreau makes the point of wanting to live without technology. He craved a peaceful life unbothered by the hold of the machines and aids that are commonplace and taken for granted. As we read through Gleick, we see the development of technologies that strive to make people’s lives easier. Gleick features the telegraph prominently, a technology that makes communication easier and faster. As someone else had pointed out in their comment, this ease came with the consequence of communication towers marring the natural world. With how the advancement of technology slowly takes over and replaces the natural in our lives, we can see Thoreau’s work as a lamentation in this section. So many people don’t care or become complacent with how technology demands more space from our world as it develops and as it develops, technology has slowly taken over the attention of the people. Thoreau is preaching against this, believing people shouldn’t strive to let technology take over all aspects of their lives, but to go out and work themselves to accomplish their goals.
Thoreau emphasizes the beauty of life one can live without the interference, or temptation of technology. This is a common concern in Gleick’s The Information, in which the progression throughout time opens the door to various new inventions, and critics of technology fear the effect it’ll have on humans. Today, we see a stark difference between Thoreau’s technology-free life where one is “reawakened” with the reality and beauty of life without the help of “mechanical aids,” and current day modern times where many are too consumed with their phones, or computers and forget the meaning of life.
In this paragraph, Thoreau talks about communication. He says he can do without the post office because there are few important communications made through it. This reminds me of what Gleick writes about in chapter six of The Information. This particular chapter focuses on the creation of the talking telegraph, or the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell invented this means of communication to make it easier to send messages. This makes me wonder what Thoreau would think of the telephone. I mean, he thinks the post office is pointless because humans don’t have anything important to say. Apparently, when it was first invented, many business people thought the telephone was a joke in comparison to the the telegraph, because while the telegraph dealt in facts and numbers, the telephone appealed to emotions. How would Thoreau feel about this?
[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.]
Here, Thoreau talks about his desire to live a more natural and spiritualistic way of life. To him, advancing oneself morally is more important than advancing technologically. I wonder what he would think of the scenarios given in Gleick’s The Information, in which people interweave technology into their daily lives to make things simpler (such as inventing the telegraph for easier and faster communication). For example, I wonder what he would think of social media today. It has been argued for a long time that social media can be detrimental to an individual’s mental health, although, I believe that when used consciously and purposefully, it can lead to this moral growth that Thoreau describes.
“It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”
To paraphrase these lines, Thoreau is saying that the most honorable thing a human can do is to work towards a positive outlook on life, as well as a positive interpretation of the information/events/things/people that make up life. Perspective is what matters, and humans are capable of changing their viewpoints for the better. In a modern world where it is easy to react by becoming depressed at all the bad things happening in life as portrayed by the media, the only option left is to defy this by working on oneself and the attitude with which one will approach the news/information received with each new day.
By adopting a growth mindset/mentality, people can change the very lens by which the world is seen, rather than having to change the things that make up the world. This connects to the digital humanities (not to mention technology/communication/media in general), in that the digital humanities are the lens–the “very atmosphere and media through which we look”–by which humans share their perspectives on human experience.
As Gleick notes in The Information, “[I]nformation storage . . . counts as communication. The message is not created, it is selected” (p. 222). Here, Gleick seems to echo Thoreau by saying that humans are capable of transforming their perspectives by selecting how they will choose to interpret and respond to information and events. Computers and digital literature are, in essence, lenses and vehicles for human perspective.
“In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify.”
Simplicity is an important tenet of Thoreau’s life ‘lived deliberately.’ The smallest bits of information, vital to communication, are uncovered via simplification. Complicated messages are encoded, or simplified, to be easily transmitted and received. Otherwise, our communication would be much more difficult. Gleick writes: “The transmitter “operates on the message in some way”—that is, encodes the message—to produce a suitable signal. A telephone converts sound pressure into analog electric current. A telegraph encodes characters in dots, dashes, and spaces. More complex messages may be sampled, compressed, quantized, and interleaved” (223). This sense of conversion, between complex and simpler symbols of meaning, from our everyday language to the computer languages used for coding, fuels the human ability to communicate over great distances and with great speed. So by simplifying and simplifying, perhaps contrary to Thoreau’s anticipation, we ended up with a information technology more complex than ever.
“Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with nature herself. I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks.”
The beginning of this paragraph was significantly shortened with Thoreau explaining his appreciation and excitement for every morning. In the fluid text edition, he initially states: “The morning is to every one the season of his ideal life. Then, if ever, we can realize the life of the Greeks and we are all at some time good heathens enough to acknowledge and worship their Aurora.” These two sentences were cut, and so he immediately jumps to describing himself as a worshipper of Aurora like the Greeks. Aurora is the ancient Roman version of Eos, the Ancient Greek goddess of the dawn. With these two sentences, Thoreau delves into a deeper description of his connection to the Greeks and the morning. My thoughts regarding this change is that he might have cancelled these two sentences due to the fact that he wanted to put greater emphasis on his appreciation of every coming morning instead of his worshipping relationship with the Greeks.
I am writing this as I work on my final project for the class. This is one of the passages we have chosen to include in our timeline of revisions as it had noticeable and substantial revisions across versions A and C, that we will pick apart and analyze. Thinking ahead to our blog post, I want to relate our entire project to the circumstances our world is currently facing, as it has changed some aspect of everybody’s life. Thoreau’s writings can be easily connected to everything that is happening today during the pandemic. This paragraph focuses on news and what news means. These lines in particular focus onboard news, to which Thoreau responds, “one is enough, we never need read of another,” noticing that all bad news is the same and t does no good for the public. Today, I feel like that is all we are seeing news sights reporting about the virus – bad news. Would he view news differently if more good news or important news was reported? Perhaps, the revisions gave us an insight to that.
[Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself]
This line speaks for Thoreau’s mindset.He woke up every day with the knowledge that each day was a new day and he had the opportunity to make each day better than that of before. Additionally, his connection with nature is an essential aspect of his life, something that he prioritizes mentally every morning. Thoreau’s way of life is essentially centered around nature.
This paragraph gives insight on Thoreau’s philosophy. He believes that an individual entirely has the power to change their day, not in their actions, but in how they view the actions of themselves and others. He compares the way one views life with the ability to paint a picture or carve a statute to the ability to carve or paint their perception of life. Thoreau states it is essential for every individual to make the most of his life in every possible detail, no matter how small.
Cassiopeia is a constellation in the northern sky. In Mythology, Cassiopeia was the wife of King Cepheus.
[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, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.]
This part of the paragraph means that he wanted to live out in the woods on purpose and wanted to see what life wouldn’t hand him.
[we never need read of another. One is enough.]
They were talking about reading the newspaper and they get to a section that talks about negative or sad information they only read one and that is it. I find this surprising because I thought they would just continue to read it and find out what else is going on. I understand that they don’t want negative emotions in their life and they want to live a life full of positivity. But to me it seems interesting that they didn’t finish reading the rest of the paper. For me personally I would have wanted to read another article and find out what else is going on.
Being out and living alone in the woods certainly brings tough tasks and challenges but also teaches some of the most fundamental facts of life. Thoreau did not want to go through life and die not having lived life to the fullest extent.
[Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep]
“Sleep” here seems to be defined as “sleepwalking through life” or just following tradition and convention, and “moral reform” –of society or oneself? or both? –requires fully waking up, to see with new eyes, and change.
[One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications? To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea. Yet not a few are greedy after this gossip.]
Kati, I read this less as Thoreau keeping out bad news than saying all news repeats the same old stories/ gossip. He’s interested in general “principles” or rules to live by, rather than a particular story of what happened somewhere. (He prefers philosophy to the news.)
I really like the first sentence, “Both place and time were changed, and I dwelt nearer to those parts of the universe and to those eras in history which had most attracted me.”
I like how he relates time as a stream.
“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.” To me, Thoreau emphasises how people nowadays keep mindlessly living their lives without actually paying attention. He calls on us to be more conscious in our life and about everyday occurrences, eg. the sunrise. We need to be aware and take in the things around us to avoid us looking back on our lives and questioning if we really got the most out of it.
[It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do.]
In this sentence, Thoreau is trying to say that it is important to think positively even on difficult days. Thoreau is trying to get people to understand that the world could look and feel much better if they are optimistic and bright towards their surroundings.
Is he someone that has trouble realizing the ideal self and the self made image he has dreamt of and created for himself? What is this Genius for him?
It’s inspired and inspiring. Some people read Walden as claiming he was far from everyone and everything, but I think he’s saying he just got enough distance to get some perspective on life, so it felt like he was “far off” even though he was just outside town –Like going camping for a weekend .
That’s a great- and hard- question. He uses that word “Genius” to mean something like our Soul or Imagination or Inner / True Self. Other “Romantic” writers used it, too, to mean an original, inner self, unchanged by society. So here, he’s hoping to rise each day and be focused, purposeful, and live fully.
Exactly! Well said, Ainsley!
Yes, absolutely, Sofie! He recommends paying close attention every day and also keeping an “expectation of the dawn,” a belief in the chance, always, for continued growth and renewal in our lives.
Exactly, Dylan! Ainsley from our class also commented on these lines a couple comments up. Can you see that? And she wrote a similar response. 🙂 Great minds…
[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”
I agree Conrad, when first reading the book I did not understand his location. He makes the pond seem more isolated then it actually was.
“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.”
This quote again points towards Thoreau’s faith in man’s inherent goodness, and also reminds us that in order to become the best versions of ourselves we need to be kinder to ourselves. Self deprecation is not a good motivator! Practice self care!
[Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion]
I think it’s almost derogatory to say this about other people; I’m sure many people who read this book soon after it was published originally were quite angry at Thoreau for describing their lives as such, especially when Thoreau had probably not most of those people before.
He does say he was living a mile away from people, which may seem pretty isolated at first, but it’s also true that a mile isn’t really very far away at all. That may also play into it.
I definitely agree. Although I think by dwelling on that, we are missing the point that he wanted to experience what it was like to generally be without people but not necessarily rid of them all together and technically speaking he was living alone but definitely think that this description is also misleading.
[whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of.]
I find it intriguing how Thoreau describes people’s station in life (that may be inherited) as a “misfortune”. As most people would see having a copious amount of land handed to you upon birth, he sees it as a burden. I believe this actually shows his belief in the non fluidity in identity. Thoreau states how “these [inheritances] are more easily acquired than got rid of”, meaning how hard it is to erase a name or position that you were born into.
In this paragraph, I noticed a repetition of the theme of accountability as stated by both Macintyre and Thoreau. This passage demonstrates the idea of being accountable for others as well as being accountable for ones self. In this case, Thoreau raises the idea that laborers and the common man sometimes do not live their life to the fullest potential because they are preoccupied with their work. As a result, they are not experiencing life as they should and not taking accountability of their narrative. Thoreau makes a similar accusation to higher class individuals, in that they judge the common man to harshly and they should assist the common man in finding the finer fruits of life. This accusation fits into the idea that we are accountable for the narrative of others as well as our own.
[How godlike, how immortal, is he? See how he cowers and sneaks, how vaguely all the day he fears, not being immortal nor divine, but the slave and prisoner of his own opinion of himself, a fame won by his own deeds. 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. ]
Thoreau points to the individual as the master of their own fate. It’s one thing to compare one’s opinion of themselves to slavery, but in a sense it is true that we are slaves of our own self-conceptions. Self-fulfilling prophecies happen all the time. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” Thoreau questions how often humans fall victim to their own opinions, and how they are inhibited by them. This, I think, can tie into MacIntyre’s statement about “accountability:” we are all the protagonists and authors of our own story, and it’s our responsibility to shape our fate.
Thoreau doesn’t necessarily pose what they say, but rather assumes what they ask in regard to his experiences on Walden Pond. A clever twist on the templates we’ve seen in “They Say/I Say.” Also, he engages in what could be considered ‘metacommentary’ when speaking about his writing style (though again, assumes what his academic critics/colleagues might say) and even lists a few explanations as to why he consciously chooses to write in this way.
[In most books, the I, or first person, is omitted; in this it will be retained; that, in respect to egotism, is the main difference. We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much about myself if there were any body else whom I knew as well.]
Thoreau use of meta commentary is displayed in his preference to use first person pronouns. He refers to ‘other books’ and their habit of restraining using such diction because it sounds egotistical. However, he uses the pronouns as a way to express the individuality of his story, because he doesn’t know anyone else’s story well enough to tell it from their perspective. This reminds me of the theme of “Anthem” by Ayn Rand. The whole emphasis on the story is the difference between “I” and “ego”. ‘I’ represents a persons individual self where as ‘ego’ is the self importance that comes from valuing aspects of your individual self.
Thoreau uses religious allusion in reference to both the Brahmins and Hercules to emphasize the never ending daily struggles for the towns people to acquire necessities to live. He references to the Brahmins penance through a ritual called Prayascitta (Hindu repentance), and describes it as a form of conscious penance (vs. the daily tasks of the towns people which are performed subconsciously). However, he also references Hercules’ 12 labors and called them ‘trifling’ in comparison to the everyday labors of the townspeople. The reasoning behind this exaggerated statement is to emphasize the longevity of these labors that the townspeople undertake. They cant “slew or captur[e] any monster or finis[h] any labor.”, They’re forever in servitude to their practices.
[Who made them serfs of the soil? Why should they eat their sixty acres, when man is condemned to eat only his peck of dirt? Why should they begin digging their graves as soon as they are born? ]
Thoreau is entering the conversation by asking questions to refer to not what “they say” but rather what“they do”. He critiques this norm of prioritizing inherited land and entering the conversation establishing the idea that ‘cultivating’ a body and mind is labor enough.
[But men labor under a mistake. The better part of the man is soon ploughed into the soil for compost.]
The “better part” of the man is himself. In the previous paragraph, Thoreau emphasized the mistake in men cultivating and prioritizing land instead of the body and mind. The labor of cultivating and upkeep on land is a never ending task and gives little room for a person to cultivate themselves as an individual.
[It is a fool’s life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before.”
Men waste their lives focusing on the wrong things and do not realize it has been wasted until its over.
[ 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.]
Thoreau is basically saying that the image you have of yourself generally reflects of that of your future. Even a God among men, if deemed incompetent in his thoughts, will become the “prisoner of his own opinion of himself.”
[their own experience has been so partial, and their lives have been such miserable failures, for private reasons,]
This kind of follows MacIntyre’s logic that they’re subject to their own narrative. Their actions compose their life alone, void from other’s experiences. So, giving advice or brandishing this so called ‘wisdom’ based off of their own failures is irrelevant.
[I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors. They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me any thing, to the purpose. Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by me; but it does not avail me that they have tried it. If I have any experience which I think valuable, I am sure to reflect that this my Mentors said nothing about.]
This paragraph represents Macintyre’s idea of accountability in one’s life. Macintyre says that the only way to live a narratable life is to be accountable for your own actions. Thoreau harshly states that he has never received “earnest advice from [his] seniors.” He clearly thinks he will only live a worthwhile life if he lives the way he wants to, not the way others advise him to. He realizes that he must be accountable for his actions, but he does not want to be ruled by the guidelines that were developed by those who lived before him. He must set his own standards to live a fulfilling life.
Wasn’t such practices a custom to religion? Understating the fact that there were those in poverty.
Can this answer the question as to how a reader knows whether they have fully understood and analyzed a text? Is a text only meant to be understood as fairly as a person could relate?
Is he referring to industrialization? The “norm” of living then is considered today unhealthy, undesirable.
The laboring man has no opportunity to be a “man,” a human being? For his life is dedicated to something so fragile. (what could this sentence mean? ) So this laboring man is unappreciated.
It is horrible to enslave people, but to enslave yourself is another horrible cycle.
“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery” – Bob Marely/ Marcus Garvey
Mankind is unconsciously sad, only trying to find happiness in the distractions we give ourselves.
[What every body echoes or in silence passes by as true to-day may turn out to be falsehood to-morrow, mere smoke of opinion, which some had trusted for a cloud that would sprinkle fertilizing rain on their fields. ]
This discussion could lead to that of science, and evolution of the world, and its interactions.
[Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men’s lives; some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land]
Here Thoreau is challenging the reader to give account of their own life because that is what he or she has lived and it’s what they know the most about. They’re the ones accountable in telling their story to share with others. This is because the readers have only lived their own story, so to hear other’s stories helps expand their knowledge and learn.
[Age is no better, hardly so well, qualified for an instructor as youth, for it has not profited so much as it has lost.]
Thoreau explores the idea of holding others accountable. Throughout the text, a variety of older works are used to influence his opinion and back up his points. By simply stating that we should solely think for ourselves, Thoreau contradicts himself. This passage can be either interpreted as satirical, or could just be in reference to his opinions regarding slavery or any form of prejudice. In this section, Thoreau explains that although much of the present is based on tradition, people shouldn’t base all of their actions and opinions on the past.
[it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think there is no choice left. But alert and healthy natures remember that the sun rose clear. It is never too late to give up our prejudices.]
Thoreau uses a variety of techniques to convey and convince the reader of his ideas. One of the more notable methods used is well described in Graff and Birkenstein’s “They Say / I Say.” Rather than simply stating his opinion regarding conforming to past ideologies, he initially gives the countering perspective.
In other words, Thoreau is portraying that many people (‘They say’) believe that there is no choice but to conform to past teachings. On the other hand, he (‘I say’) believes that it is never too late to change old philosophies.
Despite contradicting himself later in the passage (by using older text to back up his opinions), Thoreau conveys his ideas in a coherent and convincing manner.
In this paragraph, Thoreau discusses the accountability of man and how it is necessary for men to avoid straying down the wrong path. For example, Thoreau says that men often choose to focus so much on their labors and their work that they cannot take time to really live life to the fullest extent. This means, in Thoreau’s mind, that they are not taking accountability for themselves or other because they are so preoccupied with their work. He addresses this issue from both sides, however, and also says that the more fortunate are not taking accountability of their wealth and eve themselves and others, stating that fortunate people are quick to judge the less fortunate, when instead they should be helping them before judging. Basically, he is saying that all people are accountable for something, whether it be themselves, their daily lives, or even other people.
In this paragraph, Thoreau talks about his neighbors, who he claims have a different view of what they see as good. Thoreau kind of uses the template of “They say, I say” here in a simple format, basically saying that “they think these things are good, but in my soul I believe they are bad”,which is his way of stating the basics of an intellectual argument. Thoreau goes further, giving a deeper example of their disagreement, saying that they may say the wisest thing, but to Thoreau, it is an invitation into a place he wishes not to go.
In this Thoreau speaks about the poor and how they lie and steal to get meals that they can’t afford. Even clothes too expensive for them to buy. I believe that Thoreau is telling us not to do these things out of an experience. For maybe at one point in his life, Thoreau was poor and doing that same thing his neighbors are doing now. Telling us that it will only get worse the more we steal for it might become a norm of everyday life.
This shows that he is a person that uses his resources to survive while liking that kind of lifestyle he chooses to come back to a “civilized life” where he can communicate with others and share his experiences from living alone for two years.
Thoreau uses They say/I say to discuss the fact that he doesn’t agree with his neighbors’ idea of “good.” In his mind what they view as good behavior is what he sees as bad behavior. He tells the reader that “a greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad” which is classic they say/I say, since he begins by stating others’ beliefs and then stating his own.
In paragraph 13, he focuses on the importance of nature and how he sees the way the nature benefits him and where he resides. He seems to his surrounding and knows that there might be a “greater miracle” than the human eye can see.
“what demon possessed me that I behave so well?” When Thoreau says this he makes it seem that he does not usually act like this around others. It might be his surroundings and the people and nature that surround him that make I=him act the way he does.
[The greater 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. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?]
On what Thoreau is saying here, I appreciate the nod to the fluidity of morality here. I find it interesting, and wonder what he intends to portray here: that his neighbors are wrong, or that both he and his neighbors are right? In the previous paragraph, he says, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” Perception shapes our personal realities, and morals are relative to the contexts in which they are embedded: culturally, individually, situationally, and so on.
Thoreau moves up one level of abstraction from talking about the fact that “the same sun which ripens my beans illumines at once a system of Earths like ours” to “could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”. He is implying that the sun has a wider purpose and story rather than just for him. At the end of the paragraph he elaborates that it would be more beneficial to society to see through the eyes of others and consider the fact that you’re a small part of a big picture.
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.
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.
If we try to read Walden as “deliberately and reservedly” as it was written we will never underestimate its profound depth by taking Thoreau too literally. Here “the labor of my hands” does not merely refer to Thoreau’s physical labor with his hands and tools, his ax, spade, nails and beans. Rumi says, “Man has a body and soul other than the body that cows and donkeys have.”
In Where I Live and What I Lived for, Thoreau reveals a deeper aspect of this labor when he says, “I fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars.” Fishing in the sky is another aspect of Thoreau’s labor and the fish is a type of food that is necessary for Thoreau’s particular kind of life. Thoreau did not move to the woods to live like the beasts of the forest. He moved there to “live deliberately.” That particular type of deliberate life requires a transcendental kind of labor, hand, food and feeding. Walden is profound from the very beginning. I have started my new reading of my Walden and am preparing a new edit for the second publication of my translation in Iran.
What is impertinent the mode of life or the questions? And what is the antecedent of they? Affairs? I have been thinking about this for a long time.
On one hand T emphasizes that the first person will be retained in his book, on the other hand he is apologizing for answering questions which are asked about his mode of life. It seems like there are two Thoreaus in Walden. One is drinking from the sky which is pebbly with stars the other is the one who fishes in Walden Pond. I feel as if these two Thoreau’s are at war in many of Thoreau’s sentences in Walden.
I think there is a very subtle irony in this part of the sentence. T could have said, “you … who live in…” Instead he twists the sentence and says, “you … who are said to live.” Implying that he himself does not recognize some of his readers to be alive or living. The whole book says why.
