Maybe he’s trying to reach a certain apart of his readers. The fact that he’s separating sections of people
In this passage he expresses how he feels about the people ,his community not doing right by him. He has done so much but has not got his proper recognition
Of course we see Walden point of view of living for yourself, making a way to live but at the same time the text also shows the dependency on the white male. White males in the day and age put others who aren’t ethically the same as themselves in hardships to the point of dependency of a race that has crippled them.
Its funny how the way he’s dissecting the word they and almost connecting himself to who “they” were as almost he was “they”. But there also accountability because hes noticing his actions towards her tone and how she spoke the words. his notices his actions
I find this thought to be interesting because Thoreau’s experience of making baskets, he found he was pleasing himself with his creations. Thoreau was not thinking about pleasing another male or person. But, when it came to the Indian men he was thinking of pleasing the white male. Thoreau is a white male who was and is better of himself. This Indian man may or may not have another way of income. Did Thoreau think about his cultural struggle as an Indian male in a society of white males? When you are a different race or ethnicity in the 19th century time period your dependency is on the white male to make a way of living.
I understand Thoreau’s overall point of view of we shouldn’t live for others but for ourselves. We can’t seek our happiness in others but in ourselves but what if those options taken away from you and your only option was to live for the beholder itself. How should we live then?
I find it interesting that Thoreau speaks on the financial issues of college that is still talk about today. Not only is he talking about money he speaks on the education and how certain students get different courses. Being taught the wrong idea, not being taught actual knowledge that you can use outside of the classroom.
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
After noticing a fact provided courtesy of Walter Harding in one of his comments on this paragraph – about how Thoreau originally intended to build his cabin on the shore of Flint’s pond but had been thwarted by the owner makes this an interesting paragraph. Keeping in mind Thoreau’s original intentions for wanting to live at Walden pond, to find himself and live deliberately in nature, should where he did that have mattered? Would it have been any different if he had in fact been able to build his cabin on the shore of Flint’s pond?
I agree with Jessica. Thoreau tells us at the beginning of Walden that he wished to go into the woods and live deliberately, and he also tells us this way of live may not be for everyone.
He makes that claim his beliefs won’t be imposed on other people, but we see in this section that clearly isn’t the case. He is pointing out the ways that the Field family and how if they live as he is, they will be better off. So I found this paragraph to be interesting, just because it is very contradictory of what we are told of his feelings at the beginning of Walden.
Even though it definitely can seem as though at first glance reading this paragraph we see Thoreau just simply coming up with this very comical situation with the ants giving them human-like characteristics and names for his entertainment- but I also think this paragraph can be seen in a different way.
Thoreau could also be making a point in playing out this scenario to tell us that we tend to become some engrossed in our own lives and all of our stresses and worries that we are not also stopping to realize that there are other things going in the world and in the nature around us that we are not taking the time to stop and see.
“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.
[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.
[ He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other’s while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy.]
This correlates well with what HIM said in Rameau’s Nephew. HIM describes his lifestyle as selling himself to others as something valuable. He passes himself off as an accomplished musical tutor, despite being quite inadequate and never imparting any knowledge unto others. But because he is perceived by an individual to have value, he does. The opposite occurs with the Indians baskets, because he might not have made something worth while, and failed to convince others that it was so, then he did not have valuable merchandise. Therefore value is only found in the individuals perception of a good or service. No value is actually seen in the inherent worth of an object only the importance placed on it by an individual.
This paragraph is interesting to me. I find it kind of comical how the author obviously does not rely on God or seem to trust God throughout his writing yet he will use what others to say to justify his argument against luxurious spending on things particularly clothes. “But if my jacket and trousers, my hat and shoes, are fit to worship God in, they will do; will they not?”. As a Christian this comment is interesting to me because I have said and heard others say oh come to God as you are he does not care what you are wearing. I do believe that is true, but I see the authors point here. Why do we seem to care. He is trying to be accountable for his action of not buying new clothes by using a common thing people say to persuade them to think about his own choices in a new light.
I want to say this paragraph shows his accountability for his choice of Walden Pond. He feels it would be a good place of business. I find it interesting that although he seems so down to earth I feel that he still tends to care greatly what others think of him. I feel like in this paragraph he is justifying his choice of living at Walden Pond.
This is a great example of the “they say, I say” mentality. The author states the others comments then says how he is wiser and will walk instead of taking a car because it will be faster and cheaper. He is responding with a straight no. Not any okay but just no he doesn’t think it is right and won’t stand for the idea of doing it.
[ Leave a comment on paragraph 106 0 Be sure that you give the poor the aid they most need]
This line is how I feel about this paragraph. I think Thoreau is trying to say that you should try and figure out what would be the most helpful.
For a real life example if there is a child who does not receive food at home asking for help would you give the child money or food? Not knowing anything about this child, I would give the child food. If I gave the child money how would I know that they are getting what they need if I did not take care of it myself. I gave them money and their parents stole it for their own personal use and I found out I would feel incredibly guilty.
I am an advocate for giving to those in need, but I also say that before you give use your head. I want to know that I gave is for the use I want it to be.
If you need a lot of things it is hard to decipher what the most important use of the gift would be which is part of the reason that if you give them a physical object instead of money then you know your charitable gift is doing what you intended it to do.
[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.
[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.
[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.
[ 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.
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 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.
“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.
[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.
[Walden is melting apace…Walden was dead and is alive again. But this spring it broke up more steadily, as I have said. ]
The cycling in nature is undeniable. Not only in nature, but in human nature. We sleep, and then wake. We go through the four seasons with nature, winter to spring; through this process, we become re-born in spring, we re-awaken in spring, and then we rest in winter.
[The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.]
It is morning by the end of Walden. Thoreau lets his readers know it is time to wake up. The day is young. Good things are going to happen to us if we embrace the message of spring and rise.
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”?
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 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.
[where is he so poor that, clad in such a suit, of his own earning, there will not be found wise men to do him reverence?]
As Thoreau’s Persian translator in Iran, I am honored that I was able to discover an allusion to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar Act three, scene two in this sentence. It is where Mark Antony points to Caesar’s dead body and says, “But yesterday the word of Caesar might / Have stood against the world. / Now lies he there, / And none so poor to do him reverence.” I have published this little discovery in Thoreau Society Bulletin.
This allusion is in perfect harmony with Thoreau’s purpose in these sentences. Thoreau is speaking about garments and coats and clothes in general and ends his argument by implying that Caesar’s dress does not make him rich enough for the poorest man in Rome to do him reverence. As we remember how Mark Antony counts the cuts made by the daggers of Caesar’s friends in his mantle, we realize how vulnerable a dress is even when worn as a mantle by a man like Caesar.
This little discovery is a souvenir of a whole nation who loved Thoreau and his Walden. I hope I will be remembered with this allusion in Walden.
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.
Every day or two I strolled to the village to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly going on there, circulating either from mouth to mouth, or from newspaper to newspaper, and which, taken in homœopathic doses, was really as refreshing in its way as the rustle of leaves and the peeping of frogs
Thoreau is comparing the gossip with lesser sounds in nature. However sweet the peeping frogs may sound to T, they cannot be compared with the songs of the birds or crows of his wild cockerels which seem to be filling the world: ““To walk in a winter morning in a wood where these birds abounded, their native woods, and hear the wild cockerels crow on the trees, clear and shrill for miles over the resounding earth, drowning the feebler notes of other birds—think of it!”
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?
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
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.
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.
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
[à la mode]
Could this be an example of where Thoreau uses humor to balance his instruction?
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.
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.
Through his passionate devotion to Nature, Thoreau demonstrates his commitment and involvement in Transcendentalism. One of the “pillars” of the religious movement is the acknowledgment of the environment’s eminence. In a way, Nature is deified, and believed to embody religion and spiritually. Transcendentalists focus on the individual’s thoughts and feelings as opposed to the teachings of congregations. Above all else, Transcendentalists worship their physical surroundings. In this paragraph, Thoreau condemns the Farmer’s desecration of Nature. As Thoreau tirelessly labors over his bean field, he appreciates the challenge, as he is grateful to be the recipient of Nature’s food. Thoreau denounces the typical farmer for valuing the product over the process. Thoreau views farmers as avaricious beggars, who seek only to reap the offerings of their environment. He charges that Farmers do not pray to the Goddess of the harvest, but rather, to the God of wealth and greed. Thoreau states, “He [the farmer] knows Nature but as a robber”. As a Transcendentalist, Thoreau elevates himself above the general public. However, Thoreau reveals in a separate journal entry that he was once responsible for starting a forest fire. He admits to marveling at the flames and not being “troubled” by the incident, since lightning bolts could have caused equal damage. I agree with Thoreau’s criticism of greed and human tendency to use Nature at their disposal. It is important to be mindful of your minute role in the world and Nature’s power to sustain it. It is also important for a preservationist to not burn down trees.
In this section, Thoreau uses the Field family and their failed farm to brandish Transcendentalism. He criticizes the farmer’s upkeep and fishing methods, and states that the cause for the family’s suffering is gluttony. Thoreau also pities the family for their “inherited Irish poverty” later on. Although I usually interpret Thoreau’s words with disapproval, I found a sliver of truth behind this paragraph. Thoreau closes with, “Through want of enterprise and faith men are where they are, buying and selling, and spending their lives like serfs”. Since the day on which we can stand on our won, we are subjected to expectations: we grow up following a fixed track of schooling, working, creating a family, working some more, and then dying. Thoreau asks, who is to say that this is the best and only route? People shape themselves to fit a mold; we pursue wealth, religious righteousness and any other virtue deemed desirable by society. And to what avail? Albert Einstein once said, “The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. But the one who walks alone is likely to find themselves in places no one has ever been before”. This idea of straying from the norm for personal betterment is Thoreau’s hope for humanity. Thoreau may pitch far-fetched ideas and offer prejudiced pretensions, but his lobby for nonconformity is admirable. He makes us question why we place such gravity on trivial, man-made matters, and lead lives of ordinary convention.
I found Thoreau’s fascination with the ant fight a bit odd, since he is not a fan of guns nor does he support war. Then again, Thoreau makes it clear that the woods accentuate his savage nature e.g., he spots a woodchuck and feels the urge to “devour it raw”. I was interested in Thoreau’s comparison of the red ant to Achilles and their thirst for bloodshed and vengeance. Above, Walter Harding clarifies the allusion: Achilles, the greatest Greek warrior, refused to fight, so his cousin, Patroclus, impersonated Achilles by wearing his helmet, in order to rally the Greeks. When Patroclus was killed, Achilles returned to battle. During combat Achilles killed Hector, a Trojan prince, and attached the corpse to his chariot, and paraded it around to satiate his rage: an ultimate act of dishonor. Also, in my learning of the myth Achilles and Patroclus carried out a romantic/sexual relationship, they weren’t just cousins, which explains Achilles immense grief and anger after Patroclus’ death.
“Shall we with pains erect a heaven of blue grass over ourselves, though when it is done we shall be sure to gaze still at the true ethereal heaven far above, as if the former were not?”
Here, Thoreau revisits his reasoning for going to the woods. In one of the first chapters, Thoreau explains his biggest fear: laying on his death bed only to realize that he failed to “suck the marrow out of life”. In the conclusion he reiterates the necessity of shunning convention. Thoreau encourages individuality, and a patient, soul-searching lifestyle. He recoils at the artificial reality that humans have created for themselves- an arena for competition and strict societal roles. Thoreau asks his readers to abandon our man-made “heaven of blue grass”. Then, we may recognize the true heaven, which floats over us as Nature, and live a purposeful life.
Although I’m a proponent for individuality, I can’t help but envision a world of disconnected, delusional woodsmen if we were all to lead this Transcendentalist lifestyle.
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.
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.
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.
Prof. Gillin, I like the way you are looking at this. I was wondering how one word, such as furniture, could even be considered an actual sentence.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
In class we spoke about this They Say/ I Say. Here Thoreau is examining the “power” of which the masses have dictated the simple choices of how to wear pants, or the style of pants to wear. It is something historical, and societal that leaves consequences on everyday lives. The notion that “something is this way,” because it has yet to be done “that way.”
In this instance it seems as though Thoreau could move from one level of abstraction to another, questioning the consequence in which the “minority” pays. While also implying the moral question of slavery, and dipping into the idea of capitalism, its pros and cons, and social classes…so on and so forth.
Is Thoreau here claiming that those who do not strive for what they want, are in realness hindering themselves from leaving a leisure-some life? A life in which Thoreau seems to imply is that of fraud from ones own search of experience.
I feel this paragraph highlights the reason in which Thoreau went to Walden in the first place, which was to in fact find or learn about himself. Not only to find or learn about who he was but to initiate the growth and evaluate who he wanted to become as a member in his “reality.” And how that growth would ultimately affect him.
What could Thoreau mean by this? He could be stating the idea that philanthropy is something in which is only done because it is religiously right to do so. Thoreau could also be implying the simple exchange of generosity itself. Being generous is makes the giver feel good in his own right, as equally as the receiver feels from the generosity. If being generous did not make one feel good, and was not adopted and practiced by the masses, would anyone do it?
Although Thoreau’s language could be a bit assertive in some cases he could be making a point about the situation he gives in these sentences. I know from experience when I would see a homeless person or a person begging for money on the streets of NYC my mother would teach me that you offer, meals and never money. Why aid in someones possible addiction, or bad habits? However I also have to disagree with the statement presented by Thoreau because if I am to think in such ways aren’t I also dictating what is right and wrong for someone else? Something earlier that Thoreau implied was preposterous when evaluating some of societies short comings. And is that the right thing to do?
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.
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.
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.
[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 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.
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?
What could Thoreau be getting at here? There are ways in which saying things through words do not have the same impact if it was said through silence? There is no greater connection then that of a connection?
[He would sometimes exclaim, “How I love to talk! By George, I could talk all day!” I asked him once when I had not seen him for many months, if he had got a new idea this summer. “Good Lord, “said he, “a man that has to work as I do, if he does not forget the ideas he has had, he will do well. May he the man you hoe with is inclined to race; then, by gorry, your mind must be there; you think of weeds.]
In these sentences it seems as though this man is the subject of yet another painting that Thoreau describes earlier in the book which is that of the ‘man who is illiterate and knows nothing else but the work in which is handed to him in society. Yet in this section Thoreau seems to be debating whether there is something to see in this individual.
Thoreau seems to suggest that there may be intellects who may not “have the means” of showing such genius to the world because they do not how to, or it could be because structurally they are not allowed to.
[ It was a cheap sort of top dressing in which I had entire faith. It was a cheap sort of top dressing in which I had entire faith]
Why does Thoreau repeat this statement?
This sentence was very shocking that Thoreau dared to compare beans to men. But based of his previous assertive language is it possible Thoreau meant something deeper by this comparison?
[One afternoon, near the end of the first summer, when I went to the village to get a shoe from the cobbler’s, I was seized and put into jail, because, as I have elsewhere related, I did not pay a tax to, or recognize the authority of, the state which buys and sells men, women, and children, like cattle at the door of its senate-house. I had gone down to the woods for other purposes.]
Thoreau here implies his rejecting opinion of slavery and proclaims that he will not support or engage with an entity in which participates in such disgusting capital.
[You who govern public affairs, what need have you to employ punishments? Love virtue, and the people will be virtuous. The virtues of a superior man are like the wind; the virtues of a common man are like the grass; the grass, when the wind passes over it, bends]
Those who hold the hierarchy in society, to what purpose do they govern? Be moral and drenched in goodness and people in which you encounter will be good. The virtue of those in which are superior will always come as priority or law when presented to those not high in the social hierarchy. What could this determine about those who govern and their virtues? Are they in fact virtuous?
[My Muse may be excused if she is silent henceforth. How can you expect the birds to sing when their groves are cut down? ]
Here Thoreau gives a poetic description of how nature feeds him, and how if she where not as she is he would not be content.
[But the only true America is that country where you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to do without these, and where the state does not endeavor to compel you to sustain the slavery and war and other superfluous expenses which directly or indirectly result from the use of such things]
I want to discuss this statement some more in class! He’s saying that many thing “America” is “this,” but in actuality, “that” is what you get. The idea that America is filled with superfluous expenses and superfluous people, with superfluous values.
[Fishermen, hunters, woodchoppers, and others, spending their lives in the fields and woods, in a peculiar sense a part of Nature themselves, are often in a more favorable mood for observing her, in the intervals of their pursuits, than philosophers or poets even, who approach her with expectation. ]
Here Thoreau continues to raise nature as he has done countless times. Giving Her thanks for showing herself and letting him and others be apart of herself.
[ We cannot but pity the boy who has never fired a gun; he is no more humane, while his education has been sadly neglected. This was my answer with respect to those youths who were bent on this pursuit, trusting that they would soon outgrow it. No humane being, past the thoughtless age of boyhood, will wantonly murder any creature, which holds its life by the same tenure that he does. ]
It seems as though Thoreau here is explaining that the older one gets the more he loses his humanity, because he in a sense at his adolescent age is closes to it.
This claim of what is truly “civilized” in Thoreaus eyes pegs the reflection of nature itself. Thoreau feels not eating animals will show the true civilization of a group of people, however is this the true reflection of nature and it cycle?
To progress, learn, and educate is to sculpt the mind and body.
[The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality. Perhaps the facts most astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man. ]
We do not appreciate the simple, the “real” we are so easily tempted to ask for more. When there is but all that we can ask right in front of us.
[The mice which haunted my house were not the common ones, which are said to have been introduced into the country, but a wild native kind (Mus leucopus) not found in the village. I sent one to a distinguished naturalist, and it interested him much. When I was building, one of these had its nest underneath the house, and before I had laid the second floor, and swept out the shavings, would come out regularly at lunch time and pick up the crumbs at my feet. It probably had never seen a man before; and it soon became quite familiar, and would run over my shoes and up my clothes]
Why is he ok with this?….
[I was witness to events of a less peaceful character. One day when I went out to my wood-pile, or rather my pile of stumps, I observed two large ants, the one red, the other much larger, nearly half an inch long, and black, fiercely contending with one another. Having once got hold they never let go, but struggled and wrestled and rolled on the chips incessantly. Looking farther, I was surprised to find that the chips were covered with such combatants, that it was not a duellum, but a bellum, a war between two races of ants, the red always pitted against the black, and frequently two red ones to one black. The legions of these Myrmidons covered all the hills and vales in my wood-yard, and the ground was already strewn with the dead and dying, both red and black. It was the only battle which I have ever witnessed, the only battle-field I ever trod while the battle was raging; internecine war; the red republicans on the one hand, and the black imperialists on the other. On every side they were engaged in deadly combat, yet without any noise that I could hear, and human soldiers never fought so resolutely. I watched a couple that were fast locked in each other’s embraces, in a little sunny valley amid the chips, now at noon-day prepared to fight till the sun went down, or life went out.]
This description of this battle is much like humans. Previously Thoreau seems to indicate that nature is almost harmless and harmonies in a sense, but this illustration shows that it can be brutal too. So are we as humans already apart of nature? Something that Thoreau says is not yet true.
[They never molested me seriously, though they bedded with me; and they gradually disappeared, into what crevices I do not know, avoiding winter and unspeakable cold.]
Thoreaus language is very peculiar…during his time was this common?
[ 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.
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 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.
[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
[Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man’s to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other’s while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy.]
Marx may sympathize with the above comment, in current society our worth, as well as others is contingent upon the material concrete value they can supply. Rather than exist in such a society Thoreau finds it preferable to live in Walden where he may determine his own worth
[Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind]
Is the avoiding the necessity of selling baskets, a form of opting out of society? Is it possible to exist in society without engaging in the buying and selling?
[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.
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.
[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.
[But, answers one, by merely paying this tax the poor civilized man secures an abode which is a palace compared with the savage’s. An annual rent of from twenty-five to a hundred dollars (these are the country rates) entitles him to the benefit of the improvements of centuries, spacious apartments, clean paint and paper, Rumford fireplace, back plastering, Venetian blinds, copper pump, spring lock, a a commodious cellar, and many other things. But how happens it that he who is said to enjoy these things is so commonly a poor civilized man, while the savage, who has them not, is rich as a savage? If it is asserted that civilization is a real advance in the condition of man,—and I think that it is, though only the wise improve their advantages,—it must be shown that it has produced better dwellings without making them more costly;]
In this passage, Thoreau utilizes another technique from They Say/I Say, in which he briefly plays the role of the skeptic to support his argument. He has anticipated a possible criticism (that even the poorest of civilized society have palaces compared to “savages”) and in his writing, he quickly debunks such a critique. By stating and refuting an idea that opposes his argument, Thoreau is not just commenting on the flawed nature of his society, but he is also strengthening his credibility.
[I would not have any one adopt my mode of living on any account; for, beside that before he has fairly learned it I may have found out another for myself, I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead.]
I find what Thoreau is saying here to be not only extremely interesting, but also wise beyond his years. Even though the whole book is centered around Thoreau’s accomplishments at Walden Pond, he takes the time to admit that his way of life isn’t the only or even the best way. Thoreau isn’t advocating for his way of life, he’s advocating for people to find their own way of life. What works for Thoreau may not work for others and he doesn’t presume to say that his method of living is above another. All that matters is that a person will live in a way that truly satisfies and challenges them, rather than live a certain life that is expected of them because they feel like they have no other choice.
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.
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.
[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.
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 fickle attitude towards society causes one to wonder about his personality. The point of Walden was to get away from society in order to find himself, and understand the true importances in one’s life. Thoreau preaches the importance of learning through experience, whereas society preaches learning through the recitation of information. Thoreau contradicts himself in this passage in seemingly romanticizing said society. This may cause one to infer that Thoreau is unsure of his philosophical opinions, so he makes the decision to live in the woods in order to properly formulate them.
“Every day or two I strolled to the village to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly going on there, circulating either from mouth to mouth, or from newspaper to newspaper, and which, taken in homœopathic doses, was really as refreshing in its way as the rustle of leaves and the peeping of frogs.”
