Monthly Archives: March 2014

Never too late to give up our prejudices (Walden 7)

Thoreau, 1854

Portrait of Thoreau from 1854, the year Walden was published. Via Wikipedia

“It is never too late to give up our prejudices. No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof.”

— Henry David Thoreau, “Economy,” Walden

(About  “A Year in Walden”)

What we give up in exchange for money (Walden 6)

coronet-half-eagle-no-motto-goldThe first chapter of Walden is titled “Economy,” but it’s not really about money. It’s about what we give up in exchange for money.

“It is very evident what mean and sneaking lives many of you live…” Thoreau writes in one of his turns of phrase in which he comes off as arrogant and self-righteous.

You don’t have to read far into Walden before you figure out that Henry can be pretty full of himself. But a lot of that is passion. He’s experienced some things about life that he doesn’t think the rest of us are getting, and he really, really wants us to. Continue reading

The finest qualities of our nature (Walden 5)

2013-04-28 019_2sThe 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.

— Henry David Thoreau, “Economy,” Walden

(Thoreau wrote poetry as a younger man before focusing almost exclusively on his essays. To me, he never ceased to be poet, and so, now and then throughout this project, I’ll set some of his quotes in stanzas so they can be read as little poems.)

(About  “A Year in Walden”)

No time to be anything but a machine (Walden 4)

“[T]he laboring man has not leisure for a true integrity day by day; he cannot afford to sustain the manliest relations to men; his labor would be depreciated in the market. He has no time to be anything but a machine.”  — Henry David Thoreau, “Economy,” Walden

Ever feel this way? Does it make you feel better or worse to know this is from a book published in 1854?

Henry goes on to say a strange and remarkable thing in the next sentence: Continue reading

Traveling in your hometown (Walden 3)

“I have travelled a good deal in Concord; and everywhere, in shops, and offices, and fields, the inhabitants have appeared to me to be doing penance in a thousand remarkable ways.”  — Henry David Thoreau, “Economy,” Walden

Is it possible to “travel” in your home town? Have you ever done it? Remember what Henry said in the previous post about writing about your life as if writing home from a distant land. He learned to see his home town as if for the first time, as if newly arrived from some distant shore. He took nothing for granted and experienced it fresh.

And what did he find? People doing “penance” (Henry was not a big fan of the workaday world, to put it mildly.) He follows this up with a vivid catalog of mythological tortures, which he compares to the lives of his fellow townsmen.

“I see young men, my townsmen,” he goes on to say, “whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of…”

And he treats us to a startling word-picture of a “poor immortal soul… well-nigh crushed and smothered under its load, creeping down the road of life, pushing before it a barn seventy-five feet by forty….”

What his neighbors would call good fortune he considers a great misfortune. It’s as if Henry is standing on his head and looking at the world upside down.

Are desired possessions such as homes, cars, businesses, or careers also burdens in a way? Of course they are. But is Henry serious about how bad they are, and is he trying to get us to give them up and join him in the woods?

Or is he using hyperbole to get our attention? Maybe he only wants us to join him and stand on our heads, looking at the world upside down for a while, as a starting point for a discussion about what really matters in life.

(About  “A Year in Walden”)

Thoreau’s letter from a distant land (Walden 2)

We begin, and Thoreau tells a little about why he’s writing this book:

“I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.  Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men’s lives; some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me.” — from “Economy,” Walden Continue reading

A Year in Walden (Walden 1)

Original title page of Walden featuring a picture drawn by Thoreau's sister Sophia. Via Wikipedia

Original title page of Walden featuring a picture drawn by Thoreau’s sister Sophia. Via Wikipedia

One should not read Henry David Thoreau’s Walden quickly. It’s a book that benefits from a leisurely pace. This book can change how you look at the world and improve your enjoyment of life. Even if you live in a city and like modern technology, as I do.

That’s why for the next year I’m going to blog about Walden — quoting it, commenting on it, amplifying and arguing with it. It’s like a book club that meets four days a week (new posts on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday), but the readings are mostly a good deal shorter than this post — just a few minutes out of your day. And though I hope you’ll read the book for yourself, you don’t have to do so to follow these posts. I’ll quote as much as I need to for the post to make sense.

Just remember: Walden isn’t something to finish and check off your list. It’s something live with, a companion. I can think of very few books that stand up to that kind of use, but this is one. Continue reading