Posted in: Emerson-Thoreau SUNY Geneseo
I am a life long reader of Thoreau Walden. I have translated this book into Persian and published it in Iran too. I would always like to discuss this eternal book with fellow American readers. I love this connection. Here is some food for thought and a good subject for discussion:
We live on a planet. Any life similar to ours must naturally form on a planet. Why then Thoreau is referring to the inhabitants of a star? What form of life is conceivable on a star:
How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments?
Posted in: General Discussion
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Where I Lived, And What I Lived For 1-12 (2 comments)
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.
“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.
Where I Lived, And What I Lived For 13-23 (2 comments)
Thoreau emphasizes the beauty of life one can live without the interference, or temptation of technology. This is a common concern in Gleick’s The Information, in which the progression throughout time opens the door to various new inventions, and critics of technology fear the effect it’ll have on humans. Today, we see a stark difference between Thoreau’s technology-free life where one is “reawakened” with the reality and beauty of life without the help of “mechanical aids,” and current day modern times where many are too consumed with their phones, or computers and forget the meaning of life.
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.
Economy 1-14 (1 comment)
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.
Solitude (6 comments)
In this paragraph, Thoreau places emphasis on his seclusion from the rest of the world while living in the woods next to Walden Pond, and how it brings him content. I, too, have shared this same mindset with Thoreau where I do enjoy being by myself sometimes. I feel like everyone should have alone time, and it’s a healthy factor in one’s daily life. As for technology in connection with this situation, I believe it plays a significant part in distancing ourselves from the rest of the world, but with a negative influence. With the progression into the future, technology will always be a prominent force in our everyday lives. However, humans need to learn how to balance the utilization of technology in their lives, and make sure not to have it encroach too much into the important things in life, such as family, friends, and experiences.
“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.”
When working, I put in earbuds, listen to music, and disconnect from the world. This is a common occurrence if I’m writing an essay or doing work around my house. This is because I prefer solitude when I need to focus. Similar to Thoreau, solitude is a great aid in life that doesn’t matter how close you are to others, when you need it, you can find solitude. Thoreau’s point on how company soon turns wearisome and dissipating rings true, especially in the life of an introvert such as I. Being able to take the time to distance yourself and focus on either yourself or your work allows you to rest and recharge.
Through looking at the fluid text version, it seems Thoreau removed a sentence from the end that adds more clarity to the thought expressed of belonging to nature and nature being a part of him. This sentence, appearing only in Version A, reads “God is my father & my friend—men are my brothers—but nature is my mother & my sister.” I find the removal and rarity of this concluding line odd as the reference to nature as mother and sister I feel brings more clarity and allows the reader to more easily grasp the question this paragraph poses.
I find this passage, mainly the line, “… whose loneliness was relieved by the grotesque visions with which…his diseased imagination surrounded him,” to show that we are very much social creatures. For even a man, completely alone and dying, was made to see visions ensuring he didn’t die alone in a fashion. It’s an important notion to make in a chapter about solitude. Thoreau states earlier, in paragraph 12, that he loves to be alone. That is a sentiment most definitely shared by others, but as Thoreau notes, “So also, owing to bodily and mental health and strength, we may be continually cheered by a like but more normal and natural society, and come to know that we are never alone.” This statement reinforces the notion of humans as social creatures; that despite how much we can love solitude, it is important to interact.
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.
Sounds 1-11 (3 comments)
Here, Thoreau describes the whistle of a passing train “piercing” the calmness and stillness of his woods. With this come the merchants from the city who are urgent to trade. I live in the suburbs, so I’m not very close to train tracks, but I do hear the alarm raised by the fire house that is fairly close to where I live, which can be comparable to the similar sounds Thoreau experienced in Walden Pond. With the rise in technology, the ‘sounds’ it is composed of and releases make an appearance in our everyday lives. Today, we hear the sound of a train whistle, of a car horn, the tap of fingers on computer keys…Years and years ago these sounds were almost foreign-like in the woods in which Thoreau resided. Today, these sounds are an everyday presence in our lives that we don’t even seem to realize, or take notice of due to its “normalcy.”
The whistle of a train that Thoreau brings up is still a sound prevalent in modern life. In an earlier paragraph, Thoreau discusses the places where one can’t even hear the whistle in a tone of disbelief. Now, in the current day, I can’t hear the various sounds of the train from where I live, but what I can hear are the sounds of cars and buses that indicate a similar sign of progress and innovation that came with the introduction of the train. In a similar vein, it would be strange to be in a place away from the sounds of progress and the technologies that take over our lives.
“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.
Spring 1-13 (1 comment)
Yes, Allison. For a time, we lived on the shores of Lake Champlain: Cumberland Head, north of Plattsburgh, NY. Once, as we returned home from a long trip on an extremely cold winter night (-15 F), we were stopped in our tracks by a loud, eerie, and most unsettling sound. The entire lake was groaning and wailing, evoking in us a sense of utter desolation—mournful and fearsome—as great cracks ripped through the ice, shooting out for miles; as if some impossibly great beast was suffering its last agony; a doleful, primeval utterance, quite beyond anything we had heard before. There is simply nothing like it.
Reading (1 comment)
“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.
The Ponds 1-17 (3 comments)
It’s interesting to see the transformation of Sandy Pond over a twenty-five time span described by Thoreau. Upon reading this, I didn’t realize how something as simple as a pond could fluctuate and transform so much over time. With that being said, it can be said that such natural forces as these remain obscure from the human eye for this change cannot physically be seen until someone notices a transformable presence. For example, Thoreau’s friends didn’t believe that the water in the sand bar helped him boil a kettle of chowder for the water in that channel used to be limited in depth. However, over a twenty-five year time frame, the water level rose. This circumstance can easily related to the concept of time. Time is an undoubtable force to be reckoned with. The clock is always ticking, and as time passes, changes occur in our lives, such as this that most of us are imperceptive to.
