Waiting for Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau, circa 1861. Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve meandered my way through Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. It’s one of those great literary classics that is on my I’ll-get-around-to-reading-it-someday literary bucket list and Thoreau’s account of his two-year experience living in a solitary one-room cabin near Concord, Massachusetts.

This book is what I call a “chewy” book and it took a while to get through it. It reminded me a bit of Thackery’s Vanity Fair (click here if you ever want to know how I fared with that one). The writing is so dense that you have to take a break sometimes and read something lighter in sheer self-defense. With one or two chapters, I couldn’t wait to get to the end. *weary sigh*

But it’s interesting in its way. Thoreau was age 28 when he first started to live there and he paints a vivid picture of the area’s landscape and people to the point that I can almost see and hear it for myself. For most of the book, it’s Thoreau’s musings on various topics such as clothing, the house he built, woodsy sounds, forest visitors, the local ponds and human visitors.

Some of his basic philosophies were pretty good, too — about not worrying about comparing yourself to the status of others, living a meaningful life (our life is frittered away by detail, says Thoreau) and simplifying the way you live. (I have a feeling ol’ Henry would have loved the “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” song.)

But I think my favorite bit was his thoughts about your day: “To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.”

Not a bad way to live your life, at any rate. And if you’re curious about what Thoreau’s home in the woods actually looked like, here’s a video.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Waiting for Thoreau

  1. I am reading this book as well. It is taking me a while too. I read a little each day and I am sure once I get done, I will be reading over and over. I found my copy in a thrift store. It is a 1948 edition. Inside the cover it has an original card that says : This book is sent to you with the compliments of William A. Pate our field representative in your territory. List price .50 cents. I only paid .10 cents. It’s still in mint condition.

  2. I am reading American Bloomsbury now!

    I have I To Myself and Maine Woods. I read a bit of these every day or so around the other things on my reading lists. It is interesting how many of the writers that I like all know each other. American Bloomsbury is interesting in showing the relationships better. I might investigate further. Some of Louisa’s writings conflict just a bit with what is in the bloomsbury book. I suppose that many years of investigations of personal notes and letters to into effect with various permissive decisions made about intent and occurences of things gleaned from such. Perhaps truth is in the pen of the writer…

  3. Garry and I did a lot of courting at Walden Pond. One of my favorite autumn venues.

  4. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get into Walden.

    And I was a little miffed to learn that the guy wasn’t exactly in the middle of nowhere. Civilization was within walking distance. You’re not exactly Lewis and Clark, now are ya, Thoreau?

    • Maybe Thoreau felt like Lewis and Clark sometimes in the winter, when snow prevented people from visiting. He seems to have been content with his own company most of the time, but did like to socialize sometimes as well.

      I wonder if any historical reenactors have ever attempted to recreate Thoreau’s experience, using the exact same building and clothing. That would be a fascinating read!

  5. Oooh, I think winter is the perfect time to chew through Walden. The need to curl up with a warm mug of tea and read is so strong that I find myself powering through otherwise arduous books.

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