Henry David Thoreau was born in the modest country township of Concord, Massachusetts on 12th July 1817. He studied at Harvard University, and attempted shoolmastering with his naturalist brother. After his brother's death in 1841, Thoreau stayed with the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson and became entranced with his ideas of self-reliance. Ideas that led, on a parcel of Emerson's land, to the Walden project, to prison for refusing to pay his poll tax, to helping runaway slaves to freedom, and to voluminous writings. Thoreau died from tuberculosis on 6th May 1862, with most of his works still unpublished.
The two great architectures of philosophy, the Western - analytic, rugged, concerned with discovering a reality 'out there', and the Eastern - abstract, sensitive, looking to create harmony within, rarely meet. One of the few places they do is in Walden, with its tones of the Buddha, the Bhagavad-Gita and Lao-Tzu. It has become the centrepiece of American Transcendentalism- the belief that truly independent minds can build the Golden Land, and that, probably, The United States of America is the best place for it.
"No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest." - Martin Luther King, Jr, from his Autobiography
ABOUT THIS SQUASHED EDITION
Generally, Squashed versions are generated with reference to which passages, which phrases, which words in the original are the most quoted by other authors. In the case of 'Walden' this is tricky, as almost every paragraph has its enthusiasts. This is the only book in the Squashed Philosophers series to come with a free cardboard model: http://www.andrewdodds.com/artwork/lifeinthewoods2.html
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Henry D Thoreau, 1854 Walden, or a Life in the Woods "If you have built castles in the air... put the foundations under them."
When I wrote the following pages I lived alone in the woods, a mile from my neighbours, in a house I had built for myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labour of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again. Men labour under a mistake. By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed laying up treasure which moth and rust will corrupt.Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. My purpose in going to Walden Pond was not to live cheaply, nor to live dearly there, but to transact some private business with the fewest obstacles. The exact cost of my house, was just over twenty-eight dollars. I thus found that the student who wishes for a shelter can obtain one for a lifetime at an expense not greater than the rent which he now pays annually. I found myself suddenly neighbour to the birds and animals. Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? As for work, we haven't any of any consequence. Time is but the stream I go fishing in. Sometimes in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon. I realise what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works. I found, by measurement, that Walden Pond was not bottomless. I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. It seemed to me that I had several more lives to live. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I learned this, at least, by my experiment, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours 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 will poverty be poverty, nor weakness weakness.
When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again.
Men labor under a mistake. By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book, laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal It is a fool's life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before.
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.
I sometimes wonder that we can be so frivolous as to attend to the gross but somewhat foreign form of servitude called Negro Slavery, there are so many keen and subtle masters that enslave both North and South. 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. The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.
They honestly think there is no choice left. But It is never too late to give up our prejudices. No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof. What old people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can. 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. One farmer says to me, "You cannot live on vegetable food solely, for it furnishes nothing to make bones with", walking all the while he talks behind his oxen, with vegetable-made bones. Man's capacities have never been measured; nor are we to judge of what he can do by any precedents, so little has been tried.
The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior.
To many creatures there is but one necessary of life, Food. The necessaries of life for man in this climate may, accurately enough, be distributed under the heads of Food, Shelter, Clothing, and Fuel.
I find by my own experience, a few implements, a knife, an axe, a spade, a wheelbarrow, etc., and for the studious, lamplight, stationery, and access to a few books, rank next to necessaries, and can all be obtained at a trifling cost. 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. None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty.
There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. The success of great scholars and thinkers is commonly a courtier-like success, not kingly, not manly.
If I should attempt to tell how I have desired to spend my life in years past, it would certainly astonish those who know nothing about it. To anticipate, not the sunrise and the dawn merely, but, if possible, Nature herself! How many mornings, summer and winter, before yet any neighbor was stirring about his business, have I been about mine!
So many autumn, ay, and winter days, spent outside the town, trying to hear what was in the wind, to hear and carry it express! At other times watching from the observatory of some cliff or tree, to telegraph any new arrival; or waiting at evening on the hill-tops for the sky to fall, that I might catch something, though I never caught much, and that, manna-wise, would dissolve again in the sun.
For many years I was self-appointed inspector of snow-storms and rain-storms, and did my duty faithfully; surveyor, if not of highways, then of forest paths and all across-lot routes, keeping them open, and ravines bridged and passable at all seasons, where the public heel had testified to their utility. I have watered the red huckleberry, the sand cherry and the nettle-tree, the red pine and the black ash, which might have withered else in dry seasons.
