[With a little more wit we might use these materials so as to become richer than the richest now are, and make our civilization a blessing.]
Here, despite his earlier comments praising a more simplistic/naturalistic way of life, Thoreau discusses how technology has helped better society. In the modern world, technology has allowed society to advance significantly. As he discusses in this paragraph, an example of this is consumer goods (boards, bricks) being much more accessible to the general public. He believes it is in society’s best interest to use technology and its inventions to their full potential, as doing so would enrich civilization.
Today, it seems as though this belief still holds true amongst us. We are constantly looking for the next best thing or ways to improve what we already have. We look for ways to make things more affordable, so more people can benefit from them.
[I speak understandingly on this subject, for I have made myself acquainted with it both theoretically and practically. ]
Thoreau made only a few changes to this passage throughout the different versions of Walden, but the majority of them were made to this specific sentence. In Version A, Thoreau had originally written “advisedly” instead of “understandingly”. In Version B, he changed what used to be “gone into” into “made myself acquainted with”. I wonder what led him to make these changes. They do not change the meaning of the passage drastically, but I sense a slight shift in tone from giving advice to more speaking from experience.
[ and for the rest of their lives vegetate and dissipate their faculties in what is called easy reading.]
What Thoreau is saying here is that we tend to push aside books that challenge our minds as they may be more difficult and time consuming to read. I believe that this is still true today, especially now more than ever. In Hayles\’s essay, she notes that in modern classrooms, students are being assigned short stories instead of long novels due to the lack of deep attention (Hayles 501). There is a clear shift towards hyperattention/hyperreading, whether for better or for worse. I have experienced this shift firsthand in my own reading over the years. When I was younger, I was able to read a whole book in one sitting if I desired. Nowadays, I find it hard to even read a single chapter without getting distracted by my phone or some other sort of technology surrounding me. I also tend to gravitate towards quick reads, and find myself mostly reading for entertainment instead of enhancing what knowledge I already possess (outside of class assigned readings).
[Now that the cars are gone by, and all the restless world with them, and the fishes in the pond no longer feel their rumbling, I am more alone than ever. For the rest of the long afternoon, perhaps, my meditations are interrupted only by the faint rattle of a carriage or team along the distant highway.]
Coming from a small town that is frequently busy, I often experienced what Thoreau describes here. I live on a street that has heavy traffic almost 24/7. It can get quite annoying at times, especially at nighttime when cars passing by are blaring music. However, I have grown used to it, and most of the time I do not realize that it\’s even occurring until the traffic is already long gone. While I do enjoy (and prefer) the quieter areas of my city, such as where my grandparents live, I sometimes find myself missing that background noise. It reminds me of home. The sounds make me feel as though I am surrounded, despite the fact that I am only around my family.
In this paragraph, Thoreau talks about how secluding yourself is not necessarily a bad thing. As a more introverted person, I agree with Thoreau. Sometimes, it is nice to take a step back from socializing and dedicate time to myself. However, I never feel truly alone. Most of the time, I am spending my free time on my phone or some other sort of device. It is strange how we can be physically alone, yet surrounded in the online world. People can reach out to me if they need anything and vice versa. I often prefer this situation, as my social battery is able to recharge without completely isolating myself. I have to give credit to Thoreau, though, because I do not think I could live and be alone almost all the time. While it may be exhausting for me, I still think that social interaction is an important part of a healthy life.
[I THINK that I love society as much as most, and am ready enough to fasten myself like a bloodsucker for the time to any full-blooded man that comes in my way.]
Although it is the very beginning of the section, you can already see the contrast between this part and the previous section, ‘Solitude’. In ‘Solitude’, Thoreau discusses in depth what it is like to live alone, almost completely cut off from civilization. He seems to enjoy being alone for the most part with the occasional visitor. Here, however, his statement is contradictory. This makes it sound like being secluded is not all that he cracked it up to be, and that he would rather rejoin the rest of society.
[ I cherish them, I hoe them, early and late I have an eye to them; and this is my day’s work.]
This passage brings me joy as it reminds me of my grandfather. Every year, he plants new flowers around the trees in his front yard and in his flower beds out back. Whenever the weather is nice, you can find him out there digging and watering his plants. There is no reason as to why he does this, but tending to his flowers is fun for him, and he thoroughly enjoys doing so.
[ I am convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown. These take place only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient while others have not enough.]
This is an interesting point Thoreau makes, but I do not think it is entirely true in modern times. Wealthy people and neighborhoods/homes may be a bigger target, but most times, thieves tend to choose places where they can get the job done without getting caught. Robberies also happen all over, not just in “communities where some have got more than is sufficient while others have not enough”.
[I will go with you gladly soon, but I am just concluding a serious meditation. I think that I am near the end of it. Leave me alone, then, for a while.]
I think that these the lines are the ones that hit the closest to home for me during this COVID-19 pandemic. As someone who has several immunocompromised family members, I have to take self-quarantining very seriously. It\’s hard to be alone and stuck in my home for such a long period of time, but I know it\’s for the overall well-being of not only my family but the general population.
It\’s difficult, too, watching people ignore the orders of isolation and continue about their normal lives (including some of my friends). I wish that they would understand that saying \”no\” to going out is no longer a choice in this situation, but a requirement. The longer people do not quarantine, the longer this pandemic will occur.
For now, however, I [do not] think that I am near the end of it.
[The next winter I used a small cooking-stove for economy, since I did not own the forest; but it did not keep fire so well as the open fire-place. Cooking was then, for the most part, no longer a poetic, but merely a chemic process.]
This passage not only relates to time literally – “the next winter” – but also to time figuratively. Thoreau mentions how in the past, cooking was a meticulous process. Although, as time as passed, cooking has become a job done out of pure necessity. Perhaps this is due to the arrival of new technology and simpler ways of life that have formed over time. It shows that not everything is permanent; some things are subject to change.
[We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep.]
Here, Thoreau talks about his desire to live a more natural and spiritualistic way of life. To him, advancing oneself morally is more important than advancing technologically. I wonder what he would think of the scenarios given in Gleick’s The Information, in which people interweave technology into their daily lives to make things simpler (such as inventing the telegraph for easier and faster communication). For example, I wonder what he would think of social media today. It has been argued for a long time that social media can be detrimental to an individual’s mental health, although, I believe that when used consciously and purposefully, it can lead to this moral growth that Thoreau describes.
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.
[On applying to the assessors, I am surprised to learn that they cannot at once name a dozen in the town who own their farms free and clear. If you would know the history of these homesteads, inquire at the bank where they are mortgaged. The man who has actually paid for his farm with labor on it is so rare that every neighbor can point to him. I doubt if there are three such men in Concord]
Thoreau makes the point that these farmers center their lives around their land & crop, exerting all of their time and effort into their farms. However, most of them still do not own the land they dedicate their lives to, even in cases where the farm was passed through generations. He makes the connection between this point and that of how the economy impacts society, be it positive or negative, although Thoreau seems to lean towards negativity.
This paragraph discusses the importance of nurturing a child’s natural skills & interests, rather than pushing a child down the common course from a young age. Thoreau discusses how tuition is very expensive in comparison to the cost of living and experiencing life and what it has to offer. He also makes the point that if a child has an interest in arts & sciences, the child should be allowed to pursue and supported in their decisions and futures, rather than forced into a different field because it is family tradition, or because it has the highest salary. Thoreau believes that life is not about the materialistic items that one can acquire but that the experiences, memories, and knowledge one acquires through living life are most important.
[I look upon England to-day as an old gentleman who is travelling with a great deal of baggage, trumpery which has accumulated from long housekeeping, which he has not the courage to burn; great trunk, little trunk, bandbox, and bundle. Throw away the first three at least.]
Thoreau again implies a minimalist lifestyle and mindset would prove beneficial for many, especially for those accustomed to modern accommodations and societal norms. Thoreau himself clearly appreciates the minimalist lifestyle, proven by the way he built his home and chose to live his life.
[Nor is there any man so independent on his farm that he can say them nay. ]
While Thoreau himself is able to live only off of his land and his own skills and abilities, as proven by his experiences creating his own home in the woods with little to nothing, other men are unable to craft a lifestyle where this is possible
[They go and come with such regularity and precision, and their whistle can be heard so far, that the farmers set their clocks by them, and thus one well conducted institution regulates a whole country.]
I think this is something important to think about; in this area, people do not base the timing of their day around the rising and setting sun, nor the sounds of nature or other environmental factors, like the church bells that ring hourly in my own town. Instead, their internal clocks are set based upon the arrival of the railroad. Not only that, but activities are planned based on whether the railroad will be in use at that time, which speaks greatly to the importance of the railroad and what it has to offer in this society.
This paragraph speaks a lot about Thoreau’s intense attention to detail. Not only does he detail the thickness and thinness of the ice, but he also discusses the relation between the thickness of the ice and the way it melts. Thoreau also discusses in-depth the way that the temperature causes state changes in the ice and the way it impacts the water at different lengths. I doubt many people, and I know I haven’t, have ever put that much thought and consideration into ice and the way it melts. While it also speaks a lot to Thoreau’s surroundings, it speaks even more to his attention to detail, especially in nature. He notices everything he possibly can, and thinks about it and what it means as opposed to letting it be a passing thought, which is what most do.
I really enjoyed this paragraph. Thoreau discusses how thinking better thoughts can lead to living a better life. Looking at things with optimism can often make bad things less bad, which Thoreau touches upon. A lot of Thoreau’s writings are entirely based around not only nature but also the way he thinks and his own personal philosophy. Thoreau believes we are blessed to be alive no matter the circumstances and it is up to us to make the best out of what we are given in life, as he displays with his very simplistic and seemingly lonesome lifestyle.
This paragraph was super important in the sense that Thoreau’s safe place, his favorite location with his favorite sounds and scents of the trees and waters and animals, became a feeling of normalcy. When Thoreau first moved into the woods, he was in awe of everything around him, and took in everything he possibly could. However, after having the same surroundings and doing the same things day after day, Thoreau was no longer satisfied in this lifestyle he had created. He states that he thought he had more lives to live, and I think that by this he means he has very different experiences ahead of him. While the woods offered and taught Thoreau so much, he can only experience so much inside of the woods, and he realized that he had gained everything he could from this experience and it was time to move on.
This paragraph also discusses, as I mentioned in one of my earlier comments, Thoreau’s philosophy and how it intertwines with nature. He states that no matter what your life is like, you do not give up and reject it and complain about it. Thoreau believes the way to live your best life with what you are given is to face your problems head on instead of ignoring them because they will only continue to develop and get worse. Thoreau states things don’t change; we do. While you may be stuck with things and situations, you yourself are not stuck if you change your thinking.
[Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself]
This line speaks for Thoreau’s mindset.He woke up every day with the knowledge that each day was a new day and he had the opportunity to make each day better than that of before. Additionally, his connection with nature is an essential aspect of his life, something that he prioritizes mentally every morning. Thoreau’s way of life is essentially centered around nature.
This paragraph gives insight on Thoreau’s philosophy. He believes that an individual entirely has the power to change their day, not in their actions, but in how they view the actions of themselves and others. He compares the way one views life with the ability to paint a picture or carve a statute to the ability to carve or paint their perception of life. Thoreau states it is essential for every individual to make the most of his life in every possible detail, no matter how small.
A lot of Thoreau’s writing in this section reminds me of Into the Wild. I know Christopher McCandless was heavily influenced by people like Thoreau in his quest for solitude and a simple life, and it definitely shows in the writing I feel.
The opening sentence to this paragraph was very relatable for me. I could never put my finger on why, but there is something pleasant and calming about a good rain storm. My grandmother has a house on the beach, and I’ve always enjoyed being there during a storm – getting to watch the waves crash and the wind howl. Maybe it is the sense of being able to watch that form of nature from the safety of a dry shelter, but I’m not sure
As I am sure much of Thoreau’s writing will do, I continue to be reminded of Christopher McCandless. Obviously Thoreau was a main inspiration of his, so I find it interesting to read a different voice that is pushing much of the same message
This is a very interesting paragraph to me. Obviously Thoreau was arrested for not paying taxes and abiding by the laws that everyone was required to, but he also has the argument that the tax dollars do nothing for him. By living self-sufficiently, he does not rely on the government benefits that tax payments afford the average citizen.
I think this chapter shows a lot of the reason for Thoreau’s dislike of society. He doesn’t agree with the common man’s ideals and prefers his way of life; solitude. He sees the way society operates as deeply flawed and consistently aims to distance himself from it
I had never seen the term Cenobites before, but learned that refers to members of a monastic community. This means people living under religious vows, which is how many lived during the time as religions were far more prevalent than they are today.
This paragraph interested me. I remember as a young child, I always learned about birds flying south come winter time, and rarely remember seeing birds in the winter. Nowadays, I feel like I still see birds here in New Hampshire year-round. The amount is definitely far less than in the spring and summer, but I think the days of birds returning and representing the start of spring may be gone.
This is an amazing paragraph from Thoreau. His description brings the words to life and helps to paint a vivid picture for the reader. I can very easily envision a frozen pond in late winter/early spring, with the ice cracking apart and the sections of open water growing day by day
I was a big fan of this paragraph. I think it is clear that Thoreau is saying that all other species migrate and relocate regularly, so why should humans be any different. We don’t need to be bound to one location permanently. I am someone who has grown up camping and being outdoors, and have always been infatuated with a life on the road. Though I have grown up in New Hampshire and intend to remain here for the foreseeable future, I am also deeply interested in road tripping to new places within the country/continent regularly in the future.
“The life in us is like the water in the river.”
I interpreted this line as simply saying that life is ever-changing for all species, with humans being no different. Though I am not sure if this was Thoreau’s intended message, I think that is also the beauty of his writing. There is enough ambiguity at times to allow the reader to draw their own conclusions.
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.
It is interesting to notice that Walden is not as egotistically restricted to this “first person singular” as T claims it to be. Walden is indeed full of stories about other people. As an Iranian, I find it to be very similar to Rumi’s book of mystical poetry called Masnavi. In that book too, Rumi mingles his own personal journal with many stories about other people.
Had it not been for the wonders of Technology I would not have been able to study Thoreau from Iran. Technology made it possible to connect to Thoreau scholars in the US and and use their knowledge and wisdom to penetrate deep into Thoreau’s Walden and even deliver a translation of this book to my people.
[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.
I have been reading Walden for fifteen years and Emerson’s Nature for three years now. The comparison between these great books is the joy of my life.
In Nature, Emerson says, “In God, every end is converted into a new means. Thus the use of commodity, regarded by itself, is mean and squalid.” This means that there should first be an end and then a means. What Thoreau is saying here is that man has not learned this lesson from God and is fascinated by a tool as merely a tool. By becoming a tool of our tools, we not only lose our own dignity and goal in life, but we also lose our connection to God and what he truly created us for.
I am so glad that this site, The Thoreau Reader, keeps me connected to the parts of the US which I love.
Ali from Iran
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!”
This is a very magically strange characteristic for a mirror. Mirrors are supposed to reflect all the impurities presented to them back to the presenter, that is to the one who is standing before them.
In a most subtle way, Thoreau shows us here that Walden is not just for the bathing of the body, we can purify our souls in it — only if we are standing before it with honesty.
A dervish arrived at a temple and asked the doorman: “What kind of a place is this?” The doorman answered: “This is a place where you must leave envy, lust, greed, anger, hostility, meanness, rudeness, impatience and the like behind and enter.” The dervish said, “If I am able to put all these negative traits behind why would I need to enter this place anyway? I need a place where I can carry all these impurities inside with me and come out without.”
As a reader of Walden from Iran, I am surprised to see Thoreau is introducing the very place that Persian dervish was looking for.
Throughout the passage, Thoreau praises Walden Pond as a heavenly mirror emphasizing that “no storm, no dust can dim its surface ever fresh”. Why does he suddenly speak of the mirror’s need for repair?
How separate is the mirror’s surface from its gilding Nature? How can we justify the contrast between this splendid praise of the mirror’s surface and the need of its gilding Nature for continual repair? Why does the mirror’s quicksilver never wear off, while its gilding Nature continually repairs? What is the source of this flaw? What did Thoreau see? Could we miraculously look through his eyes for an instant here and discover the source of this apparent discrepancy?
Although one of the main reasons for Thoreau’s going to Walden Pond was to see the spring come in, he does not restrict himself to life in the spring only. Winter has its own virtues. New views from the surface of the firmly frozen ice are the souvenir of winter for Thoreau — and for us.
Ali (Thoreau’s friend in Iran)
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.
I have been speaking about Thoreau with American scholars for almost 15 years. You put it very beautifully: “Communication is not a physical item, but it is something that can be shared between two people.” For 15 years I have been speaking about Thoreau with many Americans. I have never seen these American friends. I have never been physically close to many of them, yet they are my soul companion. Thoreau has stitched our souls together.
I discovered digital Thoreau after extensive searching. It is a huge gift. I hope I can use it for deeper communications with America. Sadly there has not been any contract between Iran and the US for forty years. It breaks my heart.
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.
Good connection to now, Julianna. Thoreau was warning people against getting into debt (farmers or anyone), which he saw as compromising one’s freedom. Collectively, debt weakened (still weakens) a nation. But if Thoreau were alive today, he would be appalled at how consumerism ravages the land (the nation).
[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 metaphor of baskets can stand for any writer’s challenge: must I find a way to entice readers to buy my baskets (my books), just as advertising creates desires for things we don’t really need? Or can I find a way to write (or weave, or paint, or dance, etc.) without needing to make it my livelihood?
In that line and many others, he uses “civilized” with irony, as he sees judgment of people for their clothes as juvenile or un-civil(ized).
Sarah, I take it to mean a vantage point (view on the pond & life) that he doesn’t want to make public because then others would come, and its solitude and specialness would vanish. I take his “business” as writing and conducting his ‘experiment in living.’
Good point, Ainsley. While some people manage to pay off their mortgages now, it was hard to ever pay off a farm’s mortgage, so the farmers around him lived and died without being free of debt. So he sees farmhouses and ownership a lot of land as somewhat imprisoning. That’s why, down in para 51, a farmer is poorer (unfree) rather than richer for having a house.
Good point, Gavin: Thoreau emphasizes that idea of money not buying happiness a lot in this chapter. The sentence before the one you chose is also famous–he’d also rather have some space for free (sitting on a pumpkin) than be crowded in a fancy train seat.
This is a very important line (buried in this paragraph), and worth considering whenever you’re about to spend a lot of money! Thoreau didn’t want to expend any life for material things, reasonably, since his life was quite short.
well said, Kati!
Good question, Owen. Partly, he’s contrasting “human culture” to “agri-culture” in a sentence just before, and saying that once the settlers had larger farms and more crops, food, and wealth, they built big houses. That makes sense, but he would say we haven’t ‘satisfied’ our “pressing wants” yet for wiser, more meaningful lives, so we should put our energies into figuring out ourselves and our culture instead of building bigger houses. (I think that’s part of what he means anyway.)
[the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run]
I didn’t know that book, but I Googled it, and I clearly should. Thanks for that connection! And it is interesting to look at where and when it is financially wiser Not to buy a house.
Yes, Eman, much of the time he uses “civilized,” he really means ‘uncivil’ or ‘primitive’ as in, not advanced. And he is commenting on wealthy vs poor here and in the next para., who often live in terrible conditions.
yes, well said, Keera. That status-seeking in houses is most noticeable in wealthy areas, where homes have stone gates or columns, etc. As the American love of home shows (HGTV!) shows, we’re still “studying to have more” pretty objects (granite counters! entertainment rooms!)
I also love his line about throwing the things that need dusting out the window.
Oh, yes: in the case of phones, our phones (or social media, specifically) are definitely using us, harvesting our data, monopolizing our attention every moment…
True, Kenny, though he also implies that “civilized man” is still “savage” in some ways, though more experienced and wiser.
Good question, Owen. From what I’ve read, some neighbors thought he was pretty eccentric, but this passerby sounds friendly.
I think people mostly kept cats back then to kill mice in the house. But if they didn’t have a house just then, I guess they didn’t need the cat? Also, they willingly sold their shack to Thoreau, so they weren’t technically evicted, though the way they traipse away sounds sad.
You bring up a great point– the costs then and now. So, he spent just $28 dollars and 12c on the house (and he’s kind of bragging about how cheap it is to build a simple house yourself.) There’s a handy cost calculator here https://www.officialdata.org/us/inflation/1845?amount=28 that indicates his $28 would = about $960. today, which is still cheaper than your average pre-made garden shed. He lived less than half a mile from the shanty he had bought from the Irish family, so that’s how far he hauled materials.
Yes, he was not a hermit, though he was a person with fewer, very close friends, rather than a guy with multitudes of casual friends. The list of who the “acquaintances” were (under Harding’s comment) also shows that his close friends were major intellectuals of the day– yet they managed to build the house. 🙂
Yes, Brodie: It’s helpful for us to see costs, then vs now, and he included it to prove to his readers back then how cheaply one could get by, if one wanted to.
Good recap, Dylan. Do you agree with him or see college as different now?
This is another key line, worth applying to phones, x-boxes, and other pretty toys. We know they’re distractions. Which recent inventions would you say are “pretty toys” and which have brought positive advances?
[Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already too easy to arrive at]
Yes, It IS ironic! He implies education could be much more practical. And the “modern improvements,” like the telegraph and railroad, seemed not to advance or improve life in any essential way.
Nicely said, Dylan. I think he also took pleasure in making his own bread, as he did in building his own house, growing his own crops, etc. He gained a sense of accomplishment and self-sufficiency, a sense that people still get from making bread or other necessary things for themselves.
Absolutely, Ainsley. Do you think such minimalism is possible today, or desirable, or much sought after?
Yes, and often the evil haunts those still living, too, like a legacy of murder or pollution.
[I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance.]
Do we allow ourselves to daydream anymore, as a necessary route to growth, especially for the young? Or have screens replaced that idle time, which artists know is also the ground of creativity? How is this time “over and above his usual allowance” of time?
It’s a great image of “housecleaning” and of how he lives an indoor/ outdoor life.
I’m not sure why they bow instead of wave. But the train would’ve been loud, so they couldn’t have been heard if they said (or yelled) “hello.” I think the same guys work on the train each day, and they see him walking into Concord (Mass) regularly, so he’s very familiar to them, like an old acquaintance. He was about 27 at this time; the train-workers could have been any age, I guess.
Great point, Owen, let’s look at this passage and talk more in class about Thoreau’s critiques of industrial consumption of natural resources!
He was definitely a morning person! He does seem inspired by watching and hearing the train cars go by in this paragraph. He shows mixed feelings about the train and what it represents in various passages, but in this paragraph, the “iron horse” is dependable, strong, and admirable in many ways.
Great point, Ainsley: even by the 1840s, people’s days were timed and regulated by technology and markets, rather than natural cycles. He seems to have both admiration for the new, faster, precise timing of the train, and some wariness. What do you think he thinks of how this technology has changed how people live?
Very nicely put about time, Dylan. I guess nowadays, people would call that kind of absorbed listening and being “mindfulness.”
Yes! Here, and often, he’s just observing and describing the nature he sees, and it’s peaceful and just lets us experience what he saw.
Great insight, Ainsley– Farmers were increasingly unable to just get by on what they raised (like Thoreau); they needed to raise extra crops and livestock to sell at the markets, just to stay out of debt. That time was called “the Market Revolution.”
Good quote and point, Sofie! Ainsley commented similarly a couple boxes above. I know for me, not waking to an alarm = vacation.
Good point, Kenny! It seems like all the noise and excitement associated with the train leave him feeling more alone than if it hadn’t gone by at all, like the quiet after a party.
Well said, Sofie. I assume the fish would feel the trains rumbling. I know I see birds out my window fly away before a car comes into sight on the road, because they feel or hear it coming. Imagine how all our human noises stress all creatures beyond their usual high alert for predators!
Steven, Earlier, you noted his description of hawks. Here, he’s similarly describing real owls, but also imagining that they symbolically represent human emotions:
[They represent the stark twilight and unsatisfied thoughts which all have.]