This quote is interesting because it furthers the notion of Thoreau’s hypocrisy. He states that he chooses to live his life in the woods in order to escape the flaws of society, yet he finds his solace in observing society. This further proves the point of Thoreau’s uncertainty on his philosophical beliefs. He entered the woods in order to broaden himself, not in order to escape society.
“We cannot but pity the boy who has never fired a gun” This quote in essence, is what Thoreau wants to explain to the reader throughout the entirety of this work. He is preaching experiential learning. We cannot but pity the boy who has never fired a gun because he has been stripped of an experience that will make him more alive. Thoreau previously stated in Walden that he does not want to come close to death, and realize that he has never lived. He pities the boy who has never fired a gun, because he is noticing that he is not making the most of his life through experience. The best way to learn in the eyes of Thoreau is through expanding yourself and having a wide array of experiences.
Thoreau seems to have strong interest in the tactics the fisherman utilize, as seen in paragraphs three, and four. This may raise the question that Thoreau does not actually want to learn by experience, but rather learn through critiquing, and closely examining other’s experiences. Thoreau states that he believes in learning through experience, yet his actions here, and his actions in “The Baker Farm” contradict this notion. Thoreau wants to critique other’s experiences without actually partaking in said experiences himself. He is over-analytical, and it prohibits him from experiential learning.
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.
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.”
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
In a strange place in my life – considering Thoreau in the digital age – I find myself second-guessing previous pages based on this paragraph. Constantly, I am engaging with the world around me in ways unbelievably different than Thoreau ever did. I am plugged in: to my laptop, iPod, iPhone, TV, video games. The list goes on. So, when Thoreau proposes in “Reading” education that it would be ideal to be educated in the writers of antiquity, I begin to understand him as the erudite, but pompous sort. Yet, here he provides a suitable explanation for the relationship between nature and education that he holds in such esteem. Where the modern individual is plugged in all the time, the “wood-chopper” spends his time engaged almost exclusively in natural and literary pursuits. The question that remains, of course, is how a modern individual is supposed to carry out this life of simplicity.
This passage finds Thoreau setting up a man vs. the state sort of situation. While I appreciate his resistance to an unjust institution, some of his observations beg a closer reading. He describes living without locks with a sort of “open-door” living policy, just after he makes a point of noting that the only people that give him any sort of problem are representatives of the state. This seems to suggest that there is a difference in the type of person that represents the state and the one who does not. Or, it could suggest that working for the state has a corrupting effect on individuals, making them incompatible with his manufactured world. Additionally, he suggests something that reminds me here of Politeia, where Plato describes his ideal kallipolis. Ideally, he notes that the city would not need protection, as protectors have a level of power that could be dangerous. Plato only allows for the guardians when he notes that wealth demands it. Thus, Thoreau here is not in an isolated place in western thought. He is, though, in application. Plato cedes such a city would be impossible, while Thoreau appears dedicated to its necessity.
[almost the only friend of human progress]
Another moment of insight into Thoreau’s worldview. After looking into some of the Alcott’s contributions, I can’t help but wonder that they are somewhat more related to modern social progressive issues than Thoreau. That said, Thoreau contributed greatly with his abolitionist and civil disobedient writings. Alcott, however, appears to have a greater appreciation for society than Thoreau, the wild man in the woods, so to speak. Interesting that at the heart of Thoreau’s perception of their kindred spirit is a notion of being “freeborn and indigenous.” That in some way, it is the world that corrupts the spirit.
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.
When Thoreau wrote in his journal about someone “possessed with the idea of making architectural ornaments having a core of truth,” he had just heard from Emerson about the musings of Horatio Greenough. However, by the time this journal material appeared in his book, Thoreau had had an opportunity to more familiarize himself with Greenough’s ideashttp://www.kouroo.info/kouroo/thumbnails/G/HoratioGreenoughand his derogation no longer pertained to that sculptor. The best fit for the person Thoreau was derogating, in Walden, would I believe be the New England architect Asher Benjamin.http://www.kouroo.info/kouroo/thumbnails/B/AsherBenjamin
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.
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.
T is discovering what is it is to be a human in nature, with all efforts going to self preservation. To refer to Harding’s comment on the passage, when one must forage and grow and hunt their own food as humans once did in the wilds, the prospect of small prey such as a woodchuck is a far more valuable take than anyone living in the modern community could appreciate. Human history is that of the hunter-gatherer, and here we see T entering the mindset and habits after being left to his own devices for some time.
[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.
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.
[What if all ponds were shallow? Would it not react on the minds of men? I am thankful that this pond was made deep and pure for a symbol. While men believe in the infinite some ponds will be thought to be bottomless.]
I am struck by this passage as I feel as though as a species, mankind searches for the infinite and believes in the unknown yet the knowledge of knowing and understanding propels us to try to reach the bottom of any pond we come upon in life. Thoreau knows the depth of Walden Pond, and although it is not as deep as other bodies of water, it is deep for a pond which he will always be able to reach the bottom of. He will never find his footing, both literally and figuratively, if he were to dive into the pond. The infinite hope and curiosity of humankind is almost made arbitrary by Thoreau when he does learn the depth of the pond because it provides a concrete truth, yet the tangible knowing of how deep that is/feels will forever be unknown by him [Thoreau] and others.
This is a great point, Kaitlin. As we have discussed before, Thoreau has often compared the seasons (specifically winter and spring) to the eternal cycle of life. Knowing this, I found it quite completing that the final two chapters before the conclusion document his winter in Walden and its transformation into spring.
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.
Some quick but interesting commentary on the cultural differences between tribalistic and community serving culture Native Americans and the more self centered capitalism that was growing the early United States.
The age old philosophy of the need to be honest to oneself. It’s important to accept who we are because only then can we move forward and better ourselves.
This makes me wonder how long it will be before people in the future look back at what we wear to day as comically we do upon the styles of the 1800’s. This applies not only to clothes but culture, language and government as well.
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.
Much like how losing ones eyes lets them focus on their other senses Thoreau’s seclusion in the woods and mostly complete isolation from society has made him far more in tune with nature.
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.
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.
[No humane being, past the thoughtless age of boyhood, will wantonly murder any creature, which holds its life by the same tenure that he does. ]
Considering Thoreau’s statements in the first paragraph of this section, how can he revere attitudes and actions which he also labels as inhumane?
[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.
[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.
[ 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.
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
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)
“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.
A philosopher has had dealings with this idea: Gottfried Leibniz’s “best of all possible worlds” theory is essentially an extrapolated version of this “No, I like it well enough” sentiment. Regardless, I think that Leibniz and the woodchopper had entirely different intentions: Leibniz was utterly concerned with the nature of the universe, and the woodchopper, as far as I can tell from Thoreau’s description, doesn’t seem to care or let such abstractions bother him. Both seem to carry a sense of peace and order though.
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.
Walter Harding’s above comment is very interesting and enlightening. When I first read this strange pluralization, I was not aware of this implication, and the all I could think of was how “Waldenses” sounded like “Hobbitses”, what the gollum repeatedly calls Sam and Frodo in the Lord of the Rings. When you think about it though, Thoreau is living out in the woods, willfully going against what society thinks is right for him, having seemingly given up hope for a conventional lifestyle. He is pursuing something which he feels he can only fully appreciate secluded in nature, something very– shall we say– precious to him. Time and time again, he struggles seemingly against himself, as if there are two arguing voices with opposing agendas contained within his person. These lead to erratic inconsistencies in his dialogue to the reader. Couple all this with his strange and intense affinity for fish, and it seems as if Thoreau shares a great deal of characteristics with Smeagol.
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.
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.
[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.
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.
[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.
[I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit? If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes.]
Thoreau uses conversational diction by quite succinctly voicing that he says that clothes do not make the man and that valuing a new fit suit and shiny dress shoes over a mans conscience is not preferable. He believes that all enterprises should eliminate the value of outward appearances to weed out the artificial value from the genuine.
[ “They do not make them so now,” not emphasizing the “They” at all, as if she quoted an authority as impersonal as the Fates]
I find this interesting because it strikes me as something covered in the beginning of critical analysis, the anonymity of “they” reminded me of the identity behind “the reader”. Who we picture as ‘they’ or ‘the reader’ is non specific. What is she referring to when she references “them” or who is she implying about?
[ The manufacturers have learned that this taste is merely whimsical. Of two patterns which differ only by a few threads more or less of a particular color, the one will be sold readily, the other lie on the shelf, ]
I find this interesting because it is applicable to today’s society. Though holed jeans and patches are the aesthetic norm of most clothing these days versus the time of pantaloons and dress shirts, the idea of ‘trend-setting’ and measuring our society through what materialistic value is still prevalent. I cant fathom the amount of times i witnessed a style become so prevalent and then fall of the shelves in the next month, to be replaced by the next generation of temporary style.
I find it interesting that Thoreau went to the extent of conversational dialogue in his writing that he broke the fourth wall and directly addressed (as to what he presumed) would be the readers thoughts about his actions.
Thoreau would not want anyone to adopt his way of living because he appreciates the differences in narratives and individuals. He believes a child should pursue their own course of action for the future, rather than just inheriting their parents. He believes the youth can “build or plant or sail” so don’t hinder them from finding their own path. Our narratives don’t have a definitive ending, their a general direction of where were headed.
[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.
[Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.]
Thoreau critiques the value on labor over individuality.
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.
[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.
“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.
I feel like Walden makes a good point in this passage. He describes the difference in the interactions when people have to make an effort to visit him. It seems like because it’s harder to get to him, his visitors are focused on making the best of the time they are there. It also seems like Walden is more starved for company so there is many stories and anecdotes to share.
I find the comment “gilding nature continually repairs” interesting. Is it true that nature will be able to repair all of the damage that humans have created? When Thoreau claims that “nations come and go without defiling it” does he beileve this because he is born and living in a earlier time than us? Are we still able to say that nature will be able to fix itself?
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”.
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.
[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.
[Those summer days which some of my contemporaries devoted to the fine arts in Boston or Rome, and others to contemplation in India, and others to trade in London or New York, I thus, with the other farmers of New England, devoted to husbandry. ]
Thoreau here expresses the issue of an authentic experience versus a mediated one. It’s hard to say if Thoreau is passing judgment on his contemporaries, especially because he often seems very taken by art, himself.
[I was seized and put into jail] Wow, I love how Thoreau just breezes over the fact that he was incarcerated for tax evasion. Considering the man can spend an entire chapter detailing the adventures of a squirrel, you think he could at least treat us to his edgy prison stories…
[the laws of the universe] I’m taking an philosophy course called “Ethical Theory,” which is fascinating. Before reading this paragraph, I would have pegged Thoreau for an ethical relativist — that is, someone who believed we should respect and not interfere with the moral conventions of other cultures. He seems so worldly and is constantly enlightening readers with pearls of wisdom from around the world. Yet, here he presupposes moral absolutes, a “law of the universe” that operates independently of whatever “the youth” consider to be morally fashionable. You know, now that I think about it, Thoreau’s moral commentary is pretty irresponsible. Some of his asides are very flippant and end up creating an incoherent, unorganized portrait of what he believes. I mean of course he worships nature and all that, but can we place him in a moral category? Transcendentalism is a literary and philosophical movement, not really a moral one. Maybe I’m just trying to slap labels on something that can’t be labeled: a personal philosophy. Either way, I think his thoughts on morality could use a bit more organization and consistency.
I was looking at the Fluid Text Edition of Walden and it turns out that the first few paragraphs of this chapter — the ones describing his activities according to the months — were added only in the 5th draft. One of Harding’s theorys that I’ve researched while working with my Data Analysis group in ENGL340 is that Thoreau revised Walden with the intent of solidifying the year as a unifying device. There is evidence of this in other chapters too. Thoreau uses seasons and months not only to situate his reader in time, but as a thematic linchpin.
[The squirrels also]
In the Princeton Edition of the manuscript (the original), Thoreau preceded this sentence with, “All the emotions and the life of the squirrel imply spectators.” During his first revision, Version A, Thoreau opted for the simplified sentence in this text, which survived the subsequent six revisions. I can only speculate as to why Thoreau took it out, but I agree with his decision. Sometimes, being caught up in an artistic moment, a writer can be moved to make a profound statement where a simple one does the job more effectively without putting on airs. And seeing as he’s writing about squirrels… no airs necessary.
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.
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.
[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.
In this paragraph, Thoreau makes a conversational move that is mentioned by Graff and Birkenstein. He starts by saying that many people believe that the way they dress influences the way people perceive them. Due to this belief, they will go out of their way to appear nicely dressed. They think that “their prospects for life would be ruined if they should…wear a patch, or two extra seams only, over the knee”. In their minds, dressing imperfectly will cause them to lose respect. Thoreau challenges their mindset by stating “no man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes”. He makes it clear that it is worthless to worry about what other people think of the way you dress. Ultimately, your behavior towards others will make a lasting impression. I find this to be a perfect example of “they say/I say” because he responds to the ideas of others with his own thoughts that are supported by evidence.
[Flint’s, or Sandy Pond, in Lincoln, our greatest lake and inland sea, lies about a mile east of Walden. It is much larger, being said to contain one hundred and ninety-seven acres, and is more fertile in fish; but it is comparatively shallow, and not remarkably pure.]
You can see Flint’s Pond on a map here.
[Ice is an interesting subject for contemplation. They told me that they had some in the ice-houses at Fresh Pond five years old which was as good as ever. Why is it that a bucket of water soon becomes putrid, but frozen remains sweet forever? It is commonly said that this is the difference between the affections and the intellect.]
Fresh Pond on the map:
[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.
[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
[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.
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.
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.
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”.
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
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.
Thoreau makes a good point here that new enterprises should first be engaged in by ones old clothes. It is only when we recognize that we need to change our appearance to match how we are on the inside that we are safe from the common danger of being told to change our inside to match our appearance.
I think i am in agreement with Thoreau here. It makes sense that the man that devotes his whole life to the Good is much better than a man that does something evil or just neutral and then gives a tenth of his income to help others. However, I think Thoreau is arrogant when he says that it is not good to give money to the poor because they will use it poorly. He surely does not know to what use it will be done and if an alcoholic will use half the money to feed his children and the other half to drink better booze isn’t it still good to give him money?
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.
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 here with Thoreau that there is no right or wrong way to live your life. The way he communicates that is nuanced, though interesting, and well put.
I would say that the idea is definitely to make the baskets for oneself, and to focus on one’s own path metaphorically as opposed to making baskets for someone else, and living one’s life in whatever way the individual values it should be lived.
I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the two ways to make baskets, so to speak. I agree with you about people conforming to societal standards. However I’d be interested to hear whether you think society would function properly if all producers of goods made things according to their own interests? While Thoreau makes an intriguing point, would it realistically be applicable for everyone in a given society?
This reminds me of a quote from Toni Morrison: “you can’t let the past strangle you if you’re going to go forward. but nevertheless, the past is not going anywhere.”
In my opinion negative aspects are unavoidable in life, and I think that it speaks to the beauty of life that there are negative aspects. Life is imperfect, and if it were, there wouldn’t be any point in any of us being here. Therefore the negative aspects are inherently a part of our lives as humans, and embracing them is what allows us to improve ourselves.
“I never in all my walks came across a man engaged in so simple and natural an occupation as building his house”
Are man’s simplest occupations not eating, drinking, etc.?
I enjoyed reading what you have to say about animal and human life. Humans are really just animals with larger brains comparatively to other animals. Thus I’d ask you if humans and animals have the same emotions and are equally free, and just have more complex or simple emotions? For example while I may worry about my grades in school, an animal may worry to the same extent about not having enough to eat. I think we are just as free as other animals, because while it often feels like we are restrained from the freedoms animals seem to have, the complexity of our species has given us opportunities other animals cannot fathom. Do you agree?
This is an interesting connection, and I agree that Reece and Thoreau present similar viewpoints. In what ways do their views differ? I’m not as familiar with Reece so that’s why I’m asking.
Agreed, and the way that Thoreau went about enjoying his time at Walden pond is something I enjoy reading about specifically in this paragraph.
I would lean towards saying it isn’t a specific reference to organized religion, though I’m honestly not sure. He certainly is advocating for listening to your gut, in my opinion.
Don’t we have motivations for doing everything we do, no matter how altruistic we feel our actions are? Agree or disagree?
I really enjoyed his reference to the Newfoundland dog, which is one of my favorite Dog breeds. They are known for being very loyal and nurturing dogs, despite their very large size. Thoreau is implying, however, that people have motivations behind good things they do for other people.
Really interesting anecdote here about the Indians who had the strength to suggest better “modes of torture to their tormentors.” This story is reminiscent of Thoreau’s arrest for refusing to pay taxes.
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.
It’s not surprising that Thoreau was picking up artifacts left behind, because his style of life during the book is very similar to the native Americans. His philosophies also have many parallels to the beliefs of native Americans.
Thoreau’s farming techniques are reflective of his philosophy about nature, which I enjoyed reading about. He is content with his “half-cultivated” field, which shows his interest in valuing the natural processes of nature existing side by side with his cultivation of the crops. He has an admirable harmony with the natural environment around him, and the way he handles his bean field is truly reflective of this.
Paganini is a musician I’ve heard briefly years ago. This is probably his most famous piece:
The word choice used here, which is incorporated into the imagery, is really nice. I enjoy the descriptions of the environment, especially at night. Thoreau’s awareness of his environment is admirable, and I enjoyed reading about the area surrounding his home in this part of the text.
Thoreau to me is largely the hermit, however should also legitimately be considered the poet. I think a lot of the beauty of his writing is tied to the fact that he jumps around between philosophical concepts, greek mythology, and simple mundane everyday tasks. His involvement in the community also is understated, so he can’t truly be considered a hermit.
This is a truly admirable example of Thoreau’s peaceful interactions with his environment. Many people’s instinct would be to kill a mouse in their house, however even such a traditionally despicable animal such as a rat is welcome in the home of Thoreau.
Interesting details here regarding the potential influence of Wyman on Thoreau’s life and philosophies. The similarities between Thoreau and Wyman are striking, based on his description of Wyman.
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.
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.
I was shocked by how harsh Thoreau speaks about the Field family in this section. He goes so far as to call the baby a “starveling brat,” and his focus on the baby’s apparent self-delusion rather than its innocence is very off-putting. I can only picture Thoreau sitting with his nose in the air as this family invites him into their home. He also is very quick to lecture them about how to live their lives, and I can only imagine they were eager to get rid of him. All in all, the privileged perspective that Thoreau has really comes through here. He might not have been raised by a rich family, but he clearly has never lived in real poverty, either. Sure he can live simply in Walden Pond, but he isn’t supporting a family in it.
This paragraph is an example of something I noticed throughout Thoreau’s stay at Walden, and especially when reading Selections from the Journals: Thoreau can act very childish at times. I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way, but rather than he does things that I can easily picture a little boy doing for amusement. He narrates a fight between ants as if it were a war, collects the ants, and watches until the end. In the Journals, he takes off after wildlife simply to play with it (the woodchuck, the fox, the flying squirrel) and likes to collect animals for a day just to observe them. It’s interesting to see how living in nature seems to bring him down to a basic mentality in the same way that he uses the opportunity to ponder thoughts that a child could never understand. It’s as if he’s physically reverted to childhood, but mentally grown into a philosopher.
“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.
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.
This comment was only posted as a trial run. I was not serious about this comment.
Society has wronged the protagonist by not giving him the credit for all the work he has done. The previous paragraphs (P27-29) explain the toil that the protagonist has done for society and has yet to be recognized for them.
This seems to be a common trope of professors today — not exactly the latter part of this excerpt but certainly, the part about cheating one’s self out of a wealth of knowledge, whether it come from books or from lived experience. I think this can be connected back to Reece in that the paths to Thoreau’s remade cabin are filled with tourists from all over the world. Perhaps they are followers of a particular movement, but often times, they simply visit a famous site for the ability to tell people that they have lived this particular experience. These experiences are commodified often times through the obvious form, social media, in order to define social, economic, and intellectual barriers that distinguish them from others they find inferior.
Rather than ask the visitors if Walden had played “some role in the German and Scandavian enthusiasm for alternative fuel sources” or if they had “really come this far on pilgrimage,” he recognizes the language barrier and decides to isolate himself (Reece 267). Although understandable in Reece’s situation, I think about the similarities between Reece and Thoreau. Reece himself admits in an earlier chapter on Twin Oaks that he can’t see himself thriving in a real intentional community, preferring solitude and introspection. Thoreau of course returns to the outside world after two years in isolation but he, too, finds a special importance in the freedom of solitude.
He’s definitely a blunt guy.
Well I originally left a lengthy comment on this excerpt but I pretty much talked about the commodification of experiences rather than the value brought by knowledge or specific experiences. In Reece’s chapter, he mentions not knowing if the many visitors traveled to Walden Pond as a pilgrimage. Rather than asking (language barrier), he returns to his happy solitude, something it seems Thoreau enjoyed for quite some time.
I think that this passage relates very closely to Reece’s connection between Thoreau and biblical Adam. Here, Thoreau engages in an indirect dialogue with people so blinded by their faith that they are made inactive by it. They seek the afterlife so dearly that they forget that the present time is as much a gift from the heavens as Heaven itself (at least as Thoreau might see it).
I think this image of the man tilling the earth for a railroad and the promise of a greater future is tied to the confines of religion. Work, and you will be rewarded by a higher power. Tend to the earth in order to repay the creator for the original sin. It’s almost Marxist in a way, but Thoreau has a big problem with this sense of feeling all your life like you owe someone something. Living on his own for two years, Thoreau didn’t owe anyone anything, let alone a god. He worked for his own enjoyment and for his own purpose. As Reece mentions in the chapter I think Thoreau would support Emerson’s claim that we are ” ‘part or particle of God’ ” (268). We have something shared within all of us and are far closer than we are divided.
Although I personally see the advantages of technology that globalizes the human experience and greater story, I see what Thoreau is trying to say here about the people who are consumed by their work and not by seeking their own form of pleasure. Religion causes people to forget that there is “heaven enough a half mile from Concord” (Reece 268). He encourages six days to consume nature’s “sublime revelations” and one day for physical exertion (Reece 261). I guess in summary, Thoreau contemplates the role of humans in both the Biblical and realistic sense a lot. His view of the world could be seen as its own doctrine.