My purpose in going to Walden Pond was not to live cheaply nor to live dearly there, but to transact some private business with the fewest obstacles.
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. We worship not the Graces, but Fashion. She spins and weaves and cuts with full authority. The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveller's cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same.
When I consider my neighbors, the farmers of Concord, who are at least as well off as the other classes, I find that for the most part they have been toiling twenty, thirty, or forty years, that they may become the real owners of their farms. We may regard one third of that toil as the cost of their houses -- but commonly they have not paid for them yet. And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him.
But how do the poor minority fare? The luxury of one class is counterbalanced by the indigence of another. On the one side is the palace, on the other are the almshouse and "silent poor. " The mason who finishes the cornice of the palace returns at night perchance to a hut not so good as a wigwam. It is the luxurious and dissipated who set the fashions which the herd so diligently follow.
Men have become the tools of their tools. The man who independently plucked the fruits when he was hungry is become a farmer; and he who stood under a tree for shelter, a housekeeper. We now no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven.
Near the end of March, 1845, I borrowed an axe and went down to the woods by Walden Pond, and began to cut down some tall, arrowy white pines, still in their youth, for timber. It is difficult to begin without borrowing; the owner of the axe, as he released his hold on it, said that it was the apple of his eye; but I returned it sharper than I received it. It was a pleasant hillside where I worked, covered with pine woods, through which I looked out on the pond.
Before I had done I was more the friend than the foe of the pine tree, though I had cut down some of them, having become better acquainted with it. By the middle of April, for I made no haste in my work, my house was framed and ready for the raising. I had already bought the shanty of James Collins, an Irishman who worked on the Fitchburg Railroad, for boards. I to pay four dollars and twenty-five cents, he to vacate at five the next morning. At six I passed him and his family on the road. One large bundle held their all -- bed, coffee-mill, looking-glass, hens -- all but the cat; she took to the woods and became a wild cat, and trod in a trap set for woodchucks, and so became a dead cat at last.
At length, in the beginning of May, with the help of some of my acquaintances, I set up the frame of my house. I began to occupy my house on the 4th of July. I built the chimney after my hoeing in the fall, before a fire became necessary for warmth, doing my cooking in the meanwhile out of doors on the ground, early in the morning: which mode I still think is in some respects more convenient and agreeable than the usual one. When it stormed before my bread was baked, I fixed a few boards over the fire, and sat under them to watch my loaf, and passed some pleasant hours in that way. In those days I read but little, but the least scraps of paper which lay on the ground, my holder, or tablecloth, answered the same purpose as the Iliad.
The exact cost of my house, paying the usual price for such materials as I used, but not counting the work, all of which was done by myself, was twenty-eight dollars and twelve cents.
I thus found that the student who wishes for a shelter can obtain one for a lifetime at an expense not greater than the rent which he now pays annually. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.
One says to me, "I wonder that you do not lay up money; you love to travel; you might take the cars and go to Fitchburg today and see the country. " But I am wiser than that. I have learned that the swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot.
I planted about two acres and a half of light and sandy soil near it chiefly with beans, but also a small part with potatoes, corn, peas, and turnips. I was obliged to hire a team and a man for the plowing, though I held the plow myself. For the first season my whole income from the farm was:
$ 23. 44
Deducting the outgoes:
There are left:
$ 8. 71
beside produce consumed
The next year I did better still, for I spaded up all the land which I required, about a third of an acre, and I learned from the experience of both years, not being in the least awed by many celebrated works on husbandry, that if one would live simply and eat only the crop which he raised, and raise no more than he ate, and not exchange it for an insufficient quantity of more luxurious and expensive things, he would need to cultivate only a few rods of ground, and that it would be cheaper to spade up that than to use oxen to plow it, and to select a fresh spot from time to time than to manure the old, and he could do all his necessary farm work as it were with his left hand at odd hours in the summe
This town is not behindhand in its public buildings; but there are very few halls for free worship or free speech. It should not be by their architecture, but why not by their power of abstract thought, that nations should seek to commemorate themselves? How much more admirable the Bhagvat-Geeta than all the ruins of the East! 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?
