The end of Walden. “There is more day to dawn.” (Walden 212)

We’ve come to the final anecdote of Walden. A year of blog posts about this book and here we are. The end of the trail. The last roundup. The final lines are to be delivered, and then it’s roll credits and cue the theme song.

So what does Henry have for us today? What is his grand summation of his magnum opus?

He’s going to talk about the eggs of a bug.

That’s it. That’s his grand sendoff. But listen to it:

“Every one has heard the story which has gone the rounds of New England, of a strong and beautiful bug which came out of the dry leaf of an old table of apple-tree wood, which had stood in a farmer’s kitchen for sixty years… from an egg deposited in the living tree many years earlier still, as appeared by counting the annual layers beyond it; which was heard gnawing out for several weeks, hatched perchance by the heat of an urn.  Who does not feel his faith in a resurrection and immortality strengthened by hearing of this?  Who knows what beautiful and winged life, whose egg has been buried for ages under many concentric layers of woodenness in the dead dry life of society…may unexpectedly come forth from amidst society’s most trivial and handselled furniture, to enjoy its perfect summer life at last!”

And that’s why he ended the book in spring rather than winter. Spring is the time of renewal, and renewal is the theme here. What lies dormant within you? This is an incredibly hopeful way to end the book.

In the words of biographer Robert Richardson, “Walden is an affirmation of life — not an easy acquiescence, but the earned affirmation of a man who had to struggle almost constantly against a sense of loss, desolation, and decline that grew on him with age.” (Henry Thoreau, p. 256)

But — and this is key — you have to be ready for this renewal. Henry admits that “John or Jonathan” (referring to common stage characters that represented Britain and the US) might not get it, but he hopes you do. Are you ready to greet the morning?

“Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”

This concludes “A Year in Walden.” Since I have no plans for another extended series of posts, this blog will resume the more eclectic format it had prior to this past year. See you a week from Wednesday, and thanks for reading!

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6 thoughts on “The end of Walden. “There is more day to dawn.” (Walden 212)

  1. Jim

    David, I somehow stumbled upon your wonderful site and enjoyed reading some of your Walden entries. Henry first tripped my imagination in college and his worldview has stayed with me ever since. Below is a piece I wrote for an online hiking forum. I hope its length is not inappropriate for your blog. The subject matter refers to the ‘alpenglow’, but implies much more. Jim

    Remains of the Day

    I’d like to share a passage written by Thoreau shortly before he died. Though not common, the subject matter is something we’ve all experienced. My most searing memory is from the Beartooth Plateau when the world literally turned orange for ten dazzling minutes.

    Henry suffered from consumption (tuberculosis) when he wrote the piece, so he knew he was dying. The last years of Thoreau’s life were devoted to the tedium of gathering facts relating to natural cycles near Concord. Weather, blooming flowers and trees, wildlife behavior, etc., were to be part of an almanac showing locals what to expect on any given day. It was to this end – while studying a tree stump during winter – that Thoreau caught a cold which led to his disease.

    The sterile details and statistics he meticulously jotted down during his latter days seem a galaxy away from the ethereal shores of Walden (at the time, Henry was 17 years removed from his Walden days). This transition is a path many of us follow. The shift from emotion to reason, from physical to thought, instability to security, unfolds slowly. Mercifully, we don’t realize it until grounded in the second stage for a while. To intellectually grasp the depth and sacredness of something is not the same as feeling it in your gut.

    I’ve read much of Thoreau’s work, including his magnificent journal. IMO, he underwent this metamorphosis. The paragraphs below revisit his transcendental roots. Here’s the end of ‘Walking’:

    “We had a remarkable sunset one day last November. I was walking in a meadow, the source of a small brook, when the sun at last, just before setting, after a cold grey day, reached a clear stratum in the horizon, and the softest brightest sunlight fell on the dry grass in the opposite horizon, and on the hill-side, while our shadows stretched long over the meadow eastward, as if we were the only motes in its beams. It was such a light that we could not have imagined a moment before. The air was so warm and serene that nothing was wanting to make a paradise of that meadow. When we reflected that this was not a solitary phenomenon, never to happen again, but that it would happen forever and ever an infinite number of evenings, and cheer and reassure the latest child that walked there, it was more glorious still.

    The sun sets on some retired meadow, where no house is visible, with all the glory and splendor it lavishes on cities – where there is but a solitary marsh hawk to have his wings gilded by it, and there’s some little black-veined brook in the midst of the marsh, just beginning to meander, winding slowly round a decaying stump. We walked in so pure and bright a light, I thought I had never bathed in such a golden flood. The west side of every wood and rising ground gleamed like the boundary of elysium, and the sun on our backs seemed like a gentle herdsman, driving us home at evening.

    So we saunter toward the Holy Land; till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, maybe shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, so warm and serene and golden as on a bank-side in Autumn.”

    Reply

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