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.
Thoreau details a spot in nature he loves to go to, whether it be with companions or himself and just immerses himself. This is a spot that he formed an incredibly strong connection with that allows him to detach from society. Even when he has to return to \”the haunts of men again,\” he is home in that spot. In a similar vein, it reminds me of the beach my house is rather close to. At night, there is nothing more relaxing to me than when I walk the boardwalk completely alone, the sound of waves the only partner I have. Like Thoreau, it is a spot that I\’ll occasionally bring others to enjoy, but overall, it is like a home away from home, where I can detach and enjoy nature, away from the virus sweeping the globe and cut off from all the news due to the poor cell reception.
Economy 15-29 (1 comment)
Thoreau speaks of pain being the reward for his labor, a premise that would sound horrible to anyone reading this today. But looking deeper, a man who has his work barely published, in a journal with small circulation, that man gets experience and a push to improve. Today, we have such a desire for instant gratification that most people who found themselves in a situation like this would get fed up. Thoreau seemingly praises the benefits of hard work, even without the promise of reward. Hard work and improvement is the reward, and you can tell how Thoreau is grateful for the experience and improvements it led to.
Sounds 12-22 (1 comment)
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.
The Bean-Field 1-8 (1 comment)
This particular paragraph made me feel nostalgic in a way. Here, Thoreau is commenting on his personal connection to his hometown and Walden Pond. In a sense, he is a part of the history and of the landscape that comprise his home. Not only that, but he also stands witness to the future, as he sees new life budding before him. This situation reminded me of my own hometown, which played a vital role in my childhood. I experienced feelings of nostalgia as I left to attend college, and it was bittersweet when I returned home and found that it was “different” from when I had previously left. For example, my old high school went through a complete renovation. In this sense, I have a way of relating with Thoreau, in which these places will always be home to us, even as it is ever evolving.
The Village (2 comments)
This paragraph made me think on the plethora of cases in society today of police pulling over Black drivers much more often than they do White drivers. Like Thoreau, these are just people going about their everyday life when those in power choose to stop them and lord that power over them.
IS Thoreau enjoying the village? He seems really content being by himself in a previous chapterSolitude. “Taken in homeopathic doses, was really refreshing”.
The Ponds 18-34 (1 comment)
“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.
Economy 30-44 (5 comments)
One of the strict business habits Thoreau describes, and wishes to develop is to learn and take advantage of all the new technology in relation to expeditions and navigation. What I found most intriguing about this passage is his vivid description of his personal concept of “business habits,” and everything that might encompass the world of business. He seems to describe business, not just solely for the purpose of monopoly and financial gain, but rather as an area of study representing a whole new world of learning and serving as a gateway for new inventions and improvements.
[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?
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.
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.
Spring 14-26 (1 comment)
[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.
Economy 71-81 (3 comments)
Ultimately, Thoreau is referring to the doubts that individuals share in terms of the advancement of technology and communication. He explains how these inventions serve as “improved means to an unimproved end.” Why are humans so eager to build inventions that connect opposite ends of the world together, and foster instantaneous communication? Do we need all of these inventions, and are they imperative to humanity and our every day lives? Thoreau seems to hint that the concerns critics of technology share is that the idea and sensibility behind humanity is lost in the wake of the creation of these inventions.
Thoreau seems to be speaking remorsefully about the views society continues to have on work. We are expected to work hard through most of our life and only truly living it many years down the line. Thoreau’s line, “but I wish, as you are brothers of mine, that you could have spent your time better than digging in this dirt,” is a direct reference to his desire that people experience and live life, not just kill themselves slowly living, working, for the sake of others instead of themselves. This mindset of working most of your life and retiring in older age still exists today and is a point of remorse for many that would probably agree with a lot of what Thoreau stated in this section, outside of this paragraph. That being said, Thoreau doesn’t think it is the worst thing to work, stating that the workers “might have done worse…” but you cannot escape the melancholy and regret in Thoreau’s writing at the state of the workforce spending most of their lives trapped by work that only brings them closer to death instead of living.
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.”
Visitors 1-11 (3 comments)
The ideas from this particular chapter differs from Thoreau’s chapter on “Solitude.” In Solitude, Thoreau emphasizes his isolation and seclusion from the rest of the world. However, in this chapter he mentions receiving visitors more than he has ever before. In this sense, it makes me wonder if Thoreau enjoys both solitude and company, rather than just solitude which he encourages in his previous chapter.
[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.
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.
Higher Laws (2 comments)
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.
Working with the multiple revisions of this paragraph in particular, Thoreau initially had the sentence, “But practically I am only half-converted by my own arguments as I still fish,” which only appeared in version A of this work. It’s removal is interesting as it seems with time that Thoreau’s arguments did convince him completely, or at least, the removal of the sentence seems to carry that denotation.
The Bean-Field 9-17 (1 comment)
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.
Economy 59-70 (1 comment)
[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.
Economy 45-58 (1 comment)
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.
Economy 82-97 (1 comment)
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.
House-Warming 1-9 (1 comment)
The passage of time, as expressed by nature, is always fascinating and beautiful. No matter what goes on in the world, it always seem that the leaves will change for Fall, Winter will strip them bare, then in spring life begins again. It is a beautiful cycle, even in the odd moments where it seems that nature forgets how things usually work, like the snow we just recently had on Long Island. But nothing is more incredible than how nature, and life, prevails over time. Like in Venice, where fish have returned to waters that are now clear despite how long they had been murky with the presence of man.
Brute Neighbors 1-9 (1 comment)
[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.