My food was, for nearly two years after this, rye and Indian meal without yeast, potatoes, rice, a very little salt pork, molasses, and salt; and my drink, water. To meet the objections of some inveterate cavillers, I may as well state, that if I dined out occasionally, as I always had done, and I trust shall have opportunities to do again, it was frequently to the detriment of my domestic arrangements.
I learned from my two years' experience that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength. I have made a satisfactory dinner simply off a dish of purslane (Portulaca oleracea) which I gathered in my cornfield, boiled and salted.
Bread I at first made of pure Indian meal and salt, genuine hoe-cakes, which I baked before my fire out of doors. I made a study of the ancient art of bread-making. Leaven, which some deem the soul of bread -- some precious bottleful, I suppose, first brought over in the Mayflower, its influence is still rising, swelling, spreading, in cerealian billows over the land -- I forgot the rules, and scalded my yeast; by which accident I discovered that even this was not indispensable, and I have gladly omitted it since,
My furniture, part of which I made myself, consisted of a bed, a table, a desk, three chairs, a looking-glass three inches in diameter, a pair of tongs and andirons, a kettle, a skillet, and a frying-pan, a dipper, a wash-bowl, two knives and forks, three plates, one cup, one spoon, a jug for oil, a jug for molasses, and a japanned lamp. None is so poor that he need sit on a pumpkin. When I have met an immigrant tottering under a bundle which contained his all I have pitied him, not because that was his all, but because he had all that to carry.
For more than five years I maintained myself thus solely by the labor of my hands, and I found that, by working about six weeks in a year, I could meet all the expenses of living. The whole of my winters, as well as most of my summers, I had free and clear for study. I have thoroughly tried school-keeping, and found that my expenses were in proportion, or rather out of proportion, to my income, for I was obliged to dress and train, not to say think and believe, accordingly, and I lost my time into the bargain. I have tried trade but I found that it would take ten years to get under way in that, and that then I should probably be on my way to the devil.
I found that the occupation of a day-laborer was the most independent of any, especially as it required only thirty or forty days in a year to support one. The laborer's day ends with the going down of the sun, and he is then free to devote himself to his chosen pursuit, independent of his labor; but his employer, who speculates from month to month, has no respite from one end of the year to the other.
I would not have any one adopt my mode of living on any account; for 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. The youth may build or plant or sail, only let him keep his own polestar in his eye.
But all this is very selfish, I have heard some of my townsmen say. I confess that I have hitherto indulged very little in philanthropic enterprises. However, when I have thought to indulge myself in this respect, and lay their Heaven under an obligation by maintaining certain poor persons in all respects as comfortably as I maintain myself, and have even ventured so far as to make them the offer, they have one and all unhesitatingly preferred to remain poor. You must have a genius for charity as well as for anything else. As for Doing-good, that is one of the professions which are full. Moreover, I have tried it fairly, and, strange as it may seem, am satisfied that it does not agree with my constitution.
There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life. I would rather suffer evil the natural way. A man is not a good man to me because he will pull me out of a ditch if I should ever fall into one. I can find you a Newfoundland dog that will do as much.
I was wont to pity the clumsy laborers who cut ice on the pond, in such mean and ragged clothes, till one who had slipped into the water came to my house to warm him, and I saw him strip off three pairs of pants and two pairs of stockings, though they were dirty and ragged he could afford to refuse the extra garments which I offered him. This ducking was the very thing he needed. There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root
I do not value chiefly a man's uprightness and benevolence, which are, as it were, his stem and leaves. I want the flower and fruit of a man. Our manners have been corrupted by communication with the saints. One would say that even the prophets and redeemers had rather consoled the fears than confirmed the hopes of man. There is nowhere recorded a simple and irrepressible satisfaction with the gift of life Do not stay to be an overseer of the poor, but endeavor to become one of the worthies of the world.
I read in the Gulistan, or Flower Garden, of Sheik Sadi of Shiraz, "Fix not thy heart on that which is transitory; for the Tigris will continue to flow through Bagdad after the race of caliphs is extinct."
2: Where I Lived, and What I Lived For
"I am monarch of all I survey,
My right there is none to dispute."
When I took up my abode in the woods, I found myself suddenly neighbor to the birds; not by having imprisoned one, but having caged myself near them. I was not only nearer to some of those which commonly frequent the garden and the orchard, but to those smaller and more thrilling songsters of the forest which never, or rarely, serenade a villager
Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity with Nature herself. Morning brings back the heroic ages. and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night. 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, instead of factory bells. 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 went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify. Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? As for work, we haven't any of any consequence. We have the Saint Vitus' dance, and cannot possibly keep our heads still.
