Sunday, November 11, 2012

Walden by Henry David Thoreau


 Recently my students read the second chapter in Walden. I asked them to find two or three statements that they believed were profound and relevant, to provide their understanding of their selections, and to discuss them with one another in our online forum before we met for class, where we then discussed our values, assumptions and beliefs. Here are a few of their choices:


Where I Lived, and What I Lived For

“…for a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone… As long as possible live free and uncommitted… ‘Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again…’
“…That man who does not believe that each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a descending and darkening way…  Moral reform is the effort to throw sleep off…
"The millions are awake enough for physical labor, but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake… We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep… Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour…
“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 sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life…
“…Our best virtue has for its occasion a superfluous and inevitable wretchedness. Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail… Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry…
“…Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths… If we respected only what is inevitable and has a right to be, music and poetry would resound along the streets. When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of reality…
“By closing the eyes and slumbering, and consenting to be deceived by shows, men establish and confirm their daily life of routine and habit everywhere, which still is built on purely illusory foundations. Children, who play life, discern its true law and relations more clearly than men, who fail to live it worthily, but who think that they are wiser by experience, that is, by failure… We think that that is which appears to be…
“Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our business. Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains…”

(Walden was written during the years 1845-1854)
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden and “Civil Disobedience.” New York: Signet Classics, 1999.

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