In a brief aside, Thoreau and doomsday preppers would not get along. They do not see the beauty of the earth, only its near demise and the promise of a wonderful afterlife. It’s kind of the way many of us live our lives knowing that extreme damage is being done to the earth but reassure ourselves by thinking we are happy in the moment. Are we getting the most out of this experience with life? Thoreau might think not.
[Most of the stone a nation hammers goes toward its tomb only. It buries itself alive.]
Wow. First thing that comes to mind is the debate over statues of Confederate generals and soldiers. I listened to an interesting debate on NPR when the monuments were being pulled down and one commentator mentioned that some countries do not erect statues that celebrate civil war heroes. These are simply further reminders of our differences and, moreso, our violence towards fellow citizens.
Here, Thoreau is again commenting on the social class hierarchies: the worker restrained by the boss. Better to work for one’s self rather than spend one’s whole life creating a monument for someone else’s inevitable death.
Professor Schleef —
What did you think about the segment where he writes, “Maine and Texas…have nothing important to communicate”? From my reading of it, it seems like he is saying that people from such different parts of the same country are so different that they need not share experiences with one another, or have no experiences to share at all.
A similar thought came across my mind right after Donald Trump was elected: not many had expected this… We surround ourselves by those who agree with us, and often these fundamental agreements are separated by geographical location. Maybe the US is just too big to be operated by one government. Maybe our differences outnumber our similarities. What would Thoreau have to say about secession? Do we belong in our own “great utopia[s] of solitude” (Reece 256)?
[Yet I find it not to be an essential ingredient, and after going without it for a year am still in the land of the living]
I think we can read into the subtext a little bit here. There are excesses in the bread’s ingredients that are seen as essential in making the best bread just as there are excesses in life that are seen as basic and necessary fundamentals to living a good life. Thoreau is saying, change the recipe a little bit. You might actually like it.
[A lady once offered me a mat, but as I had no room to spare within the house, nor time to spare within or without to shake it, I declined it, preferring to wipe my feet on the sod before my door. It is best to avoid the beginnings of evil.]
What might Thoreau have to say about those who romanticize or aestheticize (not sure that’s even a word but let’s give it a shot) the concept of minimalism? It’s a reappearing phenomenon (there’s even a documentary about it on Netflix). If we are glorifying this lifestyle and commodifying it, are we truly living minimally?
[pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead.]
Comment on organized religion, perhaps?
[ he burned several blocks of houses in the lower streets of heaven, and scorched the surface of the earth, and dried up every spring, and made the great desert of Sahara, till at length Jupiter hurled him headlong to the earth with a thunderbolt, and the sun, through grief at his death, did not shine for a year.]
I’ve been reading a lot of Leslie Marmon Silko lately in class and this is a relationship with the earth that she associates with indigenous peoples. Whereas in Western traditions, the moment we are born we are told we must toil for our sins, the indigenous peoples of the Americas often believe that what is taken must be returned in a reciprocal rather than a greedy fashion.
[It is not necessary that a man should earn his living by the sweat of his brow, unless he sweats easier than I do.]
Even the phrase “earn his living,” we’re constantly thrown back into this guilt trip religion puts many of us through. Why should we be born only to earn our place in society, earn our breath? Didn’t nature provide this?
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.
I found the beginning of this paragraph especially interesting because of his explanation of the three chairs. Solitude, friendship, and society. These three things clearly have a more significant meaning than being just chairs. It is interesting to see how Thoreau categorized these three things through the use of single chairs. The idea that three chars represents society makes me wonder, because, apparently he does not seem to consider them to be “friends” if the exceed the amount of space that he has, yet he seems to enjoy their company. By friendship, I think Thoreau means that it’s simply being in the company of one other person that makes you friends, but when there are too many people to interact with on a personal level than you are in a society.
Every day or two I strolled to the village to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly going on there, circulating either from mouth to mouth, or from newspaper to newspaper, and which, taken in homœopathic doses, was really as refreshing in its way as the rustle of leaves and the peeping of frogs.
I found this especially interesting because I was under the impression that since Thoreau willingly established his residence so far away from others at Walden pond, that he would have no desire to listen to gossip in the town. However, after reading on, he seemed to compare the people and the life in the village to the woods and the woodland life.By saying that visiting the town and hearing the sounds a human life was as refreshing to him as listening to the frogs and leaves, I believe that Thoreau visited the town as a way to get a change of scenery, as someone who lives in the village would visit the woods for some fresh air and a walk through nature.
Every day or two I strolled to the village to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly going on there, circulating either from mouth to mouth, or from newspaper to newspaper, and which, taken in homœopathic doses, was really as refreshing in its way as the rustle of leaves and the peeping of frogs.
I found this especially interesting because I was under the impression that since Thoreau willingly established his residence so far away from others at Walden pond, that he would have no desire to listen to gossip in the town. However, after reading on, he seemed to compare the people and the life in the village to the woods and the woodland life.By saying that visiting the town and hearing the sounds a human life was as refreshing to him as listening to the frogs and leaves, I believe that Thoreau visited the town as a way to get a change of scenery, as someone who lives in the village would visit the woods for some fresh air and a walk through nature.
“I had no lock nor bolt but for the desk which held my papers, not even a nail to put over my latch or windows. I never fastened my door night or day, though I was to be absent several days; not even when the next fall I spent a fortnight in the woods of Maine. And yet my house was more respected than if it had been surrounded by a file of soldiers”
I found this particular part of the paragraph especially interesting because it shows just how comfortable Thoreau is with his life in the woods. It shows that, not only does he have nothing to hide regarding his lifestyle and belongings, but that he also trusts whomever it is that may stumble upon his home. The whole time Thoreau is living by the pond he is “living deliberately”, and to do this in its entirety he must demonstrate his full comfort levels regarding his situation, these comfort levels being extremely high.
I feel that in this scene Thoreau may be thinking too far into what he is observing. If this is his regular way of thinking towards simple situations then his amount of knowledge is limiting him in regards to his observations.
However, it is very interesting to see the analogy of which he compared the ant battle t the Trojan war. This may be a way in which Thoreau keeps himself entertained in his solitude. If this is the case, then Thoreau’s knowledge is not necessarily limiting how he reads other real life situations, it is only enhancing his methods of pleasure.
“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.
Thoreau seems to depict the Irish family in a somewhat negative way. He depicts the children as almost grotesque, “cone headed” “sibyll-like”. And Thoreau also negatively, in that she elicits the pretense of work, but does not follow through, “the never absent mop in one hand, and yet no effects of it visible anywhere.” I was concerned about this depiction of John Field’s family. These depictions suggest that Thoreau is somewhat xenophobic. Something that again suggests this is that Thoreau, hypocritically, criticizes John Fields for “bogging” for money. Thoreau himself did something very similar for his beans, clearing the grass so his beans could grow. Why is John’s work considered more meaningless than Thoreau’s? The sad answer is that it is due to this xenophobic lens through which Thoreau is viewing, writing about the Field’s family.
I just saw Professor Walter Harding’s anecdote on this same subject. Since Thoreau had had some sort of conversion in terms of xenophobia, then perhaps he is writing this section satirically to some degree.
Either way, the narrating-Thoreau suggests Xenophobic tendencies in his depictions of the Field’s family, while Thoreau has in general been very forgiving to other people who don’t quite understand Thoreau’s philosophical views and who don’t live their lives according to his views.
Wonder what he means by that…
Do you agree?
[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.”
I had not seen this motivation put quite this way — not feeling a part of civic life.
I was transfixed by this as well. Is the idea to make the baskets solely for oneself?
[Most men appear never to have considered what a house is]
I love this. Should we talk about it? What is a house? What is it for? Is it merely to provide privacy, to keep one from the elements?
There are some college founded on just this notion. Berea, for example.
it’s interesting how he’s dismantling everything those with power in his age would find important.
wonder if Thoreau knew of the Shakers (probably) and they of Transcendentalism? And I think the Shakers would approve of Thoreau, but not the other way around.
My take was slightly different, namely, isn’t creating all of these technological advances putting the cart before the horse? What if Maine and Texas DON’T have anything to say to each other? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but rather like creating Facebook and mostly what people have to talk about are Candy Crush and their cute cats (exaggerating of course).
as for succession — Paul? I believe talk of the South seceding had been thrown around for a while prior to it actually happening, but I don’t know if HDT thought about it.
[The human race is interested in these experiments]
I am reminded how much of these new movements of aestheticism and simplicity are about food and waste. Also that we haven’t yet talked about dumpster diving. We should.
one might even say fetishize… this was sort of the point I was making Monday. People create a new kind of work out of this, which is often extreme. And of course it’s commodified, since there are tools, books, websites, videos etc. TO BUY to make your life less. (not that I am not guilty here).
[to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely;]
In a nutshell. Nice.
Yes, reading it now in the vein in which he have been discussing (overstating to make a point) I can see he does this frequently, and that it’s a writing trope. Still doesn’t mean I like it.
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?
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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.
You’ve plainly captured a central mood of Thoreau’s text, even though contemplate appears only twice in the entire work, muse only three times (and each time in the form of “the Muse”) and question only 11 times. But some of the most frequently occurring words in Walden (not counting words such as the, and, and if) are indeed focal points for the work’s mood and thought: man (268), life (194), pond (193), men (189), house (179), day (174), water (165), time (162), woods (150), nature (89). Know (107), think (86), and thought (82) are also high on the list, occurring more often than Walden (82). In “The Pond in Winter” itself, know and thought appear six times each; the most prevalent words are ice (35), pond (29), and water (29). Compare this to “Higher Laws,” where the most frequent words are man (19), life (14), and food (12). These counts come from putting the Gutenberg Project’s text of Walden into Voyant Tools.
> > If these fisherman are so close to nature, then why do not naturalists (such as Thoreau) insist on studying them instead of trying to get closer to nature themselves?
This is a great question, Emily. I wonder if you haven’t answered it yourself! Thoreau is indeed studying the fishermen here — not as completely as, say, an anthropologist might do, but more, perhaps, than his fellow Concordians or most others of his time. He does indeed seem to believe that they have a connection to nature that book-learning can’t provide — that isn’t even provided by the “study” of nature as naturalists (like Thoreau himself) undertake it. And so he’s taken the time here to observe their actions.
Though Thoreau seems to respect the closeness with nature and simple lives of the local native populations, here he is much harsher toward them. Referring to them as savages and degenerates, one can’t help but wonder how much he can really respect them while using such descriptors. Especially in light of his harsh critique of whom he here refers to as the “civilized man” through the entirety of Economy
Thoreau’s contradictions are a welcoming indication of his humanity in my reading. They’re what keep him from sounding like a grumpy curmudgeon the whole time– he speaks in extremes in both directions and allows our interpretations to fall in the middle. He praises book-smarts but he also praises those with what I think he would deem “common sense.” He often makes remarks that those who dedicate themselves to academics as opposed to truly living are lacking in this quality. His Canadian friend may be lacking in intelligence (or may be well beyond what he seems, we don’t really know) but Thoreau enjoys his company and so praises him as a decent man, one better than those whom he dislikes
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
Here we can see the importance of Thoreau’s ideas of waking his neighbors up, and the disappointment he experiences when they choose to stay asleep. In response to Daisy, he’s probably harsh because he feels slighted by the family’s rejection of his offer for a new way of life
Thoreau is clearly taking a moment to brag about not only his ingenuity in measuring Walden’s depth but his initiative in taking the time to do so and in turn proving so many people wrong. The last line is of particular interest, especially when one considers what he means by “the infinite.” Generally speaking, phrases like that are a nod towards religion, or at the very least unexplainable phenomena. As a transcendentalist, Thoreau’s philosophies are grounded in at least some loose belief in God but as a man of science he detests the idea that anything could possibly be unexplainable
I can honestly say I’d never expect to see a comparison between Thoreau and Smeagle here, but you present a compelling argument, Casey. But assuming Thoreau hasn’t been corrupted by some supernatural allure of the fish, my interpretation of his love for the pickerel takes a slightly different route. I had no knowledge of the Waldenses described in Harding’s footnote and so I attributed Thoreau’s appreciation of the pickerel in the same vein as his appreciation for most under-appreciated ways of life he discusses throughout the book. Since Walden is a call for people to realize there is another way of life he demonstrates this point in some very big ways, by building a cabin in the woods, but by little ways as well; you don’t have to buy into the zeitgeist of haddock superiority when the local pickerel is just as tasty and beautiful to boot.
To be pedantic about it, both “Furniture!” and “Sky water” are technically sentence fragments. By this standard the imperative “Simplify, simplify” of chapter 2 would become the shortest complete sentence in the book–which I kind of like, based on the notion of form following function.
And I stand by my statement!
The above is what I take to be an exclamatory sentence, as opposed to the part of speech known as an interjection.
In my reading, the remark about the preacher in paragraph #20 of “Where I Lived, And What I Lived For” consists of a single sentence. Would you consider Thoreau to be quoting a speech consisting of three separate sentences? (If so, “Furniture!” has some competition.)
[smiley emoticon here, if I knew how]
Let us continue mountaineering on our mole-hill.
Yes! “No” is a sentence in your last example. So is “Inside” in your prior example. You present the reasoning in your remarks when you point out that key elements of a sentence may be left out but implied by usage or context. That is, “No” implies a clear reading: “No, [a smiley is not a sentence]. “Inside” leaves out this language: “[Thoreau built his chimney] inside [his house].”
The concept of “implied” sentence language is by no means the same as ambiguity. I cannot justly claim “Inside” is a sentence if I take it to mean “Thoreau built his chimney inside a millennium” or “Thoreau filled an inside straight.” Context, context.
I cling to the element in the Oxford definition which your ellipsis dodges: “, and consisting of a main clause and sometimes one or more subordinate clauses.”
Note that we cannot without risk make “Furniture!” serve our will. One cannot argue that the implied elements in this “sentence” is something like “Furniture” [is unnecessary]!” Someone else might equally argue that the “sentence” has a missing predication along these different lines: “I know that] furniture [is a necessity, but sometimes the thought of it drives me bonkers]!” The “implied” concept cannot embrace two opposite meanings, however plausible each may be. Grammar may be loose, but not that loose.
Now an example of my own. Take two (or three, if you must) statements:
Drat, I lost my watch!
Drat! I lost my watch!
To me, there is no essential difference in meaning here. I see an interjection followed by an exclamatory sentence in both instances. You see, in the second instance (I presume) two exclamatory sentences. Seeing no essential difference in meaning (as I do), I ask you: what, in the second instance, makes “Drat!” a sentence? It seems to me your answer comes down to, the exclamation point makes it so. Beware, my friend, for that way lie monsters. Judging what a sentence is by the existence of capitalization or terminal punctuation is the stuff. Of many a poorly constructed “sentence.”
I’m happy enough to follow the school of linguists who discriminate a sentence from an “utterance” based on the rationale above. Sometimes those traditional old definitions serve a purpose.
🙂 And thank you for that!
[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.
[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.”
[ 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?)
[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?
[to catch perch with shiners]
In a chapter that has always troubled me a good deal, this element represents a climax of my frustration. I need a fisherman to explain what Thoreau is trying to communicate. Clearly he does better than John Field in their fishing venture, and (I presume) he uses a superior bait. Is it that the shiner/perch combination is inherently bad? Then why won’t Thoreau (who is uncharacteristically forward with advice throughout this chapter) tell “Poor John Field” the better way? In my ignorance of fishing, I have sometimes guessed that Thoreau fishes with worms, and sees Field’s method (using worms to catch shiners to catch perch) as unnecessarily complicated. But while I comprehend the metaphorical significance of this, I still can’t comprehend Thoreau’s (heartless?) refusal to explain. I dislike the way he shares his scorn of Field’s “boggy ways” with the reader, but not with the person who could directly benefit.
While this entire chapter distresses me greatly, I will defend Thoreau on two minor points that have come up in remarks above.
It seems that he does not disdain John Field because he is “bogging” for money. Since he initially credits Field as “honest” and “hard-working,” it seems rather that he sympathizes with the way he is being taken advantage of by the neighboring farmer. (That farmer, note, is getting an acre of land cultivated for just ten dollars by an immigrant whose only tools are a spade and a hoe; the farmer doesn’t have to hire someone with a plow and oxen to do the work, presumably at a higher rate.) I think the “shiftless man” business is one of those word-plays that sometimes go awry in interpretation. Does Thoreau refer to how Field is unable to shift for himself well against the shrewd Yankee who has manipulated him into so “poor a bargain”?
The second point is that Thoreau doesn’t declare that Irishmen have no halos; he quotes an unnamed visitor. The concept that some optical effect should avoid certain ethnic groups sounds absurd on the surface, of course. As good an observer as Thoreau was, I have to believe he reports this remark to expose the sort of narrow-mindedness and bigotry that the immigrant Irish could expect to endure from his high-minded neighbors.
All of which brings us back to the point that Thoreau often fails to reveal such humanity and understanding elsewhere in the chapter.
Very interesting how this paragraph corresponds with the second paragraph of the “Sounds” chapter. There are all kinds of inversions: morning becomes evening, warmth becomes coolness, the reverie of spirit is disrupted by the sounds of commerce (wagons on the road) in one, while incessant thoughts of work and practical plans become disrupted by the enchantment of a flute in the other.
Professor Harding suggests that John Farmer is a sort of everyman figure. But the parallelism noted above tells me that Henry Thoreau saw himself in this everyman quite clearly. The penetrating question which an inner voice asks of him–“But how to come out of this condition and actually migrate thither?”–seems genuine and heartfelt. This strikes me as an occasion to perceive that Thoreau’s counsels, which strike some as hectoring and egotistical, are often reflective. Rather than putting himself above or outside our experience of life, he fixes himself firmly within it, showing us that the issues that command our most serious attention also commanded his. I can’t help thinking that the wonderful final line was a resolution he himself had reached.
Does it help, Natalie, that in context it seems that it is “human nature” Thoreau is referring to? I’m not sure whether that perspective resolves all confusion, myself. Remember, Emerson had insisted that one’s own body was a part of nature. In “Esthetique du Mal” Wallace Stevens writes, “The greatest poverty is not to live / In a physical world.” I regularly celebrate Thoreau for underscoring such an outlook. Yet some passages in “Higher Laws” seem hung up on the suspicions of the body which may be found in certain long-lived Christian traditions (St. Paul, St. Augustine, etc.).
A poem by one of Thoreau’s great admirers that’s worth a look: “Directive.”
This opening passage is a useful response to those (I’m thinking of Kathryn Schulz’s “Pond Scum” article) who view Transcendentalism as a scheme whereby individuals receive special revelations and–in Thoreau’s case–insufferably transmit their personal understandings to the rest of us. Here Thoreau presents his own private consciousness first–what might be styled his ego. He awakens asking those mysterious questions and initially criticizing himself for their lack of clarity or answer. But then he allows his ego to “step aside” in the realization that Nature IS. His personal response to this awareness is utterly passive. He is a follower of Nature, not her high priest or interpreter. He will set about his morning work–“if that be not a dream”–performing humble everyday tasks simply and evenly, but with the fresh reminder that “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” He hasn’t changed the world; the world has changed him.
“For a good discussion of the fish native to Walden Pond, see Ted Williams.”
Of all Walter Harding’s annotations, I think this one is my favorite. 🙂
[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.)
[and that the United States are a first-rate power]
Note the plural reference, which also may be found in Walt Whitman’s introduction to the 1855 Leaves of Grass. It was only after the American Civil War that “United States” came to signify a country, rather than a “union” of component states.
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?
[Man is an animal who more than any other can adapt himself to all climates and circumstances.]
I like how he refers to “Man” as an animal, as he tends to want to simplify mans activities.
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.
especially because in todays society it hard to become disconnected with technology.
Thoreau references the three chairs, “one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” It seems as those each chair is linked in some way, because he reference only three chairs make a society.
It’s interesting, because the saying “threes a crowd” yet he has three chairs to describe society.
Thoreau looks onto nature and the creatures in it fondly as he describes the [inexhaustible entertainment] which nature presents to him.
I used the example of his “half-cultivated” field as a way for him to understand that he has very little control over natures actions and accepts what happens to him
[These take place only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient while others have not enough.]
It’s interesting how Thoreau recognizes thieves, rather then feeling upset or anger, he is able to rationalize the reasoning behind their actions.
His reasoning for returning to the Village seems rather odd, because if he truly wanted to become one with his surroundings why would he still engage with places of consumerism.
But was he really a hermit? I think the solitude caused Thoreau to go a little crazy as all humans need companionship as we are a codependent species
Thoreau links two ants fighting to the American soldiers. He is able to connect human qualities and aspects to creatures in nature.
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.
“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]
[ 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?
With as much distaste as Thoreau had for slavery, going so far as to be arrested to oppose the government that condoned it- I’m surprised he never talked about the government’s actions in regards to Native Americans, especially considering that the trail of tears happened only 16 years prior to Walden being published and the ongoing Native American massacre in California.
His growing philosophy sounds a lot like the philosophy Buddhist nun/ chef Jeong Kwan has surrounding her garden x
“Love virtue, and the people will be virtuous. The virtues of a superior man are like the wind; the virtues of a common man are like the grass; the grass, when the wind passes over it, bends.”
This passage implies to me that Thoreau believes in the inherent goodness of man- and the idea that good will ultimately triumph seems oddly optimistic for Thoreau’s outlook on people
Also supported by: “I am convinced, that if all men lived as simply as i then did, thieving and robbery would cease to exist.” Thoreau seems to believe that outside the toxic influences of society that man would return to its natural- inherently good state. This also aligns with the idea that competition is what corrupts man.
Maybe his distaste for society is enough to make him sympathetic?
“Nations come and go without defiling it”
If only that were true
I agree with this, I think this is why I find fault when he says “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” I can understand the last three but to portray love as a superfluous desire undermines the inherently social and interdependent nature of the human species.
