Space enough for your big ideas (Walden 100)

I don’t think Thoreau gets enough credit for his sense of humor. He could be a pretty funny guy, in a deadpan sort of way, and was even willing to poke fun at himself, as in this description of his little house at Walden Pond:

“One inconvenience I sometimes experienced in so small a house, the difficulty of getting to a sufficient distance from my guest when we began to utter the big thoughts in big words. You want room for your thoughts to get into sailing trim and run a course or two before they make their port. The bullet of your thought must have overcome its lateral and ricochet motion and fallen into its last and steady course before it reaches the ear of the hearer, else it may plow out again through the side of his head. Also, our sentences wanted room to unfold and form their columns in the interval… As the conversation began to assume a loftier and grander tone, we gradually shoved our chairs farther apart till they touched the wall in opposite corners, and then commonly there was not room enough.”

Can’t you just see these two guys, getting more and more wound up with their grand ideas? Henry is going to make a serious point (more about that next time) but I’m not convinced that he always took himself as seriously as we might assume.

(About  “A Year in Walden”)


6 thoughts on “Space enough for your big ideas (Walden 100)

    1. thecuriouspeople Post author

      I would have loved to have been there listening to those guys holding forth, knowing that at least one of the two is simultaneously standing a little apart from himself, chuckling.

  1. tdk1004

    I think you’re right! I strongly believe that this man was a genius. Last spring I took a trip to Concord, MA and was surprised to find out that Thoreau was everywhere, literally! If he wasn’t at his cabin, he was at the Emerson house watching children or down the street at the Alcott house. Very amazing man, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he was humorous, too! He was obviously well liked by his community.

    1. thecuriouspeople Post author

      I’ve never been to Concord, but I should make the trip sometime – especially now that I’m blogging about Walden. I’m sure that would give one a difference sense of the man and his community.

  2. Tim King

    Yes, I agree that Henry had a bit of dry wit about him…and it sometimes frustrates me that I don’t always get the “joke” either because of the language or the context of the situation or environment he is trying to describe in his writing. That’s why (someday) I hope to be able to go down to Concord and listen to one of the reenactments that talented Thoreauvians put on each year. I think the nuance of his humor – and the true power of his contempt for some things – can only be truly appreciated orally. In much the same way Mark Twain breathed emotion into his writings by performing them in front of an audience.

    1. thecuriouspeople Post author

      That would be good to hear! Hearing writing performed orally can be such a different experience from reading the words on the page. So much of our communication is nonverbal or conveyed by tone and inflection.


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