I think he IS enthusiastic about owls (and all nature) and also seeing further meaning in them.
What wild birds would you like to see domesticated, Sully?
Here I think he’s talking about roosters, and imagining if they were “naturalized without being domesticated,” which I guess would mean they would roam in the woods and crow wherever they went. (people might come out and shoot them to shut them up…)
He speaks often about waking at dawn, greeting every morning, and living fully, and I think that’s why he imagines naturalized roosters, to wake us all up, but I’m not sure if there’s some sarcasm in here, too, where he says, “rise earlier and earlier and become unspeakably healthy, wealthy, and wise” (mocking Ben Franklin’s advice there:
“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”)
Nice connection, Kati. I can really picture similar lovely evenings by water, too.
Definitely. And there were still some wild animals around at night in the 1800s in Concord, Mass, that one could fear–even now, in some places. But you’re right, it’s not just unknown animals, it’s just The Unknown that makes us nervous.
That last sentence of yours is spot on–and that was his goal: think about everything to figure out life’s meaning.
Yes! I love this passage. Most people think of how rain affects them; he thinks of how it affects nature, first. And if it’s good for nature, it’s good for him.
Yes– he does look for meaning in Everything, to figure out life and himself.
Nice job, Sofie & Dylan: excellent observations and comments.
I guess it depends on the person, but if you’re in a good mood (your own thoughts to cheer you), then see people complaining or criticizing on social media or in the news (“the society of gossips”), it’s probably wise to click away before it drags you down.
Good analysis, Dylan. This part of the chapter is more difficult and ‘metaphysical’ than the rest. And yes, he doesn’t feel lonely in part because he / we can think as spectators on our own experience, almost like splitting into two, the one living and the one thinking.
Both great comments on this paragraph, Rebecca and Kati!
Great readings of this paragraph, Sofie, Anna, and Olivia–we’ll talk about it in class. I think a lot about “that old musty cheese that we are” in quarantine…
And Olivia, I can’t figure out how to delete unwanted second posts either…:)
Well put, Danna: he’s happy about rain not only as a farmer would be (to serve his needs for crops to grow), but as part of nature himself: when the grass or ecosystem’s needs are met, it benefits all land, animals, and us (and God’s creation).
Good analysis, Keera: this is not an easy passage. Nicely put: “the world is larger than we interpret it to be.”
Nice comments, Keera and Sarah. This is a love letter to nature, which keeps him company and connects him to all life. A reader can also feel exactly the sort of early spring or June afternoon-evening he describes, when we “imbibe delight through every pore” and don’t want to go inside.
Yes! I would just add the ancient “spirit” of the landscape (incarnated as “an old settler & original” owner).
[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]
Great comments, everyone! A little gossip is “homeopathic”- small doses (of something toxic or disease-inducing) used as medicine, or just a balance between the woods & people. This part also balances the Solitude chapter —
which one are you looking at, Owen?
I really like it, too. And next time you’re walking on a dark night, try this, & look up at the path between the treetops, (though he does mean more than finding our way home).
Lots of good points, questions, and objections in here! Let’s talk about this in class, since why he went to jail matters, and Rebecca’s objection is worth discussing, too.
I agree with you, Ethan. This is one of those spots where his statement is, at best, only partly true, and worth debating.
Great comments above, folks. He does view village life anthropologically: “I went there frequently to observe their habits.” His time in the woods has given him a certain remove from society, and animals are now his baseline neighbors and humans are the curiosities. And yes, Liam, he sees the ads and signs as meant to catch him like a fish. Ads still aim to snag us–
Yes, good spotting of the metaphor here: his body sails its path home, “leaving only my outer man at the helm.” What do you think he’s getting at?
[Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves]
As Harding notes above, this line alludes to Matthew 10.39. It’s worth looking at all of Matthew 10, to see why T chose that verse here: what is he saying about the village, in light of Matthew? Or is he only lightly borrowing from that text for this line, and not making a larger argument about those who will and won’t be saved?
Yes! or without taking the time to gather some evidence for themselves. Then again, he’s thankful the pond is “deep and pure for a symbol” (of ?)
maybe you need to live near a big lake to hear this, but I’ve heard it. As Kenny said, the ice cracks and booms and it’s Loud!
Great connection, Sofie! That’s both a literary move- to see such cycles symbolically- and a Romantic idea that all these patterns (human, seasonal, animal, vegetative) were divinely created to mirror each other.
So, I am Not any kind of bird expert, but Yes & No. Some birds are finding it unnecessary to migrate because they can find enough food, due to lack of snow cover, and water, due to now unfrozen water. But other birds still migrate, though their timing and routes may be changing. For Birders, certain birds’ return still marks the start of spring. Hummingbirds, for instance.
He’s citing the word for lobe in Greek, to trace word origins, looking for patterns in words as well as earth’s images.
He’s punning. You can say that someone is “pregnant with” ideas or anticipation, meaning just “full to bursting.” Here, since he’s referring to the word lobe, he connects it to the words globe and labor (as in work OR giving birth) and envisions each living thing as bursting with life/ giving birth to leaves, animals, life in spring.
wonderful question, Valerie! I’m not sure he and others had a sense of which plants were native or invasive back then, since not as many plants had been classified, but you or I could try to find out! Also, I think (?) that invasion of invasives is a relatively new problem: I’ve seen it happen intensely in the last 20 years, but I recall clearcuts before 2000 that grew back with pioneer species like poplar, but not so many invasives like multiflora rose and bittersweet.
Nice attention to details, Rebecca. I can imagine, after a long Mass winter back then, that the robin would seem to have been gone a long time. I think he’s also pointing to Nature’s eternal cycles, far beyond a human or bird’s life.
Good point, Kenny. This is an important passage, too, so thanks for picking it out.
Yes, good points Kati and Olivia! And I like the idea of not comparing oneself to previous generations either. Just be the best you can!
Well said, Kati! And Thoreau would agree. He’s concluding the book here and this idea comes around from Ch 1, but it’s an important one throughout the book.
The way you put that, Olivia, makes me think of a certain ex-President with toilets made of gold.
Yes & yes. Some readers, then and now, are put off by the ambiguity of his writing. People asked him, even while he was alive, to write more simply: to offer more usable “Guides to Simple Living.” But he didn’t want to tell people how to live. He wanted a reader just like you –to draw his own conclusions, be inspired in his own way. One of the things I love most about Walden is how I take different ideas from it every time I read it, and I’ve been reading it off and on for 30 years… The ambiguity and density are what make that possible.
Well said, Ainsley. Given that he had TB and financial constraints, he lived that advice.
Yes! ‘Rich’ in time, and rich with the confidence to say ‘no thanks’ to the things commercial culture tells us to care about.
Very nicely put, Caleb!
I love that line, too. Very nice analysis, Keera.
Yes, it must be back in Economy: he dug a cellar that used part of an old woodchuck den. Some houses around here still have “root cellars” outside, or in unheated parts of a basement.
Yes, that’s a gorgeous passage, and you would know, dwelling beside a lake yourself.
[Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep]
“Sleep” here seems to be defined as “sleepwalking through life” or just following tradition and convention, and “moral reform” –of society or oneself? or both? –requires fully waking up, to see with new eyes, and change.
[One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications? To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea. Yet not a few are greedy after this gossip.]
Kati, I read this less as Thoreau keeping out bad news than saying all news repeats the same old stories/ gossip. He’s interested in general “principles” or rules to live by, rather than a particular story of what happened somewhere. (He prefers philosophy to the news.)
It’s inspired and inspiring. Some people read Walden as claiming he was far from everyone and everything, but I think he’s saying he just got enough distance to get some perspective on life, so it felt like he was “far off” even though he was just outside town –Like going camping for a weekend .
That’s a great- and hard- question. He uses that word “Genius” to mean something like our Soul or Imagination or Inner / True Self. Other “Romantic” writers used it, too, to mean an original, inner self, unchanged by society. So here, he’s hoping to rise each day and be focused, purposeful, and live fully.
Exactly! Well said, Ainsley!
Yes, absolutely, Sofie! He recommends paying close attention every day and also keeping an “expectation of the dawn,” a belief in the chance, always, for continued growth and renewal in our lives.
Exactly, Dylan! Ainsley from our class also commented on these lines a couple comments up. Can you see that? And she wrote a similar response. 🙂 Great minds…
We do see much more violence in the news than he did. He’s suggesting also, though, that news is essentially gossip, since it repetitively tells us “what happened” but rarely asks or answers “why?” (One could certainly argue with his view or characterization of news…)
Spot on, Keera, and that idea of reawakening runs throughout Walden. One indication that we live mechanically is how hard it is to remember what we did two days ago–
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.
I find this paragraph intriguing since many poor people now would have admired Walden\’s work. Families on the low income status now a days don\’t try to rob creditors of hours. Today low-economic families would be trying to make enough money to survive. I do not agree with Walden\’s point on living mean and sneaky lives, if he was not able to experience them himself. People never really give low economic humans a chance to prove themselves before being criticized. Poor people always get a bad rap, and Walden is not helping at all with this. To me it is like when technology was first created, and many people wanted nothing to do with it and the idea was immediately rejected.
Yes people and technology are two different things but the concepts of rejection to new ideas, are still present today and should change. If poor people still did not get the bad reputation they have today we could all be at peace for once. I am also not trying to make Walden seem mellicious with saying this however, I think that this point did not have to be made in his book.
If technology has had the same form of discussion today, then why has it become such a positive influence on life, but talking about poor people hasn\’t?
Why is technology so important and how can we make our lives simpler by adjusting to change, and not having negative reactions to them?
When it comes to communication on this campus there is not a positive or informational impact from the administration aspect. When anything related to campus news comes out for the campus, everything goes haywire. For example, bringing communiation and knowledge about the library this semester has not had a positive impact on this campus. Overall, our enrollment rate is decreasing and our transfer out rate is increasing because the information about a possible renovation was not given to us.
The open forum where we were able to communicate our issues was not helpful, since the communication from administration was not thought out, and really just beat around the bush with certain issues. I think if administration tried to get more information from how students actually feel on campus about issues, we would easily be able to start a positive impact on our communication as a campus and a community.
When talking about books in English literature it is hard to really classify what is a “good” book and what is not. If good books are not read by good readers then how are they considered good books.
Even the college-bred and so called liberally educated men here and elsewhere have really little or no acquaintance with the English classics; and as for the recorded wisdom of mankind, the ancient classics and Bibles, which are accessible to all who will know of them, there are the feeblest efforts any where made to become acquainted with them.
When good books are being classified, how does the process begin. Is there a list, or an overall bias toward good books based on the author(s) that have written the book. If the liberal men who are grading our books to make a list of them haven’t even read the classics then how are they able to tell the difference.
Also, the point on Easy Reading to me is not relevant. If Thoreau classifies them as easy reading then why are we still using them to read today. I would understand if they were put for children to read, but if they are not easy it will be difficult for this to happen.
In class since everything is online now, why would books even need to be read at this point. Since we can find almost everything online, then why would we need to keep copies of the classics, and even keep libraries around in the future ?
I like in paragraph 14 that Thoreau starts mentioning being alone. I think that Thoreau can actually start forming a bond with the audience that he is overall given as many details to this story as possible. The affect that the seclusion has on him is finally showing and honestly helps me connect more with the story.
I also agree with the meditation aspect of this paragraph. Meditation is a good way to channel you inner aspects of the loneliness you are feeling and be able to overcome them. I think this point also relates to trying to perfect everything you do with you laptop in this class. It may take you a long time to do it, but after that, the process becomes easy and overall makes the class pretty enjoyable.
I think this paragraph is the most important to me because of the emphasis of pulling yourself away from technology. I think the shown importance of finding yourself and values in space is good for everyone to know. I think that being able to find your happiness mentally and emotionally will improve the disengagement from technology. Giving yourself the time to step away from technology helps make life more realistic and can improve the knowledge of not needing technology readily available. Since I am a college student now, technology has become a necessity, but is not the only thing I need in my life.
I do agree with taking a break from technology, but I do not think it needs to be as extreme as it is mentioned in this paragraph. People use technology to figure out where to go and how to determine the weather, or if any major tragedy is occurring. If you do what Milton has suggested we would end up living like hunters and gathers (to a certain extent) instead of working as a whole society and being independent. I do think that we need to take a break from technology, but should still be able to keep it available for emergencies, not for social media use 24/7.
I have chosen to talk about this paragraph for fluid text influence because to me the change of the text was the most captivating. Certain phrases throughout the first two sentences changed my aspect on the details throughout the journey he took during his writing. The fluid text given to us has helped me understand the peaceful message that Walden was trying to give us, and some sentences I liked more in the fluid version than in this version. I specifically liked when he was talking about the waves sending him through the journey quickly. I also being able to click on specific parts of a sentence to see the changes given and overall understand why Walden decided to make those chagnes.
I also like that throughout all of the passages you can see that some paragraphs did not need to be edited at all and can see how those paragraphs also affected the changes in other paragraphs.
This passage of Solitude helps me realize what types of isolation everyone can go through at any given moment. With the way technology is today it should be easy for people to be able to connect and have a good social life. But that is not the case for some people. Which makes me think about the chair analogy that is brought into this paragraph. It makes me think of friending someone on social media, 1st chair. the second is liking or commenting on posts. the third chair is used when you actually message them or meet up in person and start to form a genuine connection. If you were to ever become famous the sentences following would apply largely to you since most people who come to visit you are unexpectantly large. Technology does have a hand in who becomes famous or not, but sometimes its just based on pure luck of being in the right place at the right time.
Thoreau is making me feel nostalgic in this paragraph as well as self aware. Not everyone or everything in your life is going to go well the first time. This reminded me of him talking about the trees. The trees that fell overall were showing that you cant keep everyone around you all the time. If they (trees) are bringing you down, you have to leave them behind and keep growing by yourself. This also makes me feel joy in knowing that everyone uses as many resources as they can, even if others do not think that it would be beneficial for a certain group to use. This paragraph also makes me wonder what others consider a resource or a burden to the world. Are the dead tree stumps a resource, or a burden for landowners?
[ I had gone down to the woods for other purposes. But, wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate odd-fellow society.]
This part of this section is the most interesting to me because of the issues going on in our country and the world today. Currently our president is saying that the “Chinese virus” is just something that we all need to relax about. But sadly, most of us cannot relax without having the information given to us. Men are not helping give us the information we are asking for, or any updates for how much medicine or actual procautions need to be taken for any of this to stop. This country alone is in shambles because we are not taking steps like other countries who are now doing better, despite this viral pandemic occurring. We are not trying to constrain any “man” to a certain society but we would like to have everyone on an equal damn playing field.
I think this passage relates to time since multiple sentences relate back to the physicality of the sunset, and a clock. “the pond rises and falls” the time on a clock goes around to rise and fall in the day. The sun rises and falls every day. Commonly higher in the winter and lower in the summer, just like a sunset takes longer in the summer and is shorter in the winter. “the pond has risen steadily for two years” is related to the amount of climate change occurring on the planet today, and how much time we do not have left if we don’t do something.
I think this passage helps discuss the current situation occurring across the globe. The rainbow of this year is the start of a new semester and everyone saying that “2020 is going to be my year”. Then the descriptions of the sentence after is the wildfires in Australia and most recently this virus. When I first found out about this virus, I was nervous for when it was going to hit the US. And as fate would have it, now we have become the top country in the world with the highest number of cases. And the sentences following about the delay, to me, is in line with the precautions being taken in the country and in NY alone. I think that after this entire delay is over, I think we should use this to see all of the little things in life, and live in the moment. To all of the people who do not believe this, it is not a hoax, and this is a national pandemic that should not be taken lightly.
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.
I found this passage significant and can see the theme of solitude clearly. He is talking about how routine the daily “tasks” of having connections with other people seems sometimes. I think sometimes this is the case when we come out of our room just to eat 3 meals a day as the author says, it seems routine and careless. The last sentence such out to me as well- I interpret it as saying the value of people is what is in the inside in some way.
This short paragraph I found a bit confusing as a whole due to the language but he first line was interesting. Saying that we are subjects of an experiement when referring to people in life is something I have heard before. Thoreau tends to have a different perspective on life than most and this definitely proves this.
I also find it interested that Thoreau enjoyed watching the people gossiping in the village. It seems like it is just human nature even if he believes there is other things he should spend his time with. On the other hand he is just observing life around him whether it be nature or people and not living by any schedule or rule book.
This paragraph is particularly interesting because Thoreau refers to life as an “experiment to a great extent untried by me”, which is a unique perspective. He recognizes and acknowledges the value in what those of older age have to say, but he declares that he will not live by it. Thoreau goes on to state that while advice from an older person cannot be applied to your own life, because even if the situations are similar, your lives are drastically different. He’s reminding us, the readers, to take into consideration that advice we’re given by the wiser souls, but to, in the end, make a decision based off of our own thoughts, feelings, and context.
My group has decided to use this particular section of economy for our revisions/timeline, and it’s interesting to see what differences there are between version A and this current version. Thoreau is definitely wordier in the original manuscript – there are entire sections of sentences that were crossed out. For example, after the sentence “Others have been curious to learn what portion of my income…” Thoreau had originally written, “Some had not come to my house because I lived there. Others have come – because I lived there – and others again, because I lived there.” This section was taken out of both version A and this version. Version A is still wordy, but this copy is infinitely less so, and its interesting to see exactly what sentences were deemed unnecessary.
What caught my eye about this paragraph was when Thoreau stated that there are no longer philosophers in this world, but rather only professors of philosophy. This is an interesting statement because it is true, but not a distinction that many people can make. Walden was written in 1846, and Thoreau is referring to the philosophers that were ancient then, and even more ancient to us now – Socrates, Aristotle, etc. In today’s modern society, I don’t think there are any real philosophers. There are, of course, the innovative thinkers that write things that can shift the course of society, but nothing is strong/powerful enough to entirely shift a society’s way of thinking.
Thoreau strikes up an interesting (but not uncommon) comparison between those who speak (orators) and those who write. His stance is that orators speak because it’s the only method to have everyone hear what they want to say. Writers, on the other hand, write because they know that those who have the capacity to understand their work will, no matter what age or background. Thoreau highlights the difference between hearing and understanding – hearing is an involuntary action, it’s not possible just to shut off your ears. They hear everything. So whether you like it or not, the orator has your attention. However, while many people may be listening to the orator, the majority will leave unaffected by what they just heard, and forget about it. Writing however, opens up a new door: reading is a voluntary action, you have to want to and allow yourself to read and understand the words on a paper. It forces you to think… which is why Thoreau chose to write Walden as a book, instead of touring the country and making speeches.
Earlier in the semester, we discussed in class the sentence, “Much is published, but little printed.” Those who talked in class didn’t come to a distinct conclusion – some believed Thoreau was not referring to physical printing at all, but rather the impression that is left on people and their minds. The quote refers to the sheer amount of text and media that is published every year, but a large amount of published work continues to go unnoticed. Its easy to publish work, but it is infinitely harder to publish work that has a lasting and meaningful effect on those who consume it.
The first half of this paragraph is Thoreau talking about his experience of summer living at Walden. Thoreau recalls that he often sat in the sun, lost in the warmth of the rays and his own continuous thoughts, so much so that it would take a wagon passing by to be “reminded of the lapse of time.” This is something that I can (and I think everyone, to some extent) can relate to. Losing track of time is so easy, especially when everything around you is peaceful and warm, and the environment just lends itself to your thoughts. To be entirely honest, it’s times like these that I do my best thinking.
[ had this advantage, at least, in my mode of life, over those who were obliged to look abroad for amusement, to society and the theatre, that my life itself was become my amusement and never ceased to be novel. It was a drama of many scenes and without an end. If we were always indeed getting our living, and regulating our lives according to the last and best mode we had learned, we should never be troubled with ennui.]
A while ago in group discussion, a classmate had mentioned how she perceived this quote as evident of Thoreau’s pretentiousness – I disagree (although he can be pretentious, that is a fact). I interpreted this section of the paragraph as Thoreau explaining to the reader that he found joy in his every day life. Doing mundane activities like house chores or cooking or simply thinking brought him all the pleasure that someone who frequents the theatre might have. It can almost sound like a slam against those who choose to live in a society and drive happiness from things that are, objectively, novel and unimportant to every day life, but I think otherwise. Thoreau isn’t ridiculing those who choose to live like that, but rather he’s asking them to have a modicum of self-awareness, and try to live in the moment, rather than vicariously through something.
[Who can write so graphically the history of the storms they have weathered as these rents have done? They are proof-sheets which need no correction. ]
I don’t know if this was Thoreaus original intention, but the way I interpreted this was calling out those who tend to rewrite history as they see fit, despite the real story being within plain sight. It doesn’t take much to fact-check yourself, as well as make sure your sources are reliable, but many people seem to think that twitter and Instagram are good places to get their news – and while this isn’t necessarily the worst thing, it more often than not leads to misunderstandings, blown out of proportion rumors, and misinformation of anyone who chooses to take what they read at face value (which is a surprisingly high amount). Thoreau is saying here that there’s no better source than the original one – the evidence is there, ready to be discovered, but many people refuse to go out and find it.
The way I interpret this section is that Thoreau is finally experiencing what it’s like to feel lonely, and be aware of it. Being alone is normal to him – it’s how he wakes up, how he eats, how he does his chores. He is living alone in an isolated area, and he chose that for himself. In a situation like that, its easy to almost forget that company exists, and that it’s something he’s missing. But on this particular day in Thoreau’s narrative, the sounds of passing cars, people, and travelers were his company, as opposed to his thoughts. It’s easy not to miss something you aren’t normally used to, but it’s harder to go back after experiencing the other side. Thoreau is feeling lonely for the first time, because, for the first time, he is acknowledging the absence of company.
This first paragraph is the one I chose as my fluid text example, because in reading both the original and that of version A, I noticed some striking differences. The message overall still rings true, and is seen in both versions: that though time may feel paused in the woods, in such an isolated and serene part of the forest, life continues on, and seasons continue to change. Time, although it often feels abstract, is a constant, and always moving forward. One change I noticed was in the first sentence, when “the whole body is one sense” is changed to “the whole body seems to be one sense” in version A. This is interesting because it takes the state of the body from being a fact to being a subjective thing. It forces the reader to acknowledge that what they’re reading is a subjective reality of the narrator, and is not entirely fact.
I commented on this paragraph as a whole a couple of weeks ago, but reading through it again, I’m noticing a pattern in the way Thoreau addresses nature as a concept. Without missing a beat, Thoreau has capitalized every mention of the word Nature, referring to it as almost a sentient being, with a working mind and agenda. He’s essentially made Nature into it’s own pronoun. I’ve seen this done in other literary texts before – often with Hope or Faith or Love, and when done well, I genuinely enjoy it as a literary device. Thoreau uses it well, especially because the entirety of Walden is relating to Nature and it’s relationship with humankind.
This paragraph is particularly interesting to me because Thoreau manages to put into words a concept that I’ve had trouble articulating in the past. I’m a weird introvert – I love talking to people, socializing, etc. But only for short amounts of time. After that, once my social energy runs out, there is nothing more that I want than to be alone and by myself. Spending time alone because you want to has been made into a sort of stereotype in our society – the only people that willingly seek out alone time are shy, introverted, unfriendly. But Thoreau understands that this is simply not true, and tells the reader that in being alone leaves you with “the world to darkness and to me.”
What Thoreau is trying to say here is that more often than not, humans live for their next interaction, rather than the moments in between. The line that puts it best is, “We…give each other a new taste of that old musty cheese that we are.” This is a fabulous comparison – with every routine interaction with each other, we have nothing new to offer – we are, in fact, musty old cheese.
Reading through Walden consistently gives me the inspiration to go out and do that which I dream about, and find adventure along the way. This paragraph in particular talks about “coming home from afar…with new experiences and character”, but in our current situation that is not possible. The time that we have been given due to this virus and quarantine almost parallels that of Henry Thoreau and his isolation from society. Obviously we are not nearly as isolated nor solitary, but being that our ability to go out and socialize has been taken away from us, many people have been left with just their thoughts, and are learning for the first time just how surreal and eye-opening it is to think deeper.