Hardly a man takes a half-hour's nap after dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, "What's the news?" And if we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter -- we never need read of another. One is enough. To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.
Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through Church and State, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality.
Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one. I know not the first letter of the alphabet. I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born. The intellect is a cleaver; it discerns and rifts its way into the secret of things. I do not wish to be any more busy with my hands than is necessary. My head is hands and feet. I feel all my best faculties concentrated in it. My instinct tells me that my head is an organ for burrowing, as some creatures use their snout and fore paws, and with it I would mine and burrow my way through these hills. I think that the richest vein is somewhere hereabouts.
My residence was more favorable, not only to thought, but to serious reading, than a university; and though I was beyond the range of the ordinary circulating library, I had more than ever come within the influence of those books which circulate round the world, whose sentences were first written on bark, and are now merely copied from time to time on to linen paper. I kept Homer's Iliad on my table through the summer, though I looked at his page only now and then.
To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem. It requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady intention almost of the whole life to this object. Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.
That age will be rich indeed when those relics which we call Classics, and the still older and more than classic but even less known Scriptures of the nations, shall have still further accumulated, when the Vaticans shall be filled with Vedas and Zendavestas and Bibles, with Homers and Dantes and Shakespeares, and all the centuries to come shall have successively deposited their trophies in the forum of the world. By such a pile we may hope to scale heaven at last.
Most men do not know that any nation but the Hebrews have had a scripture.
I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I often did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sing 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. 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. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works. For the most part, I minded not how the hours went. This was sheer idleness to my fellow-townsmen, no doubt; but if the birds and flowers had tried me by their standard, I should not have been found wanting.
Regularly at half-past seven, in one part of the summer, after the evening train had gone by, the whip-poor-wills chanted their vespers for half an hour, sitting on a stump by my door, or upon the ridge-pole of the house.
When other birds are still, the screech owls take up the strain, like mourning women their ancient u-lu-lu. Their dismal scream is truly Ben Jonsonian. Wise midnight hags! Yet I love to hear their wailing, their doleful responses. They give me a new sense of the variety and capacity of that nature which is our common dwelling. Oh-o-o-o-o that I never had been bor-r-r-r-n! sighs one on this side of the pond, and circles with the restlessness of despair to some new perch on the gray oaks. I rejoice that there are owls. They represent the stark twilight and unsatisfied thoughts which all have.
I am not sure that I ever heard the sound of cock-crowing from my clearing, and I thought that it might be worth the while to keep a cockerel for his music merely, as a singing bird. The note of this once wild Indian pheasant is certainly the most remarkable of any bird's, and if they could be naturalized without being domesticated, it would soon become the most famous sound in our woods.
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 children crying, to comfort one. An old-fashioned man would have lost his senses or died of ennui before this. Only squirrels on the roof and under the floor, a whip-poor-will on the ridge-pole, a blue jay screaming beneath the window, a hare or woodchuck under the house, a screech owl or a cat owl behind it, a flock of wild geese or a laughing loon on the pond, and a fox to bark in the night.
This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore. I go and come with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself. As I walk along the stony shore of the pond in my shirt-sleeves, though it is cool as well as cloudy and windy, and I see nothing special to attract me, all the elements are unusually congenial to me. The bullfrogs trump to usher in the night, and the note of the whip-poor-will is borne on the rippling wind from over the water. Sympathy with the fluttering alder and poplar leaves almost takes away my breath; yet, like the lake, my serenity is rippled but not ruffled. Though it is now dark, the wind still blows and roars in the wood, the waves still dash, and some creatures lull the rest with their notes. The repose is never complete.
I believe that men are generally still a little afraid of the dark, though the witches are all hung, and Christianity and candles have been introduced.
This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in space. Why should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky Way? I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another. What do we want most to dwell near to? Not to many men surely, the depot, the post-office, the bar-room, the meeting-house, the school-house, the grocery, where men most congregate, but to the perennial source of our life. Next to us the grandest laws are continually being executed.
I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will. The really diligent student in one of the crowded hives of Cambridge College is as solitary as a dervish in the desert. 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.
