Monthly Archives: June 2014

Hobby Lobby and “liberty”

Today we take a little break from Walden for a dose of outrage at today’s US Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case, in which the court ruled that certain family-owned corporations can evade the law by citing the owners’ religious convictions (and in this case deny birth control coverage to female employees, though of course it isn’t going to stop there).

Apparently neither Hobby Lobby nor a majority of the court sees the irony of invoking “liberty” to deprive employees of legally mandated health benefits.

“That word you keep saying. I do not think it means what you think it means.” — Inigo Montoya

Somebody put Justice Ginsberg’s dissent to music, with a few paraphrases (I don’t think Ginsberg wrote “slut-shaming geezers,” though maybe she should have):

Living too fast… at 30 mph (Walden 59)

“The nation… lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour…” — Henry David Thoreau, “Where I lived and What I Lived For,” Walden

We can laugh at this, but one generation’s future shock is the next generation’s nostalgia. Thoreau is writing so long ago that things that seem quaint to us were for him starkly modern, fast, and representative of a new industrial age. But notice that he’s not calling for a return to the technology and expectations of the sixteenth century — in other words, to times as remote to him as he is to us. Continue reading

Frittered away by detail in the chopping sea of civilized life (Walden 58)

“Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.”  — Henry David Thoreau, “Where I lived and What I Lived For,” Walden

This bit has grown in relevance, don’t you think? Have you ever had that kind of day, where you do 1,001 things and accomplish nothing, or at least nothing that seems to amount to much? Continue reading

“I did not wish to live what was not life…” (Walden 57)

The first sentence below is probably the most quoted part of Walden. Last time I quoted it in isolation, as it usually appears, but today I want to show where Thoreau was leading with those words. Here’s it is with more context:

“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.’” — Henry David Thoreau, “Where I lived and What I Lived For,” Walden

If you’ve read this far into the book you already know that Henry has concluded that life is sublime and not mean, but what is he saying with that last bit about the chief end of man? Continue reading

I went to the woods because… (Walden 56)

Thoreau's famous quotation, near his cabin site at Walden Pond. Wikimedia Commons

Thoreau’s famous quotation, near his cabin site at Walden Pond. Wikimedia Commons

“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.”

— Henry David Thoreau, “Where I lived and What I Lived For,” Walden

(About  “A Year in Walden”)

An infinite expectation of the dawn (Walden 55)

“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?” — Henry David Thoreau, “Where I lived and What I Lived For,” Walden

In a physical sense, being awake wasn’t something Thoreau took for granted: he suffered from narcolepsy, which sometimes interfered with his ability to work. But sleep and waking is an important metaphor here and throughout the book. Continue reading

Morning is the most memorable season of the day (Walden 54)

“The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night.” — Henry David Thoreau, “Where I lived and What I Lived For,” Walden

Many of us are not “morning people.” However, that may be because a lot of us don’t get enough sleep. We’re not as likely to rise and retire with the sun as people tended to do before electricity. Are our modern habits causing us to miss the most creative time of the day? Or is Thoreau simply assuming that everyone else’s internal clock works the way his does?

On the other hand, he goes on to say, “To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning. It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men.”

Some writers recommend having regular writing time every day. As you get in the habit, your brain begins to expect it and will tend to be more productive at that time, whatever that time is. It becomes a mental ‘morning.’

(About  “A Year in Walden”)