Tag Archives: music

Thoreau and food (Walden 150)

Last time Thoreau talked about his mixed feelings about hunting and fishing. But in this chapter he also included thoughts about food in general. He favored a “simple and clean” diet, warning, “put an extra condiment into your dish, and it will poison you. It is not worth the while to live by rich cookery.”

I suppose we’re learning the truth of this as we face higher levels of obesity. Henry would be amazed (and appalled, I’m sure) at the ubiquity of food and food advertising in today’s culture.

OK, but Henry also expresses disapproval of alcohol, coffee, and tea. Granted, part of this was his desire to reduce expenses, but a lot of it was asceticism. There “are infinite degrees of drunkenness,” Henry warns, and, “Even music may be intoxicating.” Continue reading


Fishing by moonlight (Walden 124)

“In warm evenings I frequently sat in the boat playing the flute, and saw the perch, which I seem to have charmed, hovering around me, and the moon travelling over the ribbed bottom, which was strewed with the wrecks of the forest.” — Henry David Thoreau, from “The Ponds,” Walden

James Galway on flute, playing Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat major (Op. 9, No. 2). Published in 1832, it’s possible that Thoreau knew this composition.

The video also includes Galway playing Debussy’s “Reverie,” which was composed well after Thoreau’s lifetime, but who here is going to complain about a gratuitous Debussy piece? Continue reading

Thoreau’s solitude… and Ellington’s (Walden 89)

In his contrarian way, Thoreau in this chapter of Walden is redefining solitude not as something lonely or sad, but as a source of renewal.

Popular songs often have a different spin on solitude. Duke Ellington wrote the most famous song by that title, and Billie Holiday gave it its definitive vocal rendition in 1941.

Fully aware that this is not the kind of solitude Henry had in mind, I’m embedding this song in the spirit of Henry’s comments a few days ago about the pleasure of listening to the mournful owl, and as evidence that there’s more than one way to enjoy “Solitude.”


(About  “A Year in Walden”)

Music of the cow (Walden 84)

Near Lincoln, Nebraska, October 2013.

Near Lincoln, Nebraska, October 2013.

More about sound heard at a distance. Thoreau can be pretty serious sometimes, but he has a wry sense of humor:

“At evening, the distant lowing of some cow in the horizon beyond the woods sounded sweet and melodious, and at first I would mistake it for the voices of certain minstrels by whom I was sometimes serenaded, who might be straying over hill and dale; but soon I was not unpleasantly disappointed when it was prolonged into the cheap and natural music of the cow. I do not mean to be satirical, but to express my appreciation of those youths’ singing, when I state that I perceived clearly that it was akin to the music of the cow, and they were at length one articulation of Nature.”

Henry is doing the work of a poet and artist here. He is making the everyday and the trivial seem extraordinary simply by altering our point of view, and by making connections between things that we wouldn’t ordinarily connect. His observation is funny, but then he turns it into something profound by connecting the voices as “one articulation of Nature.”

(About  “A Year in Walden”)

Olympus is but the outside of the earth everywhere (Walden 47)

Thoreau moved into his cabin at Walden Pond when the little house was still unfinished, and the summer breeze blew through the wide chinks of the rough walls. It was still hardly more than a shelter from the rain. But he writes,

“This was an airy and unplastered cabin, fit to entertain a travelling god, and where a goddess might trail her garments. The winds which passed over my dwelling were such as sweep over the ridges of mountains, bearing the broken strains, or celestial parts only, of terrestrial music. The morning wind forever blows, the poem of creation is uninterrupted; but few are the ears that hear it. Olympus is but the outside of the earth everywhere.” Continue reading