Walden and Civil Disobedience
Henry David Thoreau
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Henry David Thoreau’s masterwork Walden is a collection of his reflections on life and society.
In 1845, Thoreau moved to a cabin that he built with his own hands along the shores of Walden Pond in Massachusetts. Shedding the trivial ties that he felt bound much of humanity, Thoreau reaped from the land both physically and mentally, and pursued truth in the quiet of nature. In Walden, he explains how separating oneself from the world of men can truly awaken the sleeping self. Thoreau holds fast to the notion that you have not truly existed until you adopt such a lifestyle—and only then can you reenter society, as an enlightened being.
These simple but profound musings—as well as “Civil Disobedience,” his protest against the government’s interference with civil liberty—have inspired many to embrace his philosophy of individualism and love of nature. More than a century and a half later, his message is more timely than ever.
With an Introduction by W.S. Merwin
and an Afterword by Will Howarth
shall hear a solitary loon laugh as he dives and plumes himself, or shall see a lonely fisher in his boat, like a floating leaf, beholding his form reflected in the waves, where lately a hundred men securely labored. Thus it appears that the sweltering inhabitants of Charleston and New Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta,hg drink at my well. In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagvat Geeta, since whose composition years of the gods have
yet farther. Thus it seemed that this one hillside illustrated the principle of all the operations of Nature. The Maker of this earth but patented a leaf. What Champollion will decipher this hieroglyphic for us,1 that we may turn over a new leaf at last? This phenomenon is more exhilarating to me than the luxuriance and fertility of vineyards. True, it is somewhat excrementitious in its character, and there is no end to the heaps of liver lights and bowels, as if the globe were turned wrong side
meaning “outside” or “beyond,” and vagance, from vagari, meaning “to wander.” 7 (p. 255) There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was disposed to strive after perfection: Although this has the ring of something Thoreau would have read, no source has been found for the legend he describes in this passage, thus he probably invented it. Kooroo is a nation mentioned in the Hindu religious classic the Bhagavad-Gita. 8 (p. 258) till I am ready to leap from their court-yard like the Mameluke bey:
each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead. The youth may build or plant or sail, only let him not be hindered from doing that which he tells me he would like to do. It is by a mathematical point only that we are wise, as the sailor or the fugitive slave keeps the polestar in his eye; but that is sufficient guidance for all our life. We may not arrive at our port within a calculable period, but we would preserve the
according to Emerson, would be Americans’ heightened sense of self-reliance. Striking a note to which a young Henry David Thoreau clearly vibrated from head to toe, Emerson announced in “The American Scholar,” “Not out of those, on whom systems of education have exhausted their culture, comes the helpful giant to destroy the old or to build the new, but out of unhandselled savage nature, out of terrible Druids and Berserkirs, come at last Alfred and Shakespeare” (Emerson, p. 62). Undoubtedly,