The first sparrow of spring!
The year beginning with younger hope than ever!
The faint silvery warblings
heard over the partially bare and moist fields from
the bluebird, the song sparrow, and the red-wing,
as if the last flakes of winter tinkled as they fell!
What at such a time are histories, chronologies, traditions,
and all written revelations?
…The grass flames up on the hillsides like a spring fire…
as if the earth sent forth an inward heat to greet the returning sun;
not yellow but green is the color of its flame…
— Henry David Thoreau, from “Spring,” Walden
Can you hear Walt Whitman in this passage? And not just because of the mention of grass or the setting of these lines of prose into poetic stanzas. The first edition of Leaves of Grass came out in 1855, barely a year after Walden, and the two men did not meet until 1856. So it isn’t that one man influenced the other — not yet anyway — but despite their very different personalities, in some ways they were tapping into the same sentiment, a similar sense of new-ness and now-ness, the availability of renewal.
“So our human life but dies down to its root,” Henry wrote, “and still puts forth its green blade to eternity.”
“I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,” Whitman wrote, “If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.”
What did they mean? Eternal life in some form? Reincarnation? The continuity of life even as the individual is extinguished? Did they even know exactly what they meant, or care? Maybe the sense of continuity and renewal was enough.
(About “A Year in Walden”)