4 October 2005
Thoreau's Walden is not a novel or an autobiography, but rather a series of interconnected essays that describe his life apart from society, in the woods where he fled in order contemplate nature. In many ways, this book founded the tradition of nature writing. (Certainly authors and artists had examined nature before, but not in the context of nature being threatened by industrialism.)
Thoreau was one of the American Transcendentalists, who loved nature, but also loved intelligent society. They were frustrated idealists, who held out great hopes for the soul of humankind, but disgusted at the pettiness and materialsim they found in human society. They looked at nature with the eyes of a poet,
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. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan- like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to "glorify God and enjoy him forever."The above is from Chapter 2, "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For." I am also asking you to read Chapter 4, "Sounds".
A note to help you get into the book:
Walden is a difficult book to read for three reasons: First, it was written by a gifted writer who uses surgically precise language, extended, allegorical metaphors, long and complex paragraphs and sentences, and vivid, detailed, and insightful descriptions. Thoreau does not hestitate to use metaphors, allusions, understatement, hyperbole, personification, irony, satire, metonymy, synecdoche, and oxymorons, and he can shift from a scientific to a transcendental point of view in mid-sentence. -- Ken KieferYou may also wish to pay a visit to the Walden section of the American Transcendentalism Web.
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