[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
The purpose the artist derives from the creation of his staff reminds me of Viktor Frankl when he discussesthe importance of a job only the individual can fulfill when finding meaning. In the same way that Nietzche says “He who has a why can bear almost any how.” the artist was able to endure the passing of all his friends.
I agree, later on he also says “the town’s poor seem to me often live the most independent lives of any”
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?
I was very surprised to read that Thoreau went into the village with such frequency, as it seemed that he wanted to escape the gossip and other goings on that he seems to detest. However, it appears as though his excursions into the village act as reminders for him of why he is otherwise so secluded, a way of justifying his lifestyle. His reference to the Sirens is also interesting, and connects back to the other mentions of mythology in “The Bean-Field,” again drawing himself in am almost heroic light, this time for being able to draw away from petty gossip.
Thoreau says “Nations come and go without defiling [Walden],” so does he consider his dwelling, built within close proximity to the pond, to not alter the landscape in any significant way? Does it lack the permanence of the pond and nature, therefore making it irrelevant?
On a slightly different note, we can certainly say in the modern world that many nations, especially the United States, have defiled great areas of nature, though Walden Pond itself is currently protected by the government of Massachusetts, mainly due to this text. I can’t help but wonder what Thoreau might have to say (or write) about the current state of nature, as well as the attempts at preservation.
This passage again raises the question of learning through experience or reading, a matter Thoreau seems to change his mind on every few pages. He writes “[the fisherman’s] life itself passes deeper Nature than the studies of the naturalist penetrate; himself a subject for the naturalist.” If these fisherman are so close to nature, then why do not naturalists (such as Thoreau) insist on studying them instead of trying to get closer to nature themselves? It seems as though Thoreau considers himself possibly to educated (through books, in this case) to achieve the fisherman’s level of closeness to nature.
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.
This sounds like an early advocate of “service learning.”
Here we see another one of Thoreau’s contradictions. In the section “Reading”, Thoreau remarks that he doesn’t recognize a difference between the illiteracy of one who cannot read at all, and one who only reads feeble and childish texts. Yet here we see him praise a man whose only books are an almanac and an arithmetic book. Thoreau cannot decide whether this man is a genius or an idiot, yet by his original claim that reading of classics is a necessity for the intellect, surely this strange man living in the woods would fall under his umbrella of illiteracy.
It is interesting to read how Thoreau felt about slavery here. In the 1840’s we really see the reform movement picking up speed, and in this paragraph it feels like Thoreau is on board with reform. However, when reading this chapter and selections from his journals concurrently, the reader is left with the sense that Thoreau’s thoughts on reform were ambiguous or “luke-warm” to say the least. In an entry dated June 17, 1853 Thoreau describes some reformers staying in his house with unflattering language. I would be very interested to learn more about Thoreau’s thoughts on reform as this passage leaves the reader without a sense of certainty in this regard.
Thoreau is making the claim that humans will never be “civilized” until they give up eating animals. This begs the question of what it means to be civilized. In urging others to not eat meat, it seems as though he is suggesting that as humans, we should not disturb nature and instead should try to live in harmony with it. Yet, the word civilization often lends the mind to the idea that humans should overcome or transcend nature—perhaps to harness it.
I find Thoreau’s fascination with the ice to be intriguing, specifically his fascination with the transparent quality of the ice. This focus on transparency immediately makes me think about Emerson’s idea of the “transparent eyeball” which he goes on to explain by writing, “I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part and particle of God.” It seems here that Thoreau understands this idea that transparency is a means of connecting with nature and surrounding yourself with it. I think that this passage reflects Thoreau’s interest in the Emersonian idea that human beings should strive for the strongest relation ship to nature as possible.
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.
[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 agree, especially since his philosophy was centered around personal action. He went to jail rather than pay a tax to a government he disagreed with, but he wasn’t able to disassociate from consumerism.
[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?
At first I thought that Thoreau would see vegetarianism as unnatural because part of the “animal instinct” is to eat meat. Animals eat animals without a second thought, but perhaps it is humanity’s ability to think and sympathize that makes vegetarianism natural. Thoreau dislikes the messiness of hunting and sees it as preserving his “higher or poetic faculties” in abstaining from meat.
I feel this passage is interesting because of the connections between immersion and nature and immersion in text. In a class that is dedicated to the study of literature in the digital age, the question of how contemporary (thus, digital) life affects out immersion with the text. Similarly, Thoreau is pointing out the difference between his own experience and immersion in nature and those of the villagers through their ability to walk through the woods in darkness. This is strikingly similar to the argument that the modern reader is far less likely to have memorized portions of text they study or read, where, for example, in Shakespeare’s time, memorization was considered far more important than it is now.
When Thoreau writes, “He goes thither at first as a hunter and fisher, until at last, if he has the seeds of a better life in him, he distinguishes his proper objects, as a poet or naturalist it may be, and leaves the gun and fish-pole behind. The mass of men are still and always young in this respect” I believe he touches on a core issue in our society. He points out that largely our society teaches us to understand things by solely their utility – inevitably tied up in their ability to produce – and because of that too often we don’t fully mature as holistic human beings. The dichotomy he is engaging in about the importance of understanding nature in its relationship to ourself not as hunters and fishers but as poets and naturalists is the same as the one we today engage in when arguing for the importance of the humanities.
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.
Thoreau is telling the reader that he believes that living is “but a pastime” because he has experience. He uses the they say/I say method by using his experience as a reliable source.
I like how Thoreau says that each individual person needs to find their own way of life. He states that he “would not have any one adopt [his] mode of living on any account” because it might not be the right way of living for other people. He easily could’ve discovered another way of living that suited him, meaning that there isn’t only one way to live a fulfilling life.
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’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 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?
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.
In agreement with both Jess and Anthony:
This first paragraph seems to prove Thoreau as hypocritical. This whole book, up until this part, acknowledges the importance of leaving society in order to “find” yourself. Thoreau completely changes the thesis of this book in this paragraph. Whether or not you agree with what he says, you respect him for his strong opinion. However, Thoreau’s ideas are unclear which makes the reader question why he has isolated himself in the first place. This proves the point that Thoreau is simply a privileged man who was lucky enough to receive a Harvard education. He thinks he’s superior to those who do not go off and live in the woods, and yet, he “thinks he love[s] society as much as most.” Thoreau should establish one view point and maintain this idea throughout the book.
Thoreau’s descriptive imagery of nature really tempts the reader to move to a forest and live his lifestyle. His ability to find beauty in simple aspects of nature shows how he values his unmaterialistic lifestyle.
I think it’s important to point out Thoreau’s ignorance to the working family as a whole. Thoreau thinks he is superior to the Irish immigrant because he thinks John uses his money foolishly. It’s culturally insensitive for Thoreau to say that if the immigrant wasn’t materialistic about the food he bought, he would have more because of the current events of this time. Ireland was just getting over the potato famine, and Thoreau is saying this family should deny themselves “tea, coffee, milk, fresh meat.” Had Thoreau gone through any hardship in his life, he would not deny himself of such delicacy if he was given it.
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?
To me it seems like Thoreau is saying that if society won’t offer him what he feels he needs, he is going to be accountable for his own life and his own narrative, and move into the woods. I think this is interesting because a lot of people want to be accepted into society, no matter the cost, but Thoreau is deciding to live a solitary life to find the things he needs.
[Our outside and often thin and fanciful clothes are our epidermis, or false skin, which partakes not of our life, and may be stripped off here and there without fatal injury; our thicker garments, constantly worn, are our cellular integument, or cortex; but our shirts are our liber, or true bark, which cannot be removed without girdling and so destroying the man.]
Here Thoreau seems to be using more common language, or at least phrasing his words in a way that people will understand and make connections with. I think it is interesting how Thoreau describes the different clothing as layers of skin, with the fanciful clothing as the outer layer and easily removed, and the inner layer being our core. What I take this to mean is that he is trying to get people to understand that clothing is just a materialistic thing and our true cores cannot be stripped away with layers of clothing.
[We make curious mistakes sometimes.]
I find it interesting that Thoreau refers to helping the poor as a curious mistake because it is an act of kindness and generosity. While it is true that a poor person may use the money for something other than what it was intended for, i I don’t think it is ever a mistake to help another human being. The choices they make for themselves are on them, not you. I see this a lot today as well. For example, there are homeless people who ask for money and many people say that they won’t give money in fear that the person will choose to spend it on drugs or something like that. One could always buy the person a hot meal or a blanket instead, but i find it sad that some people just don’t give anything at all because of their pre-dispositions of homeless people.
[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.
[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.
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.
This has got to be one of my favorite parts of the entire book. As a writer, I relate to this desire to create something beautiful and with something of yourself in it, but more than anything, I find the idea thrilling that you can create “a new system in making a staff, a world with full and fair proportions.” Is this not what artists do, all the time, often not thinking that their efforts are anything really out of the ordinary? They can think lightly of the way that they spin new worlds off from their fingertips, upsetting old orders and a thousand preconceptions, but with what force their efforts strike the world and the people who behold the finished art! I talk about art because it’s the first thing I think of, but Thoreau seems to believe that any calling, pursued by someone who really cares about it, can do the same. How many of us know what we want to do, with what J.K. Rowling called “the deepest and most desperate desire of our hearts”? How many of us believe that we can do it, let alone create the suggestion of an alternate world in so doing? Perhaps this sounds like fatuous praise of Thoreau’s anecdote, without criticism, but I find, and found when I first read it, this passage so exciting, I just had to express it.
It’s so strange to hear Thoreau talk about his contemporaries, well over a century ago, “congratulate [themselves] on being the last of an illustrious line; and in Boston and London and Paris and Rome … [speak] of [their] progress in art and science and literature with satisfaction”. Thoreau meant to point out, and rightly so, that ours was a young species, barely at the beginning of its lifespan, and that, like Adam, we shouldn’t congratulate ourselves when we had so much before us left to achieve. But another possible interpretation of this passage lies in the fact that human beings always seem to think, for one reason or another, that they are at the end of their species’ run. How could things get any better, or even be any different than they are? The world must be about to end, next week at the latest. That’s often how we seem to think in our subconscious mind, or at least we assume that nothing new can ever happen to us in the span we have left. To see something new, something like the Civil War that Thoreau seemed to sense in the air around him, or something like climate instability that we face today, must mean that we can’t adapt. And yet, one of the foremost points of the conclusion is to suggest to the reader the idea that our money, our culture, and our empires are not infallible, that they are not the last forms in which money, culture, and empire will appear, any more than they were the first. Thoreau seems to take this frightening prospect and make it liberating: we did create art, science, and literature, after all, or people very like us who came before us did. It’s such a basic idea, yet one so seldom considered, that Thoreau puts forth: that after money, culture, and empires fail, and perhaps leave their former possessors in ruin, then in the aftermath, maybe the survivors can find that they always had the potential in them to create something at least as great as what came before – very possibly greater.
Thoreau could not possibly make a more conceited statement than this.
This seems to counter Schulz’ claim that Thoreau was misanthropic. Apparently, he loved to sit with others in the social bar-room. This sounds like the opposite of misanthropy, but it is obviously biased as it comes from Thoreau himself.
Thoreau borrows liberally here from a now largely forgotten treatise, Loring Dudley Chapin’s Vegetable Kingdom; or, Handbook of Plants and Fruits (New York, J. Lott, 1843). From Sattelmeyer’s Thoreau’s Reading (1988), item. 289, page 150, we learn that this book was part of Thoreau’s personal library, however without links to references in any of Thoreau’s notes, journals or published works. I discuss the passage in an article called “Figuring Henry” in The Concord Saunterer (22, 2014), and quote from there: “Chapin’s The Vegetable Kingdom not only sanctions Thoreau’s mentioned liber associations but suggests them outright, and in so doing deserves to be quoted at some length. In his section on exogenous plants, applicable to ”outside growers, such as the oak” (102; cf. 9), Chapin introduces the thick stem as a multilayered structure: ”The epidermis, cellular integument and cortex constitute the bark.” He then proceeds to describe the respective layers thus: ”The epidermis /…/ is also called the cuticle, as the scarf or outer skin of animals is called. It varies in thickness in plants, from the delicate rose-leaf to the ragged bark of the oak or walnut /…/. It peels off in the birch, etc., as with animals, not possessing, as with them, vitality” (65f.) In turn, ”[t]he cellular integument or texture is next beneath the epidermis, or cuticle. It is the ’true skin’ and the depository of color as in animals and man, alike in the white Caucasian and black African” (66). And further into the layer, Chapin explains, ”[t]he cortex [ensues] directly beneath the cellular structure. /—/ The inner part [of the cortex], called the liber, is the seat of the principle and vital functions of the plant. The name is from a book, the leaves of which it resembles in its annual layers deposited by the descending sap. It is a kind of net work resembling cloth. As a new layer is formed, the old one of bark is pushed outward which readily loses its vital principle and forms an inert crust. It is of liber that cloth is made, as with flax, the paper-mulberry, etc. This being the vital part of the plant, it cannot be destroyed with impunity. The most recently formed part of the liber, between the wood and the bark, remains inactive during the repose of vegetation. After affecting the development of buds and the formation of new wood and bark it hardens, as in previous years, and loses its power” (66). [It would be gratifying to be able to consult Thoreau’s copy of Chapin regarding possible annotations at the relevant junctures, but the volume evidently passed into private hands in 1963, as made clear by Walter Harding in his annex article ”A New Checklist of the Books in Henry David Thoreau’s Library” in Studies in the American Renaissance 1983, ed. J. Myerson (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1984), p. 158; cf. Harding’s original notation regarding Chapin’s botany in Thoreau’s Library (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1957), p. 40.]” -I have not seen reference to Chapin made to date in any published, annotated edition of Walden, of which the most ambitious remain Harding’s, van Doren Stern’s and Cramer’s, while over twenty have been issued over the years.
This is a very good question. As Thoreau’s next paragraph § 82 makes clear, the numbers given here are to be seen as “comparative” at best. In a generous mood, one might say that Thoreau’s narrator strives to enumerate what he can – while evaluating the costs of dinners and snacks granted by friends and family would be harder (and indeed impolite) to do. Most of us could probably relate to his experience as well – Thoreau was not, after all, striving for an isolated hermitage, cut off from all social relations. And he was evidently not more of a curmudgeon than that he received a fair amount of free meals, freely offered too.
One might also ponder the incomplete numbers as symbolic of the impossibility of leaving an absolute autobiographical “account” at any time and place. Thoreau plays on this word in this chapter and others, from the looser sense of “narrative” over bookkeeping to the very ultimate statement: musing that his books have not at length been fully accounted for (i.e. audited), he hints (at least to this opinion) of the final Day of Accounts, and hence the verdict of a divine auditor for whom all numbers and balances are clear and can be weighed accurately.
Something like this seems to be going on too in the earlier, dense passage on our donning our garments, and particularly on “liber” as synonymous of “shirt”. Liber also connotes bark and the leaves of a book – such as Thoreau is presenting us in “Walden”. He says it is possible to shed the outer bark without harm to the living tree, but eventually one reaches a limit beyond which further stripping becomes fatal. Perhaps then, Thoreau’s narrator is signaling the limits of privacy and ultimately of life possible to convey in writing, at least to human eyes: once he has given his account and/or shed bark/skin to us, it is at length up to us what to make of it. How do we compare to his project?
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).
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 🙂
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.
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.
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 like how closely Thoreau identifies with Walden itself here – it’s as if he is aiming to acquire the same purity he believes the pond has due to its apparent separation from a larger water source. Just as Thoreau admires Walden’s isolation, he attempts to remove himself from a “comparatively impure” society. This raises a question of motive; clearly Thoreau’s lifelong enjoyment of the pond and its beauty were contributing factors, but did he also choose to live on Walden’s shores because he saw it as an embodiment of his goals? Or did he make this connection only after living in solitude?
Thoreau’s attitude towards the Field family only reminds me of our class discussions about Thoreau’s position of privilege. While he aspires to inspire his neighbors to embrace his philosophy, Thoreau is preaching to a group of people in a situation quite unlike his. An immigrant family, complete with several children (including an infant), would have a considerably more difficult time endeavoring to build their own”tight, light, and clean house” or spending their day fishing to feed the family. While Thoreau aims to improve their lives, he fails to understand how difficult it may be for John Field to drop his source of income or change his lifestyle significantly with so many people to provide for. Thoreau is mainly in charge of himself.
The value Thoreau places on having a sparrow land on his shoulder highlights his view towards nature – the honors and adornments he could receive from society would mean little, but being so in tune with nature that animals are comfortable with his presence? That is what Thoreau takes pride in. It’s hard to imagine having such close contact with animals, especially when most I come across seem to be conditioned to be extremely wary of humans.
[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.
[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!)
I was wondering if anyone else felt that the key word of this particular chapter would be “Contemplate,” because of how Thoreau is constantly in thought and wonder in regards to nature and the world that he lives in. Through out the text, we do see Thoreau constantly contemplate, question and muse in regards to his surroundings and what he feels commenting about society. But I wonder too, if perhaps there is another focus word for this chapter that I might not be picking up on.
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.
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.
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.
I feel that the last few chapters have allegorical images to references we would find in the bible. He alludes Spring (especially the climate change) as a form of rebirth, and evokes the creation of the Cosmos. This becomes especially important because a specific amount of Thoreau’s verse have preacher-like tones. He does not necessarily only inform, but commands. He urges his readers to [Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.] Whereas some of his prose may seem condescending in earlier chapters of Walden, his “commands” are very advice-like and direct, rendering readers to view Thoreau as admirable in his final messages to us.
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.
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”.
[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.
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.
Here it seems Thoreau is once again displaying his distaste for generic community rules and regulations. Earlier in Reading he displayed contempt for the way in which we are taught by society to claim and conform to a niche. He objects, claiming that society should support the quest for knowledge. In this section he once again points out that without the community’s overbearing presence, his life has actually become more wholesome.
This is a moment where Thoreau’s transcendentalist views come through very clearly. Thoreau expounds upon the critical role that nature plays in his life, describing the details of his surroundings as “the highest reality.” He is once again pointing to the importance of nature and of our roles in it as individuals with unique perspectives and interpretations of the world, over the importance of our role in society and the regulations that come with such an existence. To him, “the faintest assured objection,” of an individual must come before “the arguments and customs of mankind.”
Thoreau seems to have a lot of respect for the lifestyle that Wyman lives. He is “pleased to hear” that the art of pottery is still practiced, but it seems like it’s more from a social standpoint than an artistic one. Wyman, who lives on the edge of civilization just as Thoreau does, is not “rich in worldly goods,” and has nothing but his craft and his descendants. He is free of tax because he has nothing to give, which to Thoreau probably seems like the highest point of being.
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.
I love how Thoreau is recognizing a whole world underneath the ice. When he states, “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads,” I can’t help but think of the dozens of times I have been on a walk through some waterfall trail by the finger lakes or elsewhere. While walking, I am in awe of large towering water falls, but I am still more entranced by the beauty of the small creeks dripping through moss, the little flowers, salamanders, and mushrooms. Seeing “Heaven on earth” is not always the large grand things that scream for our attention. I think the greater things require a patient, watchful eye.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
There is no evidence for Edison’s claim which he does not document in any way. Both Thoreau and Ellery Channing refer to potential sites other than Walden. Neither mentions Flint’s Pond.
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.
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?
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.
Thoreau compares his living to Natives throughout the book. His beliefs are about living off the land. He even goes as far as thinking the natives are an “ideal human” because of their philosophies and life styles,
I never really understood this line, nor have thought more in depth about it. It is really interesting how Thoreau can focus on the making of something, such as farming, and not necessarily care about the end product or profit. There are many examples of this throughout Walden.
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.
[No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes; yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience. ]
This part of Walden, reminds me of the current society we live in today, that is obsessed with material possessions. With new new inventions and technology constantly coming out, it is easy to get caught up with and focus on who has what. I sometimes feel myself getting caught up in this never ending cycle of new gadgets. It seems like every time I buy a new phone or computer, something better is right around the corner. Society puts a lot of pressure on us to always have the best of everything, which creates a lot of anxiety. If we stopped judging each other on what material possessions we own, we could live more peacefully.
[The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.]
In one of my other annotations, I discussed how the society we live in today, is obsessed with material possessions.In this Digital Age, there are constantly new distracting gadgets coming out that we easily become addicted to. This is one of my favorite quotes in Walden, because Thoreau mentions how its the intangible things in life, that hold the most beauty. I think it is important for us to see the value in nature and appreciate it while we still can. We bear the responsibility to save the Earth and just maybe if we saw it for its true beauty, we could.
[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.
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.”
The phrase, “fishers of men” struck me. Thoreau’s use of the Sunday school term reveals that he finds his greatness on par with that of Jesus. He thinks his way of life is divine, and recognizing the role of Christianity in Thoreau’s zeitgeist, it is an excellent term to elevate his ideology with the masses.
The reference to “an equally narrow house” baffled me initially, but after class discussion and reading the comments of Julia and Professor Schacht, I understand. The idea that we are all equal after we die immediately reminded me of Act 4 Scene 3 of Hamlet, after Polonius dies, when Hamlet’s joking about the worms that will feast on his corpse just as they would a beggar’s. I wonder if Thoreau was influenced by this scene.
Thoreau wrote Walden to inspire others to escape societal norms and pursue a pure lifestyle. Yet he concludes his work assuming “John or Jonathan will not realize all this.” The generalized name he uses connects back to the prejudices he held against John Field. Why would an author publish a book that will never reach the audience they feel needs it?
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.
[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.
[ 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.
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.
[ …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?
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.
So does Thoreau like people or not? Wasn’t the whole point of Walden to get away from the hustle and bustle of the world and enjoy the simplicity of just being alone? If his whole view point towards people and society is to get away, then why does Thoreau suddenly start talking about how much he loves people? Is he afraid or self conscious about how readers will perceive him if Walden is basically just him telling people that he doesn’t need them and he would rather be alone. At first I didn’t mind Thoreau, although he is pretentious I do agree with some of his views and especially liked how passionate he was towards his ideas. In visitors he is basically saying “I think it is a good idea to get away from the restraints of society and just enjoy the simplicity of being by yourself and being one with nature. But i am not a hermit i love people! In fact if i were a bloodsucking leech i would grab onto somebody because i am so desperate for companionship right now”. I think what Thoreau needs to do is decide on his view and stick with it, it just makes it confusing when somebody says no to something and backs it up with yes.
