Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Thoreau, Walden, and Concord



Henry David Thoreau, most famous as the author of Walden and Civil Disobedience, was a naturalist who believed one could achieve a better understanding of life by a greater understanding of nature. Unlike the common caricature of the hermit-like man, shunning society for his tiny cabin in the woods, Thoreau was actually quite social and very much a part of Transcendentalist society in Concord. He escaped to the woods to write his first book, which is something I can very much relate to, although I would need indoor plumbing and Internet connection in my small shelter.

How important is a constant intercourse with nature and the contemplation of natural 
phenomena to the preservation of moral and intellectual health! 
— Henry David Thoreau, [Journal, 6 May 1851]

Walden Pond (Photo by Karen Wojcik Berner)

He once spent a night in jail for not paying his poll tax. Fellow Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson bailed him out. According to Poets.org, he was “a tireless champion of the human spirit against the materialism and conformity that he saw as dominant in American culture, Thoreau's ideas about civil disobedience, as set forth in his 1849 essay, have influenced, among others, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., and his mastery of prose style has been acknowledged by writers as disparate as Robert Louis Stevenson, Marcel Proust, Sinclair Lewis, and Henry Miller.”

Thoreau statue, Walden Woods  (Photo by Karen Wojcik Berner)

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined,” is actually misquoted. The correct line is from Thoreau’s Walden. It should read as follows.

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. . . . In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness."
 — Henry David Thoreau

Walden Pond (Photo by Karen Wojcik Berner)

The small cabin in which Thoreau spent his time in Walden Woods was dismantled long ago for firewood, but my family and I did see a replica when we visited in August.

Replica of Thoreau's cabin, Walden Woods (Photo by Karen Wojcik Berner)

He is buried on Author’s Ridge with his Concord writer friends Emerson, the Alcotts, and Hawthorne. The day we were there, a little pencil was on his tombstone, along with several pine cones. Thoreau worked in his family’s pencil factory for most of his adult life.

Thoreau's grave, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, MA (Photo by Karen Wojcik Berner)

When Henry David Thoreau died, Louisa May Alcott wrote a poem for him that appeared in The Atlantic during the summer of 1863.


Thoreau's Flute
By Louisa May Alcott


We sighing said, "Our Pan is dead;

His pipe hangs mute beside the river;

Around it wistful sunbeams quiver,

But Music's airy voice is fled.

Spring came to us in guise forlorn;

The bluebird chants a requiem;

The willow-blossom waits for him;—

The Genius of the wood is gone.

Then from the flute, untouched by hands,

There came a low, harmonious breath:

For such as he there is no death;—

His life the eternal life commands;

Above man's aims his nature rose.

The wisdom of a just content

Made one small spot a continent,

And turned to poetry life's prose.

Haunting the hills, the stream, the wild,

Swallow and aster, lake and pine,

To him grew human or divine,—

Fit mates for this large-hearted child.

Such homage Nature ne'er forgets,

And yearly on the coverlid
'
Neath which her darling lieth hid

Will write his name in violets.

To him no vain regrets belong

Whose soul, that finer instrument,

Gave to the world no poor lament,

But wood-notes ever sweet and strong.

O lonely friend! he still will be

A potent presence, though unseen,—

Steadfast, sagacious, and serene;

Seek not for him—he is with thee.





3 comments:

Kelly Hashway said...

I have so many Thoreau quotes bookmarked. They make me smile. :)

Beverly Diehl said...

I love the pencil left on the grave. And that writing shack looks REALLY small to me - but it would indeed make you want to go outside and be with nature.

Wonderful pictures, thanks for sharing.

deborahbrasket said...

I really enjoyed this--love his quotes about nature.