The great and worthy versus the trivial (Walden 63)

“When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality.” — Henry David Thoreau, “Where I lived and What I Lived For,” Walden

Henry is still reacting to the news, and responding to what he perceives as its triviality. But when he makes a statement like this, we can imagine him ignoring current events, perhaps thinking of change in terms of ages or eons of time, as in the Big History movement.

But then he brings us up short with this:

“Men esteem truth remote, in the outskirts of the system, behind the farthest star, before Adam and after the last man. In eternity there is indeed something true and sublime. But all these times and places and occasions are now and here. God himself culminates in the present moment, and will never be more divine in the lapse of all the ages.”

What Thoreau means by “God” is apparently quite different from what the clergy of Concord meant when they used the word, but what is most important to him here is the emphasis on the Now.

Is he contradicting himself? After all, what is Now made of except our own immediate, trivial, ephemeral experiences?

But that, he says, has nothing to do with what passes for “news,” which is second-hand, filtered, and which favors the sensational parts of Now over those parts which are most important.

“Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails… 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.…”

(About  “A Year in Walden”)


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