This is SUCH an interesting paragraph – The metaphor Thoreau strikes up about a bedroom being a cell, a prison, instead of living quarters – how sectioning off the house is almost a sinister way to live, with suspicious amounts of privacy. The part that resonated with me the most was, “where a guest is to be presented with the freedom of the house, and not to be carefully excluded from seven-eighths of it.” Thoreau’s suddenly make me suspicious of my own house, my own bedroom that I’m currently sitting in. He just put living into an entirely new perspective – why live in a house if you’re going to exclude yourself from experiencing it? I always assumed that having a house to own – a piece of land – is freeing. You have your own space, and no one can reside without your permission, but now that I’m looking at my own house…a prison with cells doesn’t seem like a bad comparison. That’s not to mean I dislike the house I live in if anything I adore it – it’s old and cute and has character! But I could just as easily live there if it were one room. There’s no need for the divisions.
One of the points that my group studied for the final project was Thoreau’s revisions in terms of language and diction – this paragraph, when compared to itself in Version C, isn’t so significantly different – however, Thoreau made a variety of edits. He seemed to be indecisive on phrases such as “uncluttered”, “not cluttered”, “empty”, etc. He wrote down and crossed out many different versions of the same phrase, and eventually settled on none of them. Thoreau did this multiple times throughout the paragraph, and his revisions overall, which is incredibly interesting because it plays into the stereotype that he is a perfectionist.
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.”
When Thoreau talks about old people, he says they have no valuable information to pass on to the younger generation: “They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me any thing, to the purpose. Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by me…” As much as I agree with his view, I also disagree. When we are born, old people give us as much knowledge as possible so by the time we go to school and are educated, we know more than they do, because we have learned everything they taught us, and then some. However, old people have gone through most of life at this point and, let’s say he is talking about retired people, they either regret their course because they have worked their whole life and never appreciated anything, or they are happy with what they’ve done and have a big family or something. however, people have different values, and just because someone is old and happy with their lives, does not mean that somebody younger will find happiness from doing the same thing. listening to what older people have to say is somewhat like studying the humanities; it is a story of how another person lived. However, young people have their whole lives ahead of them and have yet to choose their path. So when Thoreau says, “I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors”, he means that he will find out what brings him happiness on his own, and their stories may go against what he believes in.
When Thoreau talks about how he hears the wind blowing on the pages, I can very much relate with it. This is a calming, peaceful noise, as evident by the words “free wind”. When I was younger, I would prefer to read outside. I would take a pillow up to the roof of my house and sit there for hours, feeling the sun on my skin as the wind whistles through the pages. Many sounds that Thoreau hears are unaffected by technology, considering how he lives as simply as possible in the woods away from civilization. However, in my life, I am constantly hearing technology affecting me. I hear the squeaky buzz of electricity running through an outlet, the computer generated voices that call my phone, the audio of a video or song coming out of my speakers, and so much more.
In the first paragraph, Thoreau talks about the peacefulness of walking about the lake alone, looking at the reflective water and feeling calmed. In the fourth paragraph, he talks about being stuck inside the house due to rain. when this happens, he is again calmed and not feeling melancholy. I feel the same way when I am alone. I too have taken long, slow walks around a pond, or sat inside the house alone with my thoughts because of rain. Many people do not like to be alone with their mind, but I find it peaceful. It is like therapy or meditation. The main difference between the way Thoreau spends his alone time and how I spend mine is technology. While Thoreau will sit in his house in silence, I prefer to have music playing. I am still focusing on my thoughts, or even nothing at all, but I enjoy the background noise.
Right off the bat, this passage starts off different than most of the rest. While most passages are about solitariness or criticizing the way some others might live, this starts off with him saying he loves society. This is a little ironic considering he went to live as far away from society as he can for two years. The overall sound of this section is different too, it almost seems busier, with words like “souls”, and “exclaim”, and even with the quotes of conversations.
Thoreau knows everything about this pond. He knows the size of it, he knows the few colors it turns, he knows what it looks like up close compared to what it looks like far away. Thoreau obviously spent a lot of time at this pond. This paragraph is a good example of showing time because the color will be different in the spring or summer than it would in the summer. In the winter, it would look completely different, especially if it freezes over. He even knows what it looks like from the mountains. Thoreau obviously spent a lot o time at this pond.
Now more than ever, I am in my own head. Stuck at home all day with nobody to see and nowhere to go is starting to drive me a little bit crazy. Even with homework, video games, and Netflix, there is still a lot of time with absolutely nothing to do. So, I begin to think about life, or nature, or other lives. This paragraph is basically something i already thought about a couple days ago. Living in the woods, even with the gardening, hiking, and meditating, Thoreau probably has a lot of time to do nothing, so, he sits there and contemplates life.
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.
It is difficult to begin without borrowing, but perhaps it is the most generous course thus to permit your fellow-men to have an interest in your enterprise. The owner of the axe, as he released his hold on it, said that it was the apple of his eye. I immediately think of the golden rule treat others the way you want to be treated. If you borrow something from someone bring it back better than you got it. Also when he said to permit a fellow man to invest in your enterprise, it made me immediately think of going to ask someone to help you maybe start a business often times going to someone who already has knowledge that can invest that information into you to help.
FOr me it seems like simplistic is a staple that never leaves his writing no matter what
For me the pencil kind of stands out for me while everything else is a type of flower there is just a random pencil.
I feel like hes trying to say that there is no limit to what we can do and that if we just think in a different way we can unlock our potential.
[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?
Though this part seemed pretty dramatic I definitely thought it was cool that he seems to be talking about not living a life you don’t enjoy.
Seems to be pointing out the flaws of society about how living in these larger groups is not good for you especially when you are being deprived of enjoying nature. He does offer a solution here which is about where he lives but this isn’t necessarily practical for all people.
[Men say that a stitch in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches today to save nine tomorrow.]
Really enjoyed looking at his line because after I looked it up to get a better understanding figured out it’s about procrastination and how problems can build up which I have been guilty of at times.
[To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.]
Thought this quote was very applicable towards our lives in the present and our issues with news/media currently.
[I sometimes despair of getting any thing quite simple and honest done in this world by the help of men.]
I could definitely agree with this statement if he is talking about repetitive almost mind-numbing tasks and how many times these are more painful to do because there is no thinking involved.
[And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it]
This quote reminded me of the book Rich Dad Poor Dad that talks about financial literacy which is interesting to see something written so long ago making similar points about houses being a liability and not an asset.
Seeing the actual number of the certain materials he used was really interesting along with the prices too. I was definitely surprised these were included but was a nice addition to the paragraph.
[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
[ As I walked in the woods to see the birds and squirrels, so I walked in the village to see the men and boys; instead of the wind among the pines I heard the carts rattle.]
In this quote, and the following sentences, Thoreau talks about the correlation between nature and the nearby town. This sets a tone for the whole chapter as he discusses the differences between watching wild animals go about their day, versus humans with our more complex daily regiments. In this paragraph he says, “…a village of busy men, as curious to me as if they had been prairie dogs,” showing that despite his time living and participating with society, he did not understand it fully.
[ 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]
Abolitionism was still in its early stages even in the north in the 1840’s, and even though slavery had not existed in Massachusetts for some time, this quote still highlights slavery’s existance in America.
[and set sail from some bright village parlor or lecture room, with a bag of rye or Indian meal upon my shoulder, for my snug harbor in the woods, having made all tight without and withdrawn under hatches with a merry crew of thoughts, leaving only my outer man at the helm, or even tying up the helm when it was plain sailing.]
This idea of equating walking home with your thoughts as sailing is a very interesting concept. Sailing at the time was still done with a sail, meaning you would be directed by the wind to your destination. Similarly Thoreau seems to be walking home with his thoughts and is on auto pilot, not paying attention to his journey.
” I found thus that I had been a rich man without any damage to my poverty.”
I feel this is one of the most powerful lines, as Thoreau shows that riches does not necessarily come from wealth. He bought the farm, and land was seen as wealth. The man he bought it from offered to buy it back, and then some to pay for the trouble. But rather than seek his own welfare, Thoreau gave the man his farm back for the original price, making him rich for assisting a fellow human, without losing the humanity that comes with poverty.
“This small lake was of most value as a neighbor in the intervals of a gentle rain storm in August, when, both air and water being perfectly still, but the sky overcast, mid-afternoon had all the serenity of evening,” This is just great imagery about how he enjoys the lake his shack is built by, and the general ambiance of the area in the calm before the storm.
“Though the view from my door was still more contracted, I did not feel crowded or confined in the least” this quote talks about how the view from his front door is restricted, likely due to the difficulty and complexity of glass working causing thick or low quality glass in his windows. He discusses that despite the poor view from his window, he still feels free and in the open.
Paragraph 1: Last semester I took Professor Cooper’s English 368 Connections in Recent Literature: Unplugged and ParaDigitial class and examined the relationship between books and technology. On the first day of class, we talked about how Thoreau was actually much closer to civilization than it seems in his writing. Although I cannot find the original map that I saw on my first day of class, this map also demonstrates that even though Thoreau was somewhat “tucked away” he was still decently close to civilization. He talks about occasionally catching people off the train to hear the town’s gossip, something he cannot resist. He also mentions occasionally wandering into town for the human connection that he sometimes yearned for. I believe that this is an interesting point to bring into his first chapter “Economy” because he talks to the reader about how he builds his own house that is meant to be so distant from society but in reality it is quite the opposite. This relates strongly to technology today because even people that claim they want to be distant from the innovations we are creating as a society are still somehow connected to technology in some way. Technology has a huge influence on our society and there is almost no way of having total seclusion from the world or from the devices we have invented and are still working on today.
I found this paragraph extremely interesting and relevant to the world today. Thoreau talks about how man only needs the necessities, but craves and yearns for the luxuries. Today, people in our society are always reaching for the best of the best. People update their iPhones every year, will spend hundreds (or thousands of dollars) for the newest technology, and focus on getting the latest and greatest technology. In Thoreau’s writing, we see that he truly attempts to live off necessities and appreciates that. However, technology can be beneficial to people around the world with food insecurity. Websites like free rice are easy ways to use technology in a positive way to provide grains of rice to people who need it. Although this meal is not luxurious like people in our society want, it helps provide the basic needs of a diet and allows people in need to have food in their stomachs. We should all appreciate the food we have because other people may struggle to get the foods we dislike.
If you would like to donate rice (for free) here is the link! https://freerice.com
Within the first two pages of her essay, Ms. Hayles discusses how “the NEA chairman, Dana Gioia, suggests that the correlation between decreased literacy reading and poorer reading ability is indeed a causal connection” (Hayles 2). I believe this statement can be tied into Thoreau’s chapter, “Reading” in Walden and to our everyday lives. My generation has grown up using technology. I took computer classes as early as second grade and have been using an iPhone since I was twelve. Technology is a huge part of our lives that is both beneficial and not concerning literature and reading. It is fantastic that I can read Walden online and connect with people from all around the world. However, most people opt for spending time on digital streaming websites or games of some sort instead of reading. In this respect, people read a lot less now than they have done in the past. Thoreau writes that “Most men are satisfied if they read or hear read, and perchance have been convicted by the wisdom of one good book…” (Thoreau 13). Although people are still reading for pleasure, there are many more outlets of entertainment we can go to.
Thoreau was very lucky to have this disconnected experience by Walden pond. In paragraph five of “Sounds,” Thoreau talks about the birds that fly past his window. He writes, “As I sit at my window this summer afternoon, hawks are circling about my clearing; the tantivy of wild pigeons, flying by two and threes athwart my view, or perching restless on the white-pine boughs behind my house, gives a voice to the air…” (Thoreau 14). I love the sounds of different birds because I do not hear them very often. Occasionally I will find a pretty blue bird or a robin outside my window, but I am used to seeing geese and pigeons, birds who do not make particularly pleasant sounds in my opinion. I am from downstate New York, where it is extremely populated. It is a far drive for me to go somewhere wooded or away from the main roads. When I do, I feel what Thoreau prompts us to feel when he writes this text, the power of disconnecting and truly listening to your senses around you. Last year in Professor Cooper’s 368 ParaDigital class, we spent one class “doing nothing.” Before coming to that class, we read an article about how it is socially unacceptable to sit somewhere and do exactly that, nothing. Professor Cooper challenged us to find somewhere on campus where we could sit and just concentrate on our thoughts. This experience taught me to identify the feelings and senses around me: what do I feel? What do I hear? What are some of the thoughts I would like to think about? I encourage everyone to try this activity because it truly allows your mind to gather and be pulled away from the screen for thirty minutes or so.
Leila, this is such a thoughtful comment! I feel that reading truly takes a reader into a whole different world. Because of the current state our world is in, I have tried to set aside time to disconnect. As I mentioned in my blog post, I have been trying new skills and reading more because of this time. I love to sit on the couch with my dog and read for an hour or so because it gives me the opportunity to go into another world for that small amount of time. Even if the environment around me is not totally silent, I am not bothered because the books I have been reading are so engaging that I feel silence, calmness, and stillness around me.
In our society, it is not often that we do have complete alone time. Because of the technological advancements we created, even when we are alone we never truly are disconnected. One way we can disconnect is by turning our phones and devices off or setting time limits on certain applications. Thoreau values alone time because he does not see solitude as lonely. It is a time to reflect on our thoughts and emotions about the world around us. Being alone is often portrayed as a negative feeling, however, that does not always have to be the case. For introverts, alone time lets them recharge or rest after social situations.
I agree with Christina’s point completely. After reading “Solitude,” I could see that Thoreau was unlike most people in the aspect that he felt comfortable by himself. Thoreau is more concerned about having good company every once in a while than having bad company every day. As Christina also mentions, Thoreau refers to his living situation as if he were in a great ocean, showing the great effort people must exert to go see him. Because of this trek, only the worthy people will visit him and their time will be spent worthwhile because it is so rare.
This is an interesting observation, Danielle! I feel that because Thoreau has so much seclusion, he is starting to want human interaction. I think that he realizes that some interactions bring him more joy than others, and he craves those in particular.
I agree with you, Maeve. I really enjoyed reading this chapter because of the nostalgic aspect. I felt that Thoreau really connects with his reader in this paragraph because he opens himself up by speaking about a personal story.
One part of “The Bean-Field” that brought me joy was in paragraph ten. Thoreau writes, “I was determined to know the beans”(Thoreau 20). As a fellow plant lover, I try to tend to my plants and care for them as best I can. Right now, I only have a bamboo plant and a succulent but I look forward to getting more. It made me happy to hear how hard he works and accommodates his produce because it shows how connected to nature and dedicated he was.
After reading the first few lines of this paragraph, I could not help but think of how a majority of the water by where I live people do not want to swim in. This is because this water would do the exact opposite of clean you. The water is murky and filled with chemicals and waste from transportation. Climate change and advocating for the environment is a controversial topic right now in politics. We need to stop debating whether it is real or not and start making a change for the better, or humans and other living organisms will eventually go extinct.
In this passage, Thoreau talks about his break from human contact and ventures into unfrequented parts of town. In America’s current situation, I feel much like how Thoreau feels. My phone is constantly buzzing with new NEWS notifications and every television in my house is on with updates regarding the Coronavirus. To be more mindful, I have been trying to turn my phone on do not disturb and occasionally check in to see any important updates. During stressful times like these it is extremely important to decrease your screen time and do something for yourself and your mental health.
The passage I compared is from the chapter “The Ponds” and is the third paragraph. This paragraph interested me because the Princeton edition had almost twenty lines and two parts, a and b. Version a only had approximately five full lines and only had one part. This paragraph was so small that I was shocked to see how much was cut out from the original Princeton edition. I also realized that there was only one sentence in the paragraph in version a. Although I enjoy Thoreau’s writing, I appreciated how detailed and concise the paragraph in version a was compared to the Princeton edition. I image that others felt this way too because it was produced after the Princeton edition in 1847. Everything after forest was removed in the revised paragraph, which told about his former experience at the pond.
In the Digital Thoreau version that I am leaving the comment on, I see that Thoreau’s former experiences are listed and that this paragraph is less concise compared to version a. However, it is simplified in comparison to the Princeton edition.
Thoreau’s point about natural and artificial effects was one that I really enjoyed. During the summer, I work at my local day camp as a lifeguard and a swim instructor. Because of this job and climate change, the weather is constantly changing. One day it will be perfectly sunny and just the right amount of warm. Other days it will be pouring for five minutes and calm for the next. Because of these variations, I have come to appreciate the true effects of the sun and its warmth. After finishing a lesson, I love to sit by the pool and let the sun wrap a warm blanket around me, rather than one of the basic white towels the camp supplies. This is one of my favorite feelings because in the rush and hurry of the day, the sun shines on my back with its warm and delicate rays, allowing my body to feel the perfect temperature. I would much rather be naturally dried by the sun than throwing a towel around me because I feel much more connected to nature. I try to leave time in my day to feel this happiness and appreciate the nature around me.
Paragraph 1: Last semester I took Professor Cooper’s English 368 Connections in Recent Literature: Unplugged and ParaDigitial class and examined the relationship between books and technology. On the first day of class, we talked about how Thoreau was actually much closer to civilization than it seems in his writing. Although I cannot find the original map that I saw on my first day of class, this map also demonstrates that even though Thoreau was somewhat “tucked away” he was still decently close to civilization. He talks about occasionally catching people off the train to hear the town’s gossip, something he cannot resist. He also mentions occasionally wandering into town for the human connection that he sometimes yearned for. I believe that this is an interesting point to bring into his first chapter “Economy” because he talks to the reader about how he builds his own house that is meant to be so distant from society but in reality it is quite the opposite. This relates strongly to technology today because even people that claim they want to be distant from the innovations we are creating as a society are still somehow connected to technology in some way. Technology has a huge influence on our society and there is almost no way of having total seclusion from the world or from the devices we have invented and are still working on today.
This passage truly shows how incredibly focused people are on possessions and tangible items. Today, people are absolutely obsessed with getting the latest technology. Throeau writes how much he has gained from the farm without earning any profit from it. I believe this is shown in Gleick’s The Information through language regarding the talking drums and morse code. Humans are constantly finding new ways to communicate with each other, whether it is face to face or miles apart. Communication is not a physical item, but it is something that can be shared between two people.
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.
Given Throeau’s time period, and that “Walden” was written around 1850, the Industrial Revolution was coming to a conclusion around the time he wrote this. In this context, when Thoreau compares an overworked man to a machine, he is referring to the machines of his time which solve monotonous and tedious tasks in factories. With how far machines have evolved since then, especially computers, I wonder if someone would still use such a comparison considering the different imagery the word “machine” evokes for us in the present day.
[I would observe, by the way, that it costs me nothing for curtains, for I have no gazers to shut out but the sun and moon, and I am willing that they should look in. ]
I believe this quote serves as an example for the framework of the life Thoreau has created for himself. He lives by the simplest means possible as this creates the most peaceful or least resistant life. Thoreau goes on to explain that he declined the humble addition of a mat to his home as he felt that it was not necessary to have one as he could wipe his feet off in the doorway. It is strange to think how accustomed we are to all the a material conveniences we have in our life or how we feel we need something. Thoreau challenges people to live without curtains in their own lives. When it comes to our technology, especially our phones, it\’s hard to picture life without it. People have a strong dependency on their technology and may find it hard to function without it and the conveniences it can offer. If we were to try to put down our phone or put less emphasis on them, as Thoreau has done with other luxuries in his life, I wonder how people would connect differently with their current experience. I also feel the concept of living without curtains is interesting — people feel such a need to protect their physical privacy yet live with little to no curtains in their social media lives.
[The orator yields to the inspiration of a transient occasion, and speaks to the mob before him, to those who can hear him; but the writer, whose more equable life is his occasion, and who would be distracted by the event and the crowd which inspire the orator, speaks to the intellect and health of mankind, to all in any age who can understand him.]
Thoreau contrasts the difference of delivery between the words of an orator and a writer. An orator speaks to entertain, for people to only hear them, while a writer writes with a permanence that is meant to be understood. I feel this relates to how people approach words/reading today. Most people are interested in the orator — they read because they have to, to hear, not to understand. Hayles discusses that as the digital age of reading has evolved, “people read less print, and they read print less well” as they’ve developed a form of rapid form of reading — hyperreading (2). With digital text, there are a multitude of distractions on one web page, and people have access to jump to tons of other content through the technology they are using to access the text. I find myself scanning through text and trying to find the relevant bits to focus my attention on — a strategy I developed largely from ‘hyperreading’ on the internet. It is about reading to be efficient, not for the experience.
[ My days were not days of the week, bearing the stamp of any heathen deity, nor were they minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock; for I lived like the Puri Indians, of whom it is said that “for yesterday, to-day, and to-morrow they have only one word, and they express the variety of meaning by pointing backward for yesterday, forward for to-morrow, and overhead for the passing day.” ]
Thoreau describes how the bird’s singing in the morning signals the beginning of the day for him, unlike the alarm clock that wakes me up. By relying on the sounds of nature to guide his days and sense of time, Thoreau lives an unstructured and more enjoyable life through its simplicity. The sounds I hear in my own life are through a structured world. The beginning of my day is dictated by the shrill alarm of my phone to signal when I must wake up to get to class on time. As our world has become more technologically advanced, the need for accuracy has increased. People can no longer rely on the sun’s position in the sky to determine what time they need to be somewhere. With more technology, the world has become more complex. They is an increased need for accuracy, for all the small components of the organization of society to compartmentalize. It’s not possible to live in the simplistic nature of Thoreau’s world, where one does not have to be a slave to the clock, if one is part of the modern world or wishes to interact with society. Time, the sounds associated with it, have become an integral part of society. Yet, for some situations, I still rely on the simplicity of natural sounds to guide my life in a sense of time much larger than a clock. Recently, even before the weather was as nice as it is today, my first hint of spring always comes from the sound of certain bird songs outside my window in the morning. I don’t know which birds they are, and I couldn’t recite the tune if you asked, but when I hear those familiar melodies — I know that it’s the beginning of spring. I also recognized the sounds of birds in the summer from my bedroom back home. Despite the overbearing presence of the sounds of technology in my life today, the sounds of the natural world still hold an importance as they help with my larger perception of time and change in the world.
[ I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers.]
Upon first glance, I find this quote to be counter intuitive. Usually, one feels the least alone when surrounded by people, especially good company. However, it is possible to feel the most lonely in a room full of people when one feels alienated, that they have nothing in common with those who surround them. I believe Thoreau is discussing how the place where you can always be yourself without any trepidation is in your own company. If you are alone, there is nothing to compare your experience to. You are free to be yourself without judgement, without fear. There are no other people present to make you feel by yourself or different. Solitude is liberating. One feels alone when they compare their experience to those of others, to the absence of people around them. I believe Thoreau is expressing that being alone can be freeing, if you keep yourself open to the present experience.
When comparing this published version of Walden to the fluid text version of his 1847, I am struck by the changes he made. His opening line remains unchanged, which is unsurprising given how strong and gripping it stands. I particularly love this section and this paragraph specifically for its ability to enrapture the reader in the scene of the woods at night and the sounds and sensations Thoreau experiences. Reading the paragraph itself is a meditation of nature. The fluid text reveals how Thoreau grappled with capturing the scene in its justice, highlighting just the right parts. His changes are subtle but intentional, such as shifting the placement of “the waves still dash” from the beginning of the sentence to later. He also builds upon the scene with delightful additions like “some creatures lull the rest with their notes. The repose is never complete.” Or, his amendment of the simple “the whippoorwill sings” to “the note of the whippoorwill is borne on the rippling wind from over the water.” The fluid text reveals the process of writing — Thoreau is like an artist, each sentence he hones is a stroke of his brush. Sometimes he goes back to add a new layer, sometimes he slightly changes the color. All of his efforts are made to move him toward the final image he seeks. Sometimes, a new and more vivid is formed that what he originally imagined. In the fluid text, Thoreau’s brush strokes are made evident as he carefully adds color and repaints other sections entirely.