In Where I lived And What I Lived For Thoreau states ” 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..” If Thoreau wanted to live deliberately then shouldn’t part of him living deliberately be learning to accept the different ways people live their lives? Also Thoreau discusses how “I did not use tea, nor coffee, nor butter, nor milk, nor fresh meat, and so did not have to work to get them” how is this living deliberately? Not working for anything, but just taking the easy way out. For me i believe this goes against a lot of what Thoreau talks about. It seems like he is really into this idea of going the extra mile in studies. So why does he not apply this mantra to everything in life and not just studies.
So now Thoreau is back to saying he welcomes visitors? The wasps came and basically swallowed his home therefor deterring visitors from entering his home? Who are these people that Thoreau deems educated enough to be welcomed into Thoreau’s home. I did think it was cute that Thoreau felt complimented by the presence of the wasps, this paragraph in general gives Thoreau a humorous touch that he hasn’t really exhibited before. It was nice to see this part of him.
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
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.”
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.
He recognizes that even though people may not accept his ideas, he remains passionate to continue his endeavors. He settles on the fact that he will never be of a high status among his peers, but will not let that bother him.
In this paragraph, Thoreau tackles one of the greatest issues about education that is still highly debated: Are the high costs of higher education worth it? An individual may learn highly valuable material, that at that time would be harder to access without formal education. This would make people feel they need to pursue a college degree in order to advance in life.
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.’”
[It may be that he lays up no treasures in this world which will cool his summer drink in the next.]
Thoreau once again criticizes a member of the Walden community with his religious values. He chastises the man who comes proactively to gather ice for the summer. There seems to be a bit of a change in Thoreau here since the beginning of Walden. He criticizes the man for disturbing nature for his own gain. A more ecocentric view is portrayed here. It seems that Thoreau is arguing that Nature should not serve man here even when the man does something hardly destructive to the environment (although Thoreau laments over his precious fish).
[Calcutta, drink at my well] Ice harvesting was a major industry in nineteenth-century New England, and ice was shipped to all these and many other ports.
Walter Harding leaves us this convenient note, which reveals the spread of the ice industry during Thoreau’s time. Interestingly, Thoreau seems pleased by the way technology allows us to connect with the eastern Asian sphere in terms of ice commerce. He ties this back to his side of the globe being connected to the former through their philosophy and teachings, which for Thoreau seems to be a rather good use of technology. This paragraph seems then to prove that Thoreau was not fully against technology and progress, but rather that he supported such efforts which elevated mankind.
[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.
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.
Does having those three chairs start a society? Is that how one starts to form?
It was interesting to read about how he goes into the village to get some gossip. It is almost like he wants to stay up to date about the things that go on around. But why did he go to live in the forest to find himself but also go into the village and get caught up to date with things that are going on?
Does he own land and rent it out? Or does he just let people use land if they come to him? This chapter was difficult for me to understand.
It is very interesting to think that he is so connected to the earth that he enjoys listing to all the different sounds that go on. And being away from cars and busy streets allow you to really try and listen to every detail.
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 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.
It is very interesting to think that someone could withstand that isolation for so long.
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.
Human nature in this paragraph is seen with how people always feel the need to compete with each other. Neighbors look at each other with jealousy and always want to match or outdo others with material goods. We are too concerned with how people see our status and become obsessed with ourselves. We have this need to collect and live comfortably, but it ends up hindering our progress because it seems to be the only thing we care about. Marx’s ideas are related to this because he supports the idea that attaining too much material goods are counterproductive and people lose touch with their inner selves. The Papal Encyclical also follows this idea where he says we live in a throwaway culture with the amount of goods we attain.
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.
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.
Here again we see how Thoreau values all types of intellect and work. “Nothing can deter a poet, for he is actuated by pure love.” Not all people are able to see the value in poetry, but Thoreau as a writer, connects strongly with the poet. He also describes a writer’s spontaneous life and how their timing cannot be predicted. They act out of impulse, being motivated by their emotions to experience new things. Thoreau is representative of this idea through his actions in Walden.
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.
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.
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.
Thoreau’s political beliefs came through strongly with this section. Clearly he is in full support of Capitalism. With a little research I’ve learned that Thoreau was a major classic liberal of the 19th century. This quote from Thoreau really sums up his beliefs; “I heartily accept the motto, ‘That government is best which governs least’; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, ‘That government is best which governs not at all’; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.” (http://thoreau.eserver.org/civil1.html)
The first time I read this section I wondered whether Thoreau was considering himself the hermit or the poet. After scrolling through Harding’s comments it seems that Thoreau is in fact the hermit (that’s what I was thinking) and Channing was the poet. Harding also mentioned that this is one of the few times that Thoreau refers to himself as a hermit. I was surprised by that. However, after flipping through other parts of Walden that is true. I find it interesting that despite the fact that Thoreau very rarely mentioned his hermit-like qualities, I still viewed him as such. Just his beliefs about society and his whole “I’m gonna live in the woods alone” thing definitely make him look like a hermit. Yet what he says throughout the book actually implies that he was social.
I noticed immediately that the first three former inhabitants that Thoreau listed were people of color (Cato Ingraham – a slave, Zilpha – a colored woman, Brister Freeman – a “handy negro”). Thoreau makes little to no other mention of the fact that they were all colored let alone make any racist remarks. However, in a chapter prior, Baker Farm, Thoreau does seem to make some remarks about the lifestyles of the Irish which could be viewed as racist. It’s just a good representation of the certain prejudices that people of that time commonly had and didn’t have.
[my shortcomings and inconsistencies do not affect the truth of my statement.]
I find this line so important in our study of Thoreau. No person is without fault, and we often take any flaw or inconsistency in his argument first, as a flaw in his character, and second, to discount his accurate statements. Beyond Thoreau, even, we do this too often with people, too.
[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?]
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
“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
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.
This is powerful, in my opinion, as on homage to just how alone Thoreau was.
I agree with Dillon here– this is a very generalized account of farming that could apply to a myriad of different things.
Throughout Walden, it seems as though Thoreau is very unaware of the fact that his life is more privileged than others. When he tells the farmer that his clothes are cheaper than the farmer’s, it is clear Thoreau is not aware that not everyone can live his life and not everyone has his opportunities.
Ah, the Baker Farm chapter. In this chapter, Thoreau shows his colors as a bigot, in a way. The way he talks about the Fields family is dripping with ignorance and a heavily condescending tone. It seems as though he doesn’t understand that the Fields family cannot live the life Thoreau does; they are a hardworking Irish farm family, not capable of spending all of their times pondering the finer things in life. Overall, the tone set in this chapter is close minded and does not show Thoreau in a positive light.
Reading Thoreau’s documentation of being stranded alone at the pond during the harsh winter months definitely hit home, as I read this while hauled up in my residence hall during similar harsh winter conditions. Thoreau watches people coming and going around the pond, just as we all watch people going to and from the dining halls, and this clearly gives Thoreau a lot of time to think and speculate on human thought and things of that nature.
I overall would like to comment on Thoreau’s structure and timeline of Walden. We are taking a journey through the seasons, and Thoreau’s life during these seasons. In this chapter, we are deep in winter. He “people watches” the individuals who are doing their part to help themselves and their families survive, fishing and hunting for sustenance.
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.
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.
“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.
The comment in the paragraph suggesting that John Field will never read Walden stood out to. Thoreau seems to be putting down Field’s life style. I feel Thoreau does not want Field reading the novel because he is not worthy. Field is a poor un education Irish farmer, and Thoreau wants his book to reach the general population to spread his word. Apparently his word is meaningless to Fields/ he is not worthy of reading it.
The quote “We cannot but pity the boy who has never fired a gun” stuck out to me.” I interpreted this quote meaning that we cannot pity those who may not have had the same experiences as yourself. I feel this quote is important because a person has to remember that just because someone may not have the same experiences as you, it does not make them less than.
I find it interesting that Thoreau only highlights on one spring in the woods. Throughout the chapter he seems fascinated by it and how its a time of awakening, but in the end he doesn’t even touch on his second spring.
[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.
[O Baker Farm!]We can see in the Fluid Text Edition of Walden that this poem, by Ellery Channing, is not included in any of the earlier editions. These earlier versions, like this one, use paragraph six to focus on living freely and growing “wild according to thy nature,” as well. All, however, end paragraph six with the sentence, “The noblest life is continuous and unintermitting without pauses or waste.” Perhaps Thoreau thought it contradictory to follow this sentence with the poem, which in my reading feels like a slight pause amid the dense blocks of text.
I find Thoreau’s descriptions of the winter evening sounds here intriguing because I think most people associate winter, particularly winter nights, with silence. We always hear about quiet snowfall, and the only sound I personally associate with winter nights is the sound of a snowplow driving past my house in the early morning hours.The sound descriptions here serve to emphasize for me the varying degrees of solitude humans experience. Lying in bed and hearing the plow pass at night, I’m peacefully alone but the evidence of mankind is all around, from the objects in my house to the transient presence of another human driving on the street. We think of Thoreau as having more solitude, but this passage reminds us that he’s constantly accompanied by the natural presences of animals even in the quietest of times, and is never truly alone.
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.
[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.
[As for a Shelter, I will not deny that this is now a necessary of life, though there are instances of men having done without it for long periods in colder countries than this. Samuel Laing says that “The Laplander in his skin dress, and in a skin bag which he puts over his head and shoulders, will sleep night after night on the snow —in a degree of cold which would extinguish the life of one exposed to it in any woollen clothing.” He had seen them asleep thus. ]
This relates to “They Say, I Say,” by the way in which the quote was framed. Here the quote is framed by first having an introductory statement, which sets up the quotation. He introduces it starting with the popular belief that a shelter is a “necessary of life.” The quote then proves the opposite and he gives his follow-up statements explaining the relevance. He mentions the domestic feeling of a home and how people are closed off in the walls, but a necessity for people to survive.
[This spending of the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it, reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet. ]
This relates to the book, “They Say, I Say” by the use of the word “this.” Here, it is a pointer word that helps the flow of the writing and helps the reader to understand what the author is trying to say more efficiently. By clearly using “this” and explaining what “this” the author is talking about, it makes the writing easier to read and follow what the author is arguing.
[If I wished a boy to know something about the arts and sciences, for instance, I would not pursue the common course, which is merely merely to send him into the neighborhood of some professor, where any thing is professed and practised but the art of life;—to survey the world through a telescope or a microscope, and never with his natural eye; to study chemistry, and not learn how his bread is made]
Thoreau is saying here that sending a student into the classroom doesn’t really teach all there is to know about a certain subject. He believes a person needs to see the world for himself or herself. He thinks this is a better use of a person’s mind, to think for himself or herself, instead of learning it from one person’s perspective. This is interesting because he doesn’t seem to trust the education system and how learning from professors, he believes isn’t valuable, which is very interesting. In our eyes, a professor is very knowledgable, but in his perspective, it isn’t as helpful for a student.
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.
[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.
[I think that I love society as much as most] I think the general idea about Walden, particularly held by the people who haven’t read it, is that Thoreau was an antisocial guy, and he built his cabin solely to get away from people. We know this isn’t true for many reasons. Throughout his stay at the Pond, he spent much of his time either walking into the village for company, or inviting visitors to his home. Also, though they aren’t people, Thoreau also enjoyed the animals found in the woods around him. He even says in this paragraph, “I am naturally no hermit.” This doesn’t sound like a man who wishes to be alone, does it? Not like this guy. I wonder if Thoreau would have lasted so long if he really did banish himself from society. I think he was far too social for that.
[I frequently had to … without assistance]In this passage, Thoreau is commenting on how he would often get “lost” in the darkness as he made his way home without a light to guide him. I find it interesting because in our contemporary society, this type of wandering would not only be unsafe, but would rarely happen. Even the most basic of cell phones have bright enough lights to be used as flashlights, and most streets (and even some back roads) are lit by streetlights at night.I can’t help but imagine that a part of Thoreau enjoyed this walk in the dark. Sure, he appreciated his solitude every once in a while, but there’s also a special kind of challenge when man is forced to live in a way that is different than what he is used to. When I was younger and the power would go out, my family would gather in the living room with candles, flashlights, board games, and a battery-operated radio, waiting for the power to come back on. Nostalgic or not, this was one of my favorite times, because something forced my family to meet in one place, connect, and enjoy ourselves with the added challenge of doing so in a dimly-lit room. I think Thoreau would have liked these gatherings too.
[I frequently had to … without assistance] In this passage, Thoreau is commenting on how he would often get “lost” in the darkness as he made his way home without a light to guide him. I find it interesting because in our contemporary society, this type of wandering would not only be unsafe, but would rarely happen. Even the most basic of cell phones have bright enough lights to be used as flashlights, and most streets (and even some back roads) are lit by streetlights at night.I can’t help but imagine that a part of Thoreau enjoyed this walk in the dark. Sure, he appreciated his solitude every once in a while, but there’s also a special kind of challenge when man is forced to live in a way that is different than what he is used to. When I was younger and the power would go out, my family would gather in the living room with candles, flashlights, board games, and a battery-operated radio, waiting for the power to come back on. Nostalgic or not, this was one of my favorite times, because something forced my family to meet in one place, connect, and enjoy ourselves with the added challenge of doing so in a dimly-lit room. I think Thoreau would have liked these gatherings too.
[this is one of those sayings] Here, Thoreau comments on the phrase, “The mortar on them was fifty years old, and was said to be still growing harder” by stating, “but this is one of those sayings which men love to repeat whether they are true or not.” I find it interesting that even today, in the information age, there are facts that have been disproven, and yet people still believe them. For example, 23 Things Everyone Believes That Have Been Disproven by Mythbusters is a list of just these types of phrases. Maybe Mythbusters can’t be trusted to disprove old wives tales, maybe people forget that the fact is untrue because they’ve heard it so frequently it seems like it must be true, or maybe the people who still believe in disproven facts just haven’t heard the truth yet. Either way, I find it funny that this was happening in Thoreau’s day and still happens now as well. I wonder if maybe people just become so set in their ways, they are willing to preach their beliefs to the ends of the earth no matter who tells them they’re wrong. And sometimes, maybe false rumors are more interesting than boring truths.
[Sometimes I heard the foxes] This entire paragraph gives me the chills. I live in the countryside and always hear wild animals at night. Sometimes, I even hear coyotes howling and fighting one another. It really freaks me out. I wonder if Thoreau ever got scared at night when he heard sounds around his cabin, particularly when foxes would come near his window. The human mind tends to create stories, especially when alone! I would have gone a little crazy, I think.
Throughout my reading of Walden, I have found myself frustrated with some of the comments made by Thoreau; he is incredibly presumptuous and conceited, and he is also very dismissive of anyone that isn’t him, as we see this again here in this paragraph. Thoreau is very insistent that people spend time in nature and appreciate the privacy it has to offer, yet here is a man doing exactly that and Thoreau dismisses him as “primitive” and amusing.
It’s hard to pinpoint what Thoreau wants from other people; they don’t do as he does and he scoffs and wants nothing to do with them. They “follow” his example (or they make their own elective choice to be in nature), and he accuses them of doing it wrong. I almost always find myself asking what Thoreau wants from people, and this paragraph just confuses me further.
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.
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.
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.
The strict business habits required when dealing with the “celestial empire” appear to be those habits of head and heart that allow one to mine the wealth of human resource deep within at native bottom.
[I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit?]
Or the manner of the inner man being more important than the look of the outer. Remembering this comment has saved, and served, me often over the years. One of my favorites!
[according to the fable]
Perhaps better to use Myth? Which, like Thoreau’s Walden, the Bible certainly is. Good myth I suspect for those who mine the depths, but not something born out by history.
[Economy is a subject which admits of being treated with levity, but it cannot so be disposed of.]
I like Jeff Crammer’s comment on Thoreau’s use of the word Economy in his annotated edition where he reminds us that Thoreau wrote “that the economy of living is synonymous with philosophy” further on in the chapter (paragraph #72 in this version).Oikonomia, from the Greek, meaning management of the (inner) household, which really is the business that Thoreau is about doing.
[Morning work! By the blushes of Aurora and the music of Memnon, what should be man’smorning work in this world? I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and threw them out the window in disgust.]
It was asked earlier (comment on paragraph #53) why Thoreau never modified his disparaging remarks about the Irish, and I often wonder if Thoreau’s reflections of others are serving him as a mirror into himself? Are these disparaging comments self directed then, as he relates the need to dust off the pieces of limestone with subsuming the “morning work” (inner awakening regardless of time of day) of dusting off his mind.
Is there any possibility of Thoreau borrowing from the Christian tradition and positing “the woods” as a corollary of “wilderness”, where the demons (in us) are often portrayed and living? To reach one’s “higher self”, one must wake up inwardly to those elements that lead the soul (psychological and emotional state) astray.
[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.
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.
Girls and boys and young women generally seemed glad to be in the woods. They looked in the pond and at the flowers, and improved their time.
They enjoyed what nature had to offer while others saw no benefit in living in the woods and in solitude away from others and the community. While others saw no profit in living in the woods the girls and boys and young women enjoyed the woods for what it was, they enjoyed nature as it is not for what money it could make or not make.
[higher principles]- the pursuit in life.
Aristotle’s Four Cardinal Virtues- Prudence, temperance, courage, and justice. Aristotle’s highest good is happiness.
Kant’s highest good is good will. If there are not good intentions behind what is done then what is done is not good.
Summum bonum- “the highest good” in Greek. The life of the righteous and/or the life led in Communion with God and according to God’s precepts.
I find it funny that Thoreau is comparing the war of the ants to the Trojan War, a war that lasted more than ten years and several epics were written about. A war that was fought because Helen was stolen from Sparta by prince Paris of Troy, her face was the face that launched ‘a thousand ships’. He also compares it to several other wars and bloody battles, but these are just ants fighting one another for ant territory and ant food. There is a song by Say Anything entitled Yellow Cat/ Red Cat in which the lead singer Max Bemis states, “I watched my yellow cat invade my red cat in the yard/
The feline war has raged for years, so I assume it’d be too hard/ For me to drive my foot between them, I would never risk the scratch/ Just to prove to one or both of them/ A cat is just a cat.” This is possibly what Thoreau was experiencing that the ants were fighting for some purpose, whatever that purpose may be and they were fighting for strongly for it; in the end they are just ants, but he was not going to squish them and be caught up in their war or end it to abruptly instead he became a witness to their ant war and ant battles because even after squishing them their battles will still continue. Possibly this another metaphor for getting involved in the battles of other countries and foreign affairs.
Thoreau is fascinated by the other fishermen and this leads him to exploring their fishing pails and wondering how they caught the worms to go fishing with. Perhaps he sees this fisherman as primitive because of the tools that they are using, these tools are the simplest tools for fishing that he may have ever seen, just a stick with a line and that is it. Whereas the other fishermen have rods and reels, pails, and their methods for catching worms even in the winter. Thoreau’s own bias can be shown here, his love of ingenuity and craftsmanship and his near loathing of those that stick to their ways of doing things because it is the way that they have always done them, never learning or wanting to learn ‘the new way’ because it is not their way of doing it. Thoreau often contradicts himself and here he is doing it again by saying that a use of use simple tools is primitive while another’s use of reels is superior and that he looks more favorably upon the fisherman who uses technology, when prior to this he has said that he dislikes technology because it keeps humans from being one with nature, “From the cave we have advanced to roofs of palm leaves, of bark and boughs, of linen woven and stretched, of grass and straw, of boards and shingles, of stones and tiles. At last, we know not what it is to live in the open air, and our lives are domestic in more senses than we think. From the hearth to the field is a great distance. It would be well perhaps if we were to spend more of our days and nights without any obstruction between us and the celestial bodies” (28). Thoreau seems like he cannot make up his mind on whether he likes technology or not- he likes it because it is fascinating and it is a showcase of human ingenuity, but he does not like it because it does indeed separate humans even further from nature and our natural state.
[Shall we always study to obtain more of these things, and not sometimes to be content with less?]
Sort of relates to themes we have discussed in other works (The encyclical, Locke, Marx) in that, as a society, we are always in search of the “next best thing.” In this case, we are always trying to keep up with our neighbors or ensure our superiority over others we deem “savages.”
[Nothing was given me of which I have not rendered some account.]
Relates in part to the discussion we had regarding Marx’s ideas of the individual and the things one can produce. Much like one cannot create something without also using some contribution from another person, it seems impossible here that one can create or produce something without also putting themselves entirely into what they have produced.
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.
According to Thoreau, in the modern society labor often goes unrewarded. Hard and honest work yields little positive results due to the convoluted rules of finance and farmers cannot change that and have to devote all their work just to avoid going bankrupt. “The man who has actually paid for his farm with labor on it is so rare that every neighbor can point to him” (Thoreau). Similarly, merchants often fail but not because of a lack of capital, but a lack of moral conviction to get their work done. This is worse than the farmers; farmers are merely being beaten down by society while the merchants are actively sabotaging themselves. But this puts an infinitely worse face on the matter, and suggests, beside, that probably not even the other three succeed in saving their souls, but are perchance bankrupt in a worse sense than they who fail honestly. Despite all of these little breakdowns the financial world runs smoothly and without notice of its problems.
Thoreau talking about waste and excess. It sounds like he’s mocking his neighbors for their wasteful habits, which would fall in line with his feelings throughout Walden.
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
The Field family are an example of the kind of worker Thoreau examined in economy paragraph 49. He’s working for his home his whole life and yet he’ll never have enough money to afford his own home or live comfortably. I think Thoreau jumped at the opportunity to give his wisdom to one of the poor working class people and reacted badly when his philosophy was rejected. Thoreau made a miscalculation as he’s never had to live in the working class and was educated formally and never had to raise a family. His philosophy couldn’t apply to the Field family and didn’t work as a result. He seems to have forgotten that he said that his philosophy didn’t work for everyone.
