Monthly Archives: November 2014

Take shelter under the cloud (Walden 147)

Rise free from care before the dawn,
and seek adventures.

Let the noon find thee by other lakes,
and the night overtake thee
everywhere at home.

There are no larger fields than these,
no worthier games
than may here be played.

Grow wild according to thy nature,
like these sedges and brakes,
which will never become English hay.

Let the thunder rumble; what if
it threaten ruin to farmers’ crops?
That is not its errand to thee.

Take shelter under the cloud, while they flee
to carts and sheds.

Let not to get a living be thy trade,
but thy sport.

Enjoy the land, but own it not.

Through want of enterprise
and faith men are where they are,
buying and selling, and spending
their lives like serfs.

— Henry David Thoreau, from “Baker Farm,” Walden2013-11 033s

(About  “A Year in Walden”)

Thoreau gives advice to the poor (Walden 146)

Thoreau met an Irish immigrant named John Field, along with his wife and their children, and they sat and talked under the Fields’ leaky roof during a rainstorm. “An honest, hard-working, but shiftless man plainly was John Field,” Henry wrote, and he felt the Fields were making a bad bargain with life and told them so.

Field worked “bogging” for a landowner, “turning up a meadow with a spade or bog hoe at the rate of ten dollars an acre and the use of the land with manure for one year….”

Henry told the Fields that “I lived in a tight, light, and clean house, which hardly cost more than the annual rent of such a ruin as his commonly amounts to; and how, if he chose, he might in a month or two build himself a palace of his own; that I did not use tea, nor coffee, nor butter, nor milk, nor fresh meat, and so did not have to work to get them; again, as I did not work hard, I did not have to eat hard….” Continue reading

Standing inside a rainbow (Walden 145)

We’ve begun a new chapter, titled “Baker Farm,” and here Thoreau makes an astonishing claim:

“Once it chanced that I stood in the very abutment of a rainbow’s arch, which filled the lower stratum of the atmosphere, tinging the grass and leaves around, and dazzling me as if I looked through colored crystal. It was a lake of rainbow light, in which, for a short while, I lived like a dolphin. If it had lasted longer it might have tinged my employments and life.”

This is one of the more puzzling and tantalizing statements in Walden. An abutment is the end of an arch — Henry is claiming to have stood inside the end of a rainbow! Which, of course, is impossible. Everyone knows that rainbows recede from you as you approach — you can never reach rainbow’s end any more than a dog can catch his shadow. Continue reading

“I paid many a visit to particular trees….” (Walden 144)

Bur oak, Wilderness Park, Lincoln, Nebraska

Bur oak, Wilderness Park, Lincoln, Nebraska

“Instead of calling on some scholar, I paid many a visit to particular trees….”

Taken out of context, this is one of those quotes that makes Thoreau sound like a crazy hermit. See? He didn’t like people. He talked to trees!

It should be clear from the rest of the book that Henry didn’t lack sociability. He went into town almost every day, remember.

But he took time to visit particular trees that were favorites of his, ones “which are rare in this neighborhood, standing far away in the middle of some pasture, or in the depths of a wood or swamp, or on a Hilltop.” Continue reading

Too pure to have a market value (Walden 143)

What would happen if you found a great and perfect diamond, a jewel of such stunning beauty that it would surely command a huge price at auction… but, let’s say that by some magic it’s impossible for you or anyone else to take possession of it. No one can buy or sell the diamond. No one can take it away or hide it. And it rests in a spot where no one can prevent people from looking at it. It is beyond commerce and can provide no one with power or profit. What happens next?

I think what happens is that over time most people forget about it. Because the Unobtainable Diamond can have no market value, most people would cease to think of it as having any value. Oh, they might admire it if they happened to pass by, but since anyone could look at it at any time, most people wouldn’t even bother to go out of their way to see it. In today’s reading Thoreau writes: Continue reading

In praise of poverty? (Walden 142)

Last time Thoreau was complaining about Flint, the farmer whose name was undeservedly (in his opinion) attached to a beautiful pond on his property. Henry’s stinging indictment of Flint culminates with, “I respect not his labors, his farm where everything has its price, who would carry the landscape, who would carry his God, to market, if he could get anything for him….”

Ouch. And any of us who are opposed to the persistent idea that value can be measured only (primarily) in dollars, who are alarmed at the intrusion of commerce into every possible facet of life and culture, can cheer this rant.

But then Henry goes on to say something naive and I think rather callous. Continue reading

In which Thoreau gets all worked up about the name of Flint’s Pond (Walden 141)

What’s in a name? Does a name convey meaning, or is it just a label by which we identify a person or place? Does the source or etymology of a name even matter? I know of people who chose their children’s names from baby books based on the “meaning” of the name, by which they mean what the word meant in its original language. David is a Hebrew name meaning “beloved,” I’m told, but I’m pretty sure my parents didn’t know that. Does that make me more or less loved?

So today as we continue with the chapter “The Ponds,” Thoreau is getting worked up about the name of Flint’s Pond, another local body of water that he loved. Continue reading