My group chose to focus on a set of paragraphs, including paragraph 9, that are added in version B and make it to the final version as seen here. I think it interesting that he added these passages in quotes as they help to evolve his earlier discussion of opening our eyes to the grand things that exist next to us that we seek for but do not see. Thoreau has a great veneration of early authors and poets and the works of those before us. In paragraph 9, he acknowledges that our traditions “offer sacrifices and oblation to their ancestors… [in] an ocean of subtile intelligence.” So much of what we do is a repetition of those that came before us, of the impacts they had on society. As Thoreau remarks, it is a subtle influence that we do not often acknowledge. We do, do, do, but rarely do we stop and think and consider. There are very few moments in our life where we are introspective and ask ourselves where our clothes, our traditions, our ideas come from. We internalize what’s around us without considering those where it first came from.
In this paragraph, Thoreau further discusses the unusual and overlook benefits to solitude. Despite being far from society, he has had more visitors and better quality company than when he ever lived closed to people. Thoreau states, “I had withdrawn so far within the great ocean of solitude, into which rivers of society empty…only the finest of sediment was deposited around me.” As Thoreau is so far out into ‘the ocean of solitude,’ the less preferable parts of society and people have been eroded by the time the water reaches him. Only people that truly care or are preferable company make the full journey to reach him now. His remoteness, his solitude, has ironically improve the quality of his social interactions through its ability to filter who appears at his door. Similar to the previous chapter, Thoreau discusses the benefits to solitude most would not consider.
Thoreau states that the sacredness of farming has been lost as the only object has become “to have large farms and large crops merely.” The act of farming has become a desperate chore necessary to fulfill the avarice of our culture. Farmers are unable to find simple pleasure in harvest as Thoreau does because they have large and competitive demands they must meet. This is similar to our current consumerist culture. I find it upsetting that products are made not for their quality but for how sellable they are to the consumer. Everything must be bigger and better. Social media and phones continue to engulf our lives, but the impact of such devices isn’t considered — it’s how marketable they are. In our culture, it is expected you must work hard to enjoy life. Why can’t we work without killing ourselves and still find simple enjoyments in life as Thoreau does?
[ Sometimes I bolted suddenly, and nobody could tell my whereabouts, for I did not stand much about gracefulness, and never hesitated at a gap in a fence. I was even accustomed to make an irruption into some houses, where I was well entertained, and after learning the kernels and very last sieve-ful of news, what had subsided, the prospects of war and peace, and whether the world was likely to hold together much longer, I was let out through the rear avenues, and so escaped to the woods again.]
I find the image of Thoreau bolting through “a gap in the fence” or escaping into the woods after getting his fill of the news and townspeople to be quite entertaining. It almost reminds me of stories of Bigfoot — a figure that dwells in the woods and only few catch glimpses of him before he retreats to his forest once more. Strangely, I feel similarly about politics. I. I take similar action with my involvement in political conversations. I usually tend to hide in the woods myself and only venture into the conversation to catch the important and newsworthy tidbits, and then I retreat back into the woods. I feel that with politics people make quite a show off it as the townspeople do when a traveler or new person comes through. Like the traveler, the newest bit of controversy sparks intrigue and debate and exorbitant amounts of attention. Like Thoreau, I feel most content to creep in and get the news from time to time and then quickly slip back into the woods unnoticed.
Thoreau is discussing the shift in the landscape of the pond to mark the passing of time. As people have come and gone and development looms near, more and more of the pond’s history has faded away. Thoreau laments in the villagers’ desire to use pipes to carry water away from the pond and through the town. While the development of running water is something we frequently enjoy in the modern day, Thoreau views it as a violation. However, he is fighting an uphill battle as the convenience and efficiency of technology has won — look at the world we live in today. Why travel all the way to the pond to bathe when you can do it without leaving your own home? The change of the landscape around Thoreau is a manifestation of time passing. Trees and people have disappeared as time has marched on the the physical world has changed. While Thoreau may be deeply bothered by the change he sees taking over the pond, it is part of the progress of time, of the technology the wave of the future carries.
Thoreau states, “For a week of even weather I took exactly the same number of steps, and of the same length, coming and going, stepping deliberately…to such a routine winter reduces us…” While Thoreau is referencing the difficulties of navigating a world dictated by harsh chill and snow, I feel the we have been similarly confined by the present circumstances. It is sad to think that as it has finally stopped snowing and the weather is beginning to warm, we are more trapped than before. Usually, this would be the time I would be excited and feel a sense of liberation from the shift in season — like the ability to leave the house without being burdened by layer upon layer to keep out the cold. Instead, we are more confined than we were in winter when we are forced to take shelter and limit our actions as Thoreau described. In our restricted circumstances, we must step in the tracks we’ve made and continue a semblance of a routine to navigate this strange new normal. It is important to keep in mind that while these measures may be restricting, they are for the benefit of all to create a world where we can all freely step out of our houses again without anyone being at risk.
I chose to focus on this paragraph when trying to create my own TEI file. I was struck by how in Version F, he removes religious references. For instance, after “common hours,” he originally had the line: “and the result will, in a measure, miraculously answer to his faith.” Also, before the phrase “the old laws be expanded,” removed the phrase, “heaven lie about him in his manhood even…” By making these deletions, Thoreau removed religious jargon like “faith,” “miraculously,” and “heaven.” He also alludes to people answering to the higher laws and mandates of religion. I find it an interesting decision that makes his point appeal more to his audience as it is less intimidating if one is unable to advance “confidently in the direction of his dreams.” It takes the guilt and religious weight off his encouragement for one to push towards their dream and leave what they need to behind to make it. By removing the religious undertones, Thoreau’s appeal becomes more inspirational.
[However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poor-house. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the alms-house as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace. ]
This is one of my favorite quotes from Walden. One of the most beautiful things from Thoreau’s time in the woods is his ability to find beauty in the simplicity of life, in the uncomplicated harmony of nature. In life, it seems true that the poor are the most content with what they have while the rich are always craving more, despite having everything. As Thoreau points out, life is all about perspective. No matter how large your home may be, “the setting sun is reflected fro the windows…as brightly as from the rich man’s abode.” One is only as content as they allow themselves to be. And as Thoreau explores, there are joys that can be found in every life, in the smallest of moments.
Thoreau discusses how he enjoys his endless view of nature, his unobstructed horizon. As technology has progressed and there has been more development, it has become more uncommon in our modern world to find such an unobstructed horizon. When someone does, it is something to be treasured — like when you enjoy the view from the top of a mountain. Glieck describes that as “telegraph towers spread across Europe and beyond,” people were “struck by the towers’ height and by their beauty” (134-5). While many enjoyed the convenience of the unprecedented speed of communication the telegraph offered over distance, few were bothered by the cluttering of the earth’s surface they caused. Some admirers may describe these towers as beautiful, but how beautiful does one find a power poles throughout our own streets that are increasingly becoming replaced with underground systems? Development requires space. It complicates things while offering more convenience. As our world has become so cluttered and noisy with all the technology we have in our lives, we appreciate the simple beauty of the natural world less and less.
[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.
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.”
Right now I’m reading Craig Childs’s Atlas of a Lost World, which quotes the neuroscientist John Allman saying, “Brains exist because the distribution of resources necessary for survival vary in space and time” (p. 53). Human brains would be vastly less developed if we lived in “regular and predictable surroundings.” In this sense, the diversity of the natural world is not just a “pool of imagination and creativity,” as MacKinnon writes, but actually also the biological reason we have the ability to imagine and create in the first place.
In this light, we may conceive of humans devoting their imaginative and intellectual abilities to the challenges of conservation as a form of gratitude, in roughly the same way some religious faiths think of cultivating one’s talents as way of worshiping a creator who so endowed them.
Although I imagine there’s a simple technical explanation for why your 5-year-old comment appeared in my inbox this morning, Paul, but I prefer to see it as a half-magical phenomenon. I wish you, yours, and the Geneseo community the best as we weather the present crisis.
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.
Thoreau’s reflecting on the pedantic rules of Solomon and the Romans and Hippocrates draws an amusing comparison to the exactness needed for programming, be that writing a modern computer program or Charles Babbage’s attempting to “program” his inventions with multitudes of gears and levers and other iron elements. Thoreau here objects to that thinking, arguing that man cannot be so constrained and that such strict rules presuppose a life devoid of variety and joy. To some extent, Thoreau’s polemics against rules and life of tedium speak directly to the Industrial Revolution, and by extension the increasingly tedious rules that bind a man that Thoreau argues can do more. Today those humans have been replaced with technology, and by extension humanity’s unmeasured capacities no longer matter. Humans have been replaced with machines to measure the distance of trees and the angles at which we cut our nails and the frequency with which we can collect acorns. Humans no longer just create tedious rules for humans with less power but have created another “species” to play that role.
Thoreau speaks well on the advancements of methods of communication in his time without the benefit of advancing that which is to be communicated. Certainly, he gets this point across well: What if there is indeed naught to say betwixt Texas and Maine? But, of course, just because one has nothing to say does not mean that such channels are devoid of words and words and words. Not unlike social media today, it is simply a flush of content that most often has no meaning behind it, no value. Indeed, most humans have nothing of import to say at most times. And yet, we speak anyway, to some extent under the allusion that we are saying something rather than just exercising our vocal cords, and to some extent because the ability to communicate constantly has made us afraid of silence. There is so much that is communicated today and so much that is received that even the few things of true import are lost and devalued in the storm.
A pair of quotes from Kurt Vonnegut come to mind. First, to the basis of Thoreau’s point: “Who is more to be pitied, the writer who is bound and gagged by policemen or the one living in perfect freedom who has nothing to say?” And, form my favourite Vonnegut novel, Cat’s Cradle, which I think aptly summarizes social media and indeed much of the Information Age: “People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order so they’ll have good voice boxes in case there’s ever anything really meaningful to say.”
[Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.]
I do not know that I agree, Thoreau. I adore Shakespeare, and am certainly in many ways an Early Modernist. I recognise, however, that the “text” of Shakespeare is not absolute, and its relation to the “original” may be dubious. Although my more scholarly tendency is very much towards close reading, as characterises the discipline of literary criticism, it is important to recognise what one is close reading. Each and every word in a play of Shakespeare’s is not whatever genius we attribute to the bard himself. It may be simply a mangled line, misremembered by an actor. It is not as if Shakespeare himself did not fill his works with contradictions and inconsistencies. The ghost characters that appear in some plays (Violenta from All’s Well That Ends Well comes to mind) certainly illustrate this.
Thoreau makes quite the point in Walden about living deliberately. The issue is that humans are not deliberate, and that not all choices are conscious or agonisingly thought on. It is easy to criticise not admiring every word of supposed wisdom from the classics or the “literary canon,” but not every word is golden. Ancient poets and dramatists are not gods, nor should they be read as such. While one is right to pay attention to the minutiae of language to some extent, it is the holistic meaning of a text that better recognises the rampant human imperfection of even those we most revere.
[I kept Homer’s Iliad on my table through the summer, though I looked at his page only now and then. Incessant labor with my hands, at first, for I had my house to finish and my beans to hoe at the same time, made more study impossible. Yet I sustained myself by the prospect of such reading in future. I read one or two shallow books of travel in the intervals of my work, till that employment made me ashamed of myself, and I asked where it was then that I lived.]
This passage, which I quite enjoy, stayed pretty much constant in Thoreau’s manuscript version of Walden from Version B (the 1849 manuscript) on. In the very first manuscript, from 1847, this quote starts off the second paragraph, and there is a sizeable section added to the middle. In this section, Thoreau predictably praises ancient literature, but he also includes a line about how any book can be read in the future. Thoreau does not go in depth in the manuscript in this location, but this gets at the difficulty of ever getting around to read something new due to the seemingly infinite length of the list of books I have not read. In the future one can indeed read any book, as the 1847 manuscript edition points out, but to me that is not solely a positive thing.
[I rejoice that there are owls. Let them do the idiotic and maniacal hooting for men.]
I feel a certain amount of appreciable bitterness from this line that I agree with. The bizarre squawks of squirrels, for instance, are something I adore for my love of the creatures. The same is true of the ducks and geese who reside on Conesus Lake near my rented home. The inanity of humans doing such things, however, is felt intensely. The irritation of human neighbours when I lived in a dormitory and the screaming of fraternities and sororities when they are “recruiting” once per semester come to mind. But, still, I appreciate the natural nature of these sounds, even when I would find them irritating from a human. Waking up to hearing hunters shooting is incredibly irritating. The natural nature of house sparrows chirping, however, is a lovely distraction from human artifice.
This paragraph in particular makes me think of the spread of information technology, be that in the form of social media, the internet, or the like. “Can we not do without the society of our gossips a little while?” I think we cannot. The endless, meaningless chattering of the information age is nigh inescapable. I pride myself in not using social media, and in similarly not watching television or Netflix or whatever equivalent, while also not using the internet to socialize. Even still, this is not something I can escape. One cannot walk through campus without hearing of whatever transient and meaningless drama is occurring for some people or another. Even if I isolated myself as much as I am capable, I would still be bombarded by the infinitude of emails sent by the college. I must use my email to function in college life. It is not something I can afford to avoid. And, that technological omnipresence makes the ability to have naught but “our own thoughts to cheer us” a practical impossibility.
Oh, so society isn’t full of gossips wasting their time with meaningless words anymore? Good to know, good to know. He does make at least one argument in paragraph seven here for why his visitors are pleasant and not objectionable, namely that they had to make their way out to Thoreau’s remote residence, but this is weak at best. I imagine this reflects his mental state after being relatively isolated for a long time, but the distinction between “bad” and “good” society comes off as being distinguished by whether or not they visit Thoreau. It is irritating, in no small part because I sympathised with Thoreau’s objections to “society,” nebulous as the term may be.
[My enemies are worms, cool days, and most of all woodchucks. The last have nibbled for me a quarter of an acre clean.]
I feel an amusing degree of joy hearing of the destruction of Thoreau’s field by woodchucks and worms. I am very much glad that they are giving him trouble, and that Thoreau is having difficulty fighting them for control over land he does not own. There is certainly an angry sadness here as well, observing the invader destroying the woodchucks’ home and their original comestibles. This certainly reflects how Thoreau is actively destroying the nature he is so appreciating. He may love the songbirds in the morrow but he chops down their homes soon after.
[“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.”]
This final quote from Homer is incredibly comical to me. Of course, there is the expected, and that is noting just how far from virtual our American government is. In policy, we would much rather punish thievery than allow all of our people to eat or be healthy. In conduct, need I mention our president? And, of course, Geneseo and the rest of New York’s 27th district has lacked representation in the house for quite a while now after Chris Collins’ (very drawn out) resignation over insider trading.
That being said, the idea that if the government and its leaders were virtuous the people would be the same is nonsense. It is such naivete that drives me off of true socialism or communism. Humans will not become virtuous by example, they will not become kind, they will not become truthful. Certainly, there would likely be some improvement if Donald Trump was not the country’s ultimate role model, but politicians are representative of their constituents, not the other way around. Government is not virtuous because we are not virtuous and do not often reward virtue. Life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, to reference Thomas Hobbes. The idea that Homeric virtue or Thoreau’s proposed equality would stop that is farcical.
Thoreau here reminds me of one of the few truly pleasant things in our current circumstances. I currently live in a rented house on Conesus Lake, and staying home so much has had me spending quite a bit of time watching the waterfowl who have recently returned to the lake. The ducks and loons (mostly bufflehead ducks, with some common mergansers and now common loons as of yesterday) have in large been a much-appreciated peaceful presence as I gaze off onto the lake in melancholy want of joy. Though, my avian companions play both the role of the duck/leaf and of the fisherman, in that they are frequently peaceful and still, but one is still able to watch them fish, and there is occasional action when a group of tiny buffleheads bully a pair of (much larger) loons. The bald eagles that occasionally visit to fish play the role of active and aggressive members of the lake community, however. Fortunately, stuck at home with my partner, I have my own Walden Pond.
[No humane being, past the thoughtless age of boyhood]
Ah, the cruelty of children. Certainly, there is a notable aspect of time here. Age is oft associated (for good or ill) with wisdom, and Thoreau here is certainly reflecting that in mentioning the sociopathic tendencies of children. I do quite enjoy children, but the absence of fully developed conceptions of morality is frequently rather terrifying. It is interesting to me, then, that Thoreau considers engaging this sociopathy a necessary part of a lad’s education, although certainly hunting instills the painfully gendered notions of “boyhood” into children who lack the ability to fully evaluate such a concept.
Thoreau’s complaint about poor translation amuses me, in part because it brings up in my mind what is perhaps the fundamental problem of language: its inconstancy. But that I mean that each word, each phrase, and each sentence do not have some absolute meaning, but rather are all slightly different in the interpretations of different minds. As Dr. Harding’s notes observed, Cato seemed to be indeed “mistranslated” into English. But, of course, the problem of translation is not purely at the level of language or even dialect, but at the level of idiolect. For what is a translation? What is nonsense? These words can be defined, of course, but words can only be defined in relation to other words. Language is a construct, and no absolute meaning exists. To write Cato in English or to respond to Thoreau is a matter of translation in both cases; one must decide what words mean even when their meanings are incorporeal. So, certainly, there is a certain amusement in criticizing translation in a more philosophical sense, even if one can recognize the annoyance of a poorly-translated work in practicality.
A final note of amusement, more of an aside: That WordPress’ software for catching typos does not recognize “idiolect” as a word certainly reflects well the slippery nature of language.
[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?
This paragraph stuck out to me specifically because of the way in which is emphasizes other areas of study. The line,
\”We should live in all the ages of the world in an hour; ay, in all the worlds of the ages. History, Poetry, Mythology! – I know of no reading of another\’s experience so startling and informing as this would be.\”
Makes me think the humanities and the way in which we learn. Perhaps is may be a mute point to try and define the humanities, as we tried to do on the first day of class, but maybe the point is that the humanities themselves are an ongoing experience. It is an experience to learn \”all the ages of the world in an hour\” and making that your own experiences, rather than attempting to learn someone elses experience.
Over the course of the semester so far, we have spent a lot of time discussing how humans communicate, the various ways we communicate, and how communication has changed over the course the centuries. Here, Thoreau brings up an interesting point – we, as humans, spend so much time and effort on communication and building communication efforts but what if there is nothing to communicate at all? Thoreau writes, “They are but improves means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already too easy to arrive at… We are in greta haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate” (73). The notion that there may come a time where communication is not the most important thing to humans and to society as a whole is an interesting notion.
While Thoreau brings up valid points that humanity itself is virtually obsessed with advancement and the need for advanced communication, I disagree with the notion that there may be nothing important to communicate. Communication is the very thing that allows the human race to survive. Whether it is telling your tribe not to eat a specific berry when we were hunters and gatherers, or today when we are communicating about policy, communication is the very thing that allows the world to function and for information to be carried from one place to another. The idea that at some point, this information will not need to be transferred to other people neglects an important part of human culture.
In this paragraph, Thoreau discusses how his residence allows him the ability to participate in “serious reading” and how being away from a circulating library and a university provided him with the opportunity to “come within the influence of those books which circulate round the world”. Now, I hate to bring up that fact that we don’t have access to Milne Library here, but I think this paragraph gives an interesting perspective on not having a library. In this case, Thoreau is secluded, but through serious reading, he was able to be influenced by what he was reading more effectively than he was at university or when he had access to a full library. Don’t get me wrong, I would rather have a library on a college campus so I had a place I could get more work done, but perhaps in the sense of being able to be more secluded with our work and readings, not having a library could be a good thing from Thoreau’s point of view?
Additionally, in our Hayles reading, “How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine,” note is made how in junior high, high school, and college the ability to read and read well is declining. Perhaps isolation and seclusion, as represented in Walden, has allowed Thoreau to unlock a secret to improve those skills. Perhaps being alone with just a few books and the other bare necessities is how a book is meant to be truly enjoyed and understood to reap the full benefits.
I feel like this is one of the first times that Thoreau is actually feeling alone. I feel that while he discusses it frequently and there are various mentions of his seclusion, this is the first time that I feel as if he is feeling the affects of that seclusion.
This also makes me think about the need humans have for human interaction. Its a known fact that we are a social species, we need interaction with other intelligence beings and we have to build relationships with people – going to long without that starts to affect oneself. This is the first time I have read Walden, so it makes me wonder if Thoreau will reflect on this in the coming chapters or if the prolonged seclusion he subjected himself to will not be mentioned.
[ Leave a comment on paragraph 2 4 When I return to my house I find that visitors have been there and left their cards, either a bunch of flowers, or a wreath of evergreen, or a name in pencil on a yellow walnut leaf or a chip.]
This particular line makes me think of the holidays with my family. When my entire family comes over for thanksgiving or for Christmas dinner, there are always things left behind as gifts, things forgotten, messes left to be cleaned, and an overwhelming feeling of joy. Whatever is left always tells you what the person was doing and you can almost all tell who left it.
In addition to this thought, later on in the text in paragraph 12, Thoreau talks about how he has found it wholesome to be alone. I’m so inclined to agree with that statement. I consider myself to be an extroverted introvert. I love hanging out with the people i care about and who don’t get on my nerves easily, but regardless of how much I like a person, I need to be left alone sometimes. Just being able to be alone, get work done, but productive and really focus is extremely enjoyable – Thoreau touches on how you can be alone but not feel alone by working.
I think this concept is different when it comes to technology. While I enjoy being alone and being productive, I find that doing work on my computer is not the same kind of productivity I may have when I’m reading from a book or working through a worksheet. I think there are more distractions on the computer than there may be when I am just working with old school pen and paper.
I think I almost think of my computer as a person as well. My computer is connected to my phone, all my social media, and stores so much information – its almost as if it is extension of myself and my life. This makes me feel like the feeling of good solitude I get from working with paper and books is greater than that of working with a computer.
Throughout this Remote Learning period, I have found myself thinking about Thoreau and his time in the woods. This chapter in particular about Solitude has been one that I have come back to time and time again. The line in paragraph12 thats says, “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude,” has been sticking with me. At one time, I use to love when I was alone. I craved my alone time to recharge and to relax without having to be around people. But now, when I no longer have the freedom to see people as I please, I find myself wishing I could and waiting to see them the first chance I get. I think Thoreau enjoyed this solitude so much because it was self inflicted. When you’re choosing to do something it means that you truly want it, so obviously Thoreau found it enjoyable. But social-distancing, while highly important to prevent COVID-19, isn’t something people wanted to do – I think this is why it has been so hard for everyone, including myself, to deal with it and continue to be functioning adults. While in comply with the guidelines and try to do the best I can, its still hard and I begin to resent the solitude that Thoreau praises.
Right off the bat, there is a huge difference to Thoreau in this section. Previously he was discussing how enjoyable it was to be left alone in solitude, but here it is almost as if Thoreau is growing stir crazy. Right away Thoreau is talking about how his love for society and how he is naturally no hermit. Rather than giving an introverted vibe, right away it seems like a switch has flipped and Thoreau is now extroverted.
Besides that, I found it interesting that Thoreau asserts to have had more visitors while living in the woods than in any other time of his life. I find it interesting that during a period in which Thoreau was seeking seclusion, he somehow struggled to find it.
This passage makes me think of nationalism and being proud of ones work. For starters, Thoreau discusses Massachusetts and how its liberties are in safekeeping. This indicates that Thoreau is proud to live in the United States and is proud of democracy and other enlightenment thoughts.
Additionally, Thoreau talked about working in his bean field. It is clear in this paragraph that because Thoreau feels secure in his future that he can enjoy his work and throw himself into it with confidence and ease. It brings into question The relationship between nationalism and feelings of confidence and joy. When someone is proud of their country, are they more likely to be confidence and feel secure in their work?