I am no more lonely than the loon in the pond that laughs so loud, or than Walden Pond itself. God is alone -- but the devil, he is far from being alone; he sees a great deal of company; he is legion. I am no more lonely than a single mullein or dandelion in a pasture, or a bean leaf, or sorrel, or a horse-fly, or a bumblebee. I am no more lonely than the Mill Brook, or a weathercock, or the north star, or the south wind, or an April shower, or a January thaw, or the first spider in a new house.
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. I am naturally no hermit, but might possibly sit out the sturdiest frequenter of the bar-room.
I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society. I have had twenty-five or thirty souls, with their bodies, at once under my roof, and yet we often parted without being aware that we had come very near to one another.
One inconvenience I sometimes experienced in so small a house, the difficulty of getting to a sufficient distance from my guest when we began to utter the big thoughts in big words. You want room for your thoughts to get into sailing trim and run a course or two before they make their port. If we would enjoy the most intimate society with that in each of us which is without, or above, being spoken to, we must not only be silent, but commonly so far apart bodily that we cannot possibly hear each other's voice in any case. Referred to this standard, speech is for the convenience of those who are hard of hearing; but there are many fine things which we cannot say if we have to shout.
My "best" room, however, my withdrawing room, was the pine wood behind my house. Thither in summer days, when distinguished guests came, I took them, and a priceless domestic swept the floor and dusted the furniture and kept the things in order. Girls and boys and young women generally seemed glad to be in the woods. They looked in the pond and at the flowers, and improved their time. Men of business, even farmers, thought only of solitude and employment, and of the great distance at which I dwelt from something or other; and though they said that they loved a ramble in the woods occasionally, it was obvious that they did not.
I had more cheering visitors Children come a-berrying, railroad men taking a Sunday morning walk in clean shirts, fishermen and hunters, poets and philosophers; in short, all honest pilgrims, who came out to the woods for freedom's sake, and really left the village behind, I was ready to greet with -- "Welcome, Englishmen! welcome, Englishmen!" for I had had communication with that race.
7: The Bean-Field
Meanwhile my beans, the length of whose rows, added together, was seven miles already planted, were impatient to be hoed. Removing the weeds, putting fresh soil about the bean stems, and encouraging this weed which I had sown, making the yellow soil express its summer thought in bean leaves and blossoms rather than in wormwood and piper and millet grass, making the earth say beans instead of grass -- this was my daily work.
We are wont to forget that the sun looks on our cultivated fields and on the prairies and forests without distinction. They all reflect and absorb his rays alike. In his view the earth is all equally cultivated like a garden. How, then, can our harvest fail? Shall I not rejoice also at the abundance of the weeds whose seeds are the granary of the birds?
8: The Village
Several times, when a visitor chanced to stay into evening, and it proved a dark night, I was obliged to conduct him to the cart-path in the rear of the house, and then point out to him the direction he was to pursue, and in keeping which he was to be guided rather by his feet than his eyes. 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.
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, 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. But, wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions, I was released the next day, obtained my mended shoe, and returned to the woods in season to get my dinner of huckleberries on Fair Haven Hill. I was never molested by any person but those who represented the State. 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. Yet, I suffered no serious inconvenience from these sources, and I never missed anything but one small book, a volume of Homer, which perhaps was improperly gilded. I am convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown.
"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 -- when the wind passes over it, bends."
9: The Ponds
Sometimes, having had a surfeit of human society and gossip, and worn out all my village friends, I rambled still farther westward than I habitually dwell, into yet more unfrequented parts of the town, "to fresh woods and pastures new," or, while the sun was setting, made my supper of huckleberries and blueberries on Fair Haven Hill. If you would know the flavor of huckleberries, ask the cowboy or the partridge. It is a vulgar error to suppose that you have tasted huckleberries who never plucked them. The ambrosial and essential part of the fruit is lost in the market cart.
Occasionally, after my hoeing was done for the day, I joined some impatient companion who had been fishing on the pond since morning. In warm evenings I frequently sat in the boat playing the flute, and saw the perch, which I seem to have charmed, hovering around me, and the moon travelling over the ribbed bottom, which was strewed with the wrecks of the forest. Formerly I had come to this pond adventurously, from time to time, in dark summer nights, with a companion, and, making a fire close to the water's edge, which we thought attracted the fishes, we caught pouts with a bunch of worms strung on a thread, and when we had done, far in the night, threw the burning brands high into the air like skyrockets, which, coming down into the pond, were quenched with a loud hissing, and we were suddenly groping in total darkness.