[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.
[ 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
[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”.
I think this paragraph is showing Thoreau’s devotion to the concept of isolation, not his hypocrisy. When he goes into the village, he seems to embrace the role of an ‘outsider’ rather than an actual member. I think he is analyzing in order to better appreciate or even further confirm his thoughts on living in solidarity. He observes and studies the village, maybe similar to the thought that you can not understand or appreciate something (in this case his solidarity) without understanding its counterpart (society and the lives people live). I think the best example of this is when he compares himself to Orpheus of all people. He walks through the village, “loudly singing the praises of the gods to his lyre, drowned the voices of the Sirens, and kept out of danger.” Orpheus had walked to Hades, and much like Thoreau had surrounded himself with evil. He had not associated himself with that around him, and had actively refused to accept anything that may seem to tempt him. What is important to consider is that both had made their journey for a reason; to take something with them which in Thoreau’s case is knowledge and insight.
[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 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.
[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.
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…
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.
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 feel that this line perfectly demonstrates the arrogance that Thoreau feels towards John and his wife. He is comparing the water they drink to gruel. I read this line as, “Life here is built upon something as disgusting as gruel, therefore the life is equally as disgusting and of small value.” By comparing the water, a necessary component that is the source of life, to gruel, he is, in essence, saying that the entire life these people have built is disgusting to him.
His arrogance is furthered in the coming lines, when he states “I am not squeamish in such cases where manners are concerned.” He is basically patting himself on the back for not becoming sick at a drink of their water, and showcasing how well-mannered he is. In actuality, though, there is nothing noteworthy about not offending a family’s livelihood. It is nothing to boast of, and is instead a simple aspect of being a decent person. However, due to his arrogance, Thoreau thinks it something to be proud of.
“It is remarkable how long men will believe in the bottomlessness of a pond without taking the trouble to sound it.”
This quote really stood out to me in my reading of this chapter. I think that it speaks an immense amount to our nature as humans. I think that what Thoreau might be trying to get at is mans innate desire to be trusting. The majority of our lives revolve around following the rules that we have been told to follow and believing things that we are told to believe in. If you heard from numerous people that Walden Pond was bottomless, what reason do you have to go and check yourself if you believe what they are saying.
It forced me to ponder whether Thoreau thinks that a trusting human nature is a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand I think that Thoreau is less than pleased with it because he argues throughout the book that one has to have their own first hand experiences. Hence, why he goes about the business of finding the true depth of the pond and other activities of similar nature. However, on the other hand, I think that he, in a way, might agree somewhat with this even if he would never admit it. He writes Walden with the intent of people learning from his own experiences and questions why people don’t live the way that he does.
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.
I think this relates to our discussion last time, when we said that even when we are not working, we are still working. Similarly, there’s the idea that you’re supposedly to work hard your whole life and you can have fun when and only when you retire.
And I agree with what Dana said, that this work relates to religion. You have to work hard and diligently to reach Heaven. And as we see in this paragraph, Thoreau is disagreeing with this notion.
I like that he said a “questionable liberty.” It makes me think of his freedom found at Walden Pond. You don’t have to travel to find that kind of freedom, because sometimes it will happen anywhere, anytime, as long as you are in tune with yourself.
Makes me think of the previous comment I made, where I said we have to keep working. In this sentence, I think of a farmer who is almost forced to keep working while the herds are just existing, taking their time and enjoying life. Truly, I think animals are much freer than humans as they don’t have the same kind of need to do something. But with the existence of animals, man has to work. So I agree with Thoreau saying that the herds are the keepers of men while they get to live freely.
The bread of life. Again, there are religious themes underlying (what seems like) every paragraph. This makes me think of the bread that Catholics receive during mass, which is God’s body. However, Thoreau said that he changed the recipe for the bread and said he went without essential ingredients for a year and is still in the land of the living. I take this to mean that, although there are religious undertones to finding yourself and reaching a certain kind of peace, you can still reach those things without religion. I say that because a lot of people believe you have to return to your religion to find that peace. Thoreau shows us you dont have to.
Goes back to last week when we were talking about Thoreau’s ideas still being relatable today. In this paragraph, he is talking about people owning furniture and too many other things. When you have too many things, he says, you are poor. I can agree with this. Material possessions don’t matter. Also, I like that Thoreau says, “I have pitied him, not because that was his all, but because he had all that to carry.” Sometimes it is hard to part from material possessions, and I can see how Thoreau would think that would drag someone down.
I can agree with this thinking. When I get a moment to relax and take a minute to myself, that is when I feel the most myself. I am able to take a breath and think about things that I don’t have the time to when I am working. I can see how taking time to yourself can teach you new things about yourself, because that is when you are “maintaining one’s self”
I think he is overgeneralizing here, as he did when he said that someone older has nothing to teach him. “I never heard of a philanthropic meeting in which it was sincerely proposed to do any good to me, or the like of me.” I disagree with him on this point. I think there are plenty of good people out there that genuinely want to do good and aren’t looking to better themselves through doing that good. Most of the points I disagree with, I happen to do so because of the overgeneralizing Thoreau does.
“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.
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.
[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 agree with David, it is difficult to see past Thoreau’s Xenophobic tendencies in this passage. He frames the chapter as a whole around the idea that the Irish are less than people. Before Thoreau even arrives at the Field’s dwelling he states after noticing his own sort of halo, that “the shadows of some Irishmen had no halo about them.”
What concerns me further is Thoreau’s opinion that the Field’s poverty is a combination of choice and ignorance. When they are being kind, extending shelter to a strange man in a thunderstorm, he insists on lecturing them on their frivolous expenses, claiming, “if he chose, he might in a month or two build himself a palace of his own; that I did not use tea, nor coffee, nor butter… But alas! the culture of an Irishman is an enterprise to be undertaken with a sort of moral bog hoe.” This is the very sort of language that is still being used against immigrants. This idea of a lack of work ethic of immigrants, or further that it is in their nature to be frivolous or lazy has created a culture of unsympathetic people. Thoreau’s self-reliant philosophy is called into question here, when he attempts to put it into practice. Is this justifiable in any way?
[Those conveniences which the student requires at Cambridge or elsewhere cost him or somebody else ten times as great a sacrifice of life as they would with proper management on both sides. Those things for which the most money is demanded are never the things which the student most wants.]
Link to Cambridge College on Google Maps:
[Here, by the very corner of my field, still nearer to town, Zilpha, a colored woman, had her little house, where she spun linen for the townsfolk, making the Walden Woods ring with her shrill singing, for she had a loud and notable voice. At length, in the war of 1812, her dwelling was set on fire by English soldiers, prisoners on parole, when she was away, and her cat and dog and hens were all burned up together. She led a hard life, and somewhat inhumane. One old frequenter of these woods remembers, that as he passed her house]
Link to Zilpha’s house on Google Maps: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/edit?mid=1M0Ai9sR3tbtT36zPxj7ga94UkAWoSeA4&ll=42.47023,-71.34819&z=14
[For human society I was obliged to conjure up the former occupants of these woods. Within the memory of many of my townsmen the road near which my house stands resounded with the laugh and gossip of inhabitants]
Link to Walden Woods on Google Maps
This passage reminds me of Emerson’s description of Thoreau–that he only needed to take a walk in the woods with a young boy in order to decide whether or not the boy was intelligent and likable. It is through silence and communication beyond our physical bodies and presences that we are able to connect with each other more authentically.
This passage seems to expose both Thoreau’s ignorance and progressiveness all in one. Thoreau’s belief that you need not rest a reputation on a dinner says something about the way Thoreau feels towards women or at least the role of women. It could be argue that Thoreau disagrees with and rejects the notion that women are responsible for housekeeping and that their reputation lies on their dinners. It seems progressive for Thoreau to acknowledge that this role is ridiculous. However, he follows up that sentence by referring to a house as “a man’s house” as if it is the property of men and not women. There is no explicit mention of women at all in this passage and Thoreau’s rejection of gender roles is almost immediately reversed by his inability to address these issues as such.
Here, Thoreau seems to capture his feelings on solitude and loneliness. As we discussed in class, Thoreau may not actually want to be alone, considering the fact that he spends a lot of his time talking about his visitors and social exchanges with people while on the topic of solitude. This passage helps clarify that perhaps Thoreau is seeking a deeper human connection with people; one that lacks words and shallow exchanges like the ones people have in the Village. Instead, Thoreau would prefer to be alone, among other independent people and have shared experiences, shared silences, shared appreciations for the moments they have together and not clog the air with gossip. I think Thoreau challenges the people around him and his readers to lose themselves in silence, in the woods, in a place that does not ground us to our own realities. We cant be found until we are lost, and I think Thoreau wants people to find each other in this remoteness too.
I found the statement odd, “they gradually disappeared, into what crevices I do not know” considering the fact that Thoreau built this house. Shouldn’t he know, better than the wasps, every inch and crevice of that house?
It is interesting to consider Thoreau being awakened by the sounds of the earth cracking from the bitter cold. His stay out in the woods definitely attributes to his keen sense of his surroundings. It seems Thoreau is perhaps a bit dramatic about his account of winter in this piece. I think fresh fallen snow, and a a pond thickly frozen over with ice are serene albeit cold images. I think Thoreau takes the idea of a cold harsh winter to a new level when describing a crack in the earth causes by the winter frost.
I find these few passages very telling of Thoreau’s character, which ultimately I find quite troubling. Though, on a positive note, I enjoy his depiction of the men fishing. Thoreau describes these seemingly mundane activities in such a beautiful way that even if someone has no interest in fish or fishing, they would still become engrossed in his portrayal. Moments like this, I truly appreciate the Walden experiment. Thoreau puts himself in a position where these ordinary events become momentous. As a result, he analyzes them closely, and subsequently, deeply enjoys them. I feel like in today’s society, we are missing this quality. Very rarely do people stop, look around, make observations, and enjoy their surroundings. Thoreau harps the importance of these actions in his writing. However, these passages also bother me because of Thoreau’s subtle arrogance. He acts as though he is viewing animals at a zoo when he is observing these people. I have it engraved in my mind that Thoreau is a pretentious hypocrite, so I might have a biased opinion. Nevertheless, I don’t like his judgmental comments as he relays what he sees. I get the impression that Thoreau cannot be subjective no matter what he is depicting. This really hinders his writing because the reader has a difficult time separating what Thoreau is actually seeing and what Thoreau is thinking.
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.
[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.
“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.
I love how you pulled this out. I agree with the number of people inhibiting friendships and that the smaller the amount of people the better. Two is the perfect number because all of your attention may go towards that single person and their attention towards you. However, I believe Th.’s favorite chair and number is one for Solitude. he can pay more attention to himself and his own thoughts and beliefs and at the same time understand each thought or topic he may want to pursue and to truly let his thoughts unfold. When it comes to friendships I believe that Th. would be fully behind the idea of befriending yourself first and knowing yourself so that way you could be more valuable to others.
I read this passage slightly differently. While he does talk about the beastly lives that we may live when we consume flesh it is not so much the fact that we are spending time to eat but how we are eating. Prior to this he explains that it is ” Not that food which entereth into the mouth defileth a man, but the appetite with which it is eaten”. When he opens the chapter by talking about the woodchuck and the savage instinct that possesses him when it crossed his path, I believe that it is not the eating of meat that he is truly detesting as much as the idea that it is instinct and not intellect that propels the man forth. A man being blinded by instinct does not give time to intellect and in this way digresses as he follows those impulses to feed himself with meat and other delicacies. Man should have an appetite for genius not for meat, meat is as superficial as materialism and in a way I feel that Th. in this passage is only identifying yet another stage that man must go through in order to be fully susceptible to the truths of the universe and of existence altogether. Indulging the body in food is the same as man enveloping his life in the pursuit of materialistic joys that go no deeper than the surface. The part that you quoted reminds me of Emerson, he says “A man is fed, not that he may be fed, but that he may work”, this same idea exists in that quote. What we fuel ourselves with should not be a bigger concern than what we accomplish been filled (fueled) up.
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.
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.
This transcendental epiphany becomes a satirical “spiritual lesson” in Herman Melville’s short story, “The Apple-Tree Table; or, Original Spiritual Manifestations,” published in Putnam’s Monthly Magazine in May of 1856 (465-475). Several critics have commented on this, the first being Frank Davidson, who argues that Melville’s story “records its author’s thoughts on religion at a critical time in his life” (479), and that its “inconclusive ending” speaks to the author’s “conflicting and unresolved views” on Calvinism. (See “Melville, Thoreau, and ‘The Apple-Tree Table’.” American Literature 25.4 (1954): 479-488.) If you ask me, Melville’s take on Thoreau is a parody of Transcendental optimism, characterized as a naive faith in “spirit” that blithely ignores the more pessimistic facts of material existence. It may be pretty to think that the bug symbolizes resurrection and immortality, according to Melville, but when the bug dies the next day, what are we to make of that? In Thoreau’s defense, the conclusion does not moralize upon resurrection as such; rather, Thoreau tells his reader how to live without an abiding faith in resurrection and immortality.
In his new book, Cryptic Subtexts in Literature and Film: Secret Messages and Buried Treasure (New York: Routledge, 2019), Steven F. Walker offers a new interpretation of Walden’s 1854 subtitle, “Life in the Woods.” It is well known that that subtitle was hardly original, having appeared in several publications prior to the publication of Walden, including an article of that name by Charles Lane which appears in the final issue of The Dial. Walker grants that Thoreau may have used the title “ironically,” that is, “as a vigorous rejoinder to the thesis of Lane’s Dial essay” (13). More intriguing, however, is Walker’s argument that Thoreau may have associated “life in the woods” with a phase of life known in Hindu as “vanaprastha” (literally translated as “life in the woods”)—“the third stage of life—that of the solitary, contemplative hermit living in the forest on the outskirts of the village—as described in The Laws of Manu” (14) which Thoreau read in Emerson’s library in 1840. “Such a new framing,” Walker says, “certainly provides a new perspective on Thoreau’s life-in-the-woods enterprise, which, for all its Yankee originality, also can be seen as a spiritual retreat based on an ancient Hindu paradigm of the stages of life” (16).
“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.
“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.
I view this quote as saying one should simply do what he wants to do in life and not follow someone else’s path.
[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.
[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.
[but the most proper and considerate course.]
I found it interesting that to Thoreau, not offering food to guests was considered polite and proper. This is opposite of today, as people now generally expect food to be offered when visiting someone’s house. If the host does not offer food or drink, the visitor might think less of his hospitality, which is contradictory to what Thoreau considered hospitable. Among many others, this is an example of how the times have changed in the past one hundred years.
Well, since two chairs is considered friendship, and more than two people is a group, one can conclude that three chairs is a group. Society is essentially a group of people with a shared purpose or belief, so three chairs has potential to be a “society.”
“I am naturally no hermit” could be referring to the fact that humans are social beings and, by nature, don’t like to be alone for long periods of time.
Thoreau doesn’t seem like the type of person who would be fazed by going to jail, given his intellectual and thoughtful nature. So while his experiences in jail would be interesting for the reader, I’m not surprised he didn’t include them.
This makes Thoreau seem empathetic or understanding, which contradicts the dislike he shows towards his neighbors in later parts of the book. But then again, he is human and humans are complicated beans. (Get it?????)
I did not expect Thoreau to support vegetarianism mainly because I assumed he was like most people in that they thought eating meat was a natural way of life. However, Thoreau is not like most people, as he willingly lived alone in a cabin in the woods for two years, so my assumption that he would hold a common belief on food was not exactly logical. I respect his choice to avoid eating animals and can relate to his decision.
I agree. While he did live alone, he was not in the middle of wilderness and had a nearby village to visit. He was maybe half of a hermit.
[ I withdrew yet farther into my shell, and endeavored to keep a bright fire both within my house and within my breast.]
I admire Thoreau’s continued motivation to keep his spirits up despite not exactly enjoying the winter, as shown by “I withdrew yet farther into my shell.” He did not have a choice about keeping a fire in the house, but he could have let the fire in his heart die down. I appreciate his earnest and enthusiasm.
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.
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.
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.
[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.
Go check out the Fluid Text edition of Walden to see a poem Thoreau put in with Version A that subsequently never reappeared.
What do we ask? | Some worthy task; | Never to run | Till that be done, | That never done | Under the sun…
…Must we still eat | The bread we have spurned? | Must be rekindle | the faggots we’ve burned?
[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.
[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
[ 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.
[et not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. ]
This compares two men both making baskets but one focussing on how he can sell and the other, the complete opposite. This is interesting to note because the second man goes completely against what a normal person in society would think generally when making something.
[Nevertheless this points to an important distinction between the civilized man and the savage; and, no doubt, they have designs on us for our benefit, in making the life of a civilized people an institution, in which the life of the individual is to a great extent absorbed, in order to preserve and perfect that of the race. But I wish to show at what a sacrifice this advantage is at present obtained, and to suggest that we may possibly so live as to secure all the advantage without suffering any of the disadvantage.]
Thoreau notes why some things have been designed regarding the civilized human, because it is suppose to benefit and help us. However, he points out that this can also hurt us. Is there a way to advance without any of the negative aspects?
I think that’s a good question Savannah. Past the basic necessities to sustain life, why have we created endless material consumptions we think we need? But going off of that, if they are things that make us happy, is that not a good use of our own independent time away from work?
I find this section interesting as Thoreau mentions the different kind of mentalities of people and their work. For the people who like to work and think it keeps them out of trouble, he seems to not have a negative response to it. He seems to address that some people only work and that those people need to find activities that bring them happiness outside of it.
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.
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.
One of Griff and Brikenstein’s example is being a more effective writer by stating the comments of others and either agreeing or disagreeing with what the critics are saying. After explaining, Walden gives his own comment on the subject. For Walden even struggles with the relationship with fashion and it affects people’s lives with that especially his in a negative way. For Walden, wants to his garments made this way, however, fashion says that the pants can’t be made that way anymore. That agitates him for fashion or influencers of fashion shouldn’t have a say in what he should wear.
[Which would have advanced the most at the end of a month,—the boy who had made his own jackknife from the ore which he had dug and smelted, reading as much as would be necessary for this,—or the boy who had attended the lectures on metallurgy at the Institute in the mean while, and had received a Rodgers’ penknife from his father? Which would be most likely to cut his fingers? ]
It’s interesting that higher education is incomplete in teaching only the theoretical not having any hands-on experience. Therefore the one attended is more likely to cut himself for the hands-on experience is essential but is abandoned but the colleges to only speak and learn the theoretical.
Here Thoreau condemns “‘modern improvements,'” and especially those that exist to improve the speed and efficiency of communication. He thinks that these advances improve the pace but not the quality of conversation.
It’s hard to imagine, then, the disdain that he would’ve held for modern technology of today– especially social media platforms. I’m sure he would be dismayed by these websites in which one could argue that “the main object [is] to talk fast and not to talk sensibly” and which are full of celebrity gossip not much more interesting than Princess Adelaide having the whooping cough.
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.
When Thoreau writes, “Ay! there was the rub,” I was struck for the second time by his allusion to the famous Hamlet soliloquy. The first was in Economy when he wrote, “For clothes are but our outmost cuticle and mortal coil.” The term “mortal coil,” as far as I can tell, was coined by Shakespeare in that speech, or at least that’s its most well known context.
Thoreau seems to think very highly of Shakespeare, as obviously most people do, but it’s refreshing in Walden to see an appreciation that contrasts so starkly Thoreau’s typical disdain. He also mentions Shakespeare directly several times; earlier in this chapter he writes, “I did not know whether he was as wise as Shakespeare or as simply ignorant as a child
Thoreau’s reiteration of the idea that animals and humans are somehow the same indicates to me that it’s an idea that’s pretty crucial to the book. I especially think comparing the foxes’ social order to “civilization” is striking because civilization is usually used to mean something that is very distinctly human– sometimes the word is reserved to refer to what is thought of as only the most “cultured” people. But Thoreau is (again) suggesting that there is something that ties all species together. We all have anxieties and struggles, the need for expression and to “run freely in the streets…”
Group three was discussing this passage earlier, and wondering if this was yet another of Thoreau’s contradictions– he seems to avoid modern technology yet here he employs it by using the stone and string, though it’s a rather simple example of technology. I don’t think Thoreau is quite contradicting himself here, because I don’t think he is totally against innovation. He opposes certain technological advances– guns, the postal service, etc.– but always for reasons that he articulates as other than the fact that they are simply technological advances. He doesn’t hate technology for technology’s sake, it seems. This example of the string and stone is about as advanced as other things he uses like his cabin or boat.
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.
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 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?
Thoreau states here that “as I did not work hard, I did not have to eat hard.” This is a perfect example of a law that exists in nature, but not in “civilized” society. In the world of business, many who work very hard do not earn enough money to “eat hard,” and conversely, those who “eat hard” are very often those who do little or no work at all and were merely fortunate enough to be born into wealth. How long in human history has this discrepancy existed? If everyone attempted to live off the land the way Thoreau did at Walden Pond, would this change?
A poet must be “actuated by pure love” not only for the reasons Thoreau describes, but also because, at least in modern-day America, it is incredibly difficult to make a living off of writing poetry, or making any kind of art for that matter. This was likely one of Thoreau’s biggest gripes with the society he rebelled against.
“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.
[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“I felt as if I could spit a Mexican with a good relish…” This is an example of the Dionysian in Thoreau. He is swept up by the martial spirit of music from the village and feels himself capable of violence but instead sublimates his energy into tending his bean-field, doing battle with weeds, or exercising his “chivalry” upon a woodchuck.
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.”
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.
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.
Society forces people into roles they do not desire.
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.
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.
The Valhalla of Thoreau’s wintertime observations completely alters the mood of the piece. While a solitary Northeastern winter is generally portrayed as cold and lifeless, Thoreau views it as majestic, bright, and purposeful.
In Norse mythology, Valhalla served a purpose much like winter. It housed the heroic dead, as winter houses the pond and its occupants, the plants, and the trees.