[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]
The above quote passage reminded me of contemporary politics due to the objective Thoreau has for going to the village. Ultimately, Thoreau is going to the village to find out the current news as told by the people and the newspaper. Comparing that to today, we get are news from online sources, from twitter, and posts on facebook. This same diffusion of information is what Thoreau is discussing. While that manner in which information is spread has changed since Thoreau wrote Walden, the concept of sharing information between people is the same. As we have seen throughout this course, humans have a need to share information, from the chapter about the talking drums in Africa in the Information, to Walden, and to current day.
The bottom portion of this text I found interesting as it relates to the passing of time in a young boys life. I find that Thoreau is reflecting on the time it takes a boy to become a man and the necessary milestones one has to take to get to that point. While the milestones i find to be rather outdated. such as firing a gun, the notion of the time needed to become an adult is there.
In regards to fluid text, this paragraph I found to be interesting. For starters, this paragraph wasn’t even included in earlier editions, this paragraph didn’t appear until late 1852-1853, nearly five years after Walden first began writing Walden in 1847. Another particularly interesting thing about this paragraph is that Thoreau didn’t change that much, many just the wording – changing things from present tense to past tense and revising the order of the words. Compared to the rest of this portion of the text, more revisions were made in other paragraphs that to this one, which also appeared much later than the others.
Our final project group decided to use this portion of the Walden text to code our revisions and make a timeline of. This portion of the text I found had some very interesting revisions over the different versions of Walden, many of which focused on changing the word choice to make the text apply more generally as well as a series of additions made in pencil that seem to justify some of the thoughts Thoreau pens here, such as the portion of the text about the woodchuck. In the penciled in addition, Thoreau seems to justify that he wanted to eat the woodchuck to become closer with nature, which I also feel is a striking looking into the affects that living in the woods had on Thoreau’s mental health in the long term.
[but when they saw that crisis approaching they beat a hasty retreat rather, as if it would shake the house to its foundations]
In regards to the current situation, I feel like this portion of the text describes the situation rather well. When COVID19 first became a problem, many people saw it for what it was and followed the guidelines for social distancing and stayed home, trying to contain it, while others went to Florida and partied it up on the beaches. They saw the crisis and retreated to be safe.
The beginning portion of this paragraph caught my interest. As Thoreau reflects on the location of Hollowell farm, one cannot ignore that throughout the narrative, Thoreau\’s core goal has been to disconnect from technology and to be isolated. While in this particular section, Thoreau is actually happy to be close to the village and to be close to neighbors, one cannot ignore that he has placed himself in a place of some distance away from civilization.
While reading this portion of Walden, I couldn\’t help but think of the \”talking drums\” that Gleick writes about in the first chapter of, The Information. It is interesting to note that the people of Africa, wanted to be near people and to communicate from far distances, maybe because they hadn\’t been exposed to technology like Thoreau had been. Perhaps, Thoreau wishes to remove himself fro, technology and society because its all he has known, while other societies only wish to become immersed in a society full of technology.
Building off of this, Thoreau\’s journey to live simply and to not be surrounded by technology reminds me of people taking 24 hour social media breaks in today\’s society. We constantly try to disconnect, so perhaps Thoreau was onto something all those years ago when he set out to write Walden.
What I think that he meant in this line of the paragraph is that people tend to hide their true self behind clothing and also use clothing as a way to show others their social class based on what they are wearing. The part with the “suit that fits” reminds me of people just trying to fit into the society without being able to be themselves because that’s how it works. Even though clothing should not testify whether a person is rich or poor that’s how people views us. If a piece of clothing is expensive people get obsessed with it and are always after it in order to buy it.
I really liked this part. It really shows how people tend to put wealth and economy on top of everything. Is insane!!!
What I see from this part of the paragraph is that he specifies how people follow others when it comes to what’s consider part of the “fashion moment”. Every generation has their own fashion and the more the people wear something the more the other people want to wear it too. Which is why if we look back at old fashion we think as “old” and “not trendy” anymore.
What T is trying to say reminds me of religion. My family is Catholic and I was always told about the dark and evil side of religion that hides in the dark. Which is why I like how he related the “dark” to witches and the unknown in the forest, the fears of humans. Even though nature is beautiful even when it’s dark, however, we never know the predators that can be out there with us at the same time.
As for Christianity and candles, I think he refers to this as the way to pray and be protected when the “evil” from the dark comes to us. Since we know that by praying and saying the word of God we’re putting away all the evil in the world.
T is always talking about finding his meaning in life and trying to figure it out as a way to be better. I like how he describes himself as someone who doesn’t feel lonely, even though he doesn’t have other people close to him. T loves finding a connection between him and nature and that’s what keeps him happy, nature is a beautiful way of connecting yourself with the beauty of live. T always seems to find the good in nature, he thinks of the needs of nature and not how the nature could affect human needs.
In this paragraph T explains how he sees the terms of “alone” and “loneliness” as two different things. T explains that a person can feel lonely even though its surrounded by people and lives in a town. The difference between being alone and feeling lonely is whether you feel the connection or not. Since he lived in nature, he found the beauty on it and connected himself with it, which is why he doesn’t feel lonely. Sometimes people misunderstand the difference between these two words, but in reality it all depends of the emotions.
I love that he uses rainy and snowing days as a way of calming himself, it reminds me of me. Every time I hear the rain is like bringing peace to my soul, I only have to listen to it without having to worry about the outside world. I feel calm and all I think about it how beautiful Earth is.
I really like how T explains how society is based on rules and duties. It feels like our lives are being managed by other people and we have to follow everything we are supposed to do without us being able to manage it. We as humans tend to see our value as what we can offer, but not what’s under our skin, which in this case he refers as our emotions. Which is why at the end he says “the value of man is not in his skin, that we should touch him”, as a way of referring to the value we give to people that it’s incorrect.
The way T relates his relationship with the town life style is fascinating for me. I feel that what he is trying to say is that by going to town it feels like a gate away weekend for us. However, the difference is that our society seeks for a place where nature can be related in order to escape from the city, the problems, the thoughts and all the bad things happening in our lives. For T is the opposite and it’s not like he was trying to escape from nature, it was more about observation and point out the difference between his life and others. Even though he says how much he likes listening to others people’s gossip, it is a way of feeling the connection again with the town.
I really liked the comparison he made when it comes to find ourselves and how humans manage their lives. In this paragraph what I feel that T is trying to do is show us how our mind is the one in charge of moving our body but our eyes can’t really see where we are going until we feel lost, is like explaining how we never see what is in front of us even though we are looking at it, we just don’t observe. As he said, until we have lost the world we start trying to find ourselves and that’s how it is nowadays, every time we look at the horrible things that the Earth is going through we start to worry and we start looking for solutions. However, this is only because we feel at risk, not really because people would care about what happens around us, sadly most people prioritize themselves and can’t see the beauty outside that nature has to offer us.
I personally liked the way he thinks about humanity traits or behavior. In the last sentence he states that if every person in the world would live as simple as he did thieving and rubbery wouldn’t be an issue. I don’t really know about that, because is a human trait the need of more, however, I think is because of how we have been raised, so maybe if our mindset had been different since we were born we wouldn’t think that way. I don’t think that we should spend the rest of our lives worrying about making enough money, we should enjoy our lives and actually live instead of having a path that everyone wants you to follow. As he said of being in debt and paying taxes, it shouldn’t be a thing that humans should worry about, is all thanks to capitalism.
“Man has a some right to fish”. I really liked that he added this on this paragraph because it explains part of the cycle of life. Humans need fish to eat and nature is the one giving it to them, but we also need to corporate with nature, as he says “I love to see Nature carried out in him”. T also explains that these “wild men” didn’t need to read a book or follow the instructions on how to go fishing, it was like a human trait that comes with us already and if it’s not like that we learn by looking at others.
Could the meaning of “shallow” from the pond be related to how humans can also be shallow?
What I mean by this is that humans tend to be superficial and the connections between emotions, knowledge, reasoning or character is not as deep as how it should be. This could also relate to the last chapter “solidity”, in which he explains the difference between being alone and feeling lonely.
In this paragraph I really like how T not only observes but also tries to analyze the why and how the ice melts when the temperature changes. He does scientific assumptions about how the sun reflects from the bottom of the shallow water which causes the water to warm up and melt the under side of the ice at the same time that is meting it’s melting above. This explains how T never felt alone, since he constantly had his thoughts focused on what was around him and learned from it, which keep him to not feel lonely.
“The atoms have already learned this law, and are pregnant by it” what?
I really like the way he uses imagery in this paragraph, as I’m reading I can imagine clearly everything he is saying. Since the “spring” chapter started I can picture how the pond has been melting while spring time is coming, with the ice melting and cracking and making all those sounds.
I really liked the way T related the difference between living by what you want instead on focusing on living as how you should do in order to impress society. What T is trying to say is that when a person decides to live without commitment and tries to be free, that person is going to be happier and would see their life as success. Instead of living in a prison world where people has been told how to act, what to get, how to dress, etc.
What T was trying to say in this paragraph was that a wall that divides humans from nature should not divide them apart. T states that even he had a a tent, he always tried to have contact with the nature (birds) and tried to be part of their world instead of making them being part of his. I really liked how he worded this, it shows the difference between buying a bird and having it domesticated at home instead of being out and both free to explore.
I really like the reference he used to demonstrate the difference between living and not living the right way. T uses morning and being awake as a form to say that he was alive and living his life as his best by not worrying about anything. However, he also used sleep as a way of people not actually living their life because they live in the way people want them to live instead of living how they really want. People are alive but not actually living.
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.
A third, and I think more logical meaning of “first or last” here is “at the beginning or the end.” This is the meaning of the phrase given in Webster’s 1828 dictionary. The meaning in the present context is then “somewhere in the writer’s work.”
There seems to be typo in the first sentence, after the third comma: “what are” is repeated unnecessarily.
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.
Thoreau writes that college was only created to generate profit and that every aspect of post-secondary learning is just something that allows students to find ways out of physical labor. He thinks people should “live” rather than “study” life. He writes that physical labor is a good way of learning how to live instead of going to college to learn the same things.
The foundations of making bread are similar to the foundations of life; the ingredients that make a good bread can be compared to the things that create a good life. Instead of sticking with what is known to make the best bread, try mixing in other ingredients to see if you can make a bread that tastes better for you; Thoreau is using making bread as a metaphor for living a better life.
…[I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time.]
Thoreau is reminding us to live in the moment and absorb our surroundings and become a part of them. He sat listening to the birds and observing trees. Thoreau could have sat there for hours longer if the wagon had not passed by. He is saying that time is not something to be bound to, it is something to embrace.
The way Thoreau described his home and Boston shows how different the country and city are in terms of sounds. Thoreau painted an image in my head that concord was this peaceful place of tranquility, and Boston was full of angry, ignorant people trying to get through the day.
Thoreau used the time in his home to slow down and enjoy the time he has to be alone. He used rainy and snowy days as an opportunity for space away from people. He contested the thought of needing to be close to people all the time as a way to feel secure and safe.
Thoreau uses his mind as a way to escape his physical body and to enter a world where he can be anything. He is saying that thoughts are what make reality and helps people stay sane.
The way Thoreau describes the actions of others in his community shows what things bring him pleasure and gives us a glimpse of what life is like in Concord for other people.
I think Thoreau is trying to say that if people were not bound by paying off debts and taxes as a way of living, there would be very little crime. He believes that if people live easy lives, they would be less inclined to break the law.
Spring is a season that I enjoy because it is the turning point from a cold Winter to a warm Summer. Usually, when Spring comes around I am sick of the cold and I think Thoreau is trying to say this in this chapter as well. He is saying that everything is coming back to life both physically and socially and I can relate to that.
I really enjoy seeing the seasonal birds come back from the south or wherever they migrate to and I had the same appreciation when Thoreau showed the level of excitement towards the sparrow.
The way Thoreau talks about the grass and sort of compares it to his own life was particularly interesting. Grass, even though frozen and covered for most of Winter, still comes back to life and grows quickly and strongly as compared to people getting busier since the air is warmer.
This paragraph is showing how Thoreau felt about falling into a sense of normalcy and habit, he was not fond of it. He is also saying humanity will have a lasting impact on Earth regardless of how minimalistic or big people get, so long as there is a habit of doing things by everyone, there will be a notable footprint of those habits.
[But I would say to my fellows, once for all, As long as possible live free and uncommitted. It makes but little difference whether you are committed to a farm or the county jail.]
Thoreau is telling the reader that it is important to live free of any personal burden, he has referenced the idea of living like this previously, he is emphasizing this because he wants the reader to understand the importance of living the way they want rather than the way they should.
[It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do.]
In this sentence, Thoreau is trying to say that it is important to think positively even on difficult days. Thoreau is trying to get people to understand that the world could look and feel much better if they are optimistic and bright towards their surroundings.
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”
This paragraph emphasizes the idea of materialistic values in today’s society and is using clothing to do so. I think it’s interesting and something people really don’t think about, who are people buying expensive clothes for? themselves? or to be perceived a certain way by society? Thoreau explains how clothing and wealth intertwine; having certain clothes makes you look a certain way, this idea is like a little piece of just how much society focuses on materialistic value.You are seen differently by what you have or can afford.
This sounds like Thoreau speaking on the way the world is changing but people and society isn’t changing to keep up. I think literally he’s talking about shelter, we are creating these homes, but allowing a certain type of person to inhabit them—wealthy people, when something like shelter should be affordable to everyone. I think he is calling wealthy men civilized but in a sarcastic tone, making fun of society for genuinely believing that.
[men have become the tools of their tools.]
!!! I thought this was an interesting way to describe society today. We mentioned this in class, the idea of us being kind of like tools to our phones. Or tools to society, we created something that evidently uses us?
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.
My group has chosen this paragraph and the next as part of our revisions for the timeline. This first paragraph was not always included in the novel, and was introduced in Version C. I think Thoreau went back and added this to give his novel a starting place and introducing himself to the reader in a very direct way. We also learn a lot about what we are going to read and can begin to imagine how this life would look before we begin reading.
The next paragraph allows the reader to establish a connection with Thoreau and his upcoming journey. It has been surprising to me, how easily I have been able to connect the events in my life to this look and to certain passages. We have all, now, experienced some aspect of solitude that Thoreau writes about, and we are better able to connect with his writings because of that.
“I think that we may safely trust a good deal more than we do.” While Thoreu is relating this line to the lives of humans in reference to labor and their livelihoods, it is very true of the relationships we carry today with technology. Humans rely on and put trust in their laptops, cellphones, gps, cars, home security systems, and more to ensure they live the most “simple” life of all. We turn over all of our responsibilities to machines that we truly do not understand. Thoreau goes on to say, “We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us!” This is entirely true of civilization today. As I am typing this right now, the programs that make up my computer are computing my words into the language that will be read on the internet. As I make presentations for other classes, I might be the one writing the words, but my computer is behind the scenes making the presentation possible. When I drive back to Long Island for winter break, it is not I doing all of that work, it is my car taking the toll of the 7 hr ride and it is my gps doing the work of finding the safest way to travel. Thoreau is right,as humans we have put too much faith in the things we do not understand, and we do not give these the things the credit they deserve for the work they do. He goes on to talk about change, and everyday our technology is changing and advancing to a status humans never thought possible. The idea of a self driving car is absurd to most of us, but who wouldn’t want to take a long trip in a Tesla? Have all of these advancements made our lives more “simple” in the sense that we no longer have to exert as much energy to write out directions before heading off, or using a pen and paper to write an essay without spell check? Or have these advancements made our lives more complicated than ever, increasing our anxiety by the minute because of the unknown. Ever had your laptop shut down as you wrote the last sentence of a 10 page paper that didn’t have autosave? It is a bad feeling. We have become so reliant and trusting of our technology to protect and serve us that the minute there is a glitch in the system, our lives turn to chaos.
Thoreau notes here that it is very simple to obtain food from the land to sustain one’s life, but people are too concerned with obtaining luxury food instead. Today, while it might be common to have a small vegetable garden or go hunting here and there, most people rely on the processed food in grocery stores to sustain their health. To get to the grocery stores, one must use a car, or some other form of advanced transportation to get their. Even now traveling to get your own food is a thing of the past. Rapid communication has allowed for people to quickly call in take out orders and have their food at their doorstep within 30 minutes. Companies such as door dash allow you to send in grocery lists to then have all of your everyday groceries delivered straight to your door. I believe Thoreau would view these technologies and form of communication as a luxury and over exuberant. This technology is the exact opposite of what he believes will fulfill a simple life. But, is it possible to live a simple life in a world with such advanced technology? Maybe these programs are allowing those who have fast-paced lives make a weekly activity simple. With this, I wonder how Thoreau would view these instant grocery shopping programs.
While most of us go into college feeling adequately versed in the English language and significantly literate, we are met with new challenges, and a new type of reading that brings to light the high level of hyperattention our brains have become so used to. I have noticed a significant change in the way I read and an increase in how easily I become distracted. In paragraph 9, Thoreau expresses his contempt with the people in his village, those who are literate and seem to be educated, but have no taste for the English classics. He says it is rare to find another person to converse with about these books. He expresses his anger in how the notion of reading has changed and how schools are only teaching “Easy Reading.” Could this suggest a shift towards increased hyper attention amongst the public? Similarly, Hayle notes that digital reading has transformed the way we read, leading us to need constant stimulation and because of this, her colleagues, college professors, have begun assigning short stories instead of novels because their students cannot read them. This moves back into Thoreaus point that nobody reads the Classics anymore reading to what he believes to be a community of ignorant people. In the context of an English concentrator, I have to agree with him. I am not well versed in the English Classics and normally do not understand when they are referenced in my other classes and this is because I was never asked or challenged to read them.
Thoreau reveals in paragraph 14 that once the noise passes, and the world becomes quiet again he feels the most alone. The train tracks and freight trains cross near his pond, and the sounds and vibrations are noticeable in his small cabin. Before reading this chapter, I expected that Thoreau would express his frustration with the abundant noises new and advanced technology have brought, but so far he seems to be at peace and enjoys hearing the noises. He details that the whistle blowing from the train marks the beginning and end of a work day, and has become comfortable with hearing this sound everyday. Similarly, I live down the block from the train station and during peak times, while I cannot hear the train itself, I notice an increase of cars honking and driving past my house, people walking past my home engaging in conversations whilst arriving home from work. These sounds often signify to me that my father will be home soon, that my mom is about to cook dinner, or that it is time to feed my pets. In the morning I have gotten used to these noises as I have lived on this busy street my entire life. On snow days I notice the quiet more than usual because nobody is about and about; snow days have always been my favorite days because of how quiet and peaceful they are – I have never considered what the world would sound like if we didn’t have technology. Now as I am writing this, I am irritated by the buzzing of my fridge, my roommates loud typing, and the hum of the TV in the living room. I am so used to all of these sounds that I am able to block them out; I wonder if this has made me more numb or more sensitive to the sound of nature. Without technology, I would be able to enjoy the birds chirping, the sound of snow falling, and the sound of the wind whistling through the trees – all sounds I do not “hear” often as the sound of technology is overstimulating. Unlike Thoreau, the lack of sound doesn’t make me feel lonely; If anything, the quiet motivates me to do more.
Even though Thoreau spends most of his time in solitude, he finds peace and company with nature, work, and study. He also notes that one can be in solitude or feel lonely whilst among others; he specifically describes that one diligent student student at Cambridge University studying among a crowd. I wonder if Thoreau would still be at peace with solitude if he had access to the immense technology we have today. When I am physically alone, I don’t necessarily feel alone as I have access to friends and family via social media and my phone. I have access to streaming networks, and media online. I am always connected to the world, and while it allows me to always stay updated, I never have the freedom to just be alone. If I receive a ext message I feel obligated to respond right away. I spend almost all day on my laptop, and even if I am physically alone, I am always virtually connected with people. When I was younger, and didn’t have access to the technology we use today I remember staying up late to watch lightning storms with my mom or simply just listening to the rain until I fell asleep. I can’t remember the last time I have been able to enjoy the effects of nature; if its a snow day, I’d probably just watch a movie on my laptop. Thoreau, not having access to this technology, finds that rain storms are his most pleasant hours; giving him time to appreciate how nature interacts and alone with his thoughts. I find myself feeling jealous of Thoreau’s simple life and the ways he chooses to spend him time throughout the reading of this book and I wonder If I would be more motivated and able to live a life like this, if technology was not as advanced and dependable today.
I have chosen this passage as my fluid text, because of the peaceful scene, Thoreau Cretes through his writing and how essential it is to see the beauty in life, especially during time like these.In version A, this passage has many revisions, specifically with word choice. He uses the word “special” instead of “in particular” and I believe that this shows how comfortable he is with his environment – “in particular” has a cold and uninviting connotation, but “special” makes the reader understand that these are things he is used to.
The last line of this passage is quite interesting when you look in the revisions. In versions A, Thoreau says “nature has her watchmen,” but in this version he says “They are natures watchmen.” I wonder why he decided to gender nature as a female in this first versions but remove the gendering all together in the one we are reading.
Thoreau’s use of language in “Visitors” is already very different from his other chapters as he uses abstract language and metaphorical phrases. In paragraph three, Thoreau describes the difficult task of creating enough distance between him and his guests to have an adequate conversation arguing there needs to be enough room for your thoughts. He begins to compare this to getting into “sailing trim” and the shooting of a bullet. He imagines sentences as if they are concrete and need to unfold into the area allowing them to fall into neutral territories. Thoreau makes it seem as though, he only wants to converse with himself explaining it is a luxury to talk across the pond and clearly one would not be able to hear another’s voice across the pond. This idea supports the title of the last chapter ‘Solitude’ where Thoreau explains to us that he never feels lonely and enjoys living in Solitude, which allows him to enjoy nature. In Visitors, perhaps this metaphorical conversation he was describing was not with another human at all but with nature or the pond itself. His tone of voice also seems to me more energetic and whimsical in these first couple of paragraphs almost as if he is going crazy from being in solitude for so long. I wonder if Thoreau will abandon this new use of language in the upcoming chapters or continue to use more figurative and abstract language.
Thoreau’s description of the beginning of his day is so very different from my fast paced, technological life that it brings me joy and jealousy while reading. While the work Thoreau pursues is not easy by any means, he is able to enjoy what nature provides him. His one statement, “Early in the morning I worked barefoot, dabbling like a plastic artist in the dewy and crumbling sand. . .” is what I imagine a more simple like to be. The physical connection he has with the earth, working in solitude, and respecting the crops he grows is not something many people in the mainstream world will experience to such a great degree. Though is his simple life all that simple? Hiring more men or purchasing machinery to aid his farming would make his day more efficient but it would remove the unique connection he has with his own land. He is able to enjoy the work he does because of the mindset he has, and that is a quality I believe more people should possess.
[But, wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate odd-fellow society]
After reading this paragraph and especially this sentence, I immediately thought of our Nations changing policies on marijuana use and the increase in legalization in several states. Marijuana legalization has proved to be a racial justice issue; as Thoreau doesn’t believe nor support slavery, I doubt that when looking at contemporary politics, he would believe that it is fair that caucasian people are becoming entrepreneurs and capitalizing off go marijuana sales when Black men and women are serving life sentences in prison for doing the same thing when it wasn’t legal. Thoreaus phrase “desperate odd-fellow society” stands out to be because I believe he means that the government will do things to benefit themselves and only themselves. When they change policies, you are free to fit into them, but they won’t go back and free those who were the “odd-fellow out” beforehand. We are living in the 21st century where racism is institutionized and it is not something myself nor Thoreau stand for.
[Walden is blue at one time and green at another, even from the same point of view.]