10: Baker Farm
Once it chanced that I stood in the very abutment of a rainbow's arch, which filled the lower stratum of the atmosphere, tinging the grass and leaves around, and dazzling me as if I looked through colored crystal. Benvenuto Cellini tells us in his memoirs, that, after a certain terrible dream or vision which he had during his confinement in the castle of St. Angelo a resplendent light appeared over the shadow of his head at morning and evening, whether he was in Italy or France, and it was particularly conspicuous when the grass was moist with dew. This was probably the same phenomenon
I set out one afternoon to go a-fishing to Fair Haven, through the woods, to eke out my scanty fare of vegetables. My way led through Pleasant Meadow, an adjunct of the Baker Farm. Therein, dwelt John Field, an Irishman, and his wife, and several children, from the broad-faced boy to the wrinkled, sibyl-like, cone-headed infant that sat upon its father's knee as in the palaces of nobles, not knowing but it was the last of a noble line, instead of John Field's starveling brat. An honest, hard-working, but shiftless man was John Field.
My host told me his story, how hard he worked "bogging" for a neighboring farmer, turning up a meadow with a spade or bog hoe at the rate of ten dollars an acre and the use of the land with manure for one year, not knowing how poor a bargain he had made. I tried to help him with my experience, telling him that I lived in a tight, light, and clean house, which hardly cost more than the annual rent of such a ruin as his commonly amounts to; that I did not use tea, nor coffee, nor butter, nor milk, nor fresh meat, and so did not have to work to get them; again, as I did not work hard, I did not have to eat hard.
Yet he had rated it as a gain in coming to America, that here you could get tea, and coffee, and meat every day. 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 which directly or indirectly result from the use of such things.
Poor John Field! With his horizon all his own, he a poor man, born to be poor.
11: Higher Laws
As I came home through the woods with my string of fish, I caught a glimpse of a woodchuck stealing across my path, and felt a strange thrill of savage delight, and was strongly tempted to seize and devour him raw. I found in myself, and still find, an instinct toward a higher, or, as it is named, spiritual life, as do most men, and another toward a primitive rank and savage one, and I reverence them both.
Almost every New England boy among my contemporaries shouldered a fowling-piece between the ages of ten and fourteen. But already a change is taking place, owing, not to an increased humanity, but to an increased scarcity of game, for perhaps the hunter is the greatest friend of the animals hunted, not excepting the Humane Society.
Such is oftenest the young man's introduction to the forest, and the most original part of himself. 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. Thus, even in civilized communities, the embryo man passes through the hunter stage of development.
We are conscious of an animal in us, which awakens in proportion as our higher nature slumbers. It is reptile and sensual, and perhaps cannot be wholly expelled; like the worms which, even in life and health, occupy our bodies.
All sensuality is one, though it takes many forms; all purity is one. What avails it that you are Christian, if you are not purer than the heathen, if you deny yourself no more, if you are not more religious? Every man is the builder of a temple, called his body, to the god he worships We are all sculptors and painters, and our material is our own flesh and blood and bones.
12: Brute Neighbors
Sometimes I had a companion in my fishing, who came through the village to my house from the other side of the town, and the catching of the dinner was as much a social exercise as the eating of it.
Hermit. I wonder what the world is doing now. Poet. See those clouds; how they hang! Come, let's along. Hermit. I will go with you gladly soon, but I am just concluding a serious meditation. Leave me alone, then, for a while. Poet. How now, Hermit, is it too soon? Hermit. Well, then, let's be off. Shall we to the Concord?
Why do precisely these objects which we behold make a world? Why has man just these species of animals for his neighbors; as if nothing but a mouse could have filled this crevice? One day when I went out to my wood-pile, I observed two large ants, the one red, the other much larger, nearly half an inch long, and black, fiercely contending with one another. Looking farther, I was surprised to find that the chips were covered with such combatants, that it was a war between two races of ants, the red 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.
By the first of September, I had seen two or three small maples turned scarlet across the pond. The wasps came by thousands to my lodge in October, as to winter quarters, and settled on my windows within and on the walls. Each morning, when they were numbed with cold, I swept some of them out, but felt complimented by their regarding my house as a desirable shelter.
When I came to build my chimney I studied masonry. My bricks, being second-hand ones, required to be cleaned with a trowel. The mortar on them was fifty years old, and was said to be still growing harder; but this is one of those sayings which men love to repeat whether they are true or not. Such sayings themselves grow harder and adhere more firmly with age, and it would take many blows with a trowel to clean an old wiseacre of them.
