"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 to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not 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 live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion." 109
I have felt strongly drawn to read this book many times in my life, and what with me quitting my job, traveling to Europe and reading In Praise of Slow a few weeks ago, I decided it was now the perfect time to read Walden.
What I was expecting was an account from a hermit - someone that had left society to go live in the woods because he hated people (Salinger-esque). This could not be further from the truth. While Thoreau partially left society because he hated the materialism and poor conversations from aristocrats, he didn't leave society to get away from people altogether. He enjoyed talking with people, if they were the RIGHT people and if it was the RIGHT conversation. He went into town frequently, and wasn't that far away from the the town. I hesitate to use words for town like 'civilization' or 'the heart of things', because I bet Mr. Thoreau felt like the woods represented those words - not the town.
|View of the Pond|
[I looked at many but this fit my imagination the best]
He outlines how he built his cabin, the changing of seasons from winter to spring and back again. He tells us about the history of the area, the influence of people on the lake and describes in detail the plants and animals of the surrounding area. There are stories about particular animal events, and there are many references to the Ancient Greeks - something that I was interested in given my recent past. I particularly enjoyed a story of a solitary red ant that he likened to Akhilleus and detailed the fight between red and black ants like a battle of the Trojans and Argives.
The most important take away is that life is short and it's possible to live for prolonged spells of leisure if you live simply. It's amazing how much less you can live with once you get used to it. In North America, we all live very extravagant lifestyles, myself included. I can't help but think that Walden would have laughed at me reading my leatherbound book on a comfy couch. At one point I went down by a river to read and I must admit that it was more enjoyable (though my back hurt!). I suppose I have a long way to go in simplifying.
|Interior of the Cabin|
Anyway, this novel is a must read. I personally found the beginning and ending of the book the most quote worthy - it had the most meat overall. You may find that it lulls a bit (I personally wasn't that interested with the detailed calculations of the pond depth or the many pages on how bubbles form in ice), but perhaps it was just my experience with the work. Would be really interested to hear what others think.