Overview

Walden


Related Overviews

Nature Writing: Prose

transcendentalism

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803—1882) American philosopher and poet

 

More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Literature

GO

Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

Narrative by Thoreau, published in 1854. Between the end of March 1845 and July 4, when he began occupation, the author constructed a cabin on the shore of Walden Pond, near Concord. There he lived alone until September 1847, supplying his needs by his own labor and developing and testing his transcendental philosophy of individualism, self-reliance, and material economy for the sake of spiritual wealth. He sought to reduce his physical needs to a minimum, in order to free himself for study, thought, and observation of nature and himself; therefore his cabin was a simple room and he wore the cheapest essential clothing and restricted his diet to what he found growing wild and the beans and vegetables he himself raised. When not engaged in domestic and agricultural labors, or in fishing, swimming, and rowing, Thoreau devoted himself enthusiastically to careful observation and recording of the flora and fauna of the locality, to writing his voluminous journals, and to reading ancient and modern poetry and philosophy. His thought about this experience was developed in the journals over a period of years, and the result is Walden, a series of 18 essays describing Thoreau's idealistic creed as affected by and expressed in his life at the Pond. The chapter on “Economy” asserts that the only standard of value is in vital experience, and that the complexities of civilization stand in the way of significant living. To escape the demands of society and to realize the best powers of mind and body, Thoreau decides for an ascetic withdrawal from organized society, since in his desire “to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,” he found that the essential necessity was to “simplify, simplify.” Among the matters described in subsequent chapters are the practical operation of this economy; Thoreau's intimacy with such different neighbors as the moles in his cellar, an educated Canadian woodcutter, and the pickerel in Walden Pond; his temporary imprisonment for refusing to pay a poll tax because he would not support a state that returned fugitive slaves to the South; the music of the wind in the telegraph wires, and the distant railroad whistle; the varied seasonal aspects of the woods; and the joys of outdoor labor and solitary study. From this many-sided discussion, expressed in an agile, compact, lucid, and often poetic style, emerges Thoreau's philosophy of individualism brought almost to the point of anarchy, and his idealistic exaltation of arts and ideas balanced by a vital appreciation of the life of the senses.

Subjects: Literature.


Reference entries
Authors

Henry David Thoreau (1817—1862) American essayist and poet


Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.