When I began to have a fire at evening, before I plastered my house, the chimney carried smoke particularly well, because of the numerous chinks between the boards. I now first began to inhabit my house, to use it for warmth as well as shelter.
At length the winter set in good earnest, just as I had finished plastering, and the wind began to howl around the house as if it had not had permission to do so till then. Night after night the geese came lumbering in the dark with a clangor and a whistling of wings, even after the ground was covered with snow, some to alight in Walden, and some flying low over the woods toward Fair Haven, bound for Mexico.
Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection. I love to have mine before my window. As my driver prophesied when I was plowing, they warmed me twice -- once while I was splitting them, and again when they were on the fire, so that no fuel could give out more heat. I sometimes left a good fire when I went to take a walk in a winter afternoon; and when I returned, three or four hours afterward, it would be still alive and glowing. My house was not empty though I was gone. It was as if I had left a cheerful housekeeper behind.
The animal merely makes a bed, which he warms with his body, in a sheltered place; but man, having discovered fire, boxes up some air in a spacious apartment, and warms that Thus he goes a step or two beyond instinct, and saves a little time for the fine arts.
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 fireplace. Cooking was then, for the most part, no longer a poetic, but merely a chemic process. It will soon be forgotten, in these days of stoves, that we used to roast potatoes in the ashes, after the Indian fashion. The stove not only took up room and scented the house, but it concealed the fire, and I felt as if I had lost a companion. You can always see a face in the fire. The laborer, looking into it at evening, purifies his thoughts of the dross and earthiness which they have accumulated during the day.
14: Former Inhabitants and Winter Visitors
East of my bean-field, across the road, lived Cato Ingraham, slave of Duncan Ingraham, Esquire, gentleman, of Concord village, who built his slave a house, and gave him permission to live in Walden Woods. Here, by the very corner of my field, still nearer to town, Zilpha, a colored woman, had her little house, where she spun linen for the townsfolk, making the Walden Woods ring with her shrill singing. In the war of 1812, her dwelling was set on fire by English soldiers, prisoners on parole, and her cat and dog and hens were all burned up together.
Down the road, on the right hand, on Brister's Hill, lived Brister Freeman, "a handy Negro," slave of Squire Cummings once -- there where grow still the apple trees which Brister planted and tended; large old trees now, but their fruit still wild and ciderish to my taste.
I am not aware that any man has ever built on the spot which I occupy. Deliver me from a city built on the site of a more ancient city, whose materials are ruins, whose gardens cemeteries. The soil is blanched and accursed there, and before that becomes necessary the earth itself will be destroyed. With such reminiscences I repeopled the woods and lulled myself asleep.
At this season I seldom had a visitor. When the snow lay deepest no wanderer ventured near my house for a week or fortnight at a time, but there I lived as snug as a meadow mouse, or as cattle and poultry which are said to have survived for a long time buried in drifts, even without food; or like that early settler's family in the town of Sutton, in this State, whose cottage was completely covered by the great snow of 1717 when he was absent, and an Indian found it only by the hole which the chimney's breath made in the drift, and so relieved the family. But no friendly Indian concerned himself about me
There too, as everywhere, I sometimes expected the Visitor who never comes. The Vishnu Purana says, "The house-holder is to remain at eventide in his courtyard as long as it takes to milk a cow, or longer if he pleases, to await the arrival of a guest. " I often performed this duty of hospitality, waited long enough to milk a whole herd of cows, but did not see the man approaching from the town.
16: The Pond in Winter
After a still winter night I awoke with the impression that some question had been put to me, which I had been endeavoring in vain to answer in my sleep, as what -- how -- when -- where?
Then to my morning work. First I take an axe and pail and go in search of water, if that be not a dream. I cut my way first through a foot of snow, and then a foot of ice, and open a window, where, kneeling to drink, I look down into the quiet parlor of the fishes, pervaded by a softened light as through a window of ground glass, with its bright sanded floor the same as in summer. Heaven is under our feet is well as over our heads.
I surveyed the pond carefully, early in '46, with compass and chain and sounding line. There have been many stories told about the bottom, or rather no bottom, of this pond, which certainly had no foundation for themselves. It is remarkable how long men will believe in the bottomlessness of a pond without taking the trouble to sound it. The greatest depth was exactly one hundred and two feet. This is a remarkable depth for so small an area; yet not an inch of it can be spared by the imagination. 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. What I have observed of the pond is no less true in ethics.