[What is called resignation is confirmed desperation]
In this line, Thoreau comments on how when people leave or “resign” from something, you are confirming desperation for something else. I feel this idea relates heavily to the idea we discussed in class about how romanticized living a “social media free” life is. While people may “resign” from a life of technology and social media, they are really desperate for being seen as someone willing to do this, rather than truly being someone who wants to be connected. This relates heavily to the psychology and human condition in the sense that no matter how much someone wishes to believe they don’t care what others think of them, it is impossible not to.
As has been indicated by the comments attached to this section, Walden is not a factual history. Thoreau does not account for all his visits back to Concord and tell us so herein. He does not tell us what he did there, how often he ate at home, how often he worked in the family pencil business and bulk sales of graphite. And he tells us here that although the book condenses his experiences into a single year he lived there for more than twice that span of time. We should, perhaps, be reading Walden as a ideal, a presentation of life as an experiment. We can only, being human, approximate the ideal and our actual sojourn would vary depending upon our state of life when we made the attempt. I do think after reading the comments Alireza made above, that he is reading Walden in a way that Thoreau may have intended.
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.
A third, and I think more logical meaning of “first or last” here is “at the beginning or the end.” This is the meaning of the phrase given in Webster’s 1828 dictionary. The meaning in the present context is then “somewhere in the writer’s work.”
There seems to be typo in the first sentence, after the third comma: “what are” is repeated unnecessarily.
The opening line of Thoreau\’s Walden demonstrates the opposite of today\’s world, due in part to increasing technological advancements. While in this reading Walden claims to live independently without the worry of those around him, for us today, technology makes such a desired environment nearly impossible. Each of us smiles at the thought of being alone and unwatched; however, with technology and different available softwares, each of us is always being observed in some way, shape or form. This is simply because of the advancements in the environment around us.
Given Throeau’s time period, and that “Walden” was written around 1850, the Industrial Revolution was coming to a conclusion around the time he wrote this. In this context, when Thoreau compares an overworked man to a machine, he is referring to the machines of his time which solve monotonous and tedious tasks in factories. With how far machines have evolved since then, especially computers, I wonder if someone would still use such a comparison considering the different imagery the word “machine” evokes for us in the present day.
I find Thoreau’s deliberate preemptive distinction between first-person “I” and second/third-person “other” at the outset of this text telling. By doing so, he is disclaiming the fact that “[I]t is, after all, always the first person that is speaking,” and therefore that learning about others can only truly be done by reading accounts of others’ lives as told in the others’ own perspectives and words. Readers’ curiosity into other people’s lives, as Thoreau says he frequently experiences, is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the curious people in question are willing to listen to his own account without forcing their own opinions or viewpoints onto it and therefore skewing it.
I admire this particular passage for how it so directly connects to the essence of the humanities–that is, how individual human consciousness, perspective, and experience can be documented, shared, and tried on like “putting on a coat.” Through this analogy, Thoreau seems to be saying that by walking in someone else’s shoes, and by trying to practice empathy and see things from the other’s perspective rather than trying to force it into their own point-of-view, is where real learning takes place. Too often we try to compare other’s viewpoints by referencing our own, and do not stop to truly listen and understand where others are coming from through their own viewpoints. This sentiment is echoed in the line, “[F]or if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me.” Distance (as in the distance of people’s experiences and consciousnesses), though often given a negative connotation, is what makes individuals unique, and is therefore given a positive connotation in this context.
I wonder how Thoreau felt about age “not profiting so much as it has lost” toward the end of his own life. Did he uphold the distinction created in “old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new”? Understanding and keeping up with recent technological advances requires various fresh approaches to “old deeds” like encoding language, so I tend to believe the relationship between old and new has become more fluid than ever before. Some old people learn new ways to interact with our technological world, some ‘new’ or young people revisit the old ways to learn history, or the origin of the new. Thoreau didn’t seem to hold out much hope for the prevailing wisdom of older generations. But he does indicate some connection with “and they are only less young than they were”; perhaps ‘youth’ or more broadly, ‘newness’, is a state of mind or a way of being that is momentarily achievable regardless of true age. Approaching technology especially with a transcendental, unprejudiced, and open mind seems key; anticipating learning the new even though you may have already mastered the old, framing life as a journey of continual learning rather than the journey as a means to an end like eventual wisdom. I think what Thoreau is getting at is that assuming mastery of life comes with age is flawed. The person who has the greater insight on the ‘true nature’ of life looks from the perspective of perpetual youth.
Thoreau’s reflecting on the pedantic rules of Solomon and the Romans and Hippocrates draws an amusing comparison to the exactness needed for programming, be that writing a modern computer program or Charles Babbage’s attempting to “program” his inventions with multitudes of gears and levers and other iron elements. Thoreau here objects to that thinking, arguing that man cannot be so constrained and that such strict rules presuppose a life devoid of variety and joy. To some extent, Thoreau’s polemics against rules and life of tedium speak directly to the Industrial Revolution, and by extension the increasingly tedious rules that bind a man that Thoreau argues can do more. Today those humans have been replaced with technology, and by extension humanity’s unmeasured capacities no longer matter. Humans have been replaced with machines to measure the distance of trees and the angles at which we cut our nails and the frequency with which we can collect acorns. Humans no longer just create tedious rules for humans with less power but have created another “species” to play that role.
I find this paragraph intriguing since many poor people now would have admired Walden\’s work. Families on the low income status now a days don\’t try to rob creditors of hours. Today low-economic families would be trying to make enough money to survive. I do not agree with Walden\’s point on living mean and sneaky lives, if he was not able to experience them himself. People never really give low economic humans a chance to prove themselves before being criticized. Poor people always get a bad rap, and Walden is not helping at all with this. To me it is like when technology was first created, and many people wanted nothing to do with it and the idea was immediately rejected.
Yes people and technology are two different things but the concepts of rejection to new ideas, are still present today and should change. If poor people still did not get the bad reputation they have today we could all be at peace for once. I am also not trying to make Walden seem mellicious with saying this however, I think that this point did not have to be made in his book.
If technology has had the same form of discussion today, then why has it become such a positive influence on life, but talking about poor people hasn\’t?
Why is technology so important and how can we make our lives simpler by adjusting to change, and not having negative reactions to them?
In this paragraph, Thoreau discusses the manmade world and how this affects the way humans function. When humans follow the ways of those around them, it is likely to change the way they view the world and the values they hold. Through a modern perspective in relation to technology, humans all over the world are consumed by the cell phones and social media. As a result, this may cause desperation for more out of life and possibly a greater meaning. After so long, trying to live up to people around us is likely to become exhausting, leading to a desire to escape the media world for something else more meaningful and realistic.
[We should feed and clothe him gratuitously sometimes, and recruit him with our cordials, before we judge of him. 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.]
This passage hits close to home, considering our upcoming presidential election and the debate surrounding universal health care, affordable education, and livable wages. While Christina is correct in pointing out in her comment that Thoreau\’s Walden was written towards the end of industrial revolution in Britain, I believe his commentary still holds truth today. The working classes still don\’t have time to be anything but a machine. I see this clear as day with my own parents, who simply cannot afford to miss a day of work because it disrupts the capitalist machine that they are forced to contribute to. Yet, when working classes demand rights like earning livable wages -for instance, the wealthier classes tend to recoil at the very idea. Interestingly enough, in the following paragraph we see criticism placed on the lower classes, as being sneaky and facetious. I\’m unsure of where Thoreau might stand today in relation to the political and social issues that we are currently facing.
This paragraph stuck out to me specifically because of the way in which is emphasizes other areas of study. The line,
\”We should live in all the ages of the world in an hour; ay, in all the worlds of the ages. History, Poetry, Mythology! – I know of no reading of another\’s experience so startling and informing as this would be.\”
Makes me think the humanities and the way in which we learn. Perhaps is may be a mute point to try and define the humanities, as we tried to do on the first day of class, but maybe the point is that the humanities themselves are an ongoing experience. It is an experience to learn \”all the ages of the world in an hour\” and making that your own experiences, rather than attempting to learn someone elses experience.
Paragraph 1: Last semester I took Professor Cooper’s English 368 Connections in Recent Literature: Unplugged and ParaDigitial class and examined the relationship between books and technology. On the first day of class, we talked about how Thoreau was actually much closer to civilization than it seems in his writing. Although I cannot find the original map that I saw on my first day of class, this map also demonstrates that even though Thoreau was somewhat “tucked away” he was still decently close to civilization. He talks about occasionally catching people off the train to hear the town’s gossip, something he cannot resist. He also mentions occasionally wandering into town for the human connection that he sometimes yearned for. I believe that this is an interesting point to bring into his first chapter “Economy” because he talks to the reader about how he builds his own house that is meant to be so distant from society but in reality it is quite the opposite. This relates strongly to technology today because even people that claim they want to be distant from the innovations we are creating as a society are still somehow connected to technology in some way. Technology has a huge influence on our society and there is almost no way of having total seclusion from the world or from the devices we have invented and are still working on today.
Had it not been for the wonders of Technology I would not have been able to study Thoreau from Iran. Technology made it possible to connect to Thoreau scholars in the US and and use their knowledge and wisdom to penetrate deep into Thoreau’s Walden and even deliver a translation of this book to my people.
Thoreau’s perspective on senior’s contributions to the world is very interesting. Thoreau states, “I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors”. This portrays the idea that all sound and valid advice or information comes from youth and younger generations, which in turn suggests that as one ages, they become less valuable. It also suggests that ‘new’ is better, and new comes from the youth. This interested me, because it seems to have a direct connection with media and the digital age today. Seniors tend to struggle with technology, as they grew up in a time where communication was done by mouth or written letter. Most of today’s modern technology has been created by younger generations, which goes along with the idea of ‘new’ and ‘better’ coming from the young. Similarly, the idea of humans becoming less valuable with age, the same holds true with technology. Like we discussed in class, technology has shifted immensely within recent years, from a time where writing wasn’t even around to the electronic world today of emails, social media and texting. As time passes and we keep creating new technology, the old is becoming less valuable and of no use. The old technology generally does not contribute to the creation of the new, just like Thoreau suggests that seniors do not give valuable advice.
When Thoreau talks about old people, he says they have no valuable information to pass on to the younger generation: “They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me any thing, to the purpose. Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by me…” As much as I agree with his view, I also disagree. When we are born, old people give us as much knowledge as possible so by the time we go to school and are educated, we know more than they do, because we have learned everything they taught us, and then some. However, old people have gone through most of life at this point and, let’s say he is talking about retired people, they either regret their course because they have worked their whole life and never appreciated anything, or they are happy with what they’ve done and have a big family or something. however, people have different values, and just because someone is old and happy with their lives, does not mean that somebody younger will find happiness from doing the same thing. listening to what older people have to say is somewhat like studying the humanities; it is a story of how another person lived. However, young people have their whole lives ahead of them and have yet to choose their path. So when Thoreau says, “I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors”, he means that he will find out what brings him happiness on his own, and their stories may go against what he believes in.
Reading the Fluid-Text edition of this passage was very interesting. The beginning 3-4 lines of the text are almost identical, but the rest is cut short or re-worded several times. For example, when speaking on old people not knowing to fetch new fuel to keep the fire going, he added “Old people can hardly walk up stairs, –in Typee the young men can walk up a smooth cocoa-nut tree 60 feet high & bare of branches”. He chose to go into detail with specific examples of why old people are not useful as they age rather than stating broad statements like the original. Thoreau cut out several sentences about his own personal experience with seniors. I find it interesting that he thought his argument might be more credible or convincing using examples that are not relative to himself rather than his own personal experience, for example his closing few sentences including, “They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me any thing, to the purpose.”
This paragraph is particularly interesting because Thoreau refers to life as an “experiment to a great extent untried by me”, which is a unique perspective. He recognizes and acknowledges the value in what those of older age have to say, but he declares that he will not live by it. Thoreau goes on to state that while advice from an older person cannot be applied to your own life, because even if the situations are similar, your lives are drastically different. He’s reminding us, the readers, to take into consideration that advice we’re given by the wiser souls, but to, in the end, make a decision based off of our own thoughts, feelings, and context.
My group has chosen this paragraph and the next as part of our revisions for the timeline. This first paragraph was not always included in the novel, and was introduced in Version C. I think Thoreau went back and added this to give his novel a starting place and introducing himself to the reader in a very direct way. We also learn a lot about what we are going to read and can begin to imagine how this life would look before we begin reading.
The next paragraph allows the reader to establish a connection with Thoreau and his upcoming journey. It has been surprising to me, how easily I have been able to connect the events in my life to this look and to certain passages. We have all, now, experienced some aspect of solitude that Thoreau writes about, and we are better able to connect with his writings because of that.
My group has decided to use this particular section of economy for our revisions/timeline, and it’s interesting to see what differences there are between version A and this current version. Thoreau is definitely wordier in the original manuscript – there are entire sections of sentences that were crossed out. For example, after the sentence “Others have been curious to learn what portion of my income…” Thoreau had originally written, “Some had not come to my house because I lived there. Others have come – because I lived there – and others again, because I lived there.” This section was taken out of both version A and this version. Version A is still wordy, but this copy is infinitely less so, and its interesting to see exactly what sentences were deemed unnecessary.
I found it interesting that he lives in the woods alone and wanted to be civilized from everyone. And it amazes me that he built a home all by himself on a pond
[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.
Thoreau’s solitude is what allows him to truly connect with the nature around him. In today’s modern society, solitude is hard to come by and is often underrated.
I think he is also making the point that there is space for solitude anywhere if you go looking for it.
especially because in todays society it hard to become disconnected with technology.
As the person above me has said, I understand why solitude can sometimes be a good thing. Some times having time to yourself is rejuvenating in a way that nothing else is, but just because someone is alone does not necessarily mean that they feel loneliness as Thoreau states “The farmer can work alone in the field or the woods all day, hoeing or chopping, and not feel lonesome”
But I also think that there are times when isolation can be a bad thing as you have no one to challenge, no one to push you other than yourself which is most cases can cause extreme stress and laziness therefore. Personally I think it’s important to have a balance of the two.
[Sometimes, when I compare myself with other men, it seems as if I were more favored by the gods than they, beyond any deserts that I am conscious of; as if I had a warrant and surety at their hands which my fellows have not, and were especially guided and guarded. ]
Thoreau could not possibly make a more conceited statement than this.
[They who come rarely to the woods take some little piece of the forest into their hands to play with by the way, which they leave, either intentionally or accidentally]
I love this idea! Working at a summer camp when we go on hikes the kids often pick up a rock, leaves, or some form of nature and play with it on the hike. We say “leave nature in nature” but it is very easy to find the nature in a different spot then where they found it, and there are tears when they accidentally lose the stick we told them they could not have.
Thoreau feels he is privileged in being able to enjoy this experience and to be conscious of faults that many live throughout him being there.
[ I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another.]
Wow. There is no better way to state that communication and chemistry among a people which is vital, among any amount of space between. Idly being surrounded by a crowd of people and still feeling lonely. Minds must connect, almost as if they have there own powerful language.
I want to discuss this statement in class! Waking up…to not live…is destruction to ones self?
Who is “they?”
Thoreau here highlights yet another fault which is that we are in-fact poor spectators of one another and of ourselves and for that we lose insight.
I believe that Thoreau believes that he is superior to other man when he says “as if I was more favored by the gods.” He thinks the he has something that those other may not contain.
“While I enjoy the friendship of the seasons I trust that nothing can make life a burden to me.” Thoreau tried to explain that he does everything in his power to enjoy his stay at him home. He knows if there is a storm there are not many aspects of the house that can save him and keep him dry in the cold raining nights, but he tries to make the best of the combinations that he is living within.
Here we discuss how Thoreau criticizes the idea presented by Confucius, that we have these outside spectators who measure our “virtue.” Here Thoreau disagrees and questions whether we need these societal pressures of “being together”, if that creates the very hindrance of us connecting to ourselves and one another. Why can we not be alone, measured by ourselves, and content?
“I am conscious of the presence and criticism of a part of me, which…is not a part of me, but a spectator, sharing no experience, but taking note of it”–I find it interesting how Thoreau separates parts of himself from himself; it almost sounds like he is describing an out-of-body experience where he is watching his own actions. This possibly relates to his overall pattern of seemingly contradictory statements and characterizing himself differently at different moments, perhaps to the extent that he is an entirely different person in different moments.
In this paragraph Thoreau reflects on his positive experiences of being alone, expressing the fact that he likes it better than socializing in general. He moves from this into his theory of solitude not being measured by physical space but by one’s perception, using the example of the farmer and the student to frame his point. As most people may identify with the farmer who “cannot sit down in a room alone,” it becomes necessary to generalize it and explain in this way in order to help people understand the potential beauty in solitude that most people shy away from. The point made in this paragraph can generalize, too, to the recurring theme in Walden of helping others understand why Thoreau went into the woods in the first place.
I find the relation to working in the field to be an interesting analogy for the difference found between solitude and loneliness. “…he does not realize that the student… is still at work in his field… and in turn seeks the same recreation and society that the latter does….” That is, it is the recreation and society which keeps them from feeling alone; so long as they are occupied with these, their solitude won’t become negative. It’s intriguingly worded, and I do agree to a certain extent, but I’d rather opt to use a different term for it: perhaps, “purpose”?
Looking again at his positive experiences of solitude, Thoreau explains that he finds company when he is alone. He extends this into a abstraction of how being alone should not have such negative connotation, and perhaps we should look to being in others’ company as the negative potential. His potent example is of God and the devil: “God is alone,–but the devil, he is far from being alone; he sees a great deal of company; he is legion.” This particular line really struck me. It seems that, both in the present and in Thoreau’s time, most people just really dreaded the thought of being alone. Most people can’t stand being with only themselves, or so they perceive. In fact, that’s how humans tend to get stuck in bad company, bad relationships, and so on: they think it is better than being alone. The all-too-common notion of the negativity of solitude was what made it necessary for Thoreau to elaborate the way he did. Just as the theme of Paragraph 12, this relates back to Thoreau’s recurring explanation of “Why I’m here.”
Thoreau first talks of his experience of being alone and his enjoyment of it. Then, he moves up one level of abstraction and uses the word, “we,” to encompass all of society in his generalization and theorizes on what the true meaning of loneliness is. He believes that loneliness is more of a state of mind and concept, rather than the idea of physically being near other people. To further prove his argument, he includes a comparison between a student and a farmer. The farmer has his work in the field, and the student studies inside a building. These are both of their fields, a place where each are completing their duties, so they are occupying their mind and don’t feel lonely. Thoreau’s whole theory is very interesting to debate and think about, as it changes the meaning to a common idea, which is loneliness. The common definition is “to be by one’s self,” but Thoreau is challenging that preconceived idea with his theory.
[ 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.
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.
For the “spectator,” see Sankhya Karika by Ishvara Krishna. Allen Hodder in his book, “Ecstatic Witness,” identifies the “Karika” as a source for this passage. I would add that the passage is related to Emerson’s notion of the “me” and “not-me” in his essay “Nature.” The passage is also related to time and eternity, especially if we define “eternity” as outside of time, as many spiritual traditions do. The passage is central to the Thoreau’s life and thought.
I’m unaware of anyone having pointed this out in the literature about Thoreau, but the “grooved walking stick” in this paragraph is related to the central motif of the book, “Walden.” Read para 5 and 11 in “Solitude” and compare with para 11 in “Conclusion,” Artist of Kouroo (paragraph numbers correspond, both 11). Then compare with the last para of “Where I Lived and What I Lived For,” “time is but the stream….” Together the three paragraphs inform us of Thoreau’s imaginative rendering of time and eternity.
I agree with Mike that Emerson’s notion of the “me” and “not me” in his essay “Nature” (1836) may also be at play here. Interestingly, Victor Cousin in his Introduction to the History of Philosophy (1828-29; Boston: Hilliard et al., 1832), some years before develops the following argument: “The fundamental fact of consciousness is a complex phenomenon composed of three terms, namely, the me and the not me, bounded, limited, finite; then the idea of something different from these, of the infinite, of unity, &c.; and again, the relation of the me and the not me, that is – of the finite, to the infinite, which contains and unfolds it: these, therefore, are the three terms of which the fundamental fact of consciousness is composed” (159). Cousin then goes on to develop the argument over the following pages. From Walter Harding’s Emerson’s Library (1969), we learn that Emerson owned Cousin’s tomes in the original French. Regarding Thoreau, in turn, we learn from Sattelmeyer’s Thoreau’s Reading (1988) that he extracted Cousin in the English translation (quoted here above) from the Institue of 1770 library at Harvard College, twice in 1837.
The Emersonians will surely have all this covered already, but it is interesting to note that Cousin’s focus is chronological (finite-infinite), whereas Emerson and Thoreau seem more concerned with the spatial (here-not here).
Also, see: https://commons.digitalthoreau.org/docs/frederick-transcendental-ethos-a-study-of-thoreaus-social-philosophy/
Victor Cousins is discussed in “Transcendental Ethos,” page 22.
Wonderful Mike, so good of your to allow your full PDF to be shared here!
I urge anyone interested in this problematic to consult Mike’s Transcendental Ethos, p. 22 ff.
Here Cousin gets a fuller gloss and appropriate context, I learned much from it.
I wish I had caught this earlier, but better late than sorry 🙂
The dichotomy, me and not-me, and the “spectator” is relatable to the Contact passage in “Ktaadn,” where Thoreau distinguishes between spirit (which he says “I am one”) and matter (which he says “has possession of me”). This is, in fact, the condition of purusha (roughly spirit) and prakriti (matter) in the Sankhya Karika Yoga text, which Thoreau read (Sattelmeyer), where the Spectator is watching, or entwined with, the Dancer.
For further evidence that Thoreau read about the “Spectator” in Hindu literature, here’s a quote from “Friday,” in “A Week”: “
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A Hindoo sage said, “As a dancer, having exhibited herself to the spectator, desists from the dance, so does Nature desist, having manifested herself to soul—.”