Point of View during a time like (during a global pandemic) this is an important thing to keep in my mind. I never imagined I would experience what the world is going through right now. I never thought I would have to partake in ‘social distancing’ or stay in my home for a period of days, limiting my contact to the world. It would have never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be able to finish my sophomore year in Geneseo or say goodbye to so many of my friends. People around the world are experiencing the same emotions I am, we are all sharing in the point of view of shock, fear, and sadness. Like Thoreau’s experience with the changing colors of the pond, people around the world are dealing with the changing aspects of their normal lives. While we might all be reading the same exact news and receiving the same exact information, it is affecting all of us differently. My mom, a preschool teacher, is determining how she is going to educate toddlers via the internet. Myself, a college student, is learning how to stay focused during online class. My aunt, a retired physician, is coming out of retirement to care for those affected by COVOID-19. The pond appears in so many different ways, depending on its environment around it; how the sun is located between the hills, what season it is, what the weather is like. . .. Right now, I think the world has to remember that although it may seem like we have no control over what is happening, we are able to establish control based on our perspectives. When it seems like nothing good can come out of this, there needs to be a shift in perspective, a changing of the color of the pond. People are spending more time with family, pollution levels are at a low, people are coming together in ways we don’t see everyday. It is important to remember that there are so many factors that we are in control off, and those things will help us all overcome the hardships that world is facing.
[Already, by the first of September, I had seen two or three small maples turned scarlet across the pond, beneath where the white stems of three aspens diverged, at the point of a promontory, next the water]
For me, the concept of time centers around nature. I will naturally wake up once light has begun to pour through my windows. I feel most productive and do my best work when the sun is still out. I have noticed on stormy days, when I am stuck inside I have to rely on technology to tell me what time it is, and how heavily this impacts on my productivity. For Thoreau, nature surrounds him all the time. He build his home on the Pond in accordance with nature so to not disturb it. He finds joy is being able to mark the change of the seasons by the leaves on the maple trees on the pond. He knows the weather is getting colder when the bees take shelter in his warm home. These natural events still happen today, but they don’t have the meaningful impact they should because of the prevalence of technology. It seems like time for Thoreau is in tune with his environment and he is able to adapt his life to how, and his schedule to how the natural environment changes indicating a change in time.
This is such an interesting line and an interesting paragraph over all. It seems as though Thoreau had accomplished his goal and learned something from it. After living alone and living in a specific routine everyday, he seemed to have gotten too comfortable with it. He realized that he should be spending his time exploring the world \”before the mast and on the deck.\”
I am writing this during my 6th week in quarantine, and I have to agree with everything he is saying here. I have gotten comfortable with my life in quarantine and have certainly established a routine, but I ache to go outside beyond the fence that encloses my home. I have developed more gold for my life once the world calms down and it is interesting to see how closely Thoreau\’s words resonate with me.
In this passage, Thoreau details his peace with nature and his mind. He notes that the “intellectual is a cleaver. . .” meaning that the one who seeks out knowledge will more easily be able to see the truth and simplicity in things. His goal is too live a simple life and he begins his journey in doing this by building his own house, with the knowledge in his head and the materials in his hand. These are the only things he will ever need to live a simple life. In comparison to today, out lives are far but simple. If I were asked to name three things I could not survive without, as pathetic as it may sound, my phone or laptop would be one of those objects. I have grown up learning to use technology and it has manifested its way into our society to the point where many people would not know how to live life without out technological devices. This may not be all bad though. Today, living life simply in the persecutive of one person, may be going through life doing the things you love and not worrying about information that may get in the way of that; technology enables us to live our lives this way. While I may not be living simply by Thoreau’s standards, the technology has enhanced and simplified the way I live my life. It has made communication faster and more efficient. It has transformed the workforce runs and It enables people t connect with those across the world. Thoreau goes on to say his best faculties are concentrated in his head; is our ability to use technology one of best faculties? I have noticed that swiping a screen has become a natural motion for toddlers and I wonder if this is a sign that we are evolving and transforming as a race into an age of technology or that we are forgetting what it means to be human and live a simple life?
I am writing this as I work on my final project for the class. This is one of the passages we have chosen to include in our timeline of revisions as it had noticeable and substantial revisions across versions A and C, that we will pick apart and analyze. Thinking ahead to our blog post, I want to relate our entire project to the circumstances our world is currently facing, as it has changed some aspect of everybody’s life. Thoreau’s writings can be easily connected to everything that is happening today during the pandemic. This paragraph focuses on news and what news means. These lines in particular focus onboard news, to which Thoreau responds, “one is enough, we never need read of another,” noticing that all bad news is the same and t does no good for the public. Today, I feel like that is all we are seeing news sights reporting about the virus – bad news. Would he view news differently if more good news or important news was reported? Perhaps, the revisions gave us an insight to that.
[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 wonder how Thoreau felt about age “not profiting so much as it has lost” toward the end of his own life. Did he uphold the distinction created in “old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new”? Understanding and keeping up with recent technological advances requires various fresh approaches to “old deeds” like encoding language, so I tend to believe the relationship between old and new has become more fluid than ever before. Some old people learn new ways to interact with our technological world, some ‘new’ or young people revisit the old ways to learn history, or the origin of the new. Thoreau didn’t seem to hold out much hope for the prevailing wisdom of older generations. But he does indicate some connection with “and they are only less young than they were”; perhaps ‘youth’ or more broadly, ‘newness’, is a state of mind or a way of being that is momentarily achievable regardless of true age. Approaching technology especially with a transcendental, unprejudiced, and open mind seems key; anticipating learning the new even though you may have already mastered the old, framing life as a journey of continual learning rather than the journey as a means to an end like eventual wisdom. I think what Thoreau is getting at is that assuming mastery of life comes with age is flawed. The person who has the greater insight on the ‘true nature’ of life looks from the perspective of perpetual youth.
“Nations are possessed with an insane ambition to perpetuate the memory of themselves by the amount of hammered stone they leave. What if equal pains were taken to smooth and polish their manners? One piece of good sense would be more memorable than a monument as high as the moon.”
The way in which nations ‘perpetuate memories’ of themselves has been a concern before Thoreau wrote about it, and is still a concern in American society today. A glorious (but dishonest, and biased) American history may be analogous to the ‘hammered stone’ Thoreau talks about here. Americans take such pain to ensure the collective American memory is a positive one, rather than focusing on the reality of the American experience, which belies this rose-tinted memory. One of the many reasons “Make America Great Again” fails is because America was never objectively great, except perhaps to those working so hard to perpetuate (and create) false memories. The information we choose to preserve and the information we choose to erase (or, with a note of concern, information that is unethically erased) impacts the memory of our nation, so it’s important that we remain aware of this and alert to attempts to censor or stifle the spread of information– and whether that information is truly accurate and indicative of the nation it stands for.
“yet this only is reading, in a high sense, not that which lulls us as a luxury and suffers the nobler faculties to sleep the while, but what we have to stand on tiptoe to read and devote our most alert and wakeful hours to”
Thoreau is of the opinion that reading should be an activity on a higher level of consciousness, unlike the supposedly numbed mental processes of easy reading. It’s safe to assume he would be a proponent of close reading, and consider reading with a deep and undivided focus the ‘noblest’ form. But what would he make of our easier than easy reading today, for instance, a thread on Twitter? Undoubtedly we are reading that thread, but not in the noblest sense of close reading that Thoreau prefers. However, to think reading a thread on Twitter is not actually reading is misguided, because our brain adapts to the information we consume and how we choose to consume it. Depending on the thread, I suppose you could close read on Twitter, but it’s more likely that you may use hyperreading techniques like scanning or skimming. In reality, if we were to close read every text we came upon, we would have way too much information. And in our present age of information inundation, we have the luxury to choose which information is important and which is not, and adjust our reading level accordingly. In her article, N. Katherine Hayles mentions a book titled The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, which pinpoints concerns about the overwhelming shift toward hyperreading rather than close reading as the primary reading ability, especially in our generation. Hayles explains Carr’s position: “He readily admits that Web reading has enormously increased the scope of information available, from global politics to scholarly debates. He worries, however, that hyperreading leads to changes in brain function that make sustained concentration more difficult, leaving us in a constant state of distraction in which no problem can be explored for very long before our need for continuous stimulation kicks in and we check e-mail, scan blogs, message someone, or check our RSS feeds” (67). This certainly rings true for my reading experience online, especially if the online text requires us to mentally ‘stand on tip-toe’ to grasp. I still prefer the physicality of a book because the experience is much more immersive. But I can’t deny the fact that I read much more content digitally, not quite thinking of the words under posts and threads as ‘true reading’, which is a bad habit to get into.
I love Thoreau’s description of night sounds in this section, particularly of the owl and the bullfrog. His description of these natural sounds and the emotions they evoke in the listener ring true despite the fact that they were written over a hundred years ago. Certain sounds and animal calls seem to be woven into the human experience, seldom changing between ages. Even those sounds we might not call ‘plesasant’, like the haunting cry of an owl. Even this strange sound has its rightful place: “suited to swamps and twilight woods which no day illustrates, suggesting a vast and undeveloped nature which men have no recognized.” Thoreau’s suggestion of a “vast and undeveloped nature” unrecognized by man is intriguing. Today, technological sounds have become a sort of “second nature” to us (e.g. a phone ringing or a text-alert, a T.V. or radio playing in the other room, cars/trains going past, dial-up, printers, etc.) but do we take the time to truly recognize the sounds we hear as part of our new nature? I can imagine a poem written about birdsong and “beautiful Nature”, but what about an ode to text-tones? This sound is certainly part of our “beautiful Nature” now in the sense that we probably hear text-tones as often as birdsong, but our attention to it as such is under-developed. “But now a more dismal arid fitting day dawns, and a different race of creatures awakes to express the meaning of Nature there”: I know Thoreau is talking about creatures of the night, but in a way, the technological age awakes a “different race of creatures” (us, who see, hear, and interact with the world in an unprecedented manner via technology) to express a particular meaning of nature. I appreciate that Thoreau’s definition of nature is not static. Nature, and our understanding of it, may be historically situated, constantly in flux from age to age. Our Nature in the technological age envelops many of the familiar natural sounds, but with the addition of newly naturalized mechanical sounds.
“With thinking we may be beside ourselves in a sane sense. By a conscious effort of the mind we can stand aloof from actions and their consequences; and all things, good and bad, go by us like a torrent. We are not wholly involved in Nature. I may be either the drift-wood in the stream, or Indra in the sky looking down on it”
Solitude is certainly conducive to thinking, particularly thinking deeply. When we’re fully absorbed in thought, we’re able to assume a perspective disentangled from the distractions of the self. For a few moments, at least. In the quote above, Thoreau seems to indicate an instance of objective thought. More often than not, our thoughts are formed with the subjective in mind, if they’re not outright egocentric. But we all possess the ability to exist outside our subjective selves and consider the beyond: stuff like ‘the eternal’ and ‘objective truths.’ In that sense, as Thoreau points out, we can momentarily exist apart from ourselves. He calls this a ‘doubleness’ in thought.
In my experience, I’ve become familiar with the sense of ‘spectating’ my life in a detached way. Like Thoreau, I wouldn’t necessarily call this doubleness, this standing beside my life, a good thing. When I consider “my self” objectively, often in moments of extreme unreality (and solitude), I’m wont to be overly critical and cold. It’s also frightening to see yourself as just another human, who will make mistakes and eventually die like everyone else. But I appreciate the moments of clarity it affords me. This type of thinking is great for getting lost in writing, and also for acting without thinking during overwhelmingly stressful situations, but not for day-to-day existence. As Thoreau writes, “we are not wholly involved in Nature” here, and feeding too much to the detached, objective side of our thoughts takes the joy out of life and “may easily make us poor neighbors and friends”, lacking the ability to connect to someone’s subjective experience.
I’m really interested in Thoreau’s notion of the spectator. Above I connected it to objective thought, but I also think this lends itself well to Eastern philosophy. When he writes “that is no more I than it is you” of the detached, observant spectator, it brings to mind the concept of “oneness”, or everything being connected as a manifestation of ‘God.’ Perhaps this spectator, that exists for all of us, is indication of some base spirituality. It’s a lot to consider.
But, in an attempt to connect this to technology somehow, the word spectator reminds me of language in video games. In the online game LoL, you can ‘spectate’ a match other people are playing without being involved in the game yourself. As a spectator, you can move between the perspectives of any/all players, while not being a player yourself. This isn’t very fun, but you can learn from other players’ real-time experience, which tracks onto Thoreau’s concept of a spectator “sharing no experience [with the self], but taking note of it.”
“In him the animal man chiefly was developed… But the intellectual and what is called spiritual man in him were slumbering as in an infant. He had been instructed only in that innocent and ineffectual way […] by which the pupil is never educated to the degree of consciousness, but only to the degree of trust and reverence, and a child is not made a man, but kept a child”
It’s clear that the intellectual man is of great importance to Thoreau. He takes some measure not to present the intellectual man as ‘superior’ to the ‘animal man’, but he does suggest the man of intellect has access to higher faculties and perhaps a higher mode of consciousness. What I cannot discern is whether or not Thoreau found children to possess some wisdom, or if, as it seems in the quote above, children and “childlike thoughts” occupy a lower level of consciousness.
At the end of “Reading”, Thoreau writes: “I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.” Here, he indicates an unusual correlation between youth and wisdom. Earlier in “Reading”, he writes: “Children, who play life, discern its true law and relations more clearly than men who fail to live it worthily, but who think that they are wiser by experience, that is, failure.” Based on these quotes, it seems that children do occupy a space of unique wisdom, chiefly because their wisdom is not a result of experience, or that it’s based on limited experience. If children can “discern [the] true law and relations” of our world more than some grown men, what difference does it make if a man is “kept a child” in his education?
That’s the crux of Thoreau’s dilemma, I think: education. Namely, the type of education we receive, the values of that education, and where it takes us. Men may be thoroughly educated, but if their education teaches them “trust and reverence” above all, then they will never learn to think for themselves and question the (seemingly) unquestionable. If that’s the sole education we receive, institutional change or reform is nigh on impossible. Even more dangerously, so is free thought. If we do not have the educational foundation to question what we’re told, we are unable to formulate our own opinions or form an individual perspective.
Despite all this, Thoreau still appears to celebrate aspects of the child’s perspective. Perhaps he means to say that the quest for wisdom, depending on the type of education we receive, may actually lead us astray. In that sense, some of us were better off with the wisdom we gleaned from the world as children.
Reflecting on “Visitors” as Thoreau developed it between 1846 and 1854, there is a conscious effort to celebrate those individuals on the farthest vestiges of society– not unlike Thoreau himself– and to portray them in a favorable light. He suggests different types of genius in different ways of life, and doesn’t deign to place the value of one genius over another. Thoreau’s ear is impartial. He listens to everyone and everything with equal consideration. The only criticism he offers is of those whose opinions are most often trusted unequivocally by society: ministers, doctors, lawyers, and housewives. There is no reason their words should hold more weight than anyone else’s. In fact, we should doubt their opinions most of all.
Thoreau was a mite more critical of society in earlier versions of “Visitors”– he omits a dramatic passage from the original manuscript, wherein two young women fail to return the water dipper they borrowed from him, and he writes them off as “pariahs of the moral world.” The original ending of “Visitors” were the lines: “these are the folks that worry the man / that lives in the house that I built”, which is a rather pessimistic reaction to society. In later versions, he tailors this chapter around the surprising wisdom we stand to gain from genuine interactions with all people, especially those who are overlooked by society. At this time, Thoreau also helped harbor escaped slaves on their journey to freedom in Canada. Although this occurred for the most part at his parent’s house in Concord (because the house at Walden Pond was too small), he transposes this event to “Visitors”, commenting on the extent of his empathy almost ten years before the Civil War.
Having abandoned the reverential attitude once afforded to simple tasks, we live the “meanest” and most desperate lives by using our time as a means to an end, where capital gain is more often the end. I couldn’t begin to tell you how often people have asked, after I tell them I’m an English major: “What are you going to do with that?” This question can be more accurately re-phrased as: “But how will you make money with your degree?” Thankfully, I don’t view my education as merely a means to an end. That’s along the lines of the mean and desperate way of living Thoreau mentions. Only a few adults in my life can fathom the value of an education outside STEM because money has become the fulcrum around which our lives turn. But, like Thoreau, I am determined not to revere capital gain, but rather, my unique experience as I’m living it. Most importantly, these are experiences that teach me something new, broaden my current perspective, or change my mind entirely.
The thing is, when we act heedlessly and irreverently (e.g. rushing through your work just to get it done, angrily cleaning your room when you’re in a bad mood, doing anything half-heartedly or unconsciously), we forfeit our ability to enjoy the moment. The dinner you really don’t feel like making right now because there’s more “important” things on your to-do list was once considered a “sacred artform” with associated ceremonies and rituals. What we tend to forget is that it still could be, and perhaps it should be so.
Any action may be elevated beyond banality if you approach it with due reverence, even mundane activities like making dinner or driving home from work. As humans, can we really afford to live without reverence? And I don’t mean religious reverence: if we can’t see the artistry in our daily tasks, the sacredness created in the sense that we are paying undivided attention to this action in this moment, what sort of life are we living? I agree with Thoreau, that an irreverent life seems degraded and mean. Many tasks we wouldn’t spare a second thought, like making dinner, driving to work, getting dressed for the day, etc. are robbed of their reverence by the press of time and money. If we took the adequate time and energy to do our daily tasks with the love and attention they deserve, our lives would be much more personally rewarding. And that’s about the best you can get out of life.
“It is true, I might have resisted forcibly with more or less effect, might have run ‘amok’ against society; but I preferred that society should run ‘amok’ against me, it being the desperate party”
How is society a “desperate party”? In the last few sections, Thoreau uses the word “desperate” to describe the reckless nature of some men and their society. “Desperate” is rather vague, but some synonyms I find especially applicable to Thoreau’s meaning of the word are “hasty”, “rash”, “desirous”, and “demoralized.” Thoreau’s fellow man seemed to lack the deliberation with which he led his life; instead, their lives are governed by rash decisions based on wayward desires, grounded in no certain morality. The list of synonyms marches on to include “lawless”, “violent”, and “resigned.” Thoreau knew the weight of the word he was using, and that weight has only increased over the years. With concern, Thoreau indicates how society seems ever more resigned to desperation rather than deliberation.
In the quote above, Thoreau re-iterates his civil disobedience. Rather than ‘running amok’ against society by evading the law, he calmly accepts his charge and does time in jail. He allows society, that desperate party, to run amok against him. I take this to mean he threw himself with some faith into that jail cell, figuring all the while that ‘society’ would do its utmost to keep him there. It seems he accepted this as a possibility, but kept faith that his fate would never be decided by desperate men and their “dirty institutions.” He was right, but the same cannot be said for many people in America today. Unfortunately, a country led by desperate men sows desperation among its citizens. “Dirty institutions” regularly decide the fate of our country, and by extension, the fate of our people, disparaging some and wildly benefitting others. How much longer can we trust society to “run amok” against us, fairly? How long before our best option may be to run amok against society ourselves?
“It is itself unchanged, the same water which my youthful eyes fell on; all the change is in me. It has not acquired one permanent wrinkle after all its ripples.”
According to Thoreau, water is one facet of the ageless beauty in nature. Water, not alive but certainly beholden to some lively characteristics, does not wither with time like living organisms do. It makes me sad to imagine how shocked Thoreau would be at the quality of even the cleanest bodies of water today… impossibly, they are beginning to show the detriments of time and human wear, mostly due to pollution. Despite this, water retains its essential characteristics, albeit with more trash amidst the pond-dwellers: “the same thought is welling up to its surface that was then; it is the same liquid joy and happiness.” Water still flows with the same ferocity and remains still with like serenity in 2020 as it did in 1854. It continues to inspire us, calm us, and call us visiting. If we take time to notice, many parts of nature remain unchanged and somewhat eternal. Unfortunately, though, we must also realize their sanctity is being threatened– by time, but mostly callous human choices.
I was interested at looking at paragraph seven (beginning “if one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions…”) in the fluid text edition of Walden primarily to see context for the whimsical, poetic sentences concluding the paragraph: “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.” Thoreau’s language in these sentences sounds more romantic than his usual, grounded-but-philosophical style.
As it turns out, these two saccharine sentences remained the same through all seven versions. The romantics in us may rest assured that these words must have came into existence in a moment of passing genius, perfectly realized in a fleeting instance. Brilliance is as transient as the “segment of the rainbow” clutched momentarily by Thoreau; he must have seen something like brilliance in these sentences to cling to. What’s more revealing is the action in the surrounding lines.
According to the earliest version from 1847, these two sentences were located at the very end of “Higher Laws.” In fact, only one sentence comes after them in Version A, which seems hastily tacked on: “But practically I am but only half-converted by my own arguments for I still fish.” Perhaps some of the beauty of the two sentences I mention above stems from the fact they were once the finale of a chapter, the final burst in a flow of thought. In Versions B-D, Thoreau deletes the self-conscious aside and ends “Higher Laws” with the rainbow. But the other sentence trailing off the end reveals how Thoreau was unsatisfied, even then, with this conclusion. In Version E, he expands on the line of thought he originally ended “Higher Laws” with, instead.
Version E shows major revisions in “Higher Laws”: Thoreau changes the beginning of paragraph seven from first person perspective to third person: “I” to “one” or “his,” opening the discussion to his audience, rather than keeping it beholden to himself alone. He also perfects the transition between the end of paragraph seven and the new beginning of the eighth paragraph: the fried rat. For some reason, I found the transition from clutching a segment of rainbow to eating a fried rat “with a good relish” truly humorous. I bet that’s not what Thoreau intended, but the transition is amusingly jarring, and follows from the original tag-along sentence. The opening sentence of paragraph eight reflects a similar sentiment: Thoreau is half-converted by his own arguments because, despite his “true harvest” of highest reality, he knows eating a fried rat may be simultaneously necessary. This new sentence retains the honest self-assessment of the original, with more humor and structural style.
“Having each some shingles of thought well dried…”
Thoreau seems, at times, critical of his neighbors, particularly the villagers and the family from the Baker Farm. His appreciation for more kindred spirits, like the poet and wandering philosopher, reveal his subtle value of company in Walden Woods. Solitude is liberating, but in the long winter months, a like-minded visitor is welcome change.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, many of us might feel critical of the company we unexpectedly have to keep. Or, grateful for a group of like-minded folks, but I’m willing to wager that’s not the case for everyone. But the important piece of wisdom Thoreau imparts upon us here is the value of a good conversation. It allows us to transcend our temporary quarantine: mentally, at least. Being fully engaged in a genuine conversation, even if you’re not lucky enough to have a philosopher on hand, allows us to “build castles in the air” which have no earthly hold. Especially with technology, we have the capacity to be together intellectually and spiritually: to Thoreau, this seems like the most vital connection. Deep in shared thought, we can be anywhere together, no longer moored solely to the present moment and its mounting stress.
[We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it; and did not spend our time in atoning for the neglect of past opportunities, which we call doing our duty. We loiter in winter while it is already spring]
The “live in the moment” philosophy Thoreau expresses here endures into our present. We reduce the guilt and worry in our lives by trying to focus exclusively on the next step, or doing the next right thing, rather than torturing ourselves with mistakes we’ve made in the past or imagining hopeless futures as a result of these mistakes. Another philosophical notion that, perhaps, could be recalled more often in our present, is the tenacity of human will. Thoreau writes “to take advantage of every accident that befell us,” referencing the human capacity to re-claim and re-frame unfortunate circumstances to our advantage. Mistakes, tragedies, the turning of fate’s wheel… all offer us opportunities to change and grow. If we condemn ourselves for our pasts, that’s where we’ll stay. If we fear our future, we’ll never change to meet it. Accidents, however they happen and whatever they are, help define us as individuals. We should be grateful for the experiential knowledge and self knowledge we gain by making human errors, rather than ashamed of our imperfections. Shame and fear keep us “loitering in winter” unnecessarily, but if we endeavor to keep our minds in the present, we will always have access to the clean light of spring.
[Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poor-house. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the alms-house as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace. The town’s poor seem to me often to live the most independent lives of any. May be they are simply great enough to receive without misgiving]
This sentiment is reflected in Thoreau’s experiences with visitors to Walden Pond. He describes the Canadian woodchopper, Alex Therien, with as much respect and reverence as one of his more highly educated peers. Thoreau recognizes the wisdom, the variable genius, all people possess if only we take the time to listen. Many of our greatest fears– like poverty and isolation–are assuaged by Thoreau’s account of life at Walden Pond. One may be deprived of material wealth and human contact and still live a rich life, perhaps even the richest life: one that is more spiritually rewarding than the lives of well-to-do townsfolk. There is also freedom of greater proportion in the impoverished life, because the world expects little of you. There is less pressure to conform to society as an outsider, which Thoreau seems to view as an asset. In his eyes, society creates more trouble for itself than it’s worth, and the humble man is more honorable than any prince. If leading a simple life is perceived as impoverishment, then let the world aspire to poverty.
“In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify.”
Simplicity is an important tenet of Thoreau’s life ‘lived deliberately.’ The smallest bits of information, vital to communication, are uncovered via simplification. Complicated messages are encoded, or simplified, to be easily transmitted and received. Otherwise, our communication would be much more difficult. Gleick writes: “The transmitter “operates on the message in some way”—that is, encodes the message—to produce a suitable signal. A telephone converts sound pressure into analog electric current. A telegraph encodes characters in dots, dashes, and spaces. More complex messages may be sampled, compressed, quantized, and interleaved” (223). This sense of conversion, between complex and simpler symbols of meaning, from our everyday language to the computer languages used for coding, fuels the human ability to communicate over great distances and with great speed. So by simplifying and simplifying, perhaps contrary to Thoreau’s anticipation, we ended up with a information technology more complex than ever.
[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.
Leave a comment on paragraph 170″ The indescribable innocence and beneficence of Nature,—of sun and wind and rain, of summer and winter,—such health, such cheer, they afford forever!” –
“forever” made me come to the realization that nature is everlasting and will replenish itself always no matter the destruction done to it. Yet most humans neglect nature’s “indescribable innocence and beneficence”.
“I am convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown. These take place only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient while others have not enough”
I agree to an extent. Yes, if everyone had only what they needed then there would be no need to take from another person out of jealousy, but, no one knows the true motive. Definitely debateable.
“It is remarkable how long men will believe in the bottomlessness of a pond without taking the trouble to sound it.”
Is he trying to say, we believe what we hear (internet) and believe it before taking the time to process it?
By the way he was using imagery in this paragraph, it is obvious he admires the natural changes that spring brings him and his pond.
“I know of nothing more purgative of winter and indigestion.” He does not like winter and associates unwanted stomach pain with it.
A lot of personification to keep the theme of this paragraph of spring bringing joy and life to not only him, but the world.
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.
This paragraph sticks out to me because of the section of writing where he says, “I would rather ride on on earth in an ox cart with a free circulation, than go to heaven in the fancy car of an excursion train and breathe a malaria all the way”. From this section, I was able to pick up the theme of money not being happiness and fancy luxurious things will not always bring you happiness.
This paragraph contains some very neat imagery. I also like the use of the word “slice” when describing a piece of a log.
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?
The concept of removing oneself from modern society in order to conduct business with “the fewest obstacles” is something that could no longer be done today. Technology has become such an integral part of our everyday life as humans that it would be almost impossible to live without much, if any, technology. Money has become the only means of trade as you would be hard-pressed to find many businesses that would conduct old-fashioned trade. To get money, you need a job. Nearly every job requires technology which involves being a part of this modern society. This may be having to advertise your business online, driving to work, using computers, or even just using a phone. Living a so-called “simple life” without technology would only add obstacles instead of removing them in this day and age. This concept that Thoreau is detailing is now unique to an older time. I do wonder what today’s version of Walden would be. How could someone have the “fewest obstacles” to conducting their business when technology is necessary for almost everything in life.
I wonder what Thoreau would make of our technology today. I’m especially curious about abbreviations in the context of our discussions on language and technology with Thoreau’s idea that we are talking faster than we can sensibly. There are so many abbreviations such as “lol,” “jk,” “fyi,” and “asap” that people use on a daily basis, and those examples are only a select few. It’s not quite it’s own language, but I would argue that our abundance of abbreviations is a new type of texting literacy. You have to be literate in text slang in order to understand what people are saying when they use abbreviations.
I’m not certain what Thoreau would make of it, but I lean toward believing that he wouldn’t like it. Something like “lol” which stands for “laugh out loud” has become filler in conversations over text. I highly doubt that every person truly laughs out loud every time they type “lol.” It’s a filler phrase now that just conveys mild humor. It’s something most people type without even thinking about it. As a society, we have the ability to talk to one another across any distance instantly. That’s quite fast communication, but we rarely give much thought to our words.
Hayles’ “How We Read” starts off by mentioning how deeply critical scholars are of this current generation and digital reading. I think that Thoreau would also be quite critical of digital reading. If he thought that a lot was published back then, he would be horrified at the seemingly infinite number of books one can read for $9.99 on their Kindle. However, I think that Thoreau might appreciate how the digital world makes so many texts in various languages accessible. One can read the classics in their original language and use the internet to help translate. Digital reading opens a whole new world of opportunities for readers. Not everyone or even most people take advantage of this opportunity, but it’s there for those few who see the value in reading and learning.
I grew up down the street from a park that hid a set of train tracks at the back. There is a fence and several warning signs, but there they are marking the end of the little league field. My friends and I used to hop the fence of the baseball field to lay in the outfield and listen to trains thunder past. Aside from the whistle, I can perfectly hear the “iron horse” that Thoreau describes here. It’s an overwhelming sound that can drown out even the sound of your own thoughts. This sound is quite obviously one only made by technology. It’s funny how both our train tracks are near our get-aways. Mine next to the park and Thoreau’s next to his woods.
This passage reminds me of the song “Car Radio” by Twenty One Pilots. The song follows the lead singer as he laments the loss of his car radio. The lead singer finds out that he can’t hide from himself in the silence and solitude of his car. Solitude can be scary at first, but it’s in the seclusion that you can learn about yourself. People go out of their way to stay busy and distracted to avoid spending too much time with their own mind. However, if people spent more time in solitude, they would notice things about themselves and their environment like Thoreau does in this section. He felt the discomfort associated with seclusion until the silence allowed him to hear the natural world around him. He was able to see the woods and weather in a new way without the constant distraction of always being surrounded by people.
As a kid I spent a lot of time home alone because my mom worked a lot. Because of that, I’ve always loved being alone. When I was alone as a kid I would explore the house and play pretend for hours. Now as an adult, solitude allows me to be creative and contemplative. It may be uncomfortable at first, but more people ought to give solitude a chance. Being alone every now and then might help them see things in a new light.
So perchance it appears to each of us They are unaccountably kind to me Notwithstanding a sense of unworthiness which possesses me, for the most part the spirit of the universe seems unaccountably kind to me, & I seem to enjoy an unusual share of happiness. Yet I think that there may be a settlement to come
This section is removed from the published version of Walden. I think that this section shines some light on a more humble version of Thoreau than is seen in the majority of the published text. He acknowledges how fortunate he is, which is refreshing! This small passage gives us insight into a less-sure Thoreau who feels unworthy of his luck. This is a stark contrast to his usual confident voice as a writer.
I\’ve been coding this chapter of Walden over the past couple of days. It\’s been a real challenge because I am by no means good at coding, I just happened to be the person in my group willing to give it a try! I thought this would mean that I\’d only do the coding part of the project, however after expending hours typing out each word and triple-checking that I didn\’t skip over a line (I triple check because I\’ve done just that three times already), I feel as thought I understand the text better than before. I find myself contributing to all of the project because I have so many thoughts on the text! We are all in a unique position to be writing and thinking about solitude, both the chapter and the concept. I\’ve never agreed much with Thoreau with the exception of this chapter. I love being in solitude. I really wanted to focus on this chapter for the group project because it\’s my favorite. However, I\’m starting to better understand paragraph 14. I\’ve kind of skimmed that paragraph in the past, but the two sentences have new meaning during social distancing. There\’s a difference between self-chosen solitude and forced solitude. One breeds healthy thought, self-reflection, productivity, and relaxation while the other inhibits all of those things. This chapter is almost only about self-chosen solitude, and while it\’s still my favorite, I don\’t connect with Thoreau nearly as much as I used to. In fact, his wonder toward solitude is almost annoying at the moment. Instead I find compassion for the dying man, and gratitude for the line \”and come to know that we are never alone.\” I include the \”and\” because realizing that we aren\’t alone is a continuous process, and not a linear one by any stretch.
This section reminds me of “Solitude.” It’s a bit of a juxtaposition because at first, Thoreau wasn’t happy with the seclusion, however he warmed up to it, and that shows here. The language itself is very different. Thoreau used a lot of natural language in the last section, but here he uses artificial language which seems very different from the whole beginning of this book.
Blackberries always make me happy and strangely sad. My brother and his family used to live in Seattle, WA which is overrun by blackberry bushes. They are everywhere, and they are an invasive species that kill off the native plants. That’s why blackberries make me sad. Despite how terrible that fact is, picking blackberries with my niece and nephew is one of my favorite past-times. Blackberries make me think of chubby cheeks stained with juice and kissing boo boos caused by the bushes’ thorns. I can sympathize with Thoreau here; blackberry bushes are impossible to get rid of, and they kill every other plant around them. He seems to have been able to grow crops in spite of several challenges.
“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” reminds me heavily of the way that news circulates today. However, instead of strolling through a village to hear the latest, people scroll through social media. They hear news from friends and family who have commented on stories or shared articles. Much like gossip, however, this “news” isn’t always factual. It’s the gossip that someone heard from someone who read some news article that they can’t find anymore. It’s like the game of telephone; everything gets distorted as it moves down the line.
I, like most people, have been ridiculously bored lately. Don’t judge me, because I’m sure we’ve all done odd things during quarantine, but one of my hobbies has been following my cat around. It started as a joke because indoor cats are quarantine professionals, but I found it really interesting. I used to think that bird-watchers or anyone who studied wildlife was a little weird because it sounds so boring. I didn’t understand the point. However, I have a new appreciation for animals and hobbies like ornithology thanks to social distancing. I think it’s really interesting how Thoreau gave up his guns because there was a better way to study them. I understand why it’s important to study the biology of different animals, but I think it’s more interesting and more of a challenge to study their habitats, likes, dislikes, and habits. This might be the first time in the book I’ve seen eye to eye with Thoreau! There’s one good thing to come out of all of the craziness.
Some things are inevitable. The changing leaves is one of them. However, time has been weird lately. It just snowed in the end of March, and it looked wrong. It looked like time made a mistake. I think the way that the seasons blend and tug-a-war back and forth is fascinating. I can see what Thoreau is describing perfectly. It’s still too hot out, but there are dots in the line of trees that have succumbed to fall before it’s even begun. It’s like summer and fall are fighting or dancing between one another. However, time doesn’t stop for anyone, and eventually all the leaves change and fall.
Thoreau would’ve loved HGTV. In all seriousness, this is an interesting daydream for this book. Thoreau was in an isolated area in a small house, but here he dreams of a large, meeting room with many visitors. I hate relating everything back to COVID-19, but it’s similar to how I’ve seen friends and family react to isolation. Even people who are introverted with social anxiety are wishing for large gatherings. I hate crowds, but I want to go to a concert and stand is a huge crowd of people. Everyone is daydreaming about four walls that aren’t their own. It’s interesting to see how Thoreau’s experiment did this to him as isolation is doing it to us. It really shows that humans are social creatures even when we don’t claim to be.
It’s interesting that Thoreau says he had “several more lives to live” because he isn’t often remembered for any of those other lives. Many people assume that he only believed in living alone in the woods and completely rejected society. I used to be guilty of this! He actually contributed to technology, politics, and society in several ways throughout his life. Walden was, in fact, only one of the many lives he lead throughout his time. It makes me wonder how society decides what to remember of certain people. I think it mostly comes down to the education system. In high school and even in humanities class, I only learned the Walden side of Thoreau. I didn’t know about his other works and contributions.
It seems as though Thoreau is most at peace when he has the least amount of technology. Though this particular example is metaphorical, Thoreau is denying the simplest of technologies in favor of sitting inside his own head. He doesn’t want to use the alphabet nor tools that require his hands or feet. He admits that this is making he less wide, and yet he doesn’t feel troubled by that. Instead, he feels like an animal driven by instinct without the worries that come with being human. This is fairly ironic considering he is disconnected from modern technologies in order to write which is something nearly exclusive to the human experience. In Gleick’s The Information, we learn that the alphabet and written word are complex technologies that revolutionized communication and history-keeping. It’s interesting that Thoreau would reject “technology” only to be doing something highly technological, writing about the human experience.
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.
In this paragraph, Thoreau discusses the manmade world and how this affects the way humans function. When humans follow the ways of those around them, it is likely to change the way they view the world and the values they hold. Through a modern perspective in relation to technology, humans all over the world are consumed by the cell phones and social media. As a result, this may cause desperation for more out of life and possibly a greater meaning. After so long, trying to live up to people around us is likely to become exhausting, leading to a desire to escape the media world for something else more meaningful and realistic.
This passage was intriguing to me as it made me consider just how little it takes to get by, and even be satisfied as Thoreau says he was. It shows that living simply is not something that always needs to be seen as a negative thing. People in today’s society waste so much food as well as other luxuries that some countries don’t have at their disposal. Living a more simple life like Thoreau continues to encourage throughout his writing could also help humans to focus on the realities of life and issues that need fixing instead of being caught up in so many things that are essentially privileges to have. The same goes for technology. It would be entirely possible to get by without it, but it would make life much less convenient. I think Thoreau wants readers to consider what they take for granted and how they can change their lifestyles and perspectives even in any small ways possible, in order to contribute to the making of a greater society no matter where it might be.
In this paragraph, Thoreau in a way seems to consider the act of reading as something with a sense of aesthetic, while also taking it seriously and putting thought into the message he received from his reading. I think the environment you read in has a lot to do with the action itself, the occasion, and what you take away from it. While reading can be leisurely and enjoyable, it can also be for the purposes of learning and critical thinking. This strongly relates to Hayles piece as she discusses print reading versus web-based reading. Textiles can often make a significant difference when it comes to the different ways people read. Some people may want a printed text for the sentimental value or just the act of being able to hold and turn the pages which is often considered to be easier. Even the sole act of having a book out in one’s immediate view can have an impact on them as it is easily visible and even a reminder to them for whatever the given purposes may be. Overall, when it comes to how we read as a society today, things have changed in terms of technology but old ways are still valued by many.
For such a brief paragraph, there is a lot being said by Thoreau here. Aside from this being a rare mention of him feeling loneliness, there is much that can be interpreted about the effects that sounds can have on someone. I can relate to the sounds of cars going by in the distance as I live near a highway. When I stand outside of my house or have my window open, I hear this and it gives me a sense of solidarity. The sounds of the outside world also take me to a place away from the technologies I use on a daily basis. Sometimes I sit outside without my phone and just listen to the natural sounds of my surroundings and it allows me to mentally connect with where I am and what I am experiencing in that moment. The sounds of my neighborhood also gives me a sense of nostalgia when I think about the sights and sounds I grew up around. Even though I may feel alone when I sit outside by myself and without any media interaction, this time allows me to reflect on my environment and how I relate to everything around me.
I think it is interesting how Thoreau discusses feelings of loneliness and how this both affected him and didn’t at the same time. He discusses that he never felt lonesome despite the lack of human contact around him, but he was also conscious of the “slight insanity” in his mood. I can relate to this because when I am alone (which I usually don’t like to be), I have to find ways to entertain myself, which sometimes leads to me believing I’m a little crazy. However, I convince myself that this is normal because it is only me in the room and no one else is there to influence my actions.
This same idea can be related to technology. When I am on social media, along with many others, this changed the way I portray myself and interact with people because I know other people will be seeing it. This could come off as much different than how my true, in-person self is. Without the use of technology, this gives me the freedom to act as a more authentic and even creative version of myself. As much as I don’t like being alone, sometimes I need that time to discover new things about myself that I can’t find when I am around other people, especially without the use of technology.
I enjoy this chapter of the book because I think the “solitude” of Thoreau’s situation is one of the most intriguing aspects of the book. I chose to address this passage in particular as I noticed it is completely cut out of Version A of Walden. I wanted to touch upon why this might be as there must have been a reason behind this passage being removed while others remained. As I look at the rest of the passages in this chapter and how they might compare to this paragraph, he starts the chapter off with a very broad sense of how he observes the nature around him. However, he follows this with a paragraph of a specific look into a situation in his own life, then right into another paragraph of an experience he had. I think this second passage in the chapter was removed from Version A because it makes for a smoother transition into a new theme. I also think this creates a deeper sense for the reader by leaving out a paragraph that does not have much meaning to it, while the following paragraph has a more valuable insight to consider following the first paragraph in the chapter.
This paragraph is unique and insightful as it portrays a new side of Thoreau’s experiences living in Walden. Previously, it seemed that he purposely isolated himself by through his living situation in order to avoid human contact as he discussed this in “Solitude.” This viewpoint changed within this chapter as it addressed how Thoreau did in fact have an appreciation for visitors and people in society as a whole.
I think it’s important how Thoreau takes the time to absorb his surroundings and the various aspects of the natural world. This is something that can be appreciated when we step away from technology. He also addresses the benefit of working with one’s own hands and the “intimacy” of doing so. This is yet another thing to consider that we may not as so much of our own work is done through the use of technology. The way Thoreau talks about something as simple as a bean in such depth indicates how observant he is and the ways he can view the world and even small things within it more deeply than most people who only see the shallowness that comes with the use of social media and other parts of technology.
As Thoreau describes how he went into the village to get the most recent news, I think of how different we receive news today. Although some people still read the newspaper, whether local or not, it is not nearly as common as it used to be. Most people in modern day receive the news through their phones, computers, or TV. When it comes to social media specifically, I automatically think about the number of arguments I have seen within the comments on various posts regarding political opinions. Unfortunately, this easy access to news and communication creates such controversy between individuals through a screen. People seem to refuse to discuss their opinions and settle arguments in person, so they just go on and on in the comments section. I think this causes many people to avoid agreeing to disagree when they might actually attempt to otherwise if they were to have a genuine, in-person conversation. If one were just to receive the news through a newspaper and without a source of convenient and efficient communication, there would likely be less political disputes among strong-minded people who believe in various ideas.
This passage is particularly descriptive as Thoreau discusses how he spends some of his free time at night when he is not working. He seems to have a strong connection with nature and at the end he says how he has “made his home by the shore.” I think that they way in which Thoreau chooses to spend his time affects his quality of life. When he spends time in nature, he is all in and focused on the essence around him. This reminds me of when I go camping and I don’t have access to my phone, which forces me to spend quality time in nature with my family.
Although this passage is short, I think it has a lot of meaning and potential to it. The line “It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.” To me, this relates a lot to the effect that the current need for social distancing has had on me. It has forced me to find new ways of entertaining myself, including taking more walks outside and taking in nature. Also, I think this relates to the nature of the situation at hand. People all over the world have had to deal with these circumstances in their own ways. I am already starting to see a lot of people saying how they took “normal” life for granted before this all happened. Instead of looking at it as a negative thing, people have gotten creative with it and used it as a learning experience. It is all about the perspective of the “beholder” and how they choose to cope with it and what they take away from this experience.
I find this section interesting as Thoreau vividly recalls a moment in his life that has stuck with him. Although this must have been something that must have happened so fast, Thoreau can describe the happenings of the situations in great detail based on the surrounding nature, but I think more importantly, his interpretation of how the man felt about his being there.
This is intriguing to me as it seems rare to find something I find humorous in Thoreau’s writing. I take him to be a very serious individual who sticks to his ways. I guess if you have as much of an opportunity to take in nature the way Thoreau does, you have a lot of time to form an opinion about something as simple as finding that you don’t have “much respect” for jays, and see them as “thieves” but find squirrels to be hardworking and taking what they deserve.
I find it interesting how Thoreau takes the time to describe the Walden Pond during the winter as this is just as much a season he encounters as any other, despite the pong being frozen over. Despite the common idea in literature that winter represents death, he finds the life that continues to exist through the winter, like how he says he could see the fish when he knelt down to drink the water.
Thoreau demonstrates in this paragraph just how knowledgable he is about the pond after all these years, even when it comes down to the temperature of the water in the pond and the significance of it.
I found this paragraph interesting as Thoreau implies that the amount of physical space he had at his disposal did not hinder the abilities of his mind. The same can be applied to technology. There is so much that can be done and essentially another world to enter even within a tiny screen that we can hold in our hands or a computer that we can take with us everywhere.
In reference to Gleick’s “The Information,” I am reminded of the beginning chapter in which the African drums are described as a form of technological communication. Although the rhythms of drums do not seem like they would qualify as a piece of technology, it is important to remember that ancient cultures did not have the resources that we do today and that they had to get creative to achieve what they were intending to.
Thoreau 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 wonderful, Paul, thank you so much for the imaginative perspective. It reminds me of a passage in Thoreau’s “A Winter Walk” essay of 1843, where he narrates coming to a woodcutter’s clearing on his ramble, and taking a sandwich break there (or was he merely reading from a discarded newspaper sandwich wrapper? Never mind.) At any rate, he finds a wood-chip at the site that intrigues him, and soon launches into a magnificent riff explaining how one may reconstruct the whole tree-felling episode from this one piece of evidence: how the woodcutter slanted his axe, drew force, how the tree toppled, and so on. Following the turtles all the way down, as it were, Thoreau argues next that the humble chip in fact contains inscribed a “a whole history of the world” to such an one patient and intelligent enough to read it so carefully and delicately. I find these “A Winter Walk” sentiments to dovetail with the ones you aptly unpack from the present Walden passage. Thanks you again. We need reminding of the boundless bounties of nature, particularly in today’s fervently human-wired world.
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.
This got me thinking about the seasons, like Spring, Summer, winter and fall. However, I had the realization that we could apply this to life. Spring is like when we are a child, we start to grow and learn, summer is like the prime of our live, fall is our waning Twighlight, and winter is when we kick the bucket. I compare it to flowers.
Okay I have been reading Paradice lost By John Milton, however me though on this line is what if it is an experiment? That is what fascinates me about society is that it is a giant social experiment that we live every day. That we as people have to work together in this world to survive.
[It is now many years that men have resorted to the forest for fuel and the materials of the arts;]
This passage sets up the frame of Thoreau’s argument effectively, as it cuts to the core of the attractive features of the industrial life. As we operate in a society of production, that needs to produce to stay viable, then it is natural that new trends must continually emerge. Thoreau talks of waste in relation to this, but the passage can also be read as the internalization of meaning into clothing. This example is also easily modernized, as our lives are led in exposure to the exact phenomenon that Thoreau is describing. However, post-industrial capitalism expands this maxim to a greater degree, such that concepts (such as nature) become warped into our consumptive desires. One only needs to think of a car commercial that promises you a rough and ready life, a life in touch with nature authentically, but a life, a meaning, that can only be acquired with the 2020 Jeep Wrangler. Technological advances have only led to better advertisements, and better advertisements have only led to further alienation.
When reading Walden, I believe most people believe these economical digressions the least enlightening part of Thoreau’s discourse on nature, modernity, and how to live on the land as we have grown alienated from the land. But I actually find these sections important, not on their own, but in total. The two important takeaways I gain from these digressions is the reminder that living this way is doable, and the contribution to the taxonomy of Thoreau’s authentic living. The first is noteworthy, but needs little explanation. The second deserves more attention. As we exist in the technological world, we have little need for a taxonomy of that kind of life; we already know it. But by Thoreau painstakingly laying out every detail (in this case, what he ate), he is showing us how we can live. This ‘how’ is the necessary addition to the ‘why.’ The how keeps us grounded while Thoreau responds on why we should live this way. This grandly relates back to our trials in modern life as well, for Thoreau offers us a framework for self-reliance that is well-worn by time, but still repairable for us. I also believe that this painstaking taxonomy is important to us now simply due to the marked rate of consumption that is now prevalent in our lives. By creating a list, we may all be able to more honestly reflect on what is important. Such as this, the how once again guides us when attempting to ask why.
