Walden

by Saul Edmonds
walden-bird-web.jpg

Here begins an weekly series that is a leisurely look at the book ‘Walden’.

Walden is the famous ‘great work’ by American author Henry David Thoreau

The book’s full title is ‘Walden and On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.’

It was first published in 1854.

It is widely regarded as a seminal American text - high praise indeed.

(Yet few texts can lay claim to having directly inspired Ghandi.)

“Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the state has become lawless or corrupt.” Ghandi

What is Walden About?

The significance of Walden owes much to its innovative style - it is a convoluted story rich with rhythm and metaphor.

Waden is a strikingly dense, poetic text - and is an account of the author’s own experiment with living as a self sufficient semi-recluse. Henry David Thoreau was essentially an idealist who sought to reconcile modern society and natural life within himself. Understanding was sought via a process of personal discovery.

He lived simply - in a tiny cottage that he built himself - on Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts. For a period of two years he grappled with both the simple and profound elements of living : from how to grow vegetables, to the meaning of life itself.

Walden - To Begin

How to read Walden?

Slowly.

This simple and progressive review of Walden will feature passages for brief comment.

Three excerpts will be selected with themes and ideas noted accordingly.

By these means it is hoped that Walden will be identified and better understood.

Without further ado - we commence.

Walden : Chapter 1 - Economy (part 1)

Passage 1 :

Walden : ‘Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men’s lives; some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me.’

Comment/ Notes : Thoreau demands honesty and sincerity from all writers. He opines that genuine sincerity is rare amongst contemporary authors.

Passage 2 :

‘The twelve labours of Hercules were trifling in comparison with those which my neighbours have undertaken; for they were only twelve, and had an end; but I could never see that these men slew or captured any monster or finished any labor.’

Walden :

Comment/ Notes : The endlessly repetitive work of our modern times is compared to the Twelve Labours of Hercules. In the world of today we can seldom achieve glory through the chance slaying of a monster. Our work is no less arduous a task, yet is without legend, prize or relief. More work is the only reward.

Passage 3 :

Walden : ‘The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly.’

Comment/ Notes : Thoreau states that this ‘best of self’ needs special care. Achievement is hard won and must be consciously guarded. He notes that this level of respect for both ourselves and others is often lacking.

Walden is an out of print book and is available for free download.

This chrysalis of action and intent.

More next week.

by Saul Edmonds