That’s why Thoreau says: “We are not wholly involved in Nature.” The “dancer” and “Nature” desist from the dance. Thoreau’s double consciousness is of himself engaged in the “field of action,” as HDT, where he must be ethical, and “outside” the field of action as Spectator (non-judging). Awareness of judging/non-judging attitude in Thoreau helps us to discern some of the seeming paradoxes in his writing.
[ Leave a comment on paragraph 2 4 When I return to my house I find that 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.]
This particular line makes me think of the holidays with my family. When my entire family comes over for thanksgiving or for Christmas dinner, there are always things left behind as gifts, things forgotten, messes left to be cleaned, and an overwhelming feeling of joy. Whatever is left always tells you what the person was doing and you can almost all tell who left it.
In addition to this thought, later on in the text in paragraph 12, Thoreau talks about how he has found it wholesome to be alone. I’m so inclined to agree with that statement. I consider myself to be an extroverted introvert. I love hanging out with the people i care about and who don’t get on my nerves easily, but regardless of how much I like a person, I need to be left alone sometimes. Just being able to be alone, get work done, but productive and really focus is extremely enjoyable – Thoreau touches on how you can be alone but not feel alone by working.
I think this concept is different when it comes to technology. While I enjoy being alone and being productive, I find that doing work on my computer is not the same kind of productivity I may have when I’m reading from a book or working through a worksheet. I think there are more distractions on the computer than there may be when I am just working with old school pen and paper.
I think I almost think of my computer as a person as well. My computer is connected to my phone, all my social media, and stores so much information – its almost as if it is extension of myself and my life. This makes me feel like the feeling of good solitude I get from working with paper and books is greater than that of working with a computer.
I love quiet time. I love being able to sit down without technology around me and just breathe. I find beauty in embracing silence, since it is beneficial for both my mental and emotional states. There are times, however, where this silence can develop into an unwanted feeling of loneliness. In this passage, Thoreau discusses the idea of silence and says, “There is commonly sufficient space about us.” In this time period, technology was not rampant. As a result of this, much of the time people like Thoreau were alone and were able to embrace the quiet around them and think about their role in the world, giving them space. Present day, technology is what shrinks this space. When I am without my phone and still alone, I feel free of the world and disconnected. I do not feel obligated to anyone or anything. However, when I have my phone on me and I am by myself, I still feel connected to the people around me. This feeling is in part due to the fact that my applications are still active, but also that people still have the freedom to reach me as they please. No matter what, I am still connected; therefore, my space is even more limited. Technology is what completely intervenes in this space.
In this paragraph, Thoreau talks about the idea of space, and how it is nice to just be away from the hustle and bustle of cities and more stereotypical neighborhoods. It is nice to get away from it all and just have time for yourself, to be in your own world without anyone else around you. However, I feel like it is nice to an extent. Don’t get me wrong, I love alone time, but sometimes I get really bored and feel really lonely. That’s when I turn to technology, because you get alone time, but also get the feeling that you are not alone, which is a really weird to think about. Although I enjoy technology, it is still good and healthy to step away from it for a little bit.
In our society, it is not often that we do have complete alone time. Because of the technological advancements we created, even when we are alone we never truly are disconnected. One way we can disconnect is by turning our phones and devices off or setting time limits on certain applications. Thoreau values alone time because he does not see solitude as lonely. It is a time to reflect on our thoughts and emotions about the world around us. Being alone is often portrayed as a negative feeling, however, that does not always have to be the case. For introverts, alone time lets them recharge or rest after social situations.
Thoreau makes a very important point here as he weighs “solitude” versus “society” in terms of quality versus quantity. He notes that many people–family members, friends, etc–make it a point to set aside regular, “short intervals” of time to meet with each other, in order to keep their relationships going. However, while setting aside time to meet up may keep their current relationships going, it is not effective at fostering growing, progressing relationships through which “new value” and “respect” is gained.
Society’s tendency to place more focus on quantity (i.e., frequency of meet-ups) rather than quality (i.e., duration of meet-ups and depth of conversation) has inevitably led society to develop “rules, called etiquette and politeness” which further fuel this stagnant trend whereby people talk to or past each other, rather than WITH each other. As Thoreau concludes, keeping company with few, yet high-quality people, rather than many people who lack communicative substance, is ideal: that is, quality over quantity–and solitude over superficial popularity–is a better path to take.
Since the time Thoreau penned these thoughts, I think technology has only served to exacerbate the issues he addresses here. Email and text and social media mean that we, as a society, keep in touch with people at an unprecedented, global-reaching rate; an yet, rarely is meaningful human connection gained through these means of communication. As many people my age, including myself, have realized, taking breaks from social media–and even temporarily deleting one’s accounts in order to do this–are sometimes necessary for one’s sanity. “FOMO” (fear of missing out) leads people to think they are missing out on meaningful social interactions, when in reality social media often is used to depict mere quantity over quality.
[ I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the fancied advantages of human neighborhood insignificant, and I have never thought of them since]
Thoreau discusses the delineation between Nature and Neighborhood as a choice that can be taken, and as if the two spheres were completely separate. I don’t believe this to be necessarily true anymore for our contemporary world. While Thoreau is able to escape into Nature, we are only able to visit it. Likewise, his escape into nature equates into pure solitude, such that our visits do not allow us to achieve a sense of solitude. The lingering thought that we retain is that we must return to society, as we have a certain framework of expectations set upon us so that we may produce value for our society. I speak in reference to the concept, now fading, of the American Dream. Whereas Thoreau had Nature and Neighborhood, we have Nature and Workplace. We can only abdicate our relational responsibilities so much, because we need to interact with people constantly within the Workplace. In essence, I think our contemporary society has set up a sticky network of interpersonal relations, ones that are not meaningful but nonetheless inextricable from ourselves, that pervade our jaunts into Nature and solitude with stressful reminders that sit in the back of our heads with what we ought to be doing. Perhaps though, the solution is contained within his sentence though, for if we could drop those expectations for just a second, and enter the pure infiniteness that Thoreau detail, we could achieve a pause and respite.
[ I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers.]
Upon first glance, I find this quote to be counter intuitive. Usually, one feels the least alone when surrounded by people, especially good company. However, it is possible to feel the most lonely in a room full of people when one feels alienated, that they have nothing in common with those who surround them. I believe Thoreau is discussing how the place where you can always be yourself without any trepidation is in your own company. If you are alone, there is nothing to compare your experience to. You are free to be yourself without judgement, without fear. There are no other people present to make you feel by yourself or different. Solitude is liberating. One feels alone when they compare their experience to those of others, to the absence of people around them. I believe Thoreau is expressing that being alone can be freeing, if you keep yourself open to the present experience.
Thoreau adds to his points made in the third paragraph in the beginning of the fourth about living surrounded by nature. In the third paragraph he talks about how far away he is from everyone and the extent to which he is excluded from other humans. He starts the fourth paragraph saying “there can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of nature and has his senses still.” This stood out to be because of the vast difference in how I perceive the world as does Thoreau. Whenever I am on a long drive and happen to pass houses that seem extremely secluded and in the middle of nowhere. I always have this feeling that if I was to live there I would feel very depressed and I just would never want to live to far away from things happening. I guess my viewpoint is quite skewed against living in nature growing up in the middle of Manhattan. The only solace I think of is that technology would connect me to people I know if I did happen to live there. Meanwhile Thoreau is talking about loving being secluded in the way he is without any semblance of the technology we enjoy today. I think my preconceived notions are wrong though about feeling poorly when living in nature. I was on a trip to yellowstone national park this summer with my family and the air bnb we stayed in was essentially in the middle of no where wyoming without wifi and terrible phone reception. I thought that when we were back from the park it would be very boring but I ended up just having a great time with my brothers and parents. Although I’m not so sure I would have felt the same way without the company of my family the way that Thoreau seems to like to live.
In this paragraph, Thoreau places emphasis on his seclusion from the rest of the world while living in the woods next to Walden Pond, and how it brings him content. I, too, have shared this same mindset with Thoreau where I do enjoy being by myself sometimes. I feel like everyone should have alone time, and it’s a healthy factor in one’s daily life. As for technology in connection with this situation, I believe it plays a significant part in distancing ourselves from the rest of the world, but with a negative influence. With the progression into the future, technology will always be a prominent force in our everyday lives. However, humans need to learn how to balance the utilization of technology in their lives, and make sure not to have it encroach too much into the important things in life, such as family, friends, and experiences.
This passage reminds me of the song “Car Radio” by Twenty One Pilots. The song follows the lead singer as he laments the loss of his car radio. The lead singer finds out that he can’t hide from himself in the silence and solitude of his car. Solitude can be scary at first, but it’s in the seclusion that you can learn about yourself. People go out of their way to stay busy and distracted to avoid spending too much time with their own mind. However, if people spent more time in solitude, they would notice things about themselves and their environment like Thoreau does in this section. He felt the discomfort associated with seclusion until the silence allowed him to hear the natural world around him. He was able to see the woods and weather in a new way without the constant distraction of always being surrounded by people.
As a kid I spent a lot of time home alone because my mom worked a lot. Because of that, I’ve always loved being alone. When I was alone as a kid I would explore the house and play pretend for hours. Now as an adult, solitude allows me to be creative and contemplative. It may be uncomfortable at first, but more people ought to give solitude a chance. Being alone every now and then might help them see things in a new light.
[Some of my pleasantest hours were during the long rain storms in the spring or fall, which confined me to the house for the afternoon as well as the forenoon, soothed by their ceaseless roar and pelting; when an early twilight ushered in a long evening in which many thoughts had time to take root and unfold themselves.]
I really enjoy this particular sentence of the passage because I also find that some of my best times are spent sitting inside during rain storms. The sound of the rain against the rooftop is one of my favorite sounds, and I like being able to sit down next to a window so I can watch the rain create puddles outside in the grass. It’s interesting how in a world that’s so invested in technology, some of the simple things still manage to make us happy.
Later on in this paragraph, Thoreau mentions how some wonder why he doesn’t feel lonesome being so far away from people, especially during rainy days and nights. He doesn’t understand why people expect him to feel lonely, and I can’t help but agree with him. While I love being around my friends and family, there is something very enjoyable about being alone. Too often I find myself needing to be alone to re-energize.
Even though Thoreau spends most of his time in solitude, he finds peace and company with nature, work, and study. He also notes that one can be in solitude or feel lonely whilst among others; he specifically describes that one diligent student student at Cambridge University studying among a crowd. I wonder if Thoreau would still be at peace with solitude if he had access to the immense technology we have today. When I am physically alone, I don’t necessarily feel alone as I have access to friends and family via social media and my phone. I have access to streaming networks, and media online. I am always connected to the world, and while it allows me to always stay updated, I never have the freedom to just be alone. If I receive a ext message I feel obligated to respond right away. I spend almost all day on my laptop, and even if I am physically alone, I am always virtually connected with people. When I was younger, and didn’t have access to the technology we use today I remember staying up late to watch lightning storms with my mom or simply just listening to the rain until I fell asleep. I can’t remember the last time I have been able to enjoy the effects of nature; if its a snow day, I’d probably just watch a movie on my laptop. Thoreau, not having access to this technology, finds that rain storms are his most pleasant hours; giving him time to appreciate how nature interacts and alone with his thoughts. I find myself feeling jealous of Thoreau’s simple life and the ways he chooses to spend him time throughout the reading of this book and I wonder If I would be more motivated and able to live a life like this, if technology was not as advanced and dependable today.
“With thinking we may be beside ourselves in a sane sense. By a conscious effort of the mind we can stand aloof from actions and their consequences; and all things, good and bad, go by us like a torrent. We are not wholly involved in Nature. I may be either the drift-wood in the stream, or Indra in the sky looking down on it”
Solitude is certainly conducive to thinking, particularly thinking deeply. When we’re fully absorbed in thought, we’re able to assume a perspective disentangled from the distractions of the self. For a few moments, at least. In the quote above, Thoreau seems to indicate an instance of objective thought. More often than not, our thoughts are formed with the subjective in mind, if they’re not outright egocentric. But we all possess the ability to exist outside our subjective selves and consider the beyond: stuff like ‘the eternal’ and ‘objective truths.’ In that sense, as Thoreau points out, we can momentarily exist apart from ourselves. He calls this a ‘doubleness’ in thought.
In my experience, I’ve become familiar with the sense of ‘spectating’ my life in a detached way. Like Thoreau, I wouldn’t necessarily call this doubleness, this standing beside my life, a good thing. When I consider “my self” objectively, often in moments of extreme unreality (and solitude), I’m wont to be overly critical and cold. It’s also frightening to see yourself as just another human, who will make mistakes and eventually die like everyone else. But I appreciate the moments of clarity it affords me. This type of thinking is great for getting lost in writing, and also for acting without thinking during overwhelmingly stressful situations, but not for day-to-day existence. As Thoreau writes, “we are not wholly involved in Nature” here, and feeding too much to the detached, objective side of our thoughts takes the joy out of life and “may easily make us poor neighbors and friends”, lacking the ability to connect to someone’s subjective experience.
I’m really interested in Thoreau’s notion of the spectator. Above I connected it to objective thought, but I also think this lends itself well to Eastern philosophy. When he writes “that is no more I than it is you” of the detached, observant spectator, it brings to mind the concept of “oneness”, or everything being connected as a manifestation of ‘God.’ Perhaps this spectator, that exists for all of us, is indication of some base spirituality. It’s a lot to consider.
But, in an attempt to connect this to technology somehow, the word spectator reminds me of language in video games. In the online game LoL, you can ‘spectate’ a match other people are playing without being involved in the game yourself. As a spectator, you can move between the perspectives of any/all players, while not being a player yourself. This isn’t very fun, but you can learn from other players’ real-time experience, which tracks onto Thoreau’s concept of a spectator “sharing no experience [with the self], but taking note of it.”
I think this paragraph is the most important to me because of the emphasis of pulling yourself away from technology. I think the shown importance of finding yourself and values in space is good for everyone to know. I think that being able to find your happiness mentally and emotionally will improve the disengagement from technology. Giving yourself the time to step away from technology helps make life more realistic and can improve the knowledge of not needing technology readily available. Since I am a college student now, technology has become a necessity, but is not the only thing I need in my life.
I do agree with taking a break from technology, but I do not think it needs to be as extreme as it is mentioned in this paragraph. People use technology to figure out where to go and how to determine the weather, or if any major tragedy is occurring. If you do what Milton has suggested we would end up living like hunters and gathers (to a certain extent) instead of working as a whole society and being independent. I do think that we need to take a break from technology, but should still be able to keep it available for emergencies, not for social media use 24/7.
[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. The really diligent student in one of the crowded hives of Cambridge College is as solitary as a dervish in the desert. ]
I particularly enjoyed Thoreau’s sentiment about solitude not being measured by miles of space that intervene between people and his description of the college student because it reminds me of my own college experience. For instance, when I am in the process of working on projects or simply meeting deadlines, it doesn’t matter if I am surrounded by a crowd of my friends – I will still block out the noise from the outside world. Consumed by my own thoughts or suspicions, I’m never quite alone when the voice in my head won’t be quiet. Yet, at the same time, Thoreau’s description of the farmer who cannot sit down in a room alone seems to reflect the same dilemmas that exist today. Whether it’s obsessively checking our phones when we find ourselves alone in a coffee-shop as opposed to say, engaging in meaningful conversations, or turning to the television and watching shows or movies instead of being content with the quiet. If anything, this passage highlights certain issues that are confronted when practicing yoga or other meditative forms. In yoga, there’s a particular pose that comes to mind and it’s my favorite, it’s called savasana, but most people know it as corpse pose [Sava means corpse (among many other things) in Sanskrit]. Savasana is a pose that forces us to be conscious of our own body by lying perfectly still. Understanding that we are alone, we have control of our independent bodies, this pose encourages us to be more conscious– to exist in the moment. In my own practice of yoga, savasana has enabled me to find comfort in silence, which is ultimately why I find myself agreeing with Thoreau’s sentiment: “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
In this paragraph, Thoreau talks about how secluding yourself is not necessarily a bad thing. As a more introverted person, I agree with Thoreau. Sometimes, it is nice to take a step back from socializing and dedicate time to myself. However, I never feel truly alone. Most of the time, I am spending my free time on my phone or some other sort of device. It is strange how we can be physically alone, yet surrounded in the online world. People can reach out to me if they need anything and vice versa. I often prefer this situation, as my social battery is able to recharge without completely isolating myself. I have to give credit to Thoreau, though, because I do not think I could live and be alone almost all the time. While it may be exhausting for me, I still think that social interaction is an important part of a healthy life.
This paragraph in particular makes me think of the spread of information technology, be that in the form of social media, the internet, or the like. “Can we not do without the society of our gossips a little while?” I think we cannot. The endless, meaningless chattering of the information age is nigh inescapable. I pride myself in not using social media, and in similarly not watching television or Netflix or whatever equivalent, while also not using the internet to socialize. Even still, this is not something I can escape. One cannot walk through campus without hearing of whatever transient and meaningless drama is occurring for some people or another. Even if I isolated myself as much as I am capable, I would still be bombarded by the infinitude of emails sent by the college. I must use my email to function in college life. It is not something I can afford to avoid. And, that technological omnipresence makes the ability to have naught but “our own thoughts to cheer us” a practical impossibility.
I think it is interesting how Thoreau discusses feelings of loneliness and how this both affected him and didn’t at the same time. He discusses that he never felt lonesome despite the lack of human contact around him, but he was also conscious of the “slight insanity” in his mood. I can relate to this because when I am alone (which I usually don’t like to be), I have to find ways to entertain myself, which sometimes leads to me believing I’m a little crazy. However, I convince myself that this is normal because it is only me in the room and no one else is there to influence my actions.
This same idea can be related to technology. When I am on social media, along with many others, this changed the way I portray myself and interact with people because I know other people will be seeing it. This could come off as much different than how my true, in-person self is. Without the use of technology, this gives me the freedom to act as a more authentic and even creative version of myself. As much as I don’t like being alone, sometimes I need that time to discover new things about myself that I can’t find when I am around other people, especially without the use of technology.
When working, I put in earbuds, listen to music, and disconnect from the world. This is a common occurrence if I’m writing an essay or doing work around my house. This is because I prefer solitude when I need to focus. Similar to Thoreau, solitude is a great aid in life that doesn’t matter how close you are to others, when you need it, you can find solitude. Thoreau’s point on how company soon turns wearisome and dissipating rings true, especially in the life of an introvert such as I. Being able to take the time to distance yourself and focus on either yourself or your work allows you to rest and recharge.
It is interesting to me that Thoreau experiences such mixed feelings about being alone. He discusses feelings of “insanity” and how being alone was “unpleasant”, however he also explains the peacefulness of living in the nature among the pine needles that befriended him. I can relate to this, because when I came to college, I was very lonely and uncomfortable in my environment. I felt like I was going crazy, because I had a hard time making friends at first so I went days at times without talking to anyone. However, it slowly became peaceful as I discovered that I was left alone to do what I wanted and when I wanted, and I was very productive within my first year of school because of that. So, while it was unpleasant at first, it grew on me just as it did for Thoreau.
As for technology, I have found my experience with being alone with people with technology to make life boring. It is so common anymore to be in a room full of people, with everybody’s face buried in their phones and no actual social interactions occurring.
In the first paragraph, Thoreau talks about the peacefulness of walking about the lake alone, looking at the reflective water and feeling calmed. In the fourth paragraph, he talks about being stuck inside the house due to rain. when this happens, he is again calmed and not feeling melancholy. I feel the same way when I am alone. I too have taken long, slow walks around a pond, or sat inside the house alone with my thoughts because of rain. Many people do not like to be alone with their mind, but I find it peaceful. It is like therapy or meditation. The main difference between the way Thoreau spends his alone time and how I spend mine is technology. While Thoreau will sit in his house in silence, I prefer to have music playing. I am still focusing on my thoughts, or even nothing at all, but I enjoy the background noise.
When comparing this published version of Walden to the fluid text version of his 1847, I am struck by the changes he made. His opening line remains unchanged, which is unsurprising given how strong and gripping it stands. I particularly love this section and this paragraph specifically for its ability to enrapture the reader in the scene of the woods at night and the sounds and sensations Thoreau experiences. Reading the paragraph itself is a meditation of nature. The fluid text reveals how Thoreau grappled with capturing the scene in its justice, highlighting just the right parts. His changes are subtle but intentional, such as shifting the placement of “the waves still dash” from the beginning of the sentence to later. He also builds upon the scene with delightful additions like “some creatures lull the rest with their notes. The repose is never complete.” Or, his amendment of the simple “the whippoorwill sings” to “the note of the whippoorwill is borne on the rippling wind from over the water.” The fluid text reveals the process of writing — Thoreau is like an artist, each sentence he hones is a stroke of his brush. Sometimes he goes back to add a new layer, sometimes he slightly changes the color. All of his efforts are made to move him toward the final image he seeks. Sometimes, a new and more vivid is formed that what he originally imagined. In the fluid text, Thoreau’s brush strokes are made evident as he carefully adds color and repaints other sections entirely.
So perchance it appears to each of us They are unaccountably kind to me Notwithstanding a sense of unworthiness which possesses me, for the most part the spirit of the universe seems unaccountably kind to me, & I seem to enjoy an unusual share of happiness. Yet I think that there may be a settlement to come
This section is removed from the published version of Walden. I think that this section shines some light on a more humble version of Thoreau than is seen in the majority of the published text. He acknowledges how fortunate he is, which is refreshing! This small passage gives us insight into a less-sure Thoreau who feels unworthy of his luck. This is a stark contrast to his usual confident voice as a writer.
I have chosen this passage as my fluid text, because of the peaceful scene, Thoreau Cretes through his writing and how essential it is to see the beauty in life, especially during time like these.In version A, this passage has many revisions, specifically with word choice. He uses the word “special” instead of “in particular” and I believe that this shows how comfortable he is with his environment – “in particular” has a cold and uninviting connotation, but “special” makes the reader understand that these are things he is used to.
