The written word: the “art nearest to life itself” (Walden 69)

“A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips; — not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself.” — Henry David Thoreau, “Reading,” Walden

Is the written word really “nearest to life itself” among the arts? What about music or the visual arts? What about drama, or dance, or cinema? It seems to me that there are many things near to life that are difficult to express in words, but which artists capture through other media. And such expressions don’t just translate into any language, but transcend language and require no translation at all.

(About  “A Year in Walden”)

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2 thoughts on “The written word: the “art nearest to life itself” (Walden 69)

  1. Mary Avidano

    I like it that you argue with the author, leaving a note (of protest) in the margin of a well-loved book.

    Reply

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