However, when the time comes, the brave occupants of Valhalla are destined to rise again, just as spring once more releases the captives of winter.
Thoreau’s exploration of this idea in a single sentence solidifies the mood The Pond in Winter produces, one of stoic awe and ancient reverence.
“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.”
Hannah, I also find this passage exciting!
Something Thoreau also mentions here, that I think is worth adding on to your observations is the idea of sacrifice. In this anecdote, the artist’s friends desert him and eventually die, leaving the artist alone in his creation. The artist is forced to sacrifice connections for the immortality of his work.
As with much of Thoreau’s advice to the reader of Walden, this prospect is daunting to most, and impossible to many. Most of us are not willing to make this sacrifice, because we fear, or because we lack desire.
The purity of the artist’s work is told in this form to show the impossibility of capturing such purity, the singular focus, the drive, while also showing the reward for any brave enough to make the attempt.
“The life in us is like the water in the river. It may rise this year higher than man has ever known it.”
I found this passage to be spectacularly beautiful, and incredibly optimistic. Instead of the slow decay of humanity, the circle of life of rotting slowly away from the day we are born, Thoreau shows us that we can be better than ourselves.
Like the rivers, lives are subject to constant change: change in weather, roughness, even physical form, but the flow remains continuous.
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 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.
[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.
[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.
[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.
In this paragraph, Thoreau converses with the students and the well-educated. The most prominent conversational move that Thoreau makes here (as Graff and Birkenstein may describe) is when Thoreau interjects his words with a ‘they say’ that may not have actually been said: “‘But,’ says one, ‘you do not mean that the students should go to work with their hands instead of their heads?'” Not only is it an exchange of they say/I say, it’s also a form of metacommentary that allows him to clarify his meaning.
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.”
Is this a sympathetic, inspiring or satirical image of this family? It seems to me that in common terms, one should feel sympathy for this immigrant family living all alone and in such poverty. Perhaps one might also see inspiration in the story, by viewing the father as an inspirational figure, by working so hard to feed his large family. In my opinion though, Thoreau seems to frame them in a satirical light, contrasting their style of life, to his more pure and simple mode of life. To me, this seems unfair of him, as him and this family are in such dramatically different situations and have such varying personality types.
This seems like it should be a paragraph that would greatly confound readers. When Thoreau states, “The wonder is how they, how you and I, can live this slimy beastly life, eating and drinking,” it seems like this should be deterring to readers in some ways. Eating and drinking are such natural, sustaining ways of life for humans, yet here Emerson emphasizes that these things make us “slimy and beastly.” I think his argument can get confusing at times like these, when he really seems to be nitpicking humanity’s typical ways of life, and asking readers to become so intensely aware of activities that seem so natural to them at first.
The line “Nature is hard to be overcome, but she must be overcome” confuses me. It seems as if his main theme throughout the book is to be one with Nature, by overcoming societal pressures and fully immersing your life in Nature and living by the simple standards of Nature. Now telling readers to overcome Nature seems to be contradicting his message. Is Man’s natural inclination shameful and morally bad?
Looking at this quote, it is hard to find Thoreau to be misanthropic. He seems to praise the innate innocence and purity of human nature. He urges us to forgive the faults of others and tells us that as nature recreates a new day, nature also conspires to refresh and purify humankind.
To me, the whole last chapter seems to be a direct contradiction to “Pond Scum.” Within this chapter, one can see a certain humility possessed by Thoreau, such as when he discusses himself looking down at the ants. Along with this, it seems clear that he does not have animosity towards humans, but rather seems to possess an animosity towards society. Within this chapter, he discusses how money and fame and riches corrupt people by distracting them from the true values of life. Much like Emerson, he seems to have infinite hope for humanity, if only they can recognize their divine possibilities.
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.
Thoreau enters into a conversation with the farmers of Concord. This soon extends to every farmer, and relates their profession to ‘the merchant’ who he had already mentioned several times. Using this method of analysis, Thoreau is able to easily point out the shortcomings of each as it relates to their way of life.
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.
[He interested me because he was so quiet and solitary and so happy withal; a well of good humor and contentment which overflowed at his eyes. ]
This passage thoroughly debases any belief of misanthropy on Thoreau’s part. Any time Thoreau is given the chance to relay information about friends, it’s clear in his tone and reflections how much Thoreau cares about people. He is cognizant enough of his friends to denote their habits, to quote them offhand, and relishes in conveying simple yet animated portrayals of the people in his life.
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.
[He was at first bare and out of doors; but though this was pleasant enough in serene and warm weather, by daylight, the rainy season and the winter, to say nothing of the torrid sun, would perhaps have nipped his race in the bud if he had not made haste to clothe himself with the shelter of a house. Adam and Eve, according to the fable, wore the bower before other clothes. Man wanted a home, a place of warmth, or or comfort, first of physical warmth, then the warmth of the affections.]
This quote shows the importance of shelter and protection. It relates to divinity because it mentions Adam and Eve, found in the Bible. This brings up the creation of Adam and Eve and how they valued shelter from the weather before clothes. This theme is still seen in the 19th century, where Walden is talking about how men would die if they didn’t create shelter. Relating to Locke, he talks about how people give up their natural freedom to assure the protection of their lives and their property. A shelter is necessary for survival and that can be seen since the beginnings of Christianity.
[At Cambridge College the mere rent of a student’s room, which is only a little larger than my own, is thirty dollars each year,]
It is very interesting how he built a house all by himself for only $28.50 and have it for life, yet going to college is that expensive each year.
Accomplishing a lot on a little budget seems to bring him great pride. He likes to be self sufficient and we see this theme throughout the rest of the work.
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.
[as if we grew by exogenous plants by addition without.]
In a recent episode of the podcast RadioLab titled “Worth,” one segment posed the question, “How Do You Put a Price Tag on Nature?” After considering the pros and cons of valuing Nature in either monetary or aesthetic terms, the segment asked (at just after 19′ 00″) if there might be “another way to think about the value of Nature” — a way that doesn’t invoke either money or beauty as measurement. One of the authors interviewed for the segment, J.B. MacKinnon, suggests that we might think about the diversity of Nature as “an extension of our own brains,” a “pool of imagination and creativity from which we, as humans, are able to draw.”
Thoreau’s persistent practice as a writer is to do just that: to make the phenomena and processes of Nature a means of investigating and characterizing who we are as human beings, how we live, and how we might live. In doing so, he also makes it a means of investigating the concept of worth itself. Walden is not simply a work that asks us to value Nature, but a work that asks us to examine and re-assess our values using the imaginative resources that Nature provides.
[It is difficult to begin without borrowing.]
Although when he wrote these pages Thoreau “lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which [he] had built [himself],” his “experiment” in self-reliance begins, significantly, with an act of reliance on someone else. Through his deliberately graphic depiction of that act (the image of the axe’s owner releasing “his hold on it”) and his concession that it “is difficult to begin without borrowing,” Thoreau gives the lie to any notion that his sojourn in the woods represents a rejection of his fellow humans.
Walter Harding has asked, “Why did T have to borrow an ax in the first place?” If we regard this detail in Thoreau’s narrative as primarily symbolic, the need to answer Harding’s question perhaps drops away.
@walterharding identifies a sentence in “The Ponds,” par. 19, as “The shortest sentence in W.”: “Sky water.” “Furniture!” is even shorter.
Seriously, though, I stand by my claim here.
An exclamatory sentence is a kind of sentence, not a fragment, and can consist of a single word. It needn’t contain a verb.
Seriously? One sentence?
(Another two sentences there, pal. Sorry.)
It would be odd indeed not to consider Pause! as a complete sentence. It’s identical in form to sentences such as Leave! and Stop! All three are verbs in the imperative mood, with an implied subject of [You]. The case of Avast! is a little different. It compresses a Dutch expression that (as I read the dictionary) originally contained both a subject and a predicate into a single English word that can’t take a subject and therefore doesn’t operate as a verb. But used as the only word in a sentence, it enables the sentence to pass one of the typical tests for sentence-ness. It expresses a complete thought. Oxforddictionaries.com classifies it as an exclamation.
But the key word in the antepenultimate sentence of that last paragraph is typical – as typically is the key word in the oxfordictionary.com definition you point to: A set of words that is complete in itself, typically containing a subject and predicate…
English permits many atypical sentences. (Hooray! I hear Thoreau say to that. Interesting problem: If he were to say, Youbetcha! would that be a one-word sentence or a three-word sentence?). There can be sentences with neither subject nor predicate and sentences that are only “complete” when regarded in context, as in the second of these two:
– Did Thoreau build his chimney inside the cabin or outside?
We agree on one thing: Furniture! is no longer than Pause! and Avast! (except in word-length). Of course, the latter two are being reported by Thoreau as spoken by someone other than himself – a distinction worth noting, I think. But they are indisputably “sentences in Walden,” so in some sense it would erroneous to suggest, as I originally did, that Furniture! holds the prize of “shortest sentence” by itself.
By the way, to put a smiley in your post, just type it, like so: :)
CommentPress will convert it to an icon. Is a smiley a sentence? No. But that “No” is. 🙂
It might have been interesting to ask the monks at the abbey about this passage. 🙂
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.
What are your own thoughts about this, Jess? And do you think Thoreau himself offers any kind of answer?
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.
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.”
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.”
You’re right, Jake. The incident he describes here is the basis of his famous essay “Civil Disobedience,” in which he explains his refusal to support, through taxation, a government engaged in immoral actions — specifically, slavery and the war with Mexico.
You make some great points here, Emily. As William Cronon’s essay “The Trouble with Wilderness” suggests, Thoreau’s idea that “in wildness is the preservation of the world” (from his essay “Walking”) helped fuel the modern environmental movement. So there’s strong reason to believe that Thoreau would have been in favor of modern attempts to preserve nature from being “defiled” by commercial use or even just excessive human presence. In addition, his Journal entry for January 30, 1861 points toward the need to block off areas of natural beauty from private ownership. And even by the final paragraph of the present chapter of Walden, he’s clear about his view that humans are in some sense a “disgrace” to the earth.
But as both Cronon and you point out, this attitude leaves us wondering what to make of Thoreau’s own human activity in nature. If what we value in nature is only its otherness from us, how do we justify even the “natural” intrusion into nature’s beauty that Thoreau (however briefly) attempts?
In fact, this honor would appear to belong to a one-word sentence in “Economy,” par. 89: “Furniture!”
Julia: Can you share any of the sources that characterized Thoreau as a “classic liberal”? It’s no easy job to categorize Thoreau’s political and economic beliefs. More than a few readers have taken Thoreau’s statements in the essay you point to — “Civil Disobedience” — as an indication that he was fundamentally an anarchist. Anarchism can sound a lot like liberalism or even libertarianism because of its hostility to state control. But in some of its varieties (it has many), it’s combined with collective ownership of property as an ideal. That’s an ideal that both 19th c. classical liberalism and modern libertarianism reject. In his Journal entry for January 30, 1861, Thoreau writes that ” … It would be worth the while if in each town there were a committee appointed to see that the beauty of the town received no detriment. If we have the largest boulder in the county, then it should not belong to an individual, nor be made into door-steps.” He seems to doubt whether treating all property as private property is a good thing; and here, at least, he even seems to advocate legal regulations to keep certain areas of natural beauty outside the realm of the marketplace.
You make a good point here, Holly. In addition, Thoreau’s bigoted comments about Irish immigrants are painful to read. See Walter Harding’s comment above about Thoreau’s curious decision to leave these comments in Walden in spite of the fact that his attitude toward Irish immigrants had apparently changed.
[shutting my eyes, and excluding the motes]
Is there a reference here to Matthew 7: 1-5? We are admonished by Jesus to cast out the “beam” from our own eye before casting out the “mote” in the eye of our brother. In “shutting [his] eyes, and excluding the motes,” is Thoreau attempting to see more clearly as well as avoid ingesting the particulate matter in the water? Granted, a precise parallel to the passage in Matthew would require Thoreau to be excluding “beams,” but a precise parallel would also exclude the pun. And, of course, the general thrust of the passage – This water looks like gruel to me, but as it’s been offered by my brother, the right thing to do is drink it – is thoroughly consistent with the thrust of Matthew 7:1-5, as announced in the first line: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
As a follow-up to my suggestion of a possible Biblical parallel in “shutting my eyes, and excluding the motes,” it’s worth noting that the equation of motes-in-water and motes-in-the-eye is also consistent with Thoreau’s famous equation of water and eyes in “The Ponds”, par. 17: “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. In “looking into” the lakelet of water handed him by John Field, Thoreau, then, would necessarily be forced to measure the depth of his own nature, including his own capacity for hypocrisy.
Great point, Emily. Thoreau’s equation of a “natural” way of living with “civilization” seems problematic. Is this in part because the concepts “nature” and “civilization” (or “culture”) are in themselves problematic?
Sandra Harbert Petrulionis examines the political uses of this phrase in “The ‘Higher Law’: Then and Now,” Thoreau Society Bulletin 262, Spring 2008 (5-7), available at the Internet Archive
If this paragraph doesn’t come up naturally in class discussion, Julia, I hope that you find a way to bring it up. The third and fourth sentences typify a certain aspect of Thoreau’s style. There are only “a few” who remember Cato’s “little patch” of walnuts, which he’s grown for a sensible and admirable reason. Why is he not better remembered? What’s the force of the second half of that sentence, in which we’re informed that the sensibly grown little patch of walnuts is taken by a “white speculator”? What is Thoreau implying by the sentence that follows: “He, too, however, occupies an equally narrow house at present”? There’s a lot being communicated here, but it’s all communicated through a careful strategy of indirection.
@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.
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.
The remarkable coincidence of the pond’s greatest depth intersecting the greatest length and breadth, add onto the almost magical qualities of the pond. The amazing depth of 107ft in such a small area, and the clear water that remains the same after years in a water bottle (Professor Gillin), lend the pond an air of mystery and curiosity. Some of the descriptions of the pond seem unbelievable, like how the factory owner doesn’t believe the pond is 107ft, and contribute to the magical qualities of the pond.
Discussing laws of nature, and the coincidence that the deepest depth of the pond intersects the greatest length and breadth, meeting at the exact middle, reminded me of the center of mass in humans.
The two ideas aren’t strictly related in the definition of center of mass, but the idea that COM is the point at which objects rotate, if applied to the pond, seems to be most likely where the length and breadth meet at the deepest point. This is just a thought I had after reading paragraph nine, and paragraph twelve brought me back to this idea after Thoreau discussed the laws of nature. Thoreau says if we knew all of the laws of nature, we wouldn’t need much to infer particular results, particularly in his plan on White Pond. I just wonder if he thought about applying scientific laws of nature to his questions and observations at the time.
[devilish Iron Horse]
Twenty-first century readers of Walden might think that Thoreau was being imaginative when he described the railroad as a “devilish Iron Horse,” and they would be justified in thinking so. And yet, it may be helpful to tease out what particularly is imaginative about this animal-machine metaphor. What’s imaginative about this passage, I’d like to suggest, isn’t the bare fact that Thoreau decided to use the vehicle “horse” to describe the tenor “railroad,” but the very linguistic act of collapsing these two entities into one metaphor. Horses and railroads are already conceptually linked for anyone living in early to middle nineteenth-century America because, in the first few decades of railway transportation, passenger trains were literally horse-powered. Even as late as 1844, some United States railway lines—such as the storied P&C (Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad)—would include horse-drawn trains, even going so far as to allow horse-power at certain hours of the day and steam power during other times. Thoreau, in other words, is imaginatively collapsing two terms—horses and railroads—that are already linked in the popular imagination of the day. Thus the specifically imaginative aspect about this passage isn’t how Thoreau decided to compare railroads to horses, but how he linguistically united them into an apocalyptic vision of forest degradation.
I thought that Thoreau’s arguments against eating meat throughout the “Higher Laws” chapter were a bit lacking. The impression that I got after reading this was that Thoreau did not stop eating animal flesh because he was overly concerned with animal welfare, rather, it seems he became a vegetarian merely because he felt it helped to “preserve his higher or poetic faculties” and that it elevated him to a greater spiritual level. He admits in paragraph 3 that he, “did not pity the fishes nor the worms”. In fact, he describes how he was born and raised with a hunting gun or fishing pole in his hand (he even states that this was the best education of his life…although perhaps partly due to the fact that this led him to spend large quantities of time in Nature). He decided to end his carnivorous ways when he developed the belief that vegetarianism was something that seemed to be “more civilized” and the “destiny of the human race”. Thus, vegetarianism, according to Thoreau, is ultimately about improving oneself, not necessarily about improving the lives and condition of other creatures (he is positioned on the anthropocentric side of the scale much more so than the biocentric side). As a vegetarian, I was personally a bit dissatisfied with Thoreau’s arguments. His claim that meat is “unclean” and “filthy” seemed to me to be almost ludicrous. However, I think the biggest issue that I have with this chapter is the fact that Thoreau seems to hold his own personal elevation and spiritual ascension as the ultimate good–being a vegetarian merely helps him to achieve this egotistical goal. Personally, I do not partake in the vegetarian diet because I believe it to help me, but because I think that it is innately good in and of itself. Overall, I was a bit frustrated with Thoreau’s lack of giving any substantial reason for vegetarianism. However, it should also be remembered that Thoreau is new to the herbivore lifestyle (he was literally just describing his fishing practices in the last chapter). Perhaps this chapter should not be read as an argument primarily about vegetarianism (I personally don’t think Thoreau is a great authority on the subject), but rather as Thoreau’s personal contemplations concerning a new lifestyle choice and his inward struggle to reach a state of “glorious existence”.
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.
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.
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.
[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.
[As this business was to be entered into without the usual capital, it may not be easy to conjecture where those means, that will still be indispensable to every such undertaking, were to be obtained. As for Clothing, to come at once to the practical part of the question, perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty, and a regard for the opinions of men, in procuring it, than by a true utility. Let him who has work to do recollect that the object of clothing is, first, to retain the vital heat, and secondly, in this state of society, to cover nakedness, and he may judge how much of any necessary or important work may be accomplished without adding to his wardrobe.]
Here Thoreau analyzes man’s use of clothing. He suggests people are more concerned with the way they are perceived by others in society then the benefits the clothing offers to their survival. “Perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty, and a regard for the opinions of men, in procuring it, than by a true utility.” This is comparable to Marx’s view about how the need for more possessions in a capitalistic society forces us to abandon part of who we are.
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.
This is true, Thoreau is very much about living for himself, and seems at least in this case to be slightly “judgy” of a person who does something for someone else but at the end he says “Why should we exaggerate any one kind of expense of the others?” meaning that he thinks that living your life Is within the eye of the beholder and that a person should live their life the way they want to.
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.
Like my fellow classmates, I’m interested in the way Thoreau uses his metaphor of chairs. I wonder what constitutes the order of the way he lists them off. I think it could either mean what he values to what he doesn’t or it could literally mean that one chair (because he is alone) stands for solitude, two for friendship (normally in reference to a friendly relationship between two people), but three for a group as it is no longer intimate and can therefore represent society plus a group of 3 people could be considered a society (maybe).
That’s a really interesting way of viewing it but I can completely see where you are coming from. It seems like to Thoreau that people are people so it naturally makes sense why he can acknowledge instead of instilling hate though I don’t know if this is necessarily empathetic…possibly sympathetic…with some reality and open-mindedness sprinkled in.
I semi agree with this but I think Thoreau wanted to be a hermit even though humans are inherently social and codependent creatures. Maybe he was just suppressing his non-hermitness behind the person he wanted to be versus the person that he is.
Thoreau seems to see the pond freezing as an open door for new experiences and enlightenments. He seems taken back by the winter at Walden and also in awe observing everything he once knew now covered with snow and mice. He felt that he was free, by being and experiencing snow, Walden to him seems more inviting and open the the nearby town which is saying something.
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
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
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?
Captured in Thoreau’s prose here is the excitement that I think people find when they first turn toward collective living. The “poetic faculty” of the simple work of determining how one will live is so natural that it could seem unimportant to someone on the outside of this experience. It seems needlessly basic, but that is exactly the point. The poetry is in the needlessness.
What I hear Thoreau advocating for most strongly is for us all to listen deeply to the soft voice of nature within us, our “true course,” and to tap into something bigger than us- our connection to everything else in the world. A deep love for all people and things.
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 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.
The shakers did not believe they should be allowed to live in beauty. As a result, every aspect in their lives were created beautifully. Beauty followed utility as everything had a purpose in their society. I believe the Shakers would agree with Thoreau in this matter. The train would be considered a frivolous matter to the Shaker’s who would take the same walk as Thoreau.
I agree Lane! Are we happier now as a society now that we have material objects that would have been unavailable to us as little as one hundred years ago? Why is it not considered enough to have food and shelter and friends unless we have material objects to accompany them?
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.
[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.
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.
[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.
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.
[ We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us!]
[I was wont to pity the clumsy Irish laborers who cut ice on the pond, in such mean and ragged clothes, while I shivered in my more tidy and somewhat more fashionable garments, till, one bitter cold day, one who had slipped into the water came to my house to warm him, and I saw him strip off three pairs of pants and two pairs of stockings ere he got down to the skin, though they were dirty and ragged enough, it is true, and that he could afford to refuse the extra garments which I offered him, he had so many intra ones.]
He points out a man that has worked hard but still isn’t able to look fashionable while freezing. He brings the man into his house and gives him new clothes because he fell into a pond. Even when he is trying to be nice he still comes off as a rude person who doesn’t seem to care about other peoples well being.
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.
Thoreau makes the point several times throughout out walden that he is living for himself on not for others expectations, such as when he farms not to turn a profit but to develop self discipline.
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.
Three chairs provides an interesting contrast to today, where the ‘society’ we are part often includes hundreds or thousands of people.
[the squirrels manifest no concern whether the woods will bear chestnuts this year or not]
Thoreau is able to truly enjoy this farming by taking a more passive approach. He focuses on the process of farming rather than just the profit.
Thoreau’s description of fighting a war with the weeds shows how dedicated he is to his farm and that it is about more than just turning a profit.