The last line of this passage is quite interesting when you look in the revisions. In versions A, Thoreau says “nature has her watchmen,” but in this version he says “They are natures watchmen.” I wonder why he decided to gender nature as a female in this first versions but remove the gendering all together in the one we are reading.
I enjoy this chapter of the book because I think the “solitude” of Thoreau’s situation is one of the most intriguing aspects of the book. I chose to address this passage in particular as I noticed it is completely cut out of Version A of Walden. I wanted to touch upon why this might be as there must have been a reason behind this passage being removed while others remained. As I look at the rest of the passages in this chapter and how they might compare to this paragraph, he starts the chapter off with a very broad sense of how he observes the nature around him. However, he follows this with a paragraph of a specific look into a situation in his own life, then right into another paragraph of an experience he had. I think this second passage in the chapter was removed from Version A because it makes for a smoother transition into a new theme. I also think this creates a deeper sense for the reader by leaving out a paragraph that does not have much meaning to it, while the following paragraph has a more valuable insight to consider following the first paragraph in the chapter.
I have chosen to talk about this paragraph for fluid text influence because to me the change of the text was the most captivating. Certain phrases throughout the first two sentences changed my aspect on the details throughout the journey he took during his writing. The fluid text given to us has helped me understand the peaceful message that Walden was trying to give us, and some sentences I liked more in the fluid version than in this version. I specifically liked when he was talking about the waves sending him through the journey quickly. I also being able to click on specific parts of a sentence to see the changes given and overall understand why Walden decided to make those chagnes.
I also like that throughout all of the passages you can see that some paragraphs did not need to be edited at all and can see how those paragraphs also affected the changes in other paragraphs.
Through looking at the fluid text version, it seems Thoreau removed a sentence from the end that adds more clarity to the thought expressed of belonging to nature and nature being a part of him. This sentence, appearing only in Version A, reads “God is my father & my friend—men are my brothers—but nature is my mother & my sister.” I find the removal and rarity of this concluding line odd as the reference to nature as mother and sister I feel brings more clarity and allows the reader to more easily grasp the question this paragraph poses.
This first paragraph is the one I chose as my fluid text example, because in reading both the original and that of version A, I noticed some striking differences. The message overall still rings true, and is seen in both versions: that though time may feel paused in the woods, in such an isolated and serene part of the forest, life continues on, and seasons continue to change. Time, although it often feels abstract, is a constant, and always moving forward. One change I noticed was in the first sentence, when “the whole body is one sense” is changed to “the whole body seems to be one sense” in version A. This is interesting because it takes the state of the body from being a fact to being a subjective thing. It forces the reader to acknowledge that what they’re reading is a subjective reality of the narrator, and is not entirely fact.
I\’ve been coding this chapter of Walden over the past couple of days. It\’s been a real challenge because I am by no means good at coding, I just happened to be the person in my group willing to give it a try! I thought this would mean that I\’d only do the coding part of the project, however after expending hours typing out each word and triple-checking that I didn\’t skip over a line (I triple check because I\’ve done just that three times already), I feel as thought I understand the text better than before. I find myself contributing to all of the project because I have so many thoughts on the text! We are all in a unique position to be writing and thinking about solitude, both the chapter and the concept. I\’ve never agreed much with Thoreau with the exception of this chapter. I love being in solitude. I really wanted to focus on this chapter for the group project because it\’s my favorite. However, I\’m starting to better understand paragraph 14. I\’ve kind of skimmed that paragraph in the past, but the two sentences have new meaning during social distancing. There\’s a difference between self-chosen solitude and forced solitude. One breeds healthy thought, self-reflection, productivity, and relaxation while the other inhibits all of those things. This chapter is almost only about self-chosen solitude, and while it\’s still my favorite, I don\’t connect with Thoreau nearly as much as I used to. In fact, his wonder toward solitude is almost annoying at the moment. Instead I find compassion for the dying man, and gratitude for the line \”and come to know that we are never alone.\” I include the \”and\” because realizing that we aren\’t alone is a continuous process, and not a linear one by any stretch.
My group chose to focus on a set of paragraphs, including paragraph 9, that are added in version B and make it to the final version as seen here. I think it interesting that he added these passages in quotes as they help to evolve his earlier discussion of opening our eyes to the grand things that exist next to us that we seek for but do not see. Thoreau has a great veneration of early authors and poets and the works of those before us. In paragraph 9, he acknowledges that our traditions “offer sacrifices and oblation to their ancestors… [in] an ocean of subtile intelligence.” So much of what we do is a repetition of those that came before us, of the impacts they had on society. As Thoreau remarks, it is a subtle influence that we do not often acknowledge. We do, do, do, but rarely do we stop and think and consider. There are very few moments in our life where we are introspective and ask ourselves where our clothes, our traditions, our ideas come from. We internalize what’s around us without considering those where it first came from.
In this paragraph, Thoreau addresses the observation many people make about him and his distance away from other humans. Many people prefer and find it more easy and comfortable to be in closer to one another, because everything is accessible and within reach. Thoreau’s answer to this is “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.” In other words, Thoreau’s take on solitude and distance means much more in his eyes than mere physical distance and closeness between humans. In this sense, he’s referring to not only his distance from other people in terms of measurement (i.e. miles, minutes, etc.) but also to their differing mindsets and outlook on life which has a more significant weight in his eyes. He also questions why people should feel lonely if they are far in distance from other people. Respectively, Thoreau is expressing that ‘distance’ holds a much more ambiguous meaning than one realizes.
Throughout this Remote Learning period, I have found myself thinking about Thoreau and his time in the woods. This chapter in particular about Solitude has been one that I have come back to time and time again. The line in paragraph12 thats says, “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude,” has been sticking with me. At one time, I use to love when I was alone. I craved my alone time to recharge and to relax without having to be around people. But now, when I no longer have the freedom to see people as I please, I find myself wishing I could and waiting to see them the first chance I get. I think Thoreau enjoyed this solitude so much because it was self inflicted. When you’re choosing to do something it means that you truly want it, so obviously Thoreau found it enjoyable. But social-distancing, while highly important to prevent COVID-19, isn’t something people wanted to do – I think this is why it has been so hard for everyone, including myself, to deal with it and continue to be functioning adults. While in comply with the guidelines and try to do the best I can, its still hard and I begin to resent the solitude that Thoreau praises.
I find this passage, mainly the line, “… whose loneliness was relieved by the grotesque visions with which…his diseased imagination surrounded him,” to show that we are very much social creatures. For even a man, completely alone and dying, was made to see visions ensuring he didn’t die alone in a fashion. It’s an important notion to make in a chapter about solitude. Thoreau states earlier, in paragraph 12, that he loves to be alone. That is a sentiment most definitely shared by others, but as Thoreau notes, “So also, owing to bodily and mental health and strength, we may be continually cheered by a like but more normal and natural society, and come to know that we are never alone.” This statement reinforces the notion of humans as social creatures; that despite how much we can love solitude, it is important to interact.
When working on our projects, this paragraph caught my attention the most. As an introvert, I understand Thoreau’s assertion about never finding “the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” I always say that my life is about me and no one else, and I feel that Thoreau would agree. I like that he does not equate distance and being alone due to the fact that a person in a party of 100 can still feel alone. To Thoreau, solitude is something that is measured by things other than loneliness.
I found the comparison of someone working in a field vs a student working on their studies interesting in terms of them both being solitude. From my own experience I have a very different perspective from that of the farmer he gives. When I am doing work for school I am able to be far more productive and focused when I am alone in a quiet area. I can’t get my work done productively when I am surrounded by friends conversing. Yet in my first summer job at 15/16 I worked for a contractor doing a lot of physical work. Everyone I worked with was from Poland and a good 90% of them didn’t know english at all. Those that did could not really hold a conversation more just be able to communicate what they wanted me to do. I have always been more of a quiet person and not really interested in small talk. However, after awhile I found myself missing general human connection over what we were doing when I was unable to do so. For some reason in my own personal experience I feel like I would rather not be by myself doing laborious physical work. The complete opposite from how the farmer is described in his thoughts.
I commented on this paragraph as a whole a couple of weeks ago, but reading through it again, I’m noticing a pattern in the way Thoreau addresses nature as a concept. Without missing a beat, Thoreau has capitalized every mention of the word Nature, referring to it as almost a sentient being, with a working mind and agenda. He’s essentially made Nature into it’s own pronoun. I’ve seen this done in other literary texts before – often with Hope or Faith or Love, and when done well, I genuinely enjoy it as a literary device. Thoreau uses it well, especially because the entirety of Walden is relating to Nature and it’s relationship with humankind.
This paragraph is particularly interesting to me because Thoreau manages to put into words a concept that I’ve had trouble articulating in the past. I’m a weird introvert – I love talking to people, socializing, etc. But only for short amounts of time. After that, once my social energy runs out, there is nothing more that I want than to be alone and by myself. Spending time alone because you want to has been made into a sort of stereotype in our society – the only people that willingly seek out alone time are shy, introverted, unfriendly. But Thoreau understands that this is simply not true, and tells the reader that in being alone leaves you with “the world to darkness and to me.”
What Thoreau is trying to say here is that more often than not, humans live for their next interaction, rather than the moments in between. The line that puts it best is, “We…give each other a new taste of that old musty cheese that we are.” This is a fabulous comparison – with every routine interaction with each other, we have nothing new to offer – we are, in fact, musty old cheese.
Most of the time, people associate being alone as a negative thing. However, throughout this section of the text, Thoreau analyzes his isolation from society and introduces the idea of a smaller world all to himself. As we are evolving with technology, we are constantly thinking about ways to communicate online, rather than in person. While the internet can be a great place to gain some knowledge or communicate with others, it also opens the doors to negativity and malicious acts. One needs to learn how to strike an appropriate balance to ensure we are focusing on what’s really important: being alive.
A lot of Thoreau’s writing in this section reminds me of Into the Wild. I know Christopher McCandless was heavily influenced by people like Thoreau in his quest for solitude and a simple life, and it definitely shows in the writing I feel.
Thoreau shows his philosophical mindset for finding the good in every situation. This separates him from how most people think about certain things such as rain; they would complain and not acknowledge the good it is actually doing for the earth
Thoreau explains how he is basically living out natures course by saying he is not anymore lonesome than a variety of things such as a dandelion by living alone in the woods. He knows that he is never alone, even though the average person would perceive him to be a hermit.
[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? 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. ]
Here Thoreau puts loneliness and solitude into perspective. What defines loneliness? Him being so far removed from others while still being relatively close to them in terms of our universe. Distance doesn’t define loneliness but rather meaningful connections with others do. One can live in a town surrounded by people and feel alone while Thoreau lives alone in the woods and feels connected with nature. It all depends on your perspective.
This paragraph focusses on our routine lives and how we spend so much time together that there is no room for personal development. We mindlessly follow society’s standards of a good citizen without much thought for ourselves. We need solitude to learn more about ourselves in order to be able to give back to society and be of value to others.
In this paragraph, Thoreau connects the nature that surrounds him while he walks along the pond.
[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.]
What Thoreau means by this is that men might be afraid of the unknown of what’s in nature
I found this passage significant and can see the theme of solitude clearly. He is talking about how routine the daily “tasks” of having connections with other people seems sometimes. I think sometimes this is the case when we come out of our room just to eat 3 meals a day as the author says, it seems routine and careless. The last sentence such out to me as well- I interpret it as saying the value of people is what is in the inside in some way.
This short paragraph I found a bit confusing as a whole due to the language but he first line was interesting. Saying that we are subjects of an experiement when referring to people in life is something I have heard before. Thoreau tends to have a different perspective on life than most and this definitely proves this.
Thoreau used the time in his home to slow down and enjoy the time he has to be alone. He used rainy and snowy days as an opportunity for space away from people. He contested the thought of needing to be close to people all the time as a way to feel secure and safe.
Thoreau uses his mind as a way to escape his physical body and to enter a world where he can be anything. He is saying that thoughts are what make reality and helps people stay sane.
Here, Thoreau touches upon the difference between being alone and loneliness. Describing how a mind at work, whether that be a farmer tending to his field or a student at college, is never truly lonely because they are working and “employed.” Both, he explains, will “seek the same recreation and society” to compensate for the time they spend alone because, “when he comes home at night he cannot sit down in a room alone, at the mercy of his thoughts.”
Describing a man dying alone at the foot of a tree forced to be alone with his thoughts, Thoreau strengthens his idea that when alone, one must be able to face, and truly understand, their thoughts. Saying, “his diseased imagination surrounded him,” is an excellent way of describing the often dark thoughts the mind has a way of concocting.
This paragraph is so descriptive and really makes me visualize the nature around him. I like how he describes how man is still a bit weary of the world around them.
Thoreau really uses his view to show his connection to everything in nature around him. The way he describes his connection to every little aspect of nature is interesting. It seems that in every task he has to do, he seems to find the deeper meaning of what it means to him.
In this first paragraph it makes me think that we walking along the beach or near a lake and listening to the animals talk at night. While reading this paragraph it reminds me of the camp that I used to go to each summer that was on an Island in Maine that was on the ocean. We would go at night and early morning to watch the sun rise and set. While we would be walking down in the early mornings we would see and hear the morning birds and frogs sing to us. Many times it was cool and a little windy just like the paragraph talked about.
[ Leave a comment on paragraph 12 16 I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. ]
This section of the chapter really stood out to me. We are now living a life where it’s not normal for us to be at home all the time and not being out with others. Since Covid started our live has kind of been similar to Thoreau’s life in the sense that we are at home and away from other people. I personally like being alone because I can do what I want, when I want and where I want without having to worry about other people. But I’ve been like this before Covid was even a thing. Looking at Covid in the perspective of Thoreau, I think we would have done well with Covid in terms of being isolated from the outside world. He lived his life as if he was in quarantine because he would work on his farm each and every day and hardly ever went into town. Back then people would look at you weird or make comments about never going out and being a “home body” but now society wants us to stay home and not go out.
This is a really interesting paragraph which is still relevant today. I think its so odd that we have these rules and routines in society which basically guide our lives. I think we need more diversity and freedom so that we feel more at ease in life because like Thoreau said, “we thus lose some respect for one another”. It’s like we get in our own heads and instead of actually communicating with one another we create small talk.
I like that he quoted Confucius here. This whole paragraph is really interesting to me and I think I agree with the part about having our own thoughts to “cheer us”.
Nice connection, Kati. I can really picture similar lovely evenings by water, too.
Definitely. And there were still some wild animals around at night in the 1800s in Concord, Mass, that one could fear–even now, in some places. But you’re right, it’s not just unknown animals, it’s just The Unknown that makes us nervous.
That last sentence of yours is spot on–and that was his goal: think about everything to figure out life’s meaning.
Yes! I love this passage. Most people think of how rain affects them; he thinks of how it affects nature, first. And if it’s good for nature, it’s good for him.
Yes– he does look for meaning in Everything, to figure out life and himself.
Nice job, Sofie & Dylan: excellent observations and comments.
I guess it depends on the person, but if you’re in a good mood (your own thoughts to cheer you), then see people complaining or criticizing on social media or in the news (“the society of gossips”), it’s probably wise to click away before it drags you down.
Good analysis, Dylan. This part of the chapter is more difficult and ‘metaphysical’ than the rest. And yes, he doesn’t feel lonely in part because he / we can think as spectators on our own experience, almost like splitting into two, the one living and the one thinking.
Both great comments on this paragraph, Rebecca and Kati!
Great readings of this paragraph, Sofie, Anna, and Olivia–we’ll talk about it in class. I think a lot about “that old musty cheese that we are” in quarantine…
And Olivia, I can’t figure out how to delete unwanted second posts either…:)
The opening sentence to this paragraph was very relatable for me. I could never put my finger on why, but there is something pleasant and calming about a good rain storm. My grandmother has a house on the beach, and I’ve always enjoyed being there during a storm – getting to watch the waves crash and the wind howl. Maybe it is the sense of being able to watch that form of nature from the safety of a dry shelter, but I’m not sure
As I am sure much of Thoreau’s writing will do, I continue to be reminded of Christopher McCandless. Obviously Thoreau was a main inspiration of his, so I find it interesting to read a different voice that is pushing much of the same message
[ I one evening overtook one of my townsmen, who has accumulated what is called “a handsome property”,—though I never got a fair view of it,—on the Walden road, driving a pair of cattle to market, who inquired of me how I could bring my mind to give up so many of the comforts of life. I answered that I was very sure I liked it passably well; I was not joking. And so I went home to my bed, and left him to pick his way through the darkness and the mud to Brighton,—or Bright-town,—which place he would reach some time in the morning.]
Another example of Thoreau exemplifying his passion and reasoning for isolation.
I love the line about being more alone when we are around people we have nothing in common with, compared to being by yourself.
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.
Here Thoreau is describing the trade between entities, yet he’s also underlying that this is what makes up the capitalist system, “All the Indian huckleberry hills are stripped,…” the idea of taking natural resources for the an industrial society.
Hayles’ “How We Read” starts off by mentioning how deeply critical scholars are of this current generation and digital reading. I think that Thoreau would also be quite critical of digital reading. If he thought that a lot was published back then, he would be horrified at the seemingly infinite number of books one can read for $9.99 on their Kindle. However, I think that Thoreau might appreciate how the digital world makes so many texts in various languages accessible. One can read the classics in their original language and use the internet to help translate. Digital reading opens a whole new world of opportunities for readers. Not everyone or even most people take advantage of this opportunity, but it’s there for those few who see the value in reading and learning.
[ My days were not days of the week, bearing the stamp of any heathen deity, nor were they minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock; for I lived like the Puri Indians, of whom it is said that “for yesterday, to-day, and to-morrow they have only one word, and they express the variety of meaning by pointing backward for yesterday, forward for to-morrow, and overhead for the passing day.” ]
Thoreau describes how the bird’s singing in the morning signals the beginning of the day for him, unlike the alarm clock that wakes me up. By relying on the sounds of nature to guide his days and sense of time, Thoreau lives an unstructured and more enjoyable life through its simplicity. The sounds I hear in my own life are through a structured world. The beginning of my day is dictated by the shrill alarm of my phone to signal when I must wake up to get to class on time. As our world has become more technologically advanced, the need for accuracy has increased. People can no longer rely on the sun’s position in the sky to determine what time they need to be somewhere. With more technology, the world has become more complex. They is an increased need for accuracy, for all the small components of the organization of society to compartmentalize. It’s not possible to live in the simplistic nature of Thoreau’s world, where one does not have to be a slave to the clock, if one is part of the modern world or wishes to interact with society. Time, the sounds associated with it, have become an integral part of society. Yet, for some situations, I still rely on the simplicity of natural sounds to guide my life in a sense of time much larger than a clock. Recently, even before the weather was as nice as it is today, my first hint of spring always comes from the sound of certain bird songs outside my window in the morning. I don’t know which birds they are, and I couldn’t recite the tune if you asked, but when I hear those familiar melodies — I know that it’s the beginning of spring. I also recognized the sounds of birds in the summer from my bedroom back home. Despite the overbearing presence of the sounds of technology in my life today, the sounds of the natural world still hold an importance as they help with my larger perception of time and change in the world.
I grew up down the street from a park that hid a set of train tracks at the back. There is a fence and several warning signs, but there they are marking the end of the little league field. My friends and I used to hop the fence of the baseball field to lay in the outfield and listen to trains thunder past. Aside from the whistle, I can perfectly hear the “iron horse” that Thoreau describes here. It’s an overwhelming sound that can drown out even the sound of your own thoughts. This sound is quite obviously one only made by technology. It’s funny how both our train tracks are near our get-aways. Mine next to the park and Thoreau’s next to his woods.
In this passage, Thoreau describes the sound of stillness. He says “I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness… I was reminded of the lapse of time.” This stillness that he describes is the stillness I both love and experience when I read novels that suck me in. Novels that just want to make me keep reading, and/or that I can relate to so much. As I said in class on Monday, when I am in my most comfortable environment (snuggled into a couch with or without good music), there is a certain stillness around me as if the whole world stops. And then once I finish reading, I feel like I have come back to life. I very much relate to this stillness and this time lapse since I experience it for myself.
Even though Thoreau lives in the country and I live in a city, this description of the merchants arriving reminds me a lot of when I was a kid. This is because when I was little, there used to be a a couple who would set up a fruit and vegetable stand every Saturday morning near my house. My mom would take me and sister and we would just shop around for a really long time.
Here, Thoreau describes the whistle of a passing train “piercing” the calmness and stillness of his woods. With this come the merchants from the city who are urgent to trade. I live in the suburbs, so I’m not very close to train tracks, but I do hear the alarm raised by the fire house that is fairly close to where I live, which can be comparable to the similar sounds Thoreau experienced in Walden Pond. With the rise in technology, the ‘sounds’ it is composed of and releases make an appearance in our everyday lives. Today, we hear the sound of a train whistle, of a car horn, the tap of fingers on computer keys…Years and years ago these sounds were almost foreign-like in the woods in which Thoreau resided. Today, these sounds are an everyday presence in our lives that we don’t even seem to realize, or take notice of due to its “normalcy.”
In this paragraph, Thoreau talks about the whistle of the locomotive. It penetrated his woods summer and winter, and sounded like the scream of a hawk sailing over some farmer’s yard. The sound of a screaming hawk doesn’t sound very pleasant to me, but the memories I have attached to the sound of a train whistle are quite nice. When I was a child, I used to stay at my grandpa and grandma’s house over the summer. I’d sleep in their spare bedroom, and because they lived next to a set of train tracks, I would hear the soft whistle when I’d lay in bed at night. It’s funny how certain sounds can bring up memories, whether good or bad. It’s also interesting how sometimes we get so used to sounds that we don’t even notice them anymore. For instance, there is a cuckoo clock in my house that goes off every hour, but half the time I don’t even acknowledge the noises it makes. However, technology was so new in the world when Thoreau wrote this passage, that certain sounds probably really stood out to him.