[I know a woodchopper, of middle age, who takes a French paper, not for news as he says, for he is above that, but to “keep himself in practice,” he being a Canadian by birth; and when I ask him what he considers the best thing he can do in this world, he says, beside this, to keep up and add to his English. This is about as much as the college bred generally do or aspire to do, and they take an English paper for the purpose]
This section from Thoreau is surprisingly relevant today, albeit, most are not trying to ‘keep up their English,’ but rather, keep up with cultural, political, and social trends. When Hayles discusses the prevalence of hyperreading, I cannot help but see the connection between the woodchipper and the bulk of us who frequently view the news and use social media. It is all we can do, in this golden age of information, to keep up with current trends, and keep a pulse on what is most relevant to us. Thoreau is correct in his diagnosis of a broader need to read the foundational texts of our culture, but he misses the reason why people do not. The woodchipper is working, and has little time to read through dense (but rewarding) texts. Most likely, he would rather keep his contemporary knowledge sharper, as it is what is most relevant to him, and it is what keeps him most connected to his community. Going back to Hayles, it is clear that her conceptualization of ‘hyperreading’ tracks back to this period, and with Thoreau’s anecdote, we are able to see why hyperreading is even more prevalent nowadays. However, Thoreau is not wrong in his wish for a ‘close reading’ of the foundational texts of Western culture. These precursors are highly influential, and by reading them, I have found myself able to ‘hyperread’ better, as connections (often historical or symbolic) flow easier. And the more I examine this relationship, the more I realize how symbiotic the relationship between close reading and hyper reading are, for the two compliment each other in excess. But, as Hayles warns, and Thoreau does as well, there is a clear danger in an excess of hyperreading.
[I had this advantage, at least, in my mode of life, over those who were obliged to look abroad for amusement, to society and the theatre, that my life itself was become my amusement and never ceased to be novel. It was a drama of many scenes]
When reading the fluid text version of this paragraph, I noticed that Thoreau had the order of society and the theatre reversed, with theatre first and society last. There are two indications I see within the change. First, that Thoreau thought the theaters were a bigger draw for petty amusement than society, but reversed this decision. Clearly, he changed his mind and saw that fiction was secondary to reality (although in this case, reality still seems somewhat fictional) in terms of distraction. Secondly, he keeps his mode of metaphor even though he placed theater secondary to society. I wonder if he thought the metaphor was too good to relinquish, or if he wants to correlate life to fiction strongly. I also cannot help but point out that he makes a pun of the word ‘novel’ in this sentence as well.
[At evening, the distant lowing of some cow in the horizon beyond the woods sounded sweet and melodious, and at first I would mistake it for the voices of certain minstrels by whom I was sometimes serenaded, who might be straying over hill and dale;]
I really like this line because it reminds me of the most natural place I frequented over the summer. My friends and I always drove far out from our town to this nice sequestered spot in the Finger Lakes National Forest, and the first thing we would notice and talk about were the cows that lazed about 40 feet from the parking lot. We felt a distance from the cows too, but it wasn’t the same difference Thoreau felt. Our distance came from the fence, hitched with some kind of gizmo, that thoroughly alienated us from the herd. We never remarked on it, but the moos rang hollow to us when we knew that we would never be able to touch them or feed them. I think Thoreau touches on this subtly as well. We need a note of authenticity in the song of the moo. Nature has to be revealed to us in naked glory, not hidden behind an electric fence, humming its discordant note.
[ I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the fancied advantages of human neighborhood insignificant, and I have never thought of them since]
Thoreau discusses the delineation between Nature and Neighborhood as a choice that can be taken, and as if the two spheres were completely separate. I don’t believe this to be necessarily true anymore for our contemporary world. While Thoreau is able to escape into Nature, we are only able to visit it. Likewise, his escape into nature equates into pure solitude, such that our visits do not allow us to achieve a sense of solitude. The lingering thought that we retain is that we must return to society, as we have a certain framework of expectations set upon us so that we may produce value for our society. I speak in reference to the concept, now fading, of the American Dream. Whereas Thoreau had Nature and Neighborhood, we have Nature and Workplace. We can only abdicate our relational responsibilities so much, because we need to interact with people constantly within the Workplace. In essence, I think our contemporary society has set up a sticky network of interpersonal relations, ones that are not meaningful but nonetheless inextricable from ourselves, that pervade our jaunts into Nature and solitude with stressful reminders that sit in the back of our heads with what we ought to be doing. Perhaps though, the solution is contained within his sentence though, for if we could drop those expectations for just a second, and enter the pure infiniteness that Thoreau detail, we could achieve a pause and respite.
[ And there he was to prove the truth of his words. He was a metaphysical puzzle to me. I have rarely met a fellow-man on such promising ground,—it was so simple and sincere and so true all that he said. And, true enough, in proportion as he appeared to humble himself was he exalted. ]
While this section of Walden is unique in relation to what we have yet read, as it deals with interpersonal relationships, I believe it tracks along the theme of the novel effectively. It is quite easy to form the misconception that Thoreau advocates for an abdication from society, but this is clearly not the case; he enjoys company, but company that is not mediated through social expectation. Thus, it is his interaction with the pauper that proves this point. He discusses the way in which people viewed the pauper and other ‘inferior men’ as folks who were marginalized due to their subtly intrinsic non-conformance with the village. It is clear Thoreau still carried this internal bias within himself, but his interaction with this group i.e. the more marginalized only further confirms what he is trying to say. Living life deliberately is not a personal task, it is a communal one. Thoreau’s interaction with the pauper was deliberate and honest, and because of that, Thoreau was able to see that the societally inscribed value of the pauper was wrong, he was authentic about himself, and that was what matters most. I really like this section, because I was afraid Thoreau would dance around how to live authentically with others, choosing only to focus on the self, but it is clear that there is a pathway towards an authentic community within these lines. In honesty, it is this section that has felt most valuable because of that.
[ while all the dew was on, though the farmers warned me against it,—I would advise you to do all your work if possible while the dew is on… Early in the morning I worked barefooted, dabbling like a plastic artist in the dewy and crumbling sand, but later in the day the sun blistered my feet
I would not say this passage brings me joy, but it does remind me of whenever I would have jobs that required me to do manual labor. Thoreau is right that it is best to begin work ‘while the dew is on,’ not just for the practical aspect of it being cool, but for a more sensory one as well. There is something deeply pleasing about waking up early, getting ready for the day, and stepping out to work while the mist still hangs low. The progression of the day is equally enjoyable, such that once you are beat and tired from work and the heat has become nigh unbearable, you are able to take a break to eat with your friends. I know Thoreau did not write about this, but sitting in the sun, taking a well-earned break, it is one of the more honest and enjoyable aspects of life. This passage evokes that spirit for me. The early start on work, the passage of the sun through the sky, and the conviviality of food at noonday.
[ Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.]
I do not believe this point to be overtly related to politics, but I think it carries a kind of political or societal implication. As a world that thrives on connection and relations, the path that Thoreau lays out for us is a deeply difficult one. He tells us to ‘lose the world,’ but for the most part, that command is an outdated one. There is no physical world or structure that we can lose, such as the bank or the group of gossipers, but a discursive construct that regulates our behavior. We are, in essence, given a path to follow, and this path is reinforced consistently throughout our lives. Such innocuous questions like “where are you going to school?” “what is your major?” or “what do you want to do?” actually care a meaning that is based in creating economic value. As an English major, it is quite easy to find someone to tell you that there is no money in it, and this statement is easy to brush off at first. But, after a while, it is hard not to internalize the message. I wonder then, how we can disconnect ourselves from our interior world, our constructed world of societal commands, and truly liberate our being? To address this, a glut of labor is needed, and it can’t help but feel impossible with all else that is expected from us by the exterior world.
[A field of water betrays the spirit that is in the air. It is continually receiving new life and motion from above. It is intermediate in its nature between land and sky]
I think this passage is interesting because it contains three spheres of time. The first sphere is the human, the second sphere is Nature, and the third sphere is the Sky. The human sphere of time is limited and small, as evidenced by the inability to recognize the gradual changes in the natural world. We exist on an incredibly small scale, and it is the pond that serves as the site between this recognition and the difference in the Natural sphere and the Cosmic sphere. On Thoreau’s side, and ours, we can only perceive the soft hum and gentle reverberations of the natural and cosmic cycle. We can only see the wind mingle with the surface of the pond, but we cannot be part of it. I find Thoreau’s notion of ‘continually receiving new life and motion from above’ interesting as well. There is the natural element of sky, in that it rains and nourishes life that way, entailing a cyclical conception of time. But, I think it also possible to read a spiritual element within that quote as well. The sky, the cosmos, stands stark as the beacon of eternity in our world, and it is this eternal time that contrasts the short lived span of time humans and nature is allowed.
[In this town the price of wood rises almost steadily, and the only question is, how much higher it is to be this year than it was the last.]
This notice of wood’s price rising by Thoreau is surprisingly relevant to our current state of political existence, and especially so in the time of the coronavirus. Wood is undeniably an essential facet of 19th century living, as it used for fire and building, two notions of either sustaining a residency or creating one. Yet, this essential need (or commodity) is lifted from the woods, which is what we all inherited equally, and sold for profit on a market. Wood has obviously diminished in its use value, but the overriding manipulation of living spaces by capitalism has not. If anything, the coronavirus has not exposed the flaws in the American healthcare system, but the system of rent. Rent continually rises higher each year, pricing families and communities out of neighborhoods they helped build, so a small group of landlords can accrue more and more profit. And in linking back to Thoreau (who makes it not a point in this passage, but broadly), the woods or land is a universal right. Moreover, at least the woodchoppers are providing the service of labor, landlords merely purchase a house, take your money, and if something goes awry, uses your money to fix it. To end with, one of the major themes Thoreau is carrying through this book, or maybe its better put as a major question, is his deep mistrust of intermediaries between nature and being; why do we need social norms or commodity to regulate our authentic being? This same question is arising with the Coronavirus, as the systems of profit are stripped of their entertaining or distracting facade.
[ Yet I rarely failed to find, even in mid-winter, some warm and springy swamp where the grass and the skunk-cabbage still put forth with perennial verdure, and some hardier bird occasionally awaited the return of spring]
I like this quote, as it touches on a feeling I always have in winter. Seeing little bits of grass peeping up, or a bird chirping is enough to lift the spirits, and not feel trapped in a desolate frost. There can be something to said here about looking into the intrusions of Thoreau’s text, where Thoreau makes a point to allow for these slips and observations that go against what is expected of the nature he is describing. Disconnect is something inherent to nature, there are always moments fluttering around that jolt you out of your reverie, even if as Thoreau says, his occurrence was a common one. For example, I see geese quite frequently on my bike rides, but they never fail to jolt me out of the state I was in (usually into a state of fear, I would much rather see a cardinal or robin). Anyhow, I love the way Thoreau can have such a depth of meaning in his comments on nature.
[Cape becomes bar, and plain shoal, and valley and gorge deep water and channel.]
I really like this sentence, not only just for his aesthetic sensibility in conveying image, but for what it means. Throughout this chapter, Thoreau is creating a detailed measurement of the Pond, and this sentence raises the depth conveyed by those measurements. I have noted before, and I continue to think this, that by Thoreau’s detailed taxonomy of Walden Pond, he is attempting to systematize the grand concept of Nature, into something communicable and conveyable. This is impossible to do. And it is these kinds of sentences where Thoreau can recognize that, as he gives up detail for grandness, and acknowledges there is a level of vastness unexplainable. Cape becomes bar, and one must live in the present.
[it was pleasant to compare the first tender signs of the infant year just peeping forth with the stately beauty of the withered vegetation which had withstood the winter]
I quite like this quote because this is also something I love to do. I go on a lot of walks, and I especially like going to ledges where there is a striking vista. And because of that, I can see the trees bare of leaves, and those budding, and it is always interesting to come back the next day and see how much the wave of leaves has increased. The mix of brown leaves and budding grass is also a deeply pleasant sight. Thematically as well, I see this quote connecting to the grander themes of cycles and the immensity of times. These points of smallness, where we can tap into these almost eternal cycles, are what allows us to see nature and universe enact itself. Even grander, this section connects to the ebb and flow of our life, as we will die and feed the ground itself.
[Why, the owner does not know it for many years when a poet has put his farm in rhyme, the most admirable kind of invisible fence, has fairly impounded it, milked it, skimmed it, and got all the cream, and left the farmer only the skimmed milk.]
This line connects up well with Gleick’s discourse on the dictionary and its fluid interconnectedness. Thoreau does not mention individual words in this quote though, rather choosing to delineate rhyme as the creator of meaning; it is this choice that contrasts well with Gleick. Gleick says this of the lexis “[it is] a measure of shared experience, which comes from interconnectedness” (91). I believe this to be true, meaning of objects is formed through communal work. But, Thoreau, in some ways, reacts against that in this quote by noting that the poet will own the farm far more than the practical farmer ever will. It is Thoreau’s attention to individuality here that subverts Gleick’s statement. Everyone knows what a table is, but only I know what a table is to me. It is this self-recursive networks of meaning that I believe make creating a taxonomy of language so hard, because one will always run into the invisible fence that Thoreau notes. One will always run into a similar, but at once, highly individualized, definition of meaning. In sum, I believe paying attention to both kinds of networks of meaning is important, the interconnected and the self-recursive.
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.’”
The first sentence of this section really spoke to the ways in which people have become more invested in materialistic items in society. As Thoreau describes, “most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only indispensable but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” As we learned in Gleick’s first few chapters, technology is evolving and many people are investing not only their money but time into learning more about technological gadgets. While technology is helping a lot of people advance their businesses, education, and day to day life, it is also hindering human connections and has a lot of drawbacks. The question then becomes, “should we view technology as a luxury?” What even is considered a piece of technology?
While reading this paragraph, it brought a lot of nostalgia to my childhood. Like Thoreau describes, there is this sound of life that comes from housework. Growing up in a Latinx household came with a lot of responsibilities and a grown-up role I was not yet prepared for. By the age of 5, I was expected to help my family clean, learn how to wash dishes, and how to make sure our house was the cleanest it could be. Though I did not see it as a “pleasant pastime” as Thoreau describes, I do treasure the moments now and am thankful that at a young age I was taught responsibility, structure, and how to care for myself. The sound of music on Sunday mornings is what made me wake up, brush my teeth, get dressed, and then start cleaning. It was a ritual and bit by bit, my body and mind were adjusting to the cycle.
The sound of my early cries (from not wanting to wake up early to clean my house) turned into sounds of happiness from seeing my house neatly tight. Today, housework is a pleasant pastime and something I have to do in order to make sure my life is in order.
“We are in danger of forgetting the language which all things and events speak without metaphor, which alone is copious and standard”
This quote stood out to me because Thoreau makes a great point in explaining that we can read as many texts as we want but what good is it if we are not allowed to have discussions about it and collaboratively analyze it? It’s important to have a clear space to voice what one’s thoughts or opinions are, especially after reading a text. Whether it is a book, a newspaper article, a tabloid, or a text message, we need to be able to voice how we feel and what our understanding is. We can do so little with only the written language which is why Thoreau foreshadows us losing our spoken, human language: communication.
Sounds, people, and conversation all help someone think about what they’re listening to, who they’re speaking to, or where they want to take a conversation. However, when you don’t have any of those, you are left with your thoughts. As Thoreau shines a light on, loneliness can be more impactful when there are no distractions nearby. For him, the distractions are physical sounds such as cars going by. For me, many distractions that I have are songs and singing to lyrics while I do work. But, whenever I turn off my phone and do not hear a song, I feel weird — lonely if I may say and feel the need to turn it back on.
Most of the time, people associate being alone as a negative thing. However, throughout this section of the text, Thoreau analyzes his isolation from society and introduces the idea of a smaller world all to himself. As we are evolving with technology, we are constantly thinking about ways to communicate online, rather than in person. While the internet can be a great place to gain some knowledge or communicate with others, it also opens the doors to negativity and malicious acts. One needs to learn how to strike an appropriate balance to ensure we are focusing on what’s really important: being alive.
I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.
I really love this quote because it is extremely powerful. In this paragraph, Thoreau visualizes the priorities in his life with chairs. First, he prioritizes solitude – something he has been practicing for a long time as seen in the previous passages. Then, he prioritizes friendships – or rather, human connections. Lastly, he worries about society, but the good it can bring. In a house so small, Thoreau sure knew how to make the most meaning out of it.
“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.”
As Thoreau describes in earlier passages, he listens for nearby sounds to distract himself. Although he is known to only be with himself and nature, I find it really interesting that he likes going to the village to hear the “gossip.” In a way, he compares the sounds of people who are gossiping to the rustle of leaves the peeping of frogs. I’m curious to know: does he care any bit of the information they might be spreading being that he lives so isolated and far?
I definitely agree with Alyssa’s comment above. This might be one of the most powerful quotes in the whole entire reading! Throughout the course of Donald Trump’s presidency, there have been questions about his ability to successfully lead a country. When COVID-19 first started, he ensured the public that there was nothing to worry about. However, cases started to slowly progress and there was finally something done to anticipate stopping the spread.
One instance where “men have pursued him and pawed him with their dirty institutions” is when he has refused to wear a mask in public. Many of his followers also did not wear masks and quoted the president in doing so. Society as a whole is very divided now and it can be seen that there are changes to be made with the next presidential term.
I really appreciate the way in which Mariah has constructed her response, it is well-written and also addresses my thoughts while reading this paragraph. It’s really important to note that during COVID-19, many people have been scared, nervous, anxious, stressed, and more. While nature has become something we cannot observe on a daily basis due to stay at home orders, it is still able to “quench our thirst for life” as Mariah states. Mother Earth is now under better conditions after people all around the world had to stay home. COVID-19 helped reduce pollution and most importantly, it allowed people an opportunity to really immerse themselves in a unique experience like no other.
I really like the way Noah expressed his sentiments in his first comment. Most of the time, it is traditional in many cultures for a father to take their child to a forest or to teach them how to fish. In my experience, I never went to a forest with my father or had any significant bonding moment since he worked a lot. However, in my future, I believe that I would like to learn how to camp and fish but make it a collaborative learning experience with my son. Most of the time, we are so focused on the things going on in our lives that we forget to zen our minds and focus on what we have. While the forest Thoreau mentions may represent a physical space, it also represents a mental space of freedom.
[the catching of the dinner was as much a social exercise as the eating of it.]
The way in which Thoreau phrases this suggests that he did not mind when he wasn’t alone, he just liked to be surrounded by people he liked, respected, and were worthy of his time. He compared baiting the fish as a social exercise much like the actual eating of it. While Thoreau lived very far away, he still engages in some sort of social activity with his companion who even visited him from the other side of the town.
[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.
When one thinks about the past, especially in regards to their own being, very few people can say they were not incredibly different people from who they are now. People probably once had different dreams, aspirations, and even hobbies five years ago. In the digital age of social media, where privacy is very much replaced by public posts and captions, we in a way have a timeline of years pasts documenting the kind of person we were to the world. A lot of the time, people post things without thinking about the future. Many influencers or even the average person on social media can look back at a post a couple years and think why did they even consider posting this. Or the may say that they were so different back then, wanting different things and had a different intent with their posts. This is why people are shocked when they scroll down all the way to someone’s first instgram post and say things like “they’ve changed so much” or “they would never say something like this today”. This small paragraph is able to encompass all this, and connects to how online our past posts can surprise those who get a glimpse in our pasts and what they wanted to show their followers or the world.
This is an interesting viewpoint of the societal niches that people can fill. Thoreau explains to the reader that in the most basic way, the Native has filled his role. He took something he was good at and attempted to make a contribution to society with it. However, in Western societies it isn’t that simple. The concept of communal “give and take” is not prevalent, instead the idea of “free market” is. The Native must not only make baskets, but he must also create a reason why somebody would want his baskets.
Many people like to say that Thoreau hated the presence of people, often relating his hermit life in his cabin to this point. But here in this paragraph we can see he had no such feelings. He appreciates his neighbors, honored by their presence and willingness to help.
Thoreau’s idea of families and people growing their own foodstuffs was not a new idea, nor did it end anytime soon. Even up to the Cold War era of the United States, advertisements constantly went out promoting families to grow small gardens and have a small chicken coop. It is only in today’s modern age where the idea of home-grown food is considered a niche topic of discussion.
An overview of Thoreau’s minimalist thoughts, he does mention Confucius teachings many times throughout Walden. From there he establishes that in life, a person doesn’t need a strict timetable of their day. Rather, living in the moment and taking your time to meander about is the best way to live.
A paragraph full of Greek mythology allusions, the gods he includes are all associated with medicine and healing of some kind. Curiously enough, he doesn’t include Apollo himself, the god of medicine.
Oftentimes people attribute small homes to a sense of closeness or homeliness. However, Thoreau attributes it to a stuffy environment, one where people can’t voice their thoughts clearly because there isn’t enough room.
Homeopathic, a word normally used in the medical world, means to ingest a poisonous or potentially poisonous item in small amounts. In the case of the village gossip, Thoreau sees it as a necessary cleanser. Spending too much time in nature can lead to taking it for granted, so Thoreau comes to the village to remind himself why nature is so essential in one’s own life.
In the infinite dark one can find themself and what their place in the world is. Only by disconnecting from what we find familiar can we tread a new path that leads us to the “strangeness of Nature”. What Thoreau means to say is that when we are away from what we know, we can find new things about ourselves in a spiritual sense.
Thoreau’s view here is very optimistic, with the opinion that people will do no harm if there isn’t an expectation of harm. And in his case, that philosophy has held out. However, one has to ask, with today’s standards in both a moral and societal stance, would that philosophy still hold true?
A long paragraph describing Walden Pond, it shows Thoreau’s journalistic side very well. He establishes a humble scene for the pond in comparison to the sea, yet still manages to give it a flair that shines in its own way that entices the reader to visit the pond in an instant.
An interesting dialogue between Thoreau and the many poets of the time. The main topic of discussion between the two parties seems to be work, and how much work should be done to receive rewards and favors. In this case, it seems that only a minimal amount should be expected. The poet collects bait for fishing, while the hermit fishes. In the end, the two enjoy each other’s company as friends with the transaction of labor complete.
The best example of Thoreau’s scientific observations, without his detailed notes we wouldn’t have a good idea of what the environment was like during the 1800s.
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.
[What is the nature of the luxury which enervates and destroys nations? ]
Capitalism thrives luxury. Capitalism and consumerism destroy nations.
IS his point of view as a white man colonist? I am saying this by his brining up Indians and him saying “do they mean to starve us?”
I think he is saying how men wearing clothes, hides their true self because he said “was now in a civilized country where people are judged by their clothes.”
Calling men childish and savage like because of the growing market of clothing. Capitalism is a big theme in here
Summer living at the lake? Talking about being calm in the moment. No fear about future or past. Just living in the moment. He did no planning.
You can reach solitude being with people and while being alone. It is not a one shoe fits all definition of solitude. He finds value in people over being”cheap” and meeting people for short intervals.
I agree with Thoreau when he calls society cheap, and when he says he seeks value in people and true connection rather than finding no value in one another with short interactions.
IS Thoreau enjoying the village? He seems really content being by himself in a previous chapterSolitude. “Taken in homeopathic doses, was really refreshing”.
[All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant. Confucius said, “To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.” When one man has reduced a fact of the imagination to be a fact to his understanding, I foresee that all men at length establish their lives on that basis.]
Thoreau talks about the idea of miracles and how man has put false hope in them. Since we believe that nature should work a certain way, we let it blind us to what is really going on. This is best seen in the quote by Confucius. In this quote, it is suggested that man has chosen to believe in false ideas about the world.
This paragraph is very interesting, since Thoreau is discussing traveling. He believes that we should travel places by foot if they are to travel anywhere. The way that I read it is that we should do this because we could get to a place faster. It also seems to me that Thoreau believes that transportation is way too expensive, saying that it is “almost a day’s wages” to travel. At