Thoreau isn’t afraid of the dark (Walden 119)

Milky Way. Via Wikipedia

Milky Way. Via Wikipedia

Thoreau continues his description of dark nights. Think about his world, “a world lit only by fire” as the saying goes, a world with nighttime darkness that is utterly foreign to modern city dwellers. Imagine yourself in such a time, with brilliant stars and intense moonlight… or, when it is overcast, or when you’re deep in the woods, a world of deep, cave-like blackness. Are you afraid? Listen to Henry’s tone as he describes darkness. What is his mood here?

“Several times, when a visitor chanced to stay into evening, and it proved a dark night, I was obliged to conduct him to the cart-path in the rear of the house, and then point out to him the direction he was to pursue, and in keeping which he was to be guided rather by his feet than his eyes.

“One very dark night I directed thus on their way two young men who had been fishing in the pond. They lived about a mile off through the woods, and were quite used to the route. A day or two after one of them told me that they wandered about the greater part of the night, close by their own premises, and did not get home till toward morning, by which time, as there had been several heavy showers in the meanwhile, and the leaves were very wet, they were drenched to their skins.

“I have heard of many going astray even in the village streets, when the darkness was so thick that you could cut it with a knife, as the saying is. Some who live in the outskirts, having come to town a-shopping in their wagons, have been obliged to put up for the night; and gentlemen and ladies making a call have gone half a mile out of their way, feeling the sidewalk only with their feet, and not knowing when they turned.”

The tone here is wonder. Henry isn’t afraid of the dark; he’s amazed by it. But… imagine you are lost in this darkness. What then? That is the topic for next time.

(About  “A Year in Walden”)


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