Thoreau was very lucky to have this disconnected experience by Walden pond. In paragraph five of “Sounds,” Thoreau talks about the birds that fly past his window. He writes, “As I sit at my window this summer afternoon, hawks are circling about my clearing; the tantivy of wild pigeons, flying by two and threes athwart my view, or perching restless on the white-pine boughs behind my house, gives a voice to the air…” (Thoreau 14). I love the sounds of different birds because I do not hear them very often. Occasionally I will find a pretty blue bird or a robin outside my window, but I am used to seeing geese and pigeons, birds who do not make particularly pleasant sounds in my opinion. I am from downstate New York, where it is extremely populated. It is a far drive for me to go somewhere wooded or away from the main roads. When I do, I feel what Thoreau prompts us to feel when he writes this text, the power of disconnecting and truly listening to your senses around you. Last year in Professor Cooper’s 368 ParaDigital class, we spent one class “doing nothing.” Before coming to that class, we read an article about how it is socially unacceptable to sit somewhere and do exactly that, nothing. Professor Cooper challenged us to find somewhere on campus where we could sit and just concentrate on our thoughts. This experience taught me to identify the feelings and senses around me: what do I feel? What do I hear? What are some of the thoughts I would like to think about? I encourage everyone to try this activity because it truly allows your mind to gather and be pulled away from the screen for thirty minutes or so.
The whistle of a train that Thoreau brings up is still a sound prevalent in modern life. In an earlier paragraph, Thoreau discusses the places where one can’t even hear the whistle in a tone of disbelief. Now, in the current day, I can’t hear the various sounds of the train from where I live, but what I can hear are the sounds of cars and buses that indicate a similar sign of progress and innovation that came with the introduction of the train. In a similar vein, it would be strange to be in a place away from the sounds of progress and the technologies that take over our lives.
Thoreau reflects upon how he used to sit in his doorway on a summer morning and his memories from doing so. The stillness, bird noises, and noises from a wagon on the distant highway. I related this to how different it is to the sounds I would hear in my own life. Growing up in Manhattan there are nonstop sounds that you grow accustomed to and don’t even really hear anymore. Random cars passing by honking, random people walking down my block, and many other random sounds drown out most things he remembers from his own place. But yet how he used to hear wagons the progression of technology I grew up hearing cars. Also some of the sounds won’t change. On the other side of the apartment is a little backyard with a bird feeder and I grew up hearing birds every once in awhile similar to him.
While reading this paragraph, it brought a lot of nostalgia to my childhood. Like Thoreau describes, there is this sound of life that comes from housework. Growing up in a Latinx household came with a lot of responsibilities and a grown-up role I was not yet prepared for. By the age of 5, I was expected to help my family clean, learn how to wash dishes, and how to make sure our house was the cleanest it could be. Though I did not see it as a “pleasant pastime” as Thoreau describes, I do treasure the moments now and am thankful that at a young age I was taught responsibility, structure, and how to care for myself. The sound of music on Sunday mornings is what made me wake up, brush my teeth, get dressed, and then start cleaning. It was a ritual and bit by bit, my body and mind were adjusting to the cycle.
The sound of my early cries (from not wanting to wake up early to clean my house) turned into sounds of happiness from seeing my house neatly tight. Today, housework is a pleasant pastime and something I have to do in order to make sure my life is in order.
Thoreau describes the whistling of the train in his city as the “scream of a hawk sailing over some farmer’s yard”. It is almost as if the train is a signal, or messenger to indicate that people and goods are arriving. This reminded me of my house back at home, as there is a railroad as well as a highway right behind my house. When I was young, it bothered me and kept me up at night, reminding me that just because it’s bed time for me, doesn’t mean it’s bed time for the rest of the world. The sounds of the vehicles or trains make those in the city aware that things are arriving. Much like I became accustomed to the sounds at night and eventually slept through them, I think these sounds have also been muted out by people due to technology. They no longer need the whistle of the train to alarm them to go into the city, and this method of alarm has become “old school”. We now have everything we need, all information at our fingertips at all time. It has caused us as humans to become numb to sounds, and the peace or joy they may bring.
[I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I often did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiselessly through the house until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveler’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. ]
This reminds me of being at my camp during the summer and fall. I can remember sitting on the deck with my grandfather and watch the calm lake water, see the huge mountain full of chaos in front of the still lake and all the while smelling the pine trees. We called it Adirondack air. Still to this day my favorite smell in the world. I love the passage I selected from Walden for this reason. The way he described the air, the way it smelled, instantly brought me back to my favorite place in the world.
When Thoreau talks about how he hears the wind blowing on the pages, I can very much relate with it. This is a calming, peaceful noise, as evident by the words “free wind”. When I was younger, I would prefer to read outside. I would take a pillow up to the roof of my house and sit there for hours, feeling the sun on my skin as the wind whistles through the pages. Many sounds that Thoreau hears are unaffected by technology, considering how he lives as simply as possible in the woods away from civilization. However, in my life, I am constantly hearing technology affecting me. I hear the squeaky buzz of electricity running through an outlet, the computer generated voices that call my phone, the audio of a video or song coming out of my speakers, and so much more.
[I had this advantage, at least, in my mode of life, over those who were obliged to look abroad for amusement, to society and the theatre, that my life itself was become my amusement and never ceased to be novel. It was a drama of many scenes]
When reading the fluid text version of this paragraph, I noticed that Thoreau had the order of society and the theatre reversed, with theatre first and society last. There are two indications I see within the change. First, that Thoreau thought the theaters were a bigger draw for petty amusement than society, but reversed this decision. Clearly, he changed his mind and saw that fiction was secondary to reality (although in this case, reality still seems somewhat fictional) in terms of distraction. Secondly, he keeps his mode of metaphor even though he placed theater secondary to society. I wonder if he thought the metaphor was too good to relinquish, or if he wants to correlate life to fiction strongly. I also cannot help but point out that he makes a pun of the word ‘novel’ in this sentence as well.
[The Fitchburg Railroad touches the pond about a hundred rods south of where I dwell. I usually go to the village along its causeway, and am, as it were, related to society by this link. The men on the freight trains, who go over the whole length of the road, bow to me as to an old acquaintance, they pass me so often, and apparently they take me for an employee; and so I am. I too would fain be a track-repairer somewhere in the orbit of the earth.]
In the fluid-text edition of this passage in Walden, this entire paragraph is basically missing. The only piece remaining is the line: “The Fitchburg Railroad then newly constructed touches the pond within about a hundred rods of my house”. I find this very interesting, because the rest of the paragraph was obviously an afterthought.
Leila, this is such a thoughtful comment! I feel that reading truly takes a reader into a whole different world. Because of the current state our world is in, I have tried to set aside time to disconnect. As I mentioned in my blog post, I have been trying new skills and reading more because of this time. I love to sit on the couch with my dog and read for an hour or so because it gives me the opportunity to go into another world for that small amount of time. Even if the environment around me is not totally silent, I am not bothered because the books I have been reading are so engaging that I feel silence, calmness, and stillness around me.
Earlier in the semester, we discussed in class the sentence, “Much is published, but little printed.” Those who talked in class didn’t come to a distinct conclusion – some believed Thoreau was not referring to physical printing at all, but rather the impression that is left on people and their minds. The quote refers to the sheer amount of text and media that is published every year, but a large amount of published work continues to go unnoticed. Its easy to publish work, but it is infinitely harder to publish work that has a lasting and meaningful effect on those who consume it.
The first half of this paragraph is Thoreau talking about his experience of summer living at Walden. Thoreau recalls that he often sat in the sun, lost in the warmth of the rays and his own continuous thoughts, so much so that it would take a wagon passing by to be “reminded of the lapse of time.” This is something that I can (and I think everyone, to some extent) can relate to. Losing track of time is so easy, especially when everything around you is peaceful and warm, and the environment just lends itself to your thoughts. To be entirely honest, it’s times like these that I do my best thinking.
[ had this advantage, at least, in my mode of life, over those who were obliged to look abroad for amusement, to society and the theatre, that my life itself was become my amusement and never ceased to be novel. It was a drama of many scenes and without an end. 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.]
A while ago in group discussion, a classmate had mentioned how she perceived this quote as evident of Thoreau’s pretentiousness – I disagree (although he can be pretentious, that is a fact). I interpreted this section of the paragraph as Thoreau explaining to the reader that he found joy in his every day life. Doing mundane activities like house chores or cooking or simply thinking brought him all the pleasure that someone who frequents the theatre might have. It can almost sound like a slam against those who choose to live in a society and drive happiness from things that are, objectively, novel and unimportant to every day life, but I think otherwise. Thoreau isn’t ridiculing those who choose to live like that, but rather he’s asking them to have a modicum of self-awareness, and try to live in the moment, rather than vicariously through something.
“We are in danger of forgetting the language which all things and events speak without metaphor, which alone is copious and standard”
This quote stood out to me because Thoreau makes a great point in explaining that we can read as many texts as we want but what good is it if we are not allowed to have discussions about it and collaboratively analyze it? It’s important to have a clear space to voice what one’s thoughts or opinions are, especially after reading a text. Whether it is a book, a newspaper article, a tabloid, or a text message, we need to be able to voice how we feel and what our understanding is. We can do so little with only the written language which is why Thoreau foreshadows us losing our spoken, human language: communication.
[Nor is there any man so independent on his farm that he can say them nay. ]
While Thoreau himself is able to live only off of his land and his own skills and abilities, as proven by his experiences creating his own home in the woods with little to nothing, other men are unable to craft a lifestyle where this is possible
[They go and come with such regularity and precision, and their whistle can be heard so far, that the farmers set their clocks by them, and thus one well conducted institution regulates a whole country.]
I think this is something important to think about; in this area, people do not base the timing of their day around the rising and setting sun, nor the sounds of nature or other environmental factors, like the church bells that ring hourly in my own town. Instead, their internal clocks are set based upon the arrival of the railroad. Not only that, but activities are planned based on whether the railroad will be in use at that time, which speaks greatly to the importance of the railroad and what it has to offer in this society.
[The men on the freight trains, who go over the whole length of the road, bow to me as to an old acquaintance,]
I find this quote interesting because, I wonder why they bow to him instead of just waving and saying hello? I would like to know as well as to why he is referring to himself as an old acquaintance? Maybe the people who are bowing to him are much younger?
[ I watch the passage of the morning cars with the same feeling that I do the rising of the sun, which is hardly more regular.]
This quote stands out to me because this is something that he does a lot and it’s how he starts his morning off. Some people like to get up early and watch the sun rise that represents a fresh day and new beginnings. But for him he has the same feelings when it comes to the cars going by in the morning. These are people who are starting their day off by headed out into the world. Much like the sun, it’s starting it’s day off by welcoming everyone to have a fresh new day.
[were on hand when the bell rang. To do things “railroad fashion” is now the by-word; and it is worth the while to be warned so often and so sincerely by any power to get off its track. ]
This quote reminds me of just a few month ago while I was in Florida we had to stop and wait for a train to go by. We saw the lights flashing and the bells ringing telling us to stop and if someone’s on the tracks to get off. Much like what the quote is saying that the trains and the tracks have so much energy that it can’t stop to let people or cars go by.
Very interesting technique he uses to clean his floor; water and white sand from the pond. I wonder if that changed the smell of his house? Also a solid connection between seeing his chairs and other furniture outside among the objects in nature who’s form they once were.
Here Thoreau exemplifies the capitalistic side of America. He mentions even the most independent farmers rush to see the merchants when they arrive. Furthermore, he shines light on all of the earths natural resources that are being taken for consumption in the industrial society.
[I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance.]
Do we allow ourselves to daydream anymore, as a necessary route to growth, especially for the young? Or have screens replaced that idle time, which artists know is also the ground of creativity? How is this time “over and above his usual allowance” of time?
It’s a great image of “housecleaning” and of how he lives an indoor/ outdoor life.
I’m not sure why they bow instead of wave. But the train would’ve been loud, so they couldn’t have been heard if they said (or yelled) “hello.” I think the same guys work on the train each day, and they see him walking into Concord (Mass) regularly, so he’s very familiar to them, like an old acquaintance. He was about 27 at this time; the train-workers could have been any age, I guess.
Great point, Owen, let’s look at this passage and talk more in class about Thoreau’s critiques of industrial consumption of natural resources!
He was definitely a morning person! He does seem inspired by watching and hearing the train cars go by in this paragraph. He shows mixed feelings about the train and what it represents in various passages, but in this paragraph, the “iron horse” is dependable, strong, and admirable in many ways.
Great point, Ainsley: even by the 1840s, people’s days were timed and regulated by technology and markets, rather than natural cycles. He seems to have both admiration for the new, faster, precise timing of the train, and some wariness. What do you think he thinks of how this technology has changed how people live?
I like the imagery of the hawks circling about the clearing.
Here Thoreau talks about the effects of modern society on people. The new way of living is almost inescapable and even affects farmers who are far removed from it. Nature doesn’t indicate time anymore but “progressive” human activity does, leaving them oblivious to the beauty of life.
…[I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time.]
Thoreau is reminding us to live in the moment and absorb our surroundings and become a part of them. He sat listening to the birds and observing trees. Thoreau could have sat there for hours longer if the wagon had not passed by. He is saying that time is not something to be bound to, it is something to embrace.
I really enjoyed reading this paragraph because of the imagery of the home he lives in. I love that he mentions the materials scattered on the floor, it almost seems as if he lives the most natural life. I even love the description of his furniture, it paints a really great image of his life and what he must be seeing
The way Thoreau described his home and Boston shows how different the country and city are in terms of sounds. Thoreau painted an image in my head that concord was this peaceful place of tranquility, and Boston was full of angry, ignorant people trying to get through the day.
This line is really interesting as well, I just love the way he describes things. Especially the lines about different languages and dialects
Very nicely put about time, Dylan. I guess nowadays, people would call that kind of absorbed listening and being “mindfulness.”
Yes! Here, and often, he’s just observing and describing the nature he sees, and it’s peaceful and just lets us experience what he saw.
Great insight, Ainsley– Farmers were increasingly unable to just get by on what they raised (like Thoreau); they needed to raise extra crops and livestock to sell at the markets, just to stay out of debt. That time was called “the Market Revolution.”
Good quote and point, Sofie! Ainsley commented similarly a couple boxes above. I know for me, not waking to an alarm = vacation.
In contrast to his earlier comments about owning a farm, Thoreau describes the care and respect he has for his garden. Saying, “I tasted them out of compliment to Nature, though they were scarcely palatable.” I loved this quote because it truly shows the respect and admiration he has for nature. He also capitalizes Nature to personify it, another way to show his respect.
Here, Thoreau describes the rise of capitalizing and material things through the expanding railroads. My favorite line in this passage is, “up comes the books, but down goes the wit that writes them,” because it is an excellent way of explaining how material items can shift one’s ideals and lesson their connectedness to themselves and “wit” to write a book.
[Read your fate, see what is before you, and walk on into futurity.]
I wonder if T may be suggesting a deeper sense of ‘reading,’ perhaps related to the concept of reading put forward by Simone Weil in her “Essay on the Notion of Reading.”
[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.
In this paragraph Thoreau is essentially saying that your circumstances don’t have to define your life. He proves this by going to live a walden and taking a different direction in his life.
This first paragraph of the conclusion is interesting because he seems to be almost making fun of what he says doctors recommend to sick people, especially with his comment about Tierra del Fuego and what can be interpreted as hell.
[Let every one mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made.]
I have mixed emotions about this sentence. Partly because of how I have been raised. I understand that you need to take care and worry about you. Make yourself a priority. But I do struggle with minding my own business because I want to help others. I don’t want to just say tough luck or ignore their issues. I want to solve issues. I think this is partly because I am a people pleaser. I care an awful lot about how others are feeling, and this can be really annoying and difficult to do. As Thoreau states that we should mind our own business and worry about ourselves, in a sense I agree. We should put taking care of ourselves and that often can be overlooked. However, at the same time I disagree with this statement. If everyone only worries about themselves then no one helps others and no one reaches their full potential. The world is crazy and you can’t do everything on your own. So I don’t know how I feel about this sentence.
[Yet we think that if rail-fences are pulled down, and stone-walls piled up on our farms, bounds are henceforth set to our lives and our fates decided]
I think Thoreau is trying to communicate that obstacles or certain circumstances prevent people from achieving much. When presented with a blockade or restriction, we give up and “bounds are henceforth set to our lives”.
[ Snipes and woodcocks also may afford rare sport; but I trust it would be nobler game to shoot one’s self.]
Having previous knowledge of the fact that he was a advocate for nature reserves, we can conclude that his opinion on hunting for sport is the contrary of positive.
[ Leave a comment on paragraph 4 10 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 like this idea of living a life beyond the one in which you where given. To live.
[Be rather the Mungo Park, the Lewis and Clark and Frobisher, of your own streams and oceans; explore your own higher latitudes,-with shiploads of preserved meats to support you, if they be necessary; and pile the empty cans sky-high for a sign.]
When Thoreau says this you can see that he is telling people to explore their ideas and their strengths and have people around to support you. If those people end up being unfaithful then put them aside and “pile them up” as a sign of you did and didn’t have your back.
[Yet we think that if rail-fences are pulled down, and stone-walls piled up on our farms, bounds are henceforth set to our lives and our fates decided. ]
This line really stuck out to me as a place where Thoreau pushes us, as readers, to move up one level of abstraction. This statement makes us question the boundaries we have set forth for ourselves. In this way, we can evaluate our own life’s cycles and assess if we are comfortable in our complacency or wish to challenge the boundaries we (and society) have set for ourselves. I agree with Katelyn Baroody when they say Thoreau is urging us to find our own Walden Pond and search for inner fulfillment there. We don’t necessarily need a change of landscape, like Thoreau got when he moved to Walden Pond, but a change of soul. I feel like this move of abstraction is necessary because how else are we supposed to find inner fulfillment and peace if we don’t challenge our own beliefs and ideas?
[ 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.
[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.
This is such an interesting line and an interesting paragraph over all. It seems as though Thoreau had accomplished his goal and learned something from it. After living alone and living in a specific routine everyday, he seemed to have gotten too comfortable with it. He realized that he should be spending his time exploring the world \”before the mast and on the deck.\”
I am writing this during my 6th week in quarantine, and I have to agree with everything he is saying here. I have gotten comfortable with my life in quarantine and have certainly established a routine, but I ache to go outside beyond the fence that encloses my home. I have developed more gold for my life once the world calms down and it is interesting to see how closely Thoreau\’s words resonate with me.
This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently stuck in the same place for so long. I’ve been trying to think more about how my perspective is formed. As I look into the motivations of Thoreau himself and what shapes his outlook on the world, I see some of my own in that same analysis. We are amalgams of our experiences and we base our values off of those experiences. The line “The universe is wider than our views of it” is a particularly hard hitting way to put it.
Here Thoreau mentions the idea that many, if not all of us, tend to rely on an almost accidental timed schedule. People say that humans crave order, this could be one explanation for the habits that are formed such as Thoreau’s feet worn path. With so much information and ideas constantly surrounding us, giving ourselves a routine or an order may help to make us feel as though we are in control. Traditions and conformities also emphasize this.
It’s interesting that Thoreau says he had “several more lives to live” because he isn’t often remembered for any of those other lives. Many people assume that he only believed in living alone in the woods and completely rejected society. I used to be guilty of this! He actually contributed to technology, politics, and society in several ways throughout his life. Walden was, in fact, only one of the many lives he lead throughout his time. It makes me wonder how society decides what to remember of certain people. I think it mostly comes down to the education system. In high school and even in humanities class, I only learned the Walden side of Thoreau. I didn’t know about his other works and contributions.
I chose to focus on this paragraph when trying to create my own TEI file. I was struck by how in Version F, he removes religious references. For instance, after “common hours,” he originally had the line: “and the result will, in a measure, miraculously answer to his faith.” Also, before the phrase “the old laws be expanded,” removed the phrase, “heaven lie about him in his manhood even…” By making these deletions, Thoreau removed religious jargon like “faith,” “miraculously,” and “heaven.” He also alludes to people answering to the higher laws and mandates of religion. I find it an interesting decision that makes his point appeal more to his audience as it is less intimidating if one is unable to advance “confidently in the direction of his dreams.” It takes the guilt and religious weight off his encouragement for one to push towards their dream and leave what they need to behind to make it. By removing the religious undertones, Thoreau’s appeal becomes more inspirational.
[I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.]
This section I find ringing true to me with the way the world is now. With being forced to stay at home, I mirror Thoreau’s sentiment of not wanting to go below. I want to be out and experiencing life, seeing new sights, and meeting new people. I’m tired of secluding myself from the world and I long to be “on the mast.” Seclusion by necessity is stifling, even secluding myself in the woods would feel like paradise because it would be my choice and still allow me to experience the world.
I liked how he talks about how so many people can get caught up in doing the same thing and never change. Even for him in nature where he sees a form of divinity to be found within nature; he still feels the need to do other things. He thinks that by continuous observation there are almost like metaphysical lessons to be taken. There is an elevation of life that can be achieved in his own framework of how the world works. Even that can’t stop him from having to change paths. I thought it was interesting since he makes a good point that so many people can get caught in what is comfortable for them and they never progress past where they are currently.
This line by Thoreau is particularly interesting to me. He compares the Earth with the paths of the mind. I like this comparison because it is very accurate, you always hear that “children’s minds are impressionable”, but this is true of the mind of any human. I would like to relate this to social media. Coming across a post by someone giving their opinion on a topic can completely change one’s view on the topic in question. Had they not happened to scroll by and stumble across the post, they may have never changed their mind and held strong to their beliefs. But the power of a text, usually reinforced by all the “likes” it has received, is undeniable. Though Thoreau was not talking about social media, it was a comparison I wanted to draw being that we are taking a course on the Digital Age.
