Riss Reads

I once encountered a reader’s review that said, “Reading Walden was kind of like eating bran flakes: it’s not the most exciting, but you know that it’s good for you.” These were my original sentiments about Henry David Thoreau’s novel: that even if it is filled with more reflections and observations of his natural surroundings than a normal novel’s plot twists and climaxes, at least it’s a renowned work of literature I can say I read. Once I learned more about Thoreau’s philosophy, and read excerpts from his journals (1837-1851) and “Huckleberries” (c. 1860), I developed a greater appreciation for Walden. 

First published in 1854, Walden is Thoreau’s most renowned work, describing his home, daily activities, and observations at Walden Pond. Thoreau lived his entire life in Concord, Massachusetts, and as a leading transcendentalist, he anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environmental history, which are two sources of modern-day environmentalism. Extremely reverent of nature, Thoreau views humans as a distracted people, obsessed with progress and not concerned enough about the environment. Our exhaustion of resources is often unnecessary and disregards the process of time, Thoreau argues: “A plant which it has taken two centuries to perfect rising by slow stages into the heavens – has this afternoon ceased to exist,” he notes while observing a pine tree be cut down. The earth is very much alive, Thoreau believes, and with this philosophy he gives us Walden. 

Below are some notable quotes from this novel that I marked while reading it:

  • “‘All intelligences awake with the morning’…All poets and heroes emit their music at sunrise. To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning. It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me” (p. 84)
  • “To be awake is to be alive” (p. 85)
  • Individuals “should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?” (excerpt)
  • “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had o teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was no life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it” (p. 85)
  • “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us” (p. 87)
  • “This whole earth which we inhibit is but a point in space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? Is not our planet in the Milky Way?” (p. 126)
  • “The only true America is that country where you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to do without these, and where the state does not endeavor to compel you to sustain the slavery and war and other superfluous expenses,which directly or indirectly result from the use of such things” (p. 193)
  • “Every man is the builder of a temple, called his body, to the god he worships, after a style purely his own, nor can he get off by hammering marble instead. We are all sculptors and painters, and our material is our own flesh and blood and bones” (p. 208)
  • “Enter ye that have leisure and a quiet mind, who earnestly seeks the right read” (p. 253)
  • “Every nail driven should be as another rivet in the machine of the universe, you carrying on the work. Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth” (p. 309)
  • “The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more today to dawn. The sun is but a morning star” (p. 312)

© Rissponsible Living, 2015

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