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.
[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.
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.
[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.
[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.
[“They do not make them so now,” not emphasizing the “They” at all, as if she quoted an authority as impersonal as the Fates, and I find it difficult to get made what I want, simply because she cannot believe that I mean what I say, that I am so rash. When I hear this oracular sentence, I am for a moment absorbed in thought, emphasizing to myself each word separately that I may come at the meaning of it, that I may find out by what degree of consanguinity They are related to me, and what authority they may have in an affair which affects me so nearly; and, finally, I am inclined to answer her with equal mystery, and without any more emphasis of the “they,”]
This quotation is actually, I believe, one of the most notable points in this section. Not only relating to our often referred to “They Say, I Say”, it also relates to McIntyre’s idea of accountability. This area refers to “They Say, I Say” in the sense that we read it and question, “Who is they?”. If using basic knowledge, we can infer that it is the company or seamstress that manufactures the article of clothing he seeks. However, can we ever really know that if the speaker or author is not specific? This also ties into the concept of accountability because if we do not specify who is responsible, no one can be held accountable.
The Bean-Field on the map:
The Village (Concord) on the map:
[So I made haste for shelter to the nearest hut, which stood half a mile from any road, but so much the nearer to the pond, and had long been uninhabited]
The Field Home on Baker Farm on the map:
Brister’s Spring on the map:
Brister’s Hill on the map:
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.
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
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.
Is Thoreau playing with “withdrawing'” in this passage? i find it interesting that Walter Harding commented on this specifically. I have never heard of “withdrawing” room before, and when first reading this I Googled the etymology. I discovered that Thoreau’s use is antiquated (used in this way only until the 18th century), and that “drawing room” was the much more common usage at the time. Considering Thoreau uses this old term as the word for his “best” room in the house, does this add any layers of complexity to his position on Visitors? Is it just another instance of nuanced humor? Certainly thought it was funny!
[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
[ by a chain of small ponds coming from that quarter, and on the other directly and manifestly to Concord River, which is lower, by a similar chain of ponds through which in some other geological period it may have flowed, and by a little digging, which God forbid, it can be made to flow thither again]
Find Concord River on the map here
[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
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.
This is where Thoreau can be seen as a person who has a strong connection with nature, since it can be implied that he believes that living off the land and not wasting anything is the ideal way to live.
I agree with you, I’m sure that if he did make a good argument about the disappointing actions our government took (which I am sure he would have), a lot could have possibly come from it in the form of stopping more of those bad choices from taking place.
That’s a very good point. He really does care very strongly about his farm and all that is in it, and this really shows how he is such a determined person who doesn’t give up easily.
Honestly, Thoreau comes off as being a jerk in this paragraph. I can’t say I’m surprised that this is his reaction if the water really wasn’t very good quality water or very clean, but he doesn’t try to hide that fact from us at all.
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.
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.
[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.
[When Madam Pfeiffer, in her adventurous travels round the world, from east to west, had got so near home as Asiatic Russia, she says that she felt the necessity of wearing other than a travelling dress, when she went to meet the authorities, for she “was now in a civilized country, where ——— — people are judged of by their clothes.”]
This entire paragraph is a good example of Birkenstein and Graff’s “They Say/I Say” conventions. Thoreau cites his society’s tendency to judge people on their clothing and people’s vanity towards their outward appearance, but he disagrees with these habits and finds them frivolous. Clothing is, first and foremost, to retain heat when the weather is cold, at least to Thoreau. If he sees a man with a tear in his pants, that does not automatically make him lesser, in Thoreau’s eyes.
[The youth may build or plant or sail, only let him not be hindered from doing that which he tells me he would like to do.]
This part was really interesting to me, especially since I’ve recently been researching possible internship and work opportunities. As a History/English double major, everyone is always assuming that I want to pursue education or teaching as a career. I really don’t, and that made this feel really important as a sentiment. A person should be able to choose their own path and decide what to do with their life without people telling them what they should want.
[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.
Primitive seems to be an interesting choice of word on Thoreau’s part. I think it lends itself to the simple, naturalistic approach that the described fisherman adopts. And indeed Thoreau would probably approve of this method being not overly complicated, and a good use of nature’s potential. Yet, I can’t help but think of all the negative connotations and discourses surrounding “primitive” as a word, and connotations that Thoreau would have almost definitely known about. So, is his use of primitive just a a basic descriptor to move the narrative along or is there more? Like the possibility of reframing the word in different contexts–here I’m thinking of his and other Transcendentalists’ more positive relations with Native Americans who were often labeled as primitive.
[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.”
[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.
[a particular form, my tailoress]
She has been identified by Sanborn (1909, I, 79) as Mary Minot of Concord.
[at beholding the costume]
T originally made these statements on costume about a group of Tyrolian singers who visited Concord in 1841 (Journal, 1906, I, 196).
T is here using the common generic term for islands inhabited by uncivilized natives.
[be obtained. As for Clothing]
The relationship of the following material on clothing to the “clothes philosophy” of Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus will quickly be seen by any student familiar with that work.
Samuel Laing, Journal of a Residence in Norway (London, 1837, 295).
[believe that our factory system]
Here again, it is significant that T was an early protester against the evils of the factory system, which was already producing slums and paupers in New England cities.
[We worship not the Graces]
Graces: the Roman goddesses of charm and beauty.
[nor the Parcæ]
Parcæ: the Fates in Roman mythology.
[forget that some Egyptian wheat]
The Concord Freeman for Nov. 12, 1841, gives such an account, and T probably saw it there. Such stories have appeared in many places, and although they have often been dismissed as myth, present-day scientists acknowledge that dormant seeds can germinate even after thousands of years. See, for example, the New York Times for March 7, 1951.
[of any people. Let Harlequin]
A droll character in comedy and pantomime usually dressed in parti-colored clothes.
[are as becoming as purple]
The color of royal garments.
Ellery Channing, in his notes on W, points out that T had visited the Bigelow mills in Clinton, Massachusetts. T reports at length on this visit in his Journal (1906, II, 134-6).
[the coast, in some Salem]
Salem, Massachusetts, was the center of trade with China, the Celestial Empire. The products listed were all prominent in that trade (Morison).
[discharged upon a Jersey shore]
The coast of New Jersey was long noted as the site of many shipwrecks.
[untold fate of La Perouse]
Jean-Francois de Galaup, Comte de La Perouse (1741-1788), a French explorer who disappeared in 1788 while exploring the Pacific. His fate was not learned until 1826, when his shipwreck was discovered on Vanikoro Island, north of the New Hebrides.
[in this state of society]
T did not have the usual mid-Victorian objections to nudity, but delighted in swimming and wading naked in rivers. Modern nudists often claim him as one of their precursors (MacDonald).
[Eve, according to the fable]
Genesis 3:7. Calling the Bible a fable alienated some of T’s more devout contemporaries, but he was not one to mince words to soothe his neighbors’ feelings.
[in a workhouse, a labyrinth]
Labyrinth: any complicated structure, but specifically a building in Crete built by Daedalus where the Minotaur was housed. Theseus was able to penetrate it, slay the Minotaur, and escape with the aid of Ariadne, who gave him the clue – a thread to follow.
[I have seen Penobscot Indians]
The Penobscots of northern Maine frequently visited Concord and camped outside the town
[to see a large box]
Although T suggests a man might well live in a large box, only seven pages later he condemns the “degraded poor” for living in “sties,” which Bridgman (79) says are surely more livable than boxes.
[his soul be free]
“If I have freedom in my love,/ And in my soul am free” (Richard Lovelace, “To Althea from Prison”).
[a strolling Indian]
American Indians were always of great interest to T. He gathered more than 2,800 pages of notes from his readings on them and mentions them nearly fifty times in W (Sayre).
[of a well-known lawyer]
In his Journal (II, 84) T identifies the well-known lawyer as Samuel Hoar, the town’s leading citizen and father of T’s friends Elizabeth and Edward Hoar.
[one’s while to buy them]
Tripp (1988) suggests that T may be echoing both Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (VI, 444-6) and Virgil’s Eclogues (X, 70-2).
Paul (1958, 322) suggests that T is here giving a thinly veiled account of the publishing failure of his Week.
[to transact some private business]
At least one piece of “private business” that T wished to transact at Walden Pond was the writing of A Week, his memorial tribute to his brother John, who had died in 1842. For three years he had been kept from the task by worldly affairs. By retiring to the pond, he was able to find time to complete the book.
[adventurers and merchants, from Hanno]
Hanno was a Carthaginian navigator of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.
[interest, of tare and tret]
The two ordinary deductions in calculating the net weight of goods to be sold by retail, “tare” making allowance for the weight of the container, “tret” for that of waste matter.
[railroad and the ice trade]
Both the railroad and the ice trade were new to Walden Pond when T lived there. See the chapter “The Pond in Winter.”
[it is a good port]
In T’s own copy of W, he corrected “post” to “port,” and it is clearly “port” in the manuscript. Either word makes sense, and critics have argued for both.
[good foundation. No Neva marshes]
St. Petersburg is built in the lowlands of the Neva River.
[no better than wooden horses]
Clothes horses: wooden frames used to air out clothes, and also persons who think clothes are all-important.
The New York Times for May 16, 1969, reported that thieves in Trujillo, Peru, used this technique to rob houses. I doubt they got the idea from W.
[When Madam Pfeiffer]
Ida Pfeiffer, A Lady’s Voyage Round the World (New York, 1852, 265).
[hero ever has a valet]
“No man is a hero to his valet” (Madame Cornuel, 1605-1694).
[new wine in old bottles]
“Neither do men put new wine into old bottles else the bottles break” (Matthew 9:17).
[outmost cuticle and mortal coil]
“When we have shuffled off this mortal coil” (Hamlet, III, i, 67).
[we grew like exogenous plants]
Plants that grow by adding an annual layer just beneath the bark.
[like the old philosopher]
T was thinking of Bias (c. sixth century B.c.), as he indicates in his Journal (1906, I, 169-70).
Daniel Gookin, Historical Collections of the Indians in New England (Boston, 1792, chap. III, 9).
[is never done]
“Man may work from sun to sun, / But woman’s work is never done” (Bartlett, 920).
[found sailing under false colors]
Pirates and other unscrupulous merchantmen often sailed flying the flag of another nation to disguise their activities.
The hyphenation and italic type call attention to the derivation of the word from the Latin agri cultura, the cultivation or tilling of a field.
[gradually leaving off palmleaf hat]
Hats made of palm leaves were then fashionable in the summer.
[or cap of woodchuck skin]
Hunters often made winter hats out of woodchuck fur.
[number of superfluous glow-shoes]
A variant spelling of “galoshes,” overshoes for wet weather.
[part into the dust hole]
A hole cut in the floor enabling one to sweep dust and debris directly into the basement.
[By the blushes of Aurora]
Aurora: the Roman goddess of dawn.
[and the music of Memnon]
Memnon: a king of Egypt. His subjects erected a statue of him that uttered a melodious sound every morning when the first rays of the sun fell upon it.
[who stops at the best]
The printer of the first edition of W misread “best” as “lust,” with rather amusing results. Fortunately T caught the error in the proof sheets and corrected it.
[him to be a Sardanapalus]
The last king of Assyria, whose effeminacy irritated his military officers and led them to revolt. See Byron’s tragedy of this name. Thoreau may have read of Sardanapalus in Diodorus 2.23.
[natives of the Celestial Empire]
There was a vogue for Oriental decoration in the mid-nineteenth century, inspired by the China trade.
The name for a typical American, as “John Bull” was for an Englishman.
[an excursion train]
A reference to his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne’s satire on liberal religions, “The Celestial Railroad.” “Malaria” literally means “bad air.”
[he is admiring the gewgaws]
[five feet on level ground]
I have been unable to uncover T’s source for this tale.
[The cart before the horse]
“Set the cart before the horse” (John Heywood, Proverbs, 1546).
Edward Johnson, “Wonder-Working Providence of Sions Saviour,” A History of New England (London, 1654, chap. 36, p. 83). T has modernized the English slightly.
[the Province of New Netherland]
E. B. O’Callaghan, The Documentary History of the State of New York (Albany, 1851, IV, 31-2).
T was probably thinking of his friend Bronson Alcott’s book The Doctrine and Discipline of Human Culture (Boston, 1836).
[the birds of the air]
“The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20 )
A nonsmoking fireplace invented by Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford (1753-1814).
Formerly builders plastered between the studding; now thick paper takes the place of this back plaster.
[ye have always with you]
“For ye have the poor always with you” (Matthew 26:11).
[fathers have eaten sour grapes]
“The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezekiel 18:2). See Taylor.
[that sinneth it shall die]
[Yet the Middlesex Cattle Show]
The Middlesex Cattle Show was held in Concord each September, and T usually joined the throng visiting it. In 1860 he was its principal speaker, delivering a paper on “The Succession of Forest Trees.”
[the agricultural machine were suent]
A dialect word meaning “proceeding regularly,” and more usually spelled “suant.” T’s usage is so unusual that it is often cited in dictionaries. He comments in some detail on this word in his Journal (III, 272).
[trap with a hair spring]
The first edition of W reads “springe,” but Shanley (1971, 396) has changed it to “spring,” which is the spelling T uses in some of the early drafts.
[rarefies to air]
George Chapman, The Tragedy of Caesar and Pompey, V, ii.
[valid objection urged by Momus]
Among the ancients, a god of pleasure and the son of Nox, according to Hesiod. The following quotation is from the entry under Momus in Lempriere’s Bibliotheca Classica (New York, 1842, 744).
[against the house which Minerva]
The Roman goddess of wisdom.
[the almshouse and “silent poor”]
“Silent poor” refers to a fund established in Concord in the eighteenth century for the care of those who hid their poverty to avoid going to the poorhouse.
“There are writings on the pyramids in Egyptian characters showing how much was spent on purges and onions and garlic for the workmen” (Herodotus 2.125).
[farther than to the shanties]
Oddly enough, in his later chapter on “Former Inhabitants” of the area, T never mentions that there was a whole colony of such shanties, inhabited by Irish railroad workers, just a few hundred yards north of the pond, along the railroad tracks.
[of every denomination in England]
England was the first nation to take advantage of the Industrial Revolution.
[the white or enlightened spots]
It was still the custom in T’s day to leave all unexplored areas white on the maps.
[physical condition of the Irish]
T, in W, often speaks disparagingly of the Irish, who were at that time swarming into New England as a result of the potato famine. Finding only menial jobs open to them, they were forced to live in poverty and were openly despised by the resident Yankees. However, as T got to know them personally, he changed his mind about them and became their defender. Why he did not then excise his disparaging remarks is not known.
Throughout his adult life T was actively engaged both in protesting slavery and in antislavery activities.
[staple production of the South]
Slave breeding was one of the “‘industries” of the South at this time.
In his own copy of W, T questioned the italicizing of this word by the printer.
[I have heard of one]
As T points out in his Journal (III, 182- 3), this was Horatio Greenough, the sculptor. Matthiessen (153-7) and Metzger (79) both point out that this paragraph seems to reflect a gross misunderstanding of Greenough’s ideas. But Griffin demonstrates that T’s opinions were based on a letter Greenough had written Emerson, and not on his published theories.
[of March, 1845, I borrowed]
According to tradition, T borrowed the ax from Bronson Alcott, and Alcott states, “When he [T] projected the Walden cabin he came to me and said, ‘Mr. Alcott, lend me an ax,’ and with this he built the temple of a grand primeval man.” But George Willis Cooke (81) says Emerson was the lender, and Ellery Channing, in his personal copy of W, has a note claiming the ax to be his. The real question is, Why did T have to borrow an ax in the first place? The year before he went to Walden to build his cabin, he and his father together built a house for the family, the one usually referred to as the Texas House. Surely he must have had tools to build that. And how do we explain the ax or axes that he refers to numerous times later in W? Did he finally acquire one of his own?
Kappeler discusses the tools T probably used at Walden, thirty-one of them, and includes drawings of some of them.
[pines, still in their youth]
Matson (68) wonders how T could be so naive as to use unseasoned pine for his studs, and what the resulting warping and shrinking of the wood must have done to his cabin. Yet the cabin remained sturdy for a number of years. For its later history, see Harding, Days (1993, 222-4).
[days cutting and hewing timber]
Yannella (18) expresses his astonishment that T did not adopt the much simpler “balloon frame” construction, which was already popular around the country, but actually balloon framing is used only for houses of more than one story.
[of some of my acquaintances]
Cooke (81) says these acquaintances were Alcott, Emerson, Ellery Channing, Burrill and George William Curtis, Edmund Hosmer and his sons John, Edmund, and Andrew. The Curtis brothers had been residents of Brook Farm before moving to Concord. George later became a well-known editor and critic. Hosmer was T’s favorite farmer, and his farm was a short distance from Walden.
[on the 4th of July]
T was declaring his own independence. He was too astute not to take advantage of the symbolism of the day.
[do like cowbirds and cuckoos]
The American cowbird and the English cuckoo lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, avoiding the task of providing for their offspring.
[ninth part of a man]
“Nine tailors make but one man” is an old proverb that can be traced at least as far back as John Ray’s English Proverbs of 1678.
[division of labor to end]
Masteller suggests that T is here parodying the house pattern books so popular in his day.
[have a core of truth]
This is the fundamental theory of modern functional architecture. Significantly, Frank Lloyd Wright, our greatest modern architect, has said in a letter to me, “The history of American architecture would be incomplete without T’s wise observations on the subject.”
[carefully feather-edged and lapped]
On the boards to be nailed horizontally, the top and bottom edges were cut at forty-five-degree angles and overlapped so as to shed rain (Gottesman, 1559).
[same purpose as the Iliad]
As we learn later, T brought his own copy of the Iliad out to the pond.
[built a chimney]
The details of building his chimney can be found in the “House-Warming” chapter.
[the apple of his eye]
“He kept him as the apple of his eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10 ).
[lark and pewee]
T refers to the meadowlark and the phoebe. Both begin singing in the Concord area in late March. He is not referring to the wood pewee, which does not arrive in Concord until late May.
[the winter of man’s discontent]
“Now is the winter of our discontent” (Richard III, I, i).
[Lies high in my thought]
T’s own poem. Although he quotes other authors frequently, he is always careful to put all but his own poetry within quotation marks.
[the shanty of James Collins]
There is no James Collins listed in Concord town records in T’s time, but some years ago I met a James Collins, then a resident of Lowell, Massachusetts, who claimed to be a descendant of this Collins. He was undoubtedly one of the many Irish who left their native country because of the potato famine and came to this country to work on the railroad as day laborers.
[worked on the Fitchburg Railroad]
The railroad, running from Boston to Fitchburg, had reached Concord only the year before, in 1844. The tracks are still in use today.
[for boards. James Collins’ shanty]
The site of Collins’s shanty is not known, but it was probably one of the little community of shanties constructed by the Irish laborers. The cellar holes of these shanties can still be found adjacent to the railroad tracks just north of Walden Pond.
[by a young Patrick]
The name Yankees used for a typical Irishman.
Concord town records list a William Seley at this time, but no Seeleys.
[of the gods of Troy]
T is referring, in Virgil’s Aeneid, either to the theft of the Palladium by Odysseus and Diomedes (II, 351) or to Aeneas’s rescue of his household gods (1, 6). In either case, he is poking fun by contrasting the ne’er-do-well Collins with the heroic Greeks (Miller; Woodson, 1975).
[the side of a hill]
Ellery Channing wrote in his copy of W, “There is nothing like a hill here and never was …. H. means the small rise in the ground, but it is no hill, no 20 foot rise” (Sanborn, no hill, no 20 foot rise” (Sanborn, 1909).
[was but two hours’ work]
Paul Williams (1971) asserts that in digging his cellar, T moved 194.25 cubic feet of dirt, weighing 9.7 tons, lifting it an average of six feet. Translating that into horsepower, one comes up with .03. An average person can work at a rate of from .033 to .05 horsepower, so T should not have had much difficulty in completing his task, as he says, in two hours, since he was digging mostly in sand.
[in the earth]
There is still a noticeable dent in the earth nearly a century and a half after the cabin was moved away.
[a tight shingled and plastered]
He did not plaster the house until late fall (Robbins). See “House-Warming.”
This was no hut or shanty. It was sturdily built and survived being moved twice (Zimmer).
Half-cent coins were still in circulation then (Paul Williams, 1987).
Lime and hair were used to make plaster. The hair was added as a binder (Proulx).
A metal strip above a fireplace opening, supporting the masonry above.
Nails at this time typically sold for three cents a pound. Did he really use 130 pounds of nails (Kenner, 210)? That would have been more than enough to build an entire house. When the site was excavated in 1945, many bent nails were found, but not enough to account for all those nails (Robbins).
The modern replacement value of these materials would probably be four or five thousand dollars.
[of Broadway their Trinity Church]
The famed church in downtown New York had been burned and rebuilt while T was at Walden.
[his virtue on his standard]
T’s precise meaning here eludes me, but he is apparently alluding to ancient soldiers who painted on their shields the symbols of their supposed capabilities.
[which makes them picturesque]
The vogue of the “picturesque” in the early nineteenth century was considerable, and T read avidly all the works of the Reverend William Gilpin on the subject (Templeman).
[hollow, and a September gale]
The strongest winds of the year in the Concord area typically come in September.
[have no olives nor wines]
That is, those who do not have rare and expensive foods in their homes.
In T’s time, one would order a coffin to be made by the local carpenter. In the first edition of W, T placed a comma after “carpenter.”
[his last and narrow house]
[the style of cottage architecture]
For Wordsworth’s influence on this section and other portions of W, see Moldenhauer (1990).
[I claimed by squatter’s right]
Although T liked to pretend that he was no more than a squatter on Emerson’s land, Canby (215) asserts that he had made an arrangement with Emerson to clear the land in return for its use.
[much cant and hypocrisy,—chaff]
One of many biblical allusions (as Jeremiah 23:28) to the difficulty of separating the wheat from the chaff.
[broad as it is long]
This expression can be traced back at least to John Ray, English Proverbs (1678).