[ Let every one mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made.]
I really like this quote because it shows how everyone should just do their own thing and not worry about what others think. I think people spend so much time worrying about others and what they might think about their choices they don’t spend enough time thinking about what make them happy. It shouldn’t matter what others think, it should just matter what you think and how it will effect your life. This quote is tell us to not get messed in other people’s drama and to just focus on our own personal life and do what makes us happy.
I definitely agree with this paragraph and like the message that he is trying to convey. People should definitely mind their own business and not judge others based on silly stereotypes.
I found it interesting that Thoreau would live in the shack for the longest time and seeing that now he has more things to liver for.
Good point, Kenny. This is an important passage, too, so thanks for picking it out.
Yes, good points Kati and Olivia! And I like the idea of not comparing oneself to previous generations either. Just be the best you can!
In this passage, he explains how the world stretches far beyond what we know; “the universe is wider than our views of it.” Thoreau mentions how most believe once they settle somewhere, their fate is decided, but he enforces the idea that there is so much more to the world yet to be explored.
[The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!]
Thoreau has closely experienced nature in New England and acknowledges that there is so much left for him to see elsewhere in the world. In this quote specifically, he addresses how most people don’t deviate from the rest of society in their lives (calling their journeys highways because a lot of people travel on that same road) and therefore all live in the same “small world” as everyone else around them. Thoreau himself wants to walk in another direction than everyone else, to the areas that are still unknown/under appreciated to most.
I was a big fan of this paragraph. I think it is clear that Thoreau is saying that all other species migrate and relocate regularly, so why should humans be any different. We don’t need to be bound to one location permanently. I am someone who has grown up camping and being outdoors, and have always been infatuated with a life on the road. Though I have grown up in New Hampshire and intend to remain here for the foreseeable future, I am also deeply interested in road tripping to new places within the country/continent regularly in the future.
This paragraph is showing how Thoreau felt about falling into a sense of normalcy and habit, he was not fond of it. He is also saying humanity will have a lasting impact on Earth regardless of how minimalistic or big people get, so long as there is a habit of doing things by everyone, there will be a notable footprint of those habits.
This paragraph was super important in the sense that Thoreau’s safe place, his favorite location with his favorite sounds and scents of the trees and waters and animals, became a feeling of normalcy. When Thoreau first moved into the woods, he was in awe of everything around him, and took in everything he possibly could. However, after having the same surroundings and doing the same things day after day, Thoreau was no longer satisfied in this lifestyle he had created. He states that he thought he had more lives to live, and I think that by this he means he has very different experiences ahead of him. While the woods offered and taught Thoreau so much, he can only experience so much inside of the woods, and he realized that he had gained everything he could from this experience and it was time to move on.
[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.
[but this suggests at least that Nature has some bowels, and there again is the mother of humanity]
While at times it seems that Thoreau is optimistic about the true nature of man, this line suggests that his optimism comes in moderation
Here we see Thoreau using nature to describe man which helps to remind the reader of his ecological standpoint. He states that we are made of clay meaning we are made of nature, but this does not necessarily mean we are good for the environment as clay soil hinders growth so it prevents water penetration, so in this context when applied to the symbiotic relationship between nature and humans might be a negative one
Can anyone help me to understand this para in detail ? I am translating Walden into Marathi, language spoken in Maharashtra, India. I would like to discuss this para by e-mail exchanges if one agrees…
Jayant, I had a terribly difficult time translating this particular passage. I remember that, through a scholar friend in Japan and another in Korea, I even looked at the way the Japanese and Korean translators treated this paragraph. No one can feel what you are going through better than me. You have to begin to form specific questions.
Long before leaves appear on trees, they reveal themselves in sands to Thoreau. To him sands and stones are as alive as leaves and trees. It seems to me that Thoreau is watching what Emerson called the Oversoul here. It is this Oversoul that is giving animal life to this inanimate material. “Sand foliage” may be seen only in Walden. See how beautifully “springing to life” reminds us of the spring which is just emerging. The spring does not emerge in leaves, trees, not even in the cracks in Walden Pond’s ice only, it is seen in the dead sands that are just springing into life.
Isn’t all this a mystical invitation to a deliberate life. How can we continue our winter hibernation while even stones and sands rupture and spring into life life this?
Yes, I appreciate what you say and I thank you for replying.
I have already scrapped 5 th version of my translation and your reply will help me when I am writing my 6th one… 🙂
Thanks a lot.
@jayant – In thinking about the paragraph, you may find it useful to look at some of the articles in the JSTOR database that reference it. Scroll down to the bottom of the comments on the paragraph and look for the blue-highlighted “Find References in JSTOR Articles” button. Click the button to open a list of articles that reference this paragraph. Mouse over the article snippets (or look for the italicized words in them) to see just what words in the paragraph are referenced in each article. Click an article title to find the full content of that article in JSTOR. Some of these articles are available without charge to all readers. If you belong to a library with an institutional subscription to JSTOR, you’ll have access without charge many if not all of them.
[covered for the most part with a firm field of ice. It was a warm day, and he was surprised to see so great a body of ice remaining]
You can see Fair Haven Pond on a map here.
This comparison of the times of day to seasons is one that I haven’t considered. In a way, a day does go through a smaller scaled cycle similar to that of the seasons. Although nature and time can be seen as fluid, it is sometimes helpful to view them in a more cyclical way.
[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. ]
I don\’t remember which passage it was, but this statement reminds me of a previous chapter in which Thoreau continuously referenced seasons and how quickly time changes… It seems that he is attempting to go full circle with his ideas now, given that he is nearing the end of his manuscript.
[it was pleasant to compare the first tender signs of the infant year just peeping forth with the stately beauty of the withered vegetation which had withstood the winter]
I quite like this quote because this is also something I love to do. I go on a lot of walks, and I especially like going to ledges where there is a striking vista. And because of that, I can see the trees bare of leaves, and those budding, and it is always interesting to come back the next day and see how much the wave of leaves has increased. The mix of brown leaves and budding grass is also a deeply pleasant sight. Thematically as well, I see this quote connecting to the grander themes of cycles and the immensity of times. These points of smallness, where we can tap into these almost eternal cycles, are what allows us to see nature and universe enact itself. Even grander, this section connects to the ebb and flow of our life, as we will die and feed the ground itself.
I like Emily’s and Joseph’s points on how this particular passage “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.”
Personally, while reading this passage in which Thoreau talks about the “first signs of spring,” the “arriving bird,” and the “leisure and opportunity to see the spring come in,” I was reminded of an Emily Dickinson poem I distinctly recall reading in fourth grade: “Dear March – Come In.” The poem personifies Spring as a visitor, much like spring seems to be visiting Thoreau.
The fact that this passage summons up comparisons as varied as scientific “field journals,” the novel Moby Dick, and a romantic Emily Dickinson poem, speaks to the wide-reaching effects of Thoreau’s writing as he appeals to both pathos and logos; for his relationship to nature is one of both the heart and the mind.
Thoreau demonstrates in this paragraph just how knowledgable he is about the pond after all these years, even when it comes down to the temperature of the water in the pond and the significance of it.
I connected with the middle of the paragraph where he talks about seeing certain things that remind him of the summer. Certain things are stuck in our minds that can bring us out of the present and into a better state of mind. For him he is able to relate the wool-grass as part of nature that art would like to copy. For me there is a cherry blossom tree my grandma planted in the backyard of the nyc apartment I grew up in and still live currently. When it recently bloomed it brought me back to all the times I have seen it bloom over my life. Then the pedals eventually fall and leave the ground covered in its beautiful color. Certain things we can see from nature that can make us reminisce in the nostalgia of seeing similar/the same things that can remind us of past times.
This passage was very interesting to me in its dissection of the effects of the atmosphere on the pond. The particular line that stood out to me was:
“The day is an epitome of a year. The night is winter, the morning and evening are the spring and fall, and the noon is summer.”
This idea is fascinating, because I have never thought about it in this way. The day and position of the sun within that day truly does affect wildlife, the pond in this case, but also other things such as animals or plants, in the way seasons affect humans. Nature is outside experiencing every part of the day at all times, so it feels the cool mornings, the hot afternoons, and the harshly cold nights. The extremes are different depending on the actual season, but I like the idea of every day being a mini year in wildlife time.
I found Thoreau’s assertions equating the different times of day to the seasons to be quite interesting. Of course, everyone knows that it is typically in the process of getting warm in the morning, to then peak in the afternoon, before beginning to cool down into the night. Thoreau’s explanation is so logical to me as the progression through the day really does mimic the seasons. I am a person that is a firm believer in the claim that time is a manmade concept and, therefore, is not real. However, I feel that Thoreau’s argument here really made me reconsider my thoughts about time and how it affects our lives.
With this praising description of Spring, Thoreau makes a sharp contrast to wintertime. As someone who has experienced the strifes of seasonal affective disorder, this paragraph really resonates with me. Spring is my favorite season and perhaps the hope that Thoreau suggests comes with it is why. Thoreau describes springtime as a new beginning that gives you a chance to bloom and I think that is beautiful.
[The fishermen say that the “thundering of the pond” scares the fishes and prevents their biting.]
I have never heard of “thundering of the pond” before, but I could only imagine how scary it must be for the fishes. It reminds me of when your swimming in the pool and your underwater and you hit your foot on the side of the pool. It probably sounds something similar to that with the echo’s under it. I wonder though, how often does it “thunder” in the pond? Is it only when the change of temperatures happen when it’s cold?
[The brooks sing carols and glees to the spring. ]
I can relate to this quote in a few different ways. I have a brook outside of my house that is in a wooded area and in the spring I like to go down and sit on the big rock and listen to the birds chirp and the water rushing. Reading this quote makes me think of the spring time when everything just seems so fresh and new. New flowers are growing, the grass is getting greener, and new wildlife is being born.
Again, this descriptive paragraph caught my eye and painted a picture in my head. I really like the way that he includes writing like this in his work.
[The cracking and booming of the ice indicate a change of temperature.]
The cracking and the booming means that the ice is melting from the pond and that spring is surely coming.
Here in this paragraph Thoreau explains that while living in the woods, he can see the spring come in by looking at his surroundings. He also mentions that he wont need a large fire to keep him warm.
maybe you need to live near a big lake to hear this, but I’ve heard it. As Kenny said, the ice cracks and booms and it’s Loud!
I love the imagery and personification in this paragraph; how he describes the sun smiling on the land, warming it.
[The day is an epitome of the year.]
This part reminds me of something I noticed in the Walt Whitman poem, “There was a child went forth everyday”. The poem goes from the start of the day to the end but also seems to emphasise the growth of the child throughout the years within the poem. Both these writers see these natural cycles and compare them in their writing.
This paragraph interested me. I remember as a young child, I always learned about birds flying south come winter time, and rarely remember seeing birds in the winter. Nowadays, I feel like I still see birds here in New Hampshire year-round. The amount is definitely far less than in the spring and summer, but I think the days of birds returning and representing the start of spring may be gone.
Great connection, Sofie! That’s both a literary move- to see such cycles symbolically- and a Romantic idea that all these patterns (human, seasonal, animal, vegetative) were divinely created to mirror each other.
So, I am Not any kind of bird expert, but Yes & No. Some birds are finding it unnecessary to migrate because they can find enough food, due to lack of snow cover, and water, due to now unfrozen water. But other birds still migrate, though their timing and routes may be changing. For Birders, certain birds’ return still marks the start of spring. Hummingbirds, for instance.
Spring is a season that I enjoy because it is the turning point from a cold Winter to a warm Summer. Usually, when Spring comes around I am sick of the cold and I think Thoreau is trying to say this in this chapter as well. He is saying that everything is coming back to life both physically and socially and I can relate to that.
I really enjoy seeing the seasonal birds come back from the south or wherever they migrate to and I had the same appreciation when Thoreau showed the level of excitement towards the sparrow.
The way Thoreau talks about the grass and sort of compares it to his own life was particularly interesting. Grass, even though frozen and covered for most of Winter, still comes back to life and grows quickly and strongly as compared to people getting busier since the air is warmer.
This paragraph speaks a lot about Thoreau’s intense attention to detail. Not only does he detail the thickness and thinness of the ice, but he also discusses the relation between the thickness of the ice and the way it melts. Thoreau also discusses in-depth the way that the temperature causes state changes in the ice and the way it impacts the water at different lengths. I doubt many people, and I know I haven’t, have ever put that much thought and consideration into ice and the way it melts. While it also speaks a lot to Thoreau’s surroundings, it speaks even more to his attention to detail, especially in nature. He notices everything he possibly can, and thinks about it and what it means as opposed to letting it be a passing thought, which is what most do.
Yes, Allison. For a time, we lived on the shores of Lake Champlain: Cumberland Head, north of Plattsburgh, NY. Once, as we returned home from a long trip on an extremely cold winter night (-15 F), we were stopped in our tracks by a loud, eerie, and most unsettling sound. The entire lake was groaning and wailing, evoking in us a sense of utter desolation—mournful and fearsome—as great cracks ripped through the ice, shooting out for miles; as if some impossibly great beast was suffering its last agony; a doleful, primeval utterance, quite beyond anything we had heard before. There is simply nothing like it.
[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.
This paragraph certainly comes off as elitist. Assuming that the books he’s chosen to read are the most important does not portray him in the kindest light. However, I wouldn’t, unlike Schulz, use this paragraph necessarily as evidence to condemn him as a misanthrope. Looking at the importance he places in education as is demonstrated in paragraphs 2 and 36 of Resistance to Civil Government (the first time he uses the fact that the people have educated others as a sign that the people are better than the government, and the second time, he says that he is taking it upon himself to educate others), it is unlikely that he looks down on these people for being people and more likely that he looks down on the education that produced them.
In this line is Thoreau trying to explain that the search for truth is something almost hereditary, the exploration of truth will live on from generation to generation.
It seems here that Thoreau is theorizing about learning and explaining that we have to be aware and have to have such “training” even when reading a book. The idea of being deliberate in reading as you are in life.
Is Thoreau saying that through the divide of spoken and written language there is yet a connection?
Books hold the insight of what was, what is, and what can be through perspectives of time in which we can take and examine in order to become more aware of such possibilities.
Thoreau wants his community to begin taking responsibility for their own education. To break the division between the educated and the uneducated, he wants people to get over such obstacles toward a better fulfillment of life.
[. If it is necessary, omit one bridge over the river, go round a little there, and throw one arch at least over the darker gulf of ignorance which surrounds us. Page 13]
Thoreau wants his community to take responsibility for their own education , breaking such division between the educated and uneducated, moving toward a larger fulfillment of life.
[The orator yields to the inspiration of a transient occasion, and speaks to the mob before him, to those who can hear him; but the writer, whose more equable life is his occasion, and who would be distracted by the event and the crowd which inspire the orator, speaks to the intellect and health of mankind, to all in any age who can understand him.]
Thoreau contrasts the difference of delivery between the words of an orator and a writer. An orator speaks to entertain, for people to only hear them, while a writer writes with a permanence that is meant to be understood. I feel this relates to how people approach words/reading today. Most people are interested in the orator — they read because they have to, to hear, not to understand. Hayles discusses that as the digital age of reading has evolved, “people read less print, and they read print less well” as they’ve developed a form of rapid form of reading — hyperreading (2). With digital text, there are a multitude of distractions on one web page, and people have access to jump to tons of other content through the technology they are using to access the text. I find myself scanning through text and trying to find the relevant bits to focus my attention on — a strategy I developed largely from ‘hyperreading’ on the internet. It is about reading to be efficient, not for the experience.
I relate to Thoreau a lot in this paragraph. I come from the city, and find it really hard to concentrate to read there because of all the noise and chaos that comes with living there. However, ever since I came here to Geneseo, I have found it much easier to read here since there is not that much going on. So just like Thoreau, I find myself “more than ever come within the influence of those books…” Thoreau also quotes the poet Mir Camar Uddin Mast, who compares reading too drinking. He says that when we read a book we become drunk with knowledge and they make the reader think about the ideas presented to them.
Thoreau stresses the importance of an authentic liberal education which resides in a culture far richer than the “rapid strides” of technological advancement. With the lack of knowledge, or understanding in respect to the classics, one will never share a meaningful appreciation for the literary world and its creativity. In this case, this perspective can be connected with N. Katherine Hayles, “How we read,” in which she mentions the gradual, but continuous shift from physical paper copies of text to current-day e-books. One of her main arguments is that due to less literary reading, reading skills are lessening significantly. Both Thoreau and Hayles emphasize the importance of the authentic literary world in culture, and how society should try its best not to stray far from this, despite the temptations of the technological world.
[ If we live in the nineteenth century, why should we not enjoy the advantages which the nineteenth century offers? Why should our life be in any respect provincial?]
Thoreau’s comment about taking advantage of the opportunities of the nineteenth century bears striking resemblance to Hayles’ argument about rethinking the ways in which we, as readers, engage with the literature in the era of advanced technology and digital texts. While Thoreau seems to be advocating for literacy for all (both children and adults) in Concord, Hayles makes a similar argument about the disadvantages that most small colleges and universities have in relation to inadequate computation-intensive facilities. In these cases, Hayles makes a point that those who do not have an abundance of digital facilities should opt for small scale exercises that require students of literary studies to read closely while also engaging with digital literacy- which seems on par with Thoreau’s idea about “uncommon schools” that encourage town dwellers to engage in the arts.
In this paragraph, Thoreau discusses how his residence allows him the ability to participate in “serious reading” and how being away from a circulating library and a university provided him with the opportunity to “come within the influence of those books which circulate round the world”. Now, I hate to bring up that fact that we don’t have access to Milne Library here, but I think this paragraph gives an interesting perspective on not having a library. In this case, Thoreau is secluded, but through serious reading, he was able to be influenced by what he was reading more effectively than he was at university or when he had access to a full library. Don’t get me wrong, I would rather have a library on a college campus so I had a place I could get more work done, but perhaps in the sense of being able to be more secluded with our work and readings, not having a library could be a good thing from Thoreau’s point of view?
Additionally, in our Hayles reading, “How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine,” note is made how in junior high, high school, and college the ability to read and read well is declining. Perhaps isolation and seclusion, as represented in Walden, has allowed Thoreau to unlock a secret to improve those skills. Perhaps being alone with just a few books and the other bare necessities is how a book is meant to be truly enjoyed and understood to reap the full benefits.
While most of us go into college feeling adequately versed in the English language and significantly literate, we are met with new challenges, and a new type of reading that brings to light the high level of hyperattention our brains have become so used to. I have noticed a significant change in the way I read and an increase in how easily I become distracted. In paragraph 9, Thoreau expresses his contempt with the people in his village, those who are literate and seem to be educated, but have no taste for the English classics. He says it is rare to find another person to converse with about these books. He expresses his anger in how the notion of reading has changed and how schools are only teaching “Easy Reading.” Could this suggest a shift towards increased hyper attention amongst the public? Similarly, Hayle notes that digital reading has transformed the way we read, leading us to need constant stimulation and because of this, her colleagues, college professors, have begun assigning short stories instead of novels because their students cannot read them. This moves back into Thoreaus point that nobody reads the Classics anymore reading to what he believes to be a community of ignorant people. In the context of an English concentrator, I have to agree with him. I am not well versed in the English Classics and normally do not understand when they are referenced in my other classes and this is because I was never asked or challenged to read them.
[I know a woodchopper, of middle age, who takes a French paper, not for news as he says, for he is above that, but to “keep himself in practice,” he being a Canadian by birth; and when I ask him what he considers the best thing he can do in this world, he says, beside this, to keep up and add to his English. This is about as much as the college bred generally do or aspire to do, and they take an English paper for the purpose]
This section from Thoreau is surprisingly relevant today, albeit, most are not trying to ‘keep up their English,’ but rather, keep up with cultural, political, and social trends. When Hayles discusses the prevalence of hyperreading, I cannot help but see the connection between the woodchipper and the bulk of us who frequently view the news and use social media. It is all we can do, in this golden age of information, to keep up with current trends, and keep a pulse on what is most relevant to us. Thoreau is correct in his diagnosis of a broader need to read the foundational texts of our culture, but he misses the reason why people do not. The woodchipper is working, and has little time to read through dense (but rewarding) texts. Most likely, he would rather keep his contemporary knowledge sharper, as it is what is most relevant to him, and it is what keeps him most connected to his community. Going back to Hayles, it is clear that her conceptualization of ‘hyperreading’ tracks back to this period, and with Thoreau’s anecdote, we are able to see why hyperreading is even more prevalent nowadays. However, Thoreau is not wrong in his wish for a ‘close reading’ of the foundational texts of Western culture. These precursors are highly influential, and by reading them, I have found myself able to ‘hyperread’ better, as connections (often historical or symbolic) flow easier. And the more I examine this relationship, the more I realize how symbiotic the relationship between close reading and hyper reading are, for the two compliment each other in excess. But, as Hayles warns, and Thoreau does as well, there is a clear danger in an excess of hyperreading.
Within the first two pages of her essay, Ms. Hayles discusses how “the NEA chairman, Dana Gioia, suggests that the correlation between decreased literacy reading and poorer reading ability is indeed a causal connection” (Hayles 2). I believe this statement can be tied into Thoreau’s chapter, “Reading” in Walden and to our everyday lives. My generation has grown up using technology. I took computer classes as early as second grade and have been using an iPhone since I was twelve. Technology is a huge part of our lives that is both beneficial and not concerning literature and reading. It is fantastic that I can read Walden online and connect with people from all around the world. However, most people opt for spending time on digital streaming websites or games of some sort instead of reading. In this respect, people read a lot less now than they have done in the past. Thoreau writes that “Most men are satisfied if they read or hear read, and perchance have been convicted by the wisdom of one good book…” (Thoreau 13). Although people are still reading for pleasure, there are many more outlets of entertainment we can go to.
