“Follow your genius closely”… while doing housework? (Walden 79)

Interior of replica of Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond. Wikimedia Commons

Interior of replica of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond. Wikimedia Commons

“[M]y life itself was become my amusement and never ceased to be novel… Follow your genius closely enough, and it will not fail to show you a fresh prospect every hour.” — Henry David Thoreau, “Sounds,” Walden

“Genius” is a misunderstood word. Originally it referred to the spirit of the place, and it can also refer to one’s natural bent or inclination. Later it came to mean mental superiority, but I don’t think that’s what Thoreau is getting at here.

What he’s talking about is housework.

No, really. Immediately following the above-quoted passage is this:

“Housework was a pleasant pastime. When my floor was dirty, I rose early, and, setting all my furniture out of doors on the grass, bed and bedstead making but one budget, dashed water on the floor, and sprinkled white sand from the pond on it, and then with a broom scrubbed it clean and white; and by the time the villagers had broken their fast the morning sun had dried my house sufficiently to allow me to move in again, and my meditations were almost uninterrupted. It was pleasant to see my whole household effects out on the grass, making a little pile like a gypsy’s pack, and my three-legged table, from which I did not remove the books and pen and ink, standing amid the pines and hickories. They seemed glad to get out themselves, and as if unwilling to be brought in….”

And he goes on about how great it was to see his stuff out in the sunshine. Simply by paying attention and being open to the possibility of wonder in the most ordinary of circumstances, he transformed a boring task into something beautiful.

In fairness, it probably helped that he had only one room to clean.

(About  “A Year in Walden”)


2 thoughts on ““Follow your genius closely”… while doing housework? (Walden 79)

  1. Mary Avidano

    What a great closing line–yes, only one room to clean, only one’s self to think of, and all the time in the world. AND YET…he gives us such an appealing picture.


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