Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) is known as a vehement advocate of individual rights and as an opponent of social conformity, as articulated in his best known works, Walden and Civil Disobedience. In Walden, he chronicles his time living largely as hermit, in the woods, on the shores of Walden Pond, in Concord Massachusetts. Therein, he recounts the way he survived in the wilderness, building a cabin (for $28) and growing or trading for a year’s food at a cost of an additional $32. As few of his writings were published in his all-too-brief lifetime, he worked most of his years for his mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Thoreau, like Emerson, is best remembered for his profundity. This is evidenced by endless remarks, including these: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” “It’s a fool’s life…laying up treasures that moth and rust doth corrupt and thieves break through and steal.” “The wisest have ever lived a more simple and meager life than the poor.” “The wind that blows is all that anybody knows.” “A house is still but a sort of porch at the entrance of a burrow.” “To be awake is to be alive.” “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.” “Simplify; simplify.” “I never read any memorable news in a newspaper.” “Time is but a stream to go a-fishing in.” “My head is an organ for burrowing.” “The adventurous student always returns to the classics.” “Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.” “We need to be prodded and goaded like oxen into a trot.” “Society is too cheap. We meet at very short intervals not having had time to acquire any new value for each other.” “Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends…I love to live alone…Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts…Superfluous wealth can buy only superfluous things…I have no more interest in gossip than in the content of The Daily Times.” “There is no more to day[time] than dawn. The sun is but a morning star.” “Look always at what is to be seen with undeviating gratitude for life itself, in all its myriad forms that spring up all around…”
No where in all literature is there recorded such a simple, childlike, sage-like, irresistible satisfaction with the gift of life. It deeply troubled Thoreau that so few seemed to hear the rapturous song of life. Walden is not simply an account of a man’s hermit-l;ike life in the woods; it is a journey into the depths of a man’s mind and a clarion call to mankind to descry the beauties of life in its most basic forms and to eschew the static of materialism that clutters men’s minds. In that, his voice is much like those of Ghandi, who followed him, and Buddha, who long preceded him. Sadly, this sage of simplicity lived to be only 45. Who knows what his fine mind might have given us had he lived another decade or two.