In this paragraph, Thoreau addresses the concept of \”serious reading.\” He references that \”[books] whose sentences were first written on bark, and are now merely copied from time to time on to linen paper.\” While he starts to mention embracing the spirituality between himself and his readings, I started brainstorming various questions. I could not help but wonder how he would feel if he lived in today\’s highly advanced and technological world. I wonder how he would react if he knew that readings that used to be on bark or on linen paper are now found on online sources. Just as Katherine Hayles\’ writes in her passage \”How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine,\” for 20 years now, the use of technology has skyrocketed such that almost anything can be found and/or read online. I read this passage first, followed by Hayles\’ reading. I sincerely believe that her passage either responded to Thoreau or maybe even took the space to emphasize how much the world has changed. As I then think about myself as an avid reader, I realize how much I relate to Thoreau in the sense that I want the tangible copy of a reading in order to sit in a comfortable, relaxed environment where I can form a strong, spiritual connection with a reading.
[Most men have learned to read to serve a paltry convenience, as they have learned to cipher in order to keep accounts and not be cheated in trade; but of reading as a noble intellectual exercise they know little or nothing;]
In this particular portion of the passage, Thoreau discusses how too many people read for their own convenience, when in reality, they should be reading as a intellectual exercise — to gain knowledge. I think this could equate to how people today often read for fun, instead of reading to analyze. But why can’t these two methods be combined? In Hayles article on How We Read, she talks about a project that was created called “Romeo and Juliet: A Facebook Tragedy”, where students adapted the Shakespearean play to a Facebook model. This required them to analyze the text, but they got to make something fun out of it. Knowing how Thoreau feels about technology, he’d likely think this foolish, but from a modern perspective, I’d say it’s a unique way to make reading as an intellectual exercise fun.
[ and for the rest of their lives vegetate and dissipate their faculties in what is called easy reading.]
What Thoreau is saying here is that we tend to push aside books that challenge our minds as they may be more difficult and time consuming to read. I believe that this is still true today, especially now more than ever. In Hayles\’s essay, she notes that in modern classrooms, students are being assigned short stories instead of long novels due to the lack of deep attention (Hayles 501). There is a clear shift towards hyperattention/hyperreading, whether for better or for worse. I have experienced this shift firsthand in my own reading over the years. When I was younger, I was able to read a whole book in one sitting if I desired. Nowadays, I find it hard to even read a single chapter without getting distracted by my phone or some other sort of technology surrounding me. I also tend to gravitate towards quick reads, and find myself mostly reading for entertainment instead of enhancing what knowledge I already possess (outside of class assigned readings).
Thoreau’s commentary in this paragraph on the necessity of education relates heavily to N. Katherine Hayles and her work “How We Read.” Both Thoreau and Hayles stress the importance of education. Thoreau’s comments on spending more on a town house than a library is reminiscent to how younger generations today focus less on reading as well. Hayles talks about how to encourage students to become expert readers and promotes a threefold approach that offers literary training, encourages comparing methodologies to other fields, and how to use digital media to analyze texts (505). Hayles and Thoreau both task themselves to educating those around them, both impacted by the current state of technology. It’s interesting to note the differences in techniques they propose and how the issue of education has developed over time.
It is clear from these passages that Thoreau is a proponent of reading literature in a way that is as close to its original format/language (and, in turn, meaning) as possible. Reading classic texts in the \”ancient language\” rather than in a translated form–the latter of which Thoreau equates to a more or less \”dead language\” void of original meaning–is ideal; as he remarks,\”The modern [printing] press . . . with all its translations, has done little to bring us nearer to the heroic writers of antiquity.\” In taking a digital literature class centered around Thoreau, I find these ideas interesting. How would Thoreau feel, then, to not only have texts translated into other languages nowadays, but in fact have texts not appear on paper/print at all? In one way, the Internet seems to be an entirely new way to translate texts into other languages and formats. This is a question I similarly came across when taking a W. B. Yeats course in which I was tasked with designing a website version of a volume of Yeats\’s poetry. Such a task involves asking oneself what the original meaning(s) of the text may have been, and how (or whether) one should attempt to recreate them, or else adapt them into a brand new reading experience.
Thoreau\’s concerns with the inaccuracy of translated texts in adhering to original meaning are echoed by N. Katherine Hayles in \”How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine.\” Hayles\’ emphasis on not just reading text, but \”reading well\” (i.e., close reading accurately and acutely), is something to keep in mind as the literature trend leans more and more towards digital text.
[Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.]
I do not know that I agree, Thoreau. I adore Shakespeare, and am certainly in many ways an Early Modernist. I recognise, however, that the “text” of Shakespeare is not absolute, and its relation to the “original” may be dubious. Although my more scholarly tendency is very much towards close reading, as characterises the discipline of literary criticism, it is important to recognise what one is close reading. Each and every word in a play of Shakespeare’s is not whatever genius we attribute to the bard himself. It may be simply a mangled line, misremembered by an actor. It is not as if Shakespeare himself did not fill his works with contradictions and inconsistencies. The ghost characters that appear in some plays (Violenta from All’s Well That Ends Well comes to mind) certainly illustrate this.
Thoreau makes quite the point in Walden about living deliberately. The issue is that humans are not deliberate, and that not all choices are conscious or agonisingly thought on. It is easy to criticise not admiring every word of supposed wisdom from the classics or the “literary canon,” but not every word is golden. Ancient poets and dramatists are not gods, nor should they be read as such. While one is right to pay attention to the minutiae of language to some extent, it is the holistic meaning of a text that better recognises the rampant human imperfection of even those we most revere.
“yet this only is reading, in a high sense, not that which lulls us as a luxury and suffers the nobler faculties to sleep the while, but what we have to stand on tiptoe to read and devote our most alert and wakeful hours to”
Thoreau is of the opinion that reading should be an activity on a higher level of consciousness, unlike the supposedly numbed mental processes of easy reading. It’s safe to assume he would be a proponent of close reading, and consider reading with a deep and undivided focus the ‘noblest’ form. But what would he make of our easier than easy reading today, for instance, a thread on Twitter? Undoubtedly we are reading that thread, but not in the noblest sense of close reading that Thoreau prefers. However, to think reading a thread on Twitter is not actually reading is misguided, because our brain adapts to the information we consume and how we choose to consume it. Depending on the thread, I suppose you could close read on Twitter, but it’s more likely that you may use hyperreading techniques like scanning or skimming. In reality, if we were to close read every text we came upon, we would have way too much information. And in our present age of information inundation, we have the luxury to choose which information is important and which is not, and adjust our reading level accordingly. In her article, N. Katherine Hayles mentions a book titled The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, which pinpoints concerns about the overwhelming shift toward hyperreading rather than close reading as the primary reading ability, especially in our generation. Hayles explains Carr’s position: “He readily admits that Web reading has enormously increased the scope of information available, from global politics to scholarly debates. He worries, however, that hyperreading leads to changes in brain function that make sustained concentration more difficult, leaving us in a constant state of distraction in which no problem can be explored for very long before our need for continuous stimulation kicks in and we check e-mail, scan blogs, message someone, or check our RSS feeds” (67). This certainly rings true for my reading experience online, especially if the online text requires us to mentally ‘stand on tip-toe’ to grasp. I still prefer the physicality of a book because the experience is much more immersive. But I can’t deny the fact that I read much more content digitally, not quite thinking of the words under posts and threads as ‘true reading’, which is a bad habit to get into.
When talking about books in English literature it is hard to really classify what is a “good” book and what is not. If good books are not read by good readers then how are they considered good books.
Even the college-bred and so called liberally educated men here and elsewhere have really little or no acquaintance with the English classics; and as for the recorded wisdom of mankind, the ancient classics and Bibles, which are accessible to all who will know of them, there are the feeblest efforts any where made to become acquainted with them.
When good books are being classified, how does the process begin. Is there a list, or an overall bias toward good books based on the author(s) that have written the book. If the liberal men who are grading our books to make a list of them haven’t even read the classics then how are they able to tell the difference.
Also, the point on Easy Reading to me is not relevant. If Thoreau classifies them as easy reading then why are we still using them to read today. I would understand if they were put for children to read, but if they are not easy it will be difficult for this to happen.
In class since everything is online now, why would books even need to be read at this point. Since we can find almost everything online, then why would we need to keep copies of the classics, and even keep libraries around in the future ?
In this paragraph, Thoreau in a way seems to consider the act of reading as something with a sense of aesthetic, while also taking it seriously and putting thought into the message he received from his reading. I think the environment you read in has a lot to do with the action itself, the occasion, and what you take away from it. While reading can be leisurely and enjoyable, it can also be for the purposes of learning and critical thinking. This strongly relates to Hayles piece as she discusses print reading versus web-based reading. Textiles can often make a significant difference when it comes to the different ways people read. Some people may want a printed text for the sentimental value or just the act of being able to hold and turn the pages which is often considered to be easier. Even the sole act of having a book out in one’s immediate view can have an impact on them as it is easily visible and even a reminder to them for whatever the given purposes may be. Overall, when it comes to how we read as a society today, things have changed in terms of technology but old ways are still valued by many.
“Most men have learned to read to serve a paltry convenience, as they have learned to cipher in order to keep accounts and not be cheated in trade; but of reading as a noble intellectual exercise they know little or nothing”
This quote is notable because it relates directly to N. Katherine Hayles’ article “How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine”. Hayles describes how reading abilities are worsening as people spend less time printing and reading print. “The correlation between decreased literary reading and poorer reading ability is indeed a causal connection” said Hayles. Just as Hayles discusses that reading and literacy skills are decreasing, Thoreau mentioned that men know little to nothing about reading as an intellectual exercise, they only use their skills to get by in day to day life. Both authors make the point that reading is important, and people are allowing this tool to slip away from them as they live in a distracted world where print and reading for learning is not top priority.
As I was looking at the Walden fluid text to see what I found interesting that Thoreau had changed. I find it really funny that I was drawn to a passage that I already commented on. I really liked how Thoreau changed the structure of this passage a lot. In the first draft, he talked about Homer’s Iliad first before talking about his surroundings. To me, it was a good choice to switch these two around. I feel like you have to draw a connection with your reader fairly quickly to keep them interested, and talking about one’s reading environment is a good way of doing this. No offense to Thoreau, but if he started this paragraph off talking about Homer’s Iliad, I would not have been interested in continuing reading.
[I kept Homer’s Iliad on my table through the summer, though I looked at his page only now and then. Incessant labor with my hands, at first, for I had my house to finish and my beans to hoe at the same time, made more study impossible. Yet I sustained myself by the prospect of such reading in future. I read one or two shallow books of travel in the intervals of my work, till that employment made me ashamed of myself, and I asked where it was then that I lived.]
This passage, which I quite enjoy, stayed pretty much constant in Thoreau’s manuscript version of Walden from Version B (the 1849 manuscript) on. In the very first manuscript, from 1847, this quote starts off the second paragraph, and there is a sizeable section added to the middle. In this section, Thoreau predictably praises ancient literature, but he also includes a line about how any book can be read in the future. Thoreau does not go in depth in the manuscript in this location, but this gets at the difficulty of ever getting around to read something new due to the seemingly infinite length of the list of books I have not read. In the future one can indeed read any book, as the 1847 manuscript edition points out, but to me that is not solely a positive thing.
Thoreau strikes up an interesting (but not uncommon) comparison between those who speak (orators) and those who write. His stance is that orators speak because it’s the only method to have everyone hear what they want to say. Writers, on the other hand, write because they know that those who have the capacity to understand their work will, no matter what age or background. Thoreau highlights the difference between hearing and understanding – hearing is an involuntary action, it’s not possible just to shut off your ears. They hear everything. So whether you like it or not, the orator has your attention. However, while many people may be listening to the orator, the majority will leave unaffected by what they just heard, and forget about it. Writing however, opens up a new door: reading is a voluntary action, you have to want to and allow yourself to read and understand the words on a paper. It forces you to think… which is why Thoreau chose to write Walden as a book, instead of touring the country and making speeches.
[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.
[ It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.]
If the practical solution Thoreau proposes is to live a life of cultivated poverty close to nature, I wonder how that would look on a grand scale?
I find it interesting that fuel is given as a necessity of life. Thousands of years ago we needed it no more than any other animal. If stripped of everything now could people survive without it or have we become so dependent on it that it would be imposible?
Many religions believe that it is the act of giving up material possessions that leads to enlightenment. So through becoming poor they may indeed be becoming clever or perhaps wise is a more apt term.
[Confucius said, “To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.” When one man has reduced a fact of the imagination to be a fact to his understanding, I foresee that all men at length establish their lives on that basis.]
This passage is a perfect example of the “they say/I say” technique discussed by Graff and Birkenstein in their book. Thoreau quotes a famous philosopher to establish a basis for his argument and then smoothly transitions to his own interpretation of Confucius’ ideas. I found this passage particularly effective in that Thoreau places the quote near the end of the paragraph, where it nearly summarizes what has been said previously and leaves the reader with succinct, thought provoking idea.
[So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way, we say; but there are a many ways as there can be drawn radii from one centre. All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.]
Change is an essential component to both life and narrative. Without change, a life is stagnant: comfortable, but lacking. Without change, a story lacks movement and purpose. Thoreau points out that humans have a tendency to get fixed on what they’re accustomed to, but presses the idea that there is never only one way to do things nor to perceive things. He goes on to say that “all men at length establish their lives on that basis,” that is, whatever it is someone perceives to be fact. Perceived reality becomes that person’s reality, and this can be drawn back to MacIntyre’s point of ‘accountability’ and the narrative form of our lives.
[Food, Shelter, Clothing, and Fuel; for not till we have secured these are we prepared to entertain the true problems of life with freedom and a prospect of success. ]
Thoreau is referring to the Triangle of Needs. The basis logic of the triangle is a set of needs a person must cultivate in their environment to reach their full potential. The base of the triangle are the primary needs, or “physiological” needs (Food, water, warmth, rest). Second layer being safety, third being beloningness, fourth being esteem and the final being self actualization. Thoreau basically says that a person must be in an environment which promotes self cultivation to truly flourish.
[So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way, we say; but there are a many ways as there can be drawn radii from one centre.]
This passage illustrates MacIntyre’s stance on accountability. Here, Thoreau describes how people may just sit back and let life happen, but they are still responsible for what happens in their lives and are constantly responsible for every change, which happens at every moment of the day. Every decision a person makes, no matter how small, affects the course of their life in unfathomable ways.
Maybe he’s trying to reach a certain apart of his readers. The fact that he’s separating sections of people
His attempt to enter the narrative is exhibited here, where he addresses the principal audience as those men who are not content with their lives regardless of their wealth. He further explains how he is entering the conversation, in the next paragraph, by recognizing that some people may be surprised to learn how he has lived.
The simplicity in which others have lived their live’s is in fact what allows them to live their lives. No to add pressures implemented but things that have no true “value.”
Thoreau is not proclaiming that all must practice what he is preaching, he is saying for “those of you who are discontent with life’s hassle,” “try this way of living and thinking.”
[ We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us!]
[All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant. Confucius said, “To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.” When one man has reduced a fact of the imagination to be a fact to his understanding, I foresee that all men at length establish their lives on that basis.]
Thoreau talks about the idea of miracles and how man has put false hope in them. Since we believe that nature should work a certain way, we let it blind us to what is really going on. This is best seen in the quote by Confucius. In this quote, it is suggested that man has chosen to believe in false ideas about the world.
Thoreau speaks of pain being the reward for his labor, a premise that would sound horrible to anyone reading this today. But looking deeper, a man who has his work barely published, in a journal with small circulation, that man gets experience and a push to improve. Today, we have such a desire for instant gratification that most people who found themselves in a situation like this would get fed up. Thoreau seemingly praises the benefits of hard work, even without the promise of reward. Hard work and improvement is the reward, and you can tell how Thoreau is grateful for the experience and improvements it led to.
This particular paragraph stands out to me because Thoreau is implying that luxuries, like the technology that we have today, are “not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind”. This is because luxuries often blind us. When it’s easy for someone to acquire luxuries, they stop appreciating what they actually have. Technology makes things so simple for us and many people don’t acknowledge that. However, when someone does take the time to acknowledge it, if they use the power of technology for good (such as improving humanity or gaining knowledge), does it still mean that luxuries are positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind? Thoreau explains that the wisest of mankind live simple, meager lives, and one can only be wise from the vantage ground of voluntary poverty. But is that really true? I understand that with less distractions, there is typically more clarity, but is clarity genuinely what makes an individual wise?
“I think that we may safely trust a good deal more than we do.” While Thoreu is relating this line to the lives of humans in reference to labor and their livelihoods, it is very true of the relationships we carry today with technology. Humans rely on and put trust in their laptops, cellphones, gps, cars, home security systems, and more to ensure they live the most “simple” life of all. We turn over all of our responsibilities to machines that we truly do not understand. Thoreau goes on to say, “We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us!” This is entirely true of civilization today. As I am typing this right now, the programs that make up my computer are computing my words into the language that will be read on the internet. As I make presentations for other classes, I might be the one writing the words, but my computer is behind the scenes making the presentation possible. When I drive back to Long Island for winter break, it is not I doing all of that work, it is my car taking the toll of the 7 hr ride and it is my gps doing the work of finding the safest way to travel. Thoreau is right,as humans we have put too much faith in the things we do not understand, and we do not give these the things the credit they deserve for the work they do. He goes on to talk about change, and everyday our technology is changing and advancing to a status humans never thought possible. The idea of a self driving car is absurd to most of us, but who wouldn’t want to take a long trip in a Tesla? Have all of these advancements made our lives more “simple” in the sense that we no longer have to exert as much energy to write out directions before heading off, or using a pen and paper to write an essay without spell check? Or have these advancements made our lives more complicated than ever, increasing our anxiety by the minute because of the unknown. Ever had your laptop shut down as you wrote the last sentence of a 10 page paper that didn’t have autosave? It is a bad feeling. We have become so reliant and trusting of our technology to protect and serve us that the minute there is a glitch in the system, our lives turn to chaos.
When one thinks about the past, especially in regards to their own being, very few people can say they were not incredibly different people from who they are now. People probably once had different dreams, aspirations, and even hobbies five years ago. In the digital age of social media, where privacy is very much replaced by public posts and captions, we in a way have a timeline of years pasts documenting the kind of person we were to the world. A lot of the time, people post things without thinking about the future. Many influencers or even the average person on social media can look back at a post a couple years and think why did they even consider posting this. Or the may say that they were so different back then, wanting different things and had a different intent with their posts. This is why people are shocked when they scroll down all the way to someone’s first instgram post and say things like “they’ve changed so much” or “they would never say something like this today”. This small paragraph is able to encompass all this, and connects to how online our past posts can surprise those who get a glimpse in our pasts and what they wanted to show their followers or the world.
What caught my eye about this paragraph was when Thoreau stated that there are no longer philosophers in this world, but rather only professors of philosophy. This is an interesting statement because it is true, but not a distinction that many people can make. Walden was written in 1846, and Thoreau is referring to the philosophers that were ancient then, and even more ancient to us now – Socrates, Aristotle, etc. In today’s modern society, I don’t think there are any real philosophers. There are, of course, the innovative thinkers that write things that can shift the course of society, but nothing is strong/powerful enough to entirely shift a society’s way of thinking.
The idea of us becoming dependent on our new ideas and inventions is one that is widely seen today. Even a simple power outage can cause mass panic due to the overwhelming dependence we have developed on our technology. This also feeds into the idea of our technology making us “soft”. The way in which our advancements help us often has to do with conveniences. We often find ways to do things faster and easier, leaving the skill that it would’ve taken without our advancements in the past. This leaves us unprepared for when our advancements are taken away.
The first sentence of this section really spoke to the ways in which people have become more invested in materialistic items in society. As Thoreau describes, “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.” As we learned in Gleick’s first few chapters, technology is evolving and many people are investing not only their money but time into learning more about technological gadgets. While technology is helping a lot of people advance their businesses, education, and day to day life, it is also hindering human connections and has a lot of drawbacks. The question then becomes, “should we view technology as a luxury?” What even is considered a piece of technology?
[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.
The process of becoming part of society as a huckleberry, being bought and sold, seems to devalue the berry in Thoreau’s eyes. The best of berries are wild and natural.
The amount of time Thoreau spent with visitors or friends or in the town seems counter to some of the ideas represented in Walden like self reliance and solitude. I guess that shows how deeply ingrained the need for society is in the human mind.
This paragraph reminds me of a theme in Andrew Zolli’s book about resilience, the idea that the most resilient system is one in constant change.
Similar to the huckleberries mentioned earlier the best water to Thoreau is that which is not corrupted by the institutions of man.
[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
[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
Since all these stay at home things have been issued, we are allowed to take walks outside and there is nothing else to do, I’ve found myself walking up to my beach a lot more. His description of the pond reminds me a lot about my beach. However, there are no stones that are on the shore, but there are lots of shells and sea glass. I find myself walking along the shoreline for hours, just getting lost finding all different types of shells and other treasures.
It’s interesting to see the transformation of Sandy Pond over a twenty-five time span described by Thoreau. Upon reading this, I didn’t realize how something as simple as a pond could fluctuate and transform so much over time. With that being said, it can be said that such natural forces as these remain obscure from the human eye for this change cannot physically be seen until someone notices a transformable presence. For example, Thoreau’s friends didn’t believe that the water in the sand bar helped him boil a kettle of chowder for the water in that channel used to be limited in depth. However, over a twenty-five year time frame, the water level rose. This circumstance can easily related to the concept of time. Time is an undoubtable force to be reckoned with. The clock is always ticking, and as time passes, changes occur in our lives, such as this that most of us are imperceptive to.
I am not quite sure what the references mean but throughout this passage, there are several times where the seasons are identified. Thoreau consistently names fall, spring, summer, winter, along with each of their outside temperatures. I assume that he does this as he recalls his happiest memories at the pond which occurred at each of these times? Or, maybe he does this quite simply to communicate the message of enjoying life and nature and the people you are around? I would love to know why.
[Walden is blue at one time and green at another, even from the same point of view.]
Point of View during a time like (during a global pandemic) this is an important thing to keep in my mind. I never imagined I would experience what the world is going through right now. I never thought I would have to partake in ‘social distancing’ or stay in my home for a period of days, limiting my contact to the world. It would have never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be able to finish my sophomore year in Geneseo or say goodbye to so many of my friends. People around the world are experiencing the same emotions I am, we are all sharing in the point of view of shock, fear, and sadness. Like Thoreau’s experience with the changing colors of the pond, people around the world are dealing with the changing aspects of their normal lives. While we might all be reading the same exact news and receiving the same exact information, it is affecting all of us differently. My mom, a preschool teacher, is determining how she is going to educate toddlers via the internet. Myself, a college student, is learning how to stay focused during online class. My aunt, a retired physician, is coming out of retirement to care for those affected by COVOID-19. The pond appears in so many different ways, depending on its environment around it; how the sun is located between the hills, what season it is, what the weather is like. . .. Right now, I think the world has to remember that although it may seem like we have no control over what is happening, we are able to establish control based on our perspectives. When it seems like nothing good can come out of this, there needs to be a shift in perspective, a changing of the color of the pond. People are spending more time with family, pollution levels are at a low, people are coming together in ways we don’t see everyday. It is important to remember that there are so many factors that we are in control off, and those things will help us all overcome the hardships that world is facing.
In this passage, Thoreau interestingly uses the pond and water levels as a way to show the passage of time. He describes how the pond level is higher in the winter and lower in the summer, indicating that the time passing and changing of seasons can be measured by the water levels of the pond.
“It is remarkable that this fluctuation, whether periodical or not, appears thus to require many years for its accomplishment.”
His way of showing that seasons years can be counted based on nature is very interesting and fitting for his lifestyle and style of writing. Time inevitably passes, just as the seasons come and go and water rises and falls. All of these patterns have one thing in common: consistency. Time, like nature, is consistent.
In this passage, Thoreau talks about his break from human contact and ventures into unfrequented parts of town. In America’s current situation, I feel much like how Thoreau feels. My phone is constantly buzzing with new NEWS notifications and every television in my house is on with updates regarding the Coronavirus. To be more mindful, I have been trying to turn my phone on do not disturb and occasionally check in to see any important updates. During stressful times like these it is extremely important to decrease your screen time and do something for yourself and your mental health.
Thoreau here reminds me of one of the few truly pleasant things in our current circumstances. I currently live in a rented house on Conesus Lake, and staying home so much has had me spending quite a bit of time watching the waterfowl who have recently returned to the lake. The ducks and loons (mostly bufflehead ducks, with some common mergansers and now common loons as of yesterday) have in large been a much-appreciated peaceful presence as I gaze off onto the lake in melancholy want of joy. Though, my avian companions play both the role of the duck/leaf and of the fisherman, in that they are frequently peaceful and still, but one is still able to watch them fish, and there is occasional action when a group of tiny buffleheads bully a pair of (much larger) loons. The bald eagles that occasionally visit to fish play the role of active and aggressive members of the lake community, however. Fortunately, stuck at home with my partner, I have my own Walden Pond.
This passage is particularly descriptive as Thoreau discusses how he spends some of his free time at night when he is not working. He seems to have a strong connection with nature and at the end he says how he has “made his home by the shore.” I think that they way in which Thoreau chooses to spend his time affects his quality of life. When he spends time in nature, he is all in and focused on the essence around him. This reminds me of when I go camping and I don’t have access to my phone, which forces me to spend quality time in nature with my family.
Although this passage is short, I think it has a lot of meaning and potential to it. The line “It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.” To me, this relates a lot to the effect that the current need for social distancing has had on me. It has forced me to find new ways of entertaining myself, including taking more walks outside and taking in nature. Also, I think this relates to the nature of the situation at hand. People all over the world have had to deal with these circumstances in their own ways. I am already starting to see a lot of people saying how they took “normal” life for granted before this all happened. Instead of looking at it as a negative thing, people have gotten creative with it and used it as a learning experience. It is all about the perspective of the “beholder” and how they choose to cope with it and what they take away from this experience.
Thoreau knows everything about this pond. He knows the size of it, he knows the few colors it turns, he knows what it looks like up close compared to what it looks like far away. Thoreau obviously spent a lot of time at this pond. This paragraph is a good example of showing time because the color will be different in the spring or summer than it would in the summer. In the winter, it would look completely different, especially if it freezes over. He even knows what it looks like from the mountains. Thoreau obviously spent a lot o time at this pond.
I think this passage relates to time since multiple sentences relate back to the physicality of the sunset, and a clock. “the pond rises and falls” the time on a clock goes around to rise and fall in the day. The sun rises and falls every day. Commonly higher in the winter and lower in the summer, just like a sunset takes longer in the summer and is shorter in the winter. “the pond has risen steadily for two years” is related to the amount of climate change occurring on the planet today, and how much time we do not have left if we don’t do something.
Thoreau details a spot in nature he loves to go to, whether it be with companions or himself and just immerses himself. This is a spot that he formed an incredibly strong connection with that allows him to detach from society. Even when he has to return to \”the haunts of men again,\” he is home in that spot. In a similar vein, it reminds me of the beach my house is rather close to. At night, there is nothing more relaxing to me than when I walk the boardwalk completely alone, the sound of waves the only partner I have. Like Thoreau, it is a spot that I\’ll occasionally bring others to enjoy, but overall, it is like a home away from home, where I can detach and enjoy nature, away from the virus sweeping the globe and cut off from all the news due to the poor cell reception.
It is interesting how despite the importance Thoreau places in his own ability to live by his own terms and without interference from society, he can still find harmony with the company of others. He seems to frequently do so without need for drawn out conversation or any specified activity. This is something my friends and I call being alone together, sharing a space and appreciating our surroundings without feeling compelled to make small talk or do anything in particular. I see a common ground with Thoreau in this regard, the way he appreciates his solitude to a great degree and thrives in it, but also appreciates breaks in isolation to share space with someone else. Variation in the way we spend our time creates appreciation for moments with others and by ourselves in equal measure.
The passage I compared is from the chapter “The Ponds” and is the third paragraph. This paragraph interested me because the Princeton edition had almost twenty lines and two parts, a and b. Version a only had approximately five full lines and only had one part. This paragraph was so small that I was shocked to see how much was cut out from the original Princeton edition. I also realized that there was only one sentence in the paragraph in version a. Although I enjoy Thoreau’s writing, I appreciated how detailed and concise the paragraph in version a was compared to the Princeton edition. I image that others felt this way too because it was produced after the Princeton edition in 1847. Everything after forest was removed in the revised paragraph, which told about his former experience at the pond.
In the Digital Thoreau version that I am leaving the comment on, I see that Thoreau’s former experiences are listed and that this paragraph is less concise compared to version a. However, it is simplified in comparison to the Princeton edition.
This passage is one of the best examples of nuance and precision within Thoreau’s work. In comparing this passage across the different drafts (particularly draft E and F) of Walden, I noticed this passage experienced several revisions. As minor as these revisions seem at first glance, I believe much insight can be gained from them. For example:
Towards the end of para. 5, “of an alabaster whiteness, still more unnatural” had been changed from “of an alabaster whiteness, equally unnatural.” By revising comparatives like “equally” and “more,” Thoreau presumably strives for accuracy and precision when comparing how one’s perspective can influence one’s perceptions and, in turn, their evaluations. Be it the color of water in a pond, or a serious matter of discourse when interacting with another person, viewpoint is everything. In order to be able to understand another person who possesses a different viewpoint/perspective than oneself, it is very useful to be able to communicate with precision. Precision aids the active listening (and reading) process. To convey meaning effectively is to communicate as accurately as possible.
Personally, this passage reminds me of when I took a Geology course and observed how one mineral’s color (its outward appearance) often differs from its streak color (the color of its powder form after being crushed). As Thoreau expresses well, looks can be deceiving. His writing here, regarding the exact colors and tints of the pond water, in a way speaks to a broader truth on perspective and the human experience.
In regards to time, I can see many references placed within this paragraph. The pond “rising and falling” obviously happens over time. As the sun sets the pond will set, and as the sun rises the pond will rise. Seasons have an effect on the pond, much like seasons have an effect on humans. People often feel different ways depending on the weather, such does the pond. Higher in the winter and lower in the summer, it all revolves around time and what time can change. The passage is talking about old memories and what those memories mean. Time can change many things and bring people apart or together, but memories are something that time can never change. The White Pond can symbolize a lot, but in terms of time, it can symbolize how you can’t stop a clock, but you can keep the memories created while the clock is ticking.
I had never seen the term Cenobites before, but learned that refers to members of a monastic community. This means people living under religious vows, which is how many lived during the time as religions were far more prevalent than they are today.
[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.’”
Well…that got dark…
This chapter really focuses on the environment in which Thoreau lived and how he felt it connected to things that he missed it seems, as well as evaluating how humans in a sense imitate nature and vice versa.
The concept that certain sounds are a \”natural melody\” that mimic \”the voice of the wood\” is thought-provoking. Thoreau seems to differentiate between natural sounds and artificial, or man-made, sounds, and bases sounds\’ value/worth/likeability upon how nature-like and organic the sound is.
Bells, such as wind chimes or church bells, are described here in a positively connotative way: natural and pleasant to the ear. While church bells and chiming clock towers (such as those often heard on college campuses) still adhere to a universally \”natural\” and pleasant melody as Thoreau describes, not all clocks today do. Digital clocks have replaced analog clocks–and so, too, have digital sounds replaced analog sounds. Today\’s technology means that the man-made sounds of a constant \”tick-tick\” of a clock, or the shrill electronic ring of an alarm clock, have replaced more organic chiming tones. While most cellphones give the option of choosing more soothing sounding alarms and ringtones, many people just use the default sounds. This is an interesting topic to investigate, as some studies and health-related articles suggest that stress levels and shrill alarm/ringtone noises are correlated. It begs the question: do digital sounds have a negative impact on our health and stress levels?
I feel like this is one of the first times that Thoreau is actually feeling alone. I feel that while he discusses it frequently and there are various mentions of his seclusion, this is the first time that I feel as if he is feeling the affects of that seclusion.
This also makes me think about the need humans have for human interaction. Its a known fact that we are a social species, we need interaction with other intelligence beings and we have to build relationships with people – going to long without that starts to affect oneself. This is the first time I have read Walden, so it makes me wonder if Thoreau will reflect on this in the coming chapters or if the prolonged seclusion he subjected himself to will not be mentioned.
Thoreau reveals in paragraph 14 that once the noise passes, and the world becomes quiet again he feels the most alone. The train tracks and freight trains cross near his pond, and the sounds and vibrations are noticeable in his small cabin. Before reading this chapter, I expected that Thoreau would express his frustration with the abundant noises new and advanced technology have brought, but so far he seems to be at peace and enjoys hearing the noises. He details that the whistle blowing from the train marks the beginning and end of a work day, and has become comfortable with hearing this sound everyday. Similarly, I live down the block from the train station and during peak times, while I cannot hear the train itself, I notice an increase of cars honking and driving past my house, people walking past my home engaging in conversations whilst arriving home from work. These sounds often signify to me that my father will be home soon, that my mom is about to cook dinner, or that it is time to feed my pets. In the morning I have gotten used to these noises as I have lived on this busy street my entire life. On snow days I notice the quiet more than usual because nobody is about and about; snow days have always been my favorite days because of how quiet and peaceful they are – I have never considered what the world would sound like if we didn’t have technology. Now as I am writing this, I am irritated by the buzzing of my fridge, my roommates loud typing, and the hum of the TV in the living room. I am so used to all of these sounds that I am able to block them out; I wonder if this has made me more numb or more sensitive to the sound of nature. Without technology, I would be able to enjoy the birds chirping, the sound of snow falling, and the sound of the wind whistling through the trees – all sounds I do not “hear” often as the sound of technology is overstimulating. Unlike Thoreau, the lack of sound doesn’t make me feel lonely; If anything, the quiet motivates me to do more.
[At evening, the distant lowing of some cow in the horizon beyond the woods sounded sweet and melodious, and at first I would mistake it for the voices of certain minstrels by whom I was sometimes serenaded, who might be straying over hill and dale;]
I really like this line because it reminds me of the most natural place I frequented over the summer. My friends and I always drove far out from our town to this nice sequestered spot in the Finger Lakes National Forest, and the first thing we would notice and talk about were the cows that lazed about 40 feet from the parking lot. We felt a distance from the cows too, but it wasn’t the same difference Thoreau felt. Our distance came from the fence, hitched with some kind of gizmo, that thoroughly alienated us from the herd. We never remarked on it, but the moos rang hollow to us when we knew that we would never be able to touch them or feed them. I think Thoreau touches on this subtly as well. We need a note of authenticity in the song of the moo. Nature has to be revealed to us in naked glory, not hidden behind an electric fence, humming its discordant note.
Thoreau’s sentiment about feeling alone once the restless world drifts away reminds me of my initial transition from living in a big city to studying in a small town. Long gone were the obnoxious vendors, honking of the impatient taxi-drivers, and screech of the overhead trains as they made their routine stops. And while at first I enjoyed the peaceful small town appeal with church bells chiming every so often, the silence became overwhelmly deafening. In our small college town, there isn’t an urgent need for public transportation because there isn’t a demand for it. When I compare the technological advantages that I’m used to at home, like announcements from passing trains or buses, to the simple life that I live in my small college town, I am struck both by the lack of familiar noises and the presence of unfamiliar sounds. For example, prior to moving upstate I had no idea what cicadas sounded like and was all the more terrified when I heard it for the first time. Yet, while I miss the erratic noise of New York City, I often find myself better able to concentrate when I find myself both alone in my thoughts and surroundings. I can immerse myself in a novel without being distracted by unpleasant sounds, I can watch the sun set in silence, and I can listen to the faint drum of my heartbeat without the anxious musings that inevitably come with urban living.
I like in paragraph 14 that Thoreau starts mentioning being alone. I think that Thoreau can actually start forming a bond with the audience that he is overall given as many details to this story as possible. The affect that the seclusion has on him is finally showing and honestly helps me connect more with the story.
I also agree with the meditation aspect of this paragraph. Meditation is a good way to channel you inner aspects of the loneliness you are feeling and be able to overcome them. I think this point also relates to trying to perfect everything you do with you laptop in this class. It may take you a long time to do it, but after that, the process becomes easy and overall makes the class pretty enjoyable.
[Now that the cars are gone by, and all the restless world with them, and the fishes in the pond no longer feel their rumbling, I am more alone than ever. For the rest of the long afternoon, perhaps, my meditations are interrupted only by the faint rattle of a carriage or team along the distant highway.]
Coming from a small town that is frequently busy, I often experienced what Thoreau describes here. I live on a street that has heavy traffic almost 24/7. It can get quite annoying at times, especially at nighttime when cars passing by are blaring music. However, I have grown used to it, and most of the time I do not realize that it\’s even occurring until the traffic is already long gone. While I do enjoy (and prefer) the quieter areas of my city, such as where my grandparents live, I sometimes find myself missing that background noise. It reminds me of home. The sounds make me feel as though I am surrounded, despite the fact that I am only around my family.
For such a brief paragraph, there is a lot being said by Thoreau here. Aside from this being a rare mention of him feeling loneliness, there is much that can be interpreted about the effects that sounds can have on someone. I can relate to the sounds of cars going by in the distance as I live near a highway. When I stand outside of my house or have my window open, I hear this and it gives me a sense of solidarity. The sounds of the outside world also take me to a place away from the technologies I use on a daily basis. Sometimes I sit outside without my phone and just listen to the natural sounds of my surroundings and it allows me to mentally connect with where I am and what I am experiencing in that moment. The sounds of my neighborhood also gives me a sense of nostalgia when I think about the sights and sounds I grew up around. Even though I may feel alone when I sit outside by myself and without any media interaction, this time allows me to reflect on my environment and how I relate to everything around me.
[I rejoice that there are owls. Let them do the idiotic and maniacal hooting for men.]
I feel a certain amount of appreciable bitterness from this line that I agree with. The bizarre squawks of squirrels, for instance, are something I adore for my love of the creatures. The same is true of the ducks and geese who reside on Conesus Lake near my rented home. The inanity of humans doing such things, however, is felt intensely. The irritation of human neighbours when I lived in a dormitory and the screaming of fraternities and sororities when they are “recruiting” once per semester come to mind. But, still, I appreciate the natural nature of these sounds, even when I would find them irritating from a human. Waking up to hearing hunters shooting is incredibly irritating. The natural nature of house sparrows chirping, however, is a lovely distraction from human artifice.
I love Thoreau’s description of night sounds in this section, particularly of the owl and the bullfrog. His description of these natural sounds and the emotions they evoke in the listener ring true despite the fact that they were written over a hundred years ago. Certain sounds and animal calls seem to be woven into the human experience, seldom changing between ages. Even those sounds we might not call ‘plesasant’, like the haunting cry of an owl. Even this strange sound has its rightful place: “suited to swamps and twilight woods which no day illustrates, suggesting a vast and undeveloped nature which men have no recognized.” Thoreau’s suggestion of a “vast and undeveloped nature” unrecognized by man is intriguing. Today, technological sounds have become a sort of “second nature” to us (e.g. a phone ringing or a text-alert, a T.V. or radio playing in the other room, cars/trains going past, dial-up, printers, etc.) but do we take the time to truly recognize the sounds we hear as part of our new nature? I can imagine a poem written about birdsong and “beautiful Nature”, but what about an ode to text-tones? This sound is certainly part of our “beautiful Nature” now in the sense that we probably hear text-tones as often as birdsong, but our attention to it as such is under-developed. “But now a more dismal arid fitting day dawns, and a different race of creatures awakes to express the meaning of Nature there”: I know Thoreau is talking about creatures of the night, but in a way, the technological age awakes a “different race of creatures” (us, who see, hear, and interact with the world in an unprecedented manner via technology) to express a particular meaning of nature. I appreciate that Thoreau’s definition of nature is not static. Nature, and our understanding of it, may be historically situated, constantly in flux from age to age. Our Nature in the technological age envelops many of the familiar natural sounds, but with the addition of newly naturalized mechanical sounds.
[Who can write so graphically the history of the storms they have weathered as these rents have done? They are proof-sheets which need no correction. ]
I don’t know if this was Thoreaus original intention, but the way I interpreted this was calling out those who tend to rewrite history as they see fit, despite the real story being within plain sight. It doesn’t take much to fact-check yourself, as well as make sure your sources are reliable, but many people seem to think that twitter and Instagram are good places to get their news – and while this isn’t necessarily the worst thing, it more often than not leads to misunderstandings, blown out of proportion rumors, and misinformation of anyone who chooses to take what they read at face value (which is a surprisingly high amount). Thoreau is saying here that there’s no better source than the original one – the evidence is there, ready to be discovered, but many people refuse to go out and find it.
The way I interpret this section is that Thoreau is finally experiencing what it’s like to feel lonely, and be aware of it. Being alone is normal to him – it’s how he wakes up, how he eats, how he does his chores. He is living alone in an isolated area, and he chose that for himself. In a situation like that, its easy to almost forget that company exists, and that it’s something he’s missing. But on this particular day in Thoreau’s narrative, the sounds of passing cars, people, and travelers were his company, as opposed to his thoughts. It’s easy not to miss something you aren’t normally used to, but it’s harder to go back after experiencing the other side. Thoreau is feeling lonely for the first time, because, for the first time, he is acknowledging the absence of company.
Sounds, people, and conversation all help someone think about what they’re listening to, who they’re speaking to, or where they want to take a conversation. However, when you don’t have any of those, you are left with your thoughts. As Thoreau shines a light on, loneliness can be more impactful when there are no distractions nearby. For him, the distractions are physical sounds such as cars going by. For me, many distractions that I have are songs and singing to lyrics while I do work. But, whenever I turn off my phone and do not hear a song, I feel weird — lonely if I may say and feel the need to turn it back on.
In this passage Thoreau is really explaining on what is feels like to be lonely out in the middle of the woods, and how during the afternoon there’s not to many sounds to distract him. I can relate to this part of the passage because even though I live in a big town with a lot of people, I live in a small neighborhood so it can get very quiet and lonely.
Good point, Kenny! It seems like all the noise and excitement associated with the train leave him feeling more alone than if it hadn’t gone by at all, like the quiet after a party.
I like how enthusiastic he is about hearing owls.
This passage stood out to me because of his emphasis on the calm and silence he experiences once the “restless world” has removed themselves from his spot. He associates the absence of sound with the fact that he is all alone in nature. Even the fish in the pond experience the disruption of human sound in nature.
So relatable! Good old NE
He’s on to something here! the use of domestication for human success
Well said, Sofie. I assume the fish would feel the trains rumbling. I know I see birds out my window fly away before a car comes into sight on the road, because they feel or hear it coming. Imagine how all our human noises stress all creatures beyond their usual high alert for predators!
Steven, Earlier, you noted his description of hawks. Here, he’s similarly describing real owls, but also imagining that they symbolically represent human emotions:
[They represent the stark twilight and unsatisfied thoughts which all have.]
I think he IS enthusiastic about owls (and all nature) and also seeing further meaning in them.
What wild birds would you like to see domesticated, Sully?
Here I think he’s talking about roosters, and imagining if they were “naturalized without being domesticated,” which I guess would mean they would roam in the woods and crow wherever they went. (people might come out and shoot them to shut them up…)
He speaks often about waking at dawn, greeting every morning, and living fully, and I think that’s why he imagines naturalized roosters, to wake us all up, but I’m not sure if there’s some sarcasm in here, too, where he says, “rise earlier and earlier and become unspeakably healthy, wealthy, and wise” (mocking Ben Franklin’s advice there:
“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”)
[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 th