While yet it is cold January, and snow and ice are thick and solid, the prudent landlord comes from the village to get ice to cool his summer drink; impressively, even pathetically, wise, to foresee the heat and thirst of July now in January. In the winter of '46-7, like a flock of arctic snow-birds, a hundred Irishmen, with Yankee overseers, came from Cambridge every day to get out the ice. They told me that in a good day they could get out a thousand tons, while their horses ate their oats out of cakes of ice hollowed out like buckets.
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.
Thus it appears that the sweltering inhabitants of New Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta, drink at my well. In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagvat-Geeta, since whose composition years of the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial; and I doubt if that philosophy is not to be referred to a previous state of existence, so remote is its sublimity from our conceptions. I lay down the book and go to my well for water, and lo! there I meet the servant of the Bramin, priest of Brahma and Vishnu and Indra, who still sits in his temple on the Ganges reading the Vedas, or dwells at the root of a tree with his crust and water jug. The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges.
The opening of large tracts by the ice-cutters commonly causes a pond to break up earlier. 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. The cracking and booming of the ice indicate a change of temperature. Who would have suspected so large and cold and thick-skinned a thing to be so sensitive? Yet it has its law to which it thunders obedience when it should as surely as the buds expand in the spring.
One attraction in coming to the woods to live was that I should have leisure and opportunity to see the Spring come in. Fogs and rains and warmer suns are gradually melting the snow; the days have grown sensibly longer; and I see how I shall get through the winter without adding to my wood-pile, for large fires are no longer necessary.
What is man but a mass of thawing clay? Each rounded lobe of the vegetable leaf, too, is a thick and now loitering drop, larger or smaller; the lobes are the fingers of the leaf; and as many lobes as it has, in so many directions it tends to flow. Thus it seemed that this one hillside illustrated the principle of all the operations of Nature. The Maker of this earth but patented a leaf.
This is the frost coming out of the ground; this is Spring. It precedes the green and flowery spring, as mythology precedes regular poetry. It convinces me that Earth is still in her swaddling-clothes, and stretches forth baby fingers on every side. There is nothing inorganic.
The first sparrow of spring! The grass flames up on the hillsides like a spring fire -- "et primitus oritur herba imbribus primoribus evocata" -- as if the earth sent forth an inward heat to greet the returning sun; not yellow but green is the color of its flame; -- the symbol of perpetual youth So our human life but dies down to its root, and still puts forth its green blade to eternity.
Walden is melting apace. Walden was dead and is alive again.
On the third or fourth of May I saw a loon in the pond, and during the first week of the month I heard the whip-poor-will, the brown thrasher, the veery, the wood pewee, the chewink, and other birds. I had heard the wood thrush long before. And so the seasons went rolling on into summer, as one rambles into higher and higher grass.
Thus was my first year's life in the woods completed; and the second year was similar to it. I finally left Walden September 6th, 1847.
To the sick the doctors wisely recommend a change of air and scenery. One hastens to southern Africa to chase the giraffe. How long, pray, would a man hunt giraffes if he could? Snipes and woodcocks also may afford rare sport; but I trust it would be nobler game to shoot one's self.--
"Direct your eye right inward, and you'll find
A thousand regions in your mind
Yet undiscovered. Travel them, and be
Expert in home-cosmography."
What does Africa -- what does the West stand for? Is not our own interior white on the chart? black though it may prove, like the coast, when discovered. Be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.
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. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!
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. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. 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. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
The commonest sense is the sense of men asleep, which they express by snoring. Sometimes we are inclined to class those who are once-and-a-half-witted with the half-witted, because we appreciate only a third part of their wit.
Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man's abodeHumility like darkness reveals the heavenly lights. It is life near the bone where it is sweetest.
Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board. The hospitality was as cold as the ices.
This generation inclines a little to congratulate itself on being the last of an illustrious line; and in Boston and London and Paris and Rome, thinking of its long descent, it speaks of its progress in art and science and literature with satisfaction. Yet there is not one of my readers who has lived a whole human life.
The life in us is like the water in the river. It may rise this year higher than man has ever known it, and flood the parched uplands; even this may be the eventful year
There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.
Henry D Thoreau
Thoreau's grave in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery,
Concord, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA.