Henry David Thoreau
by Kate Macdessi
“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.”
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
It seems to me that western life has become too busy. I look around and see people stressed and stretched, with no time to stop and just be themselves. This sentence from Henry David Thoreau speaks to me and I long for the simplicity it describes. I think it’s one of the most beautiful sentences ever written. It’s prompted me to learn more about Henry David Thoreau, because I think I may be in love.
Though he’s very well known to Americans, I didn’t learn very much about him in school in Australia. We were more focussed on English writers. I’d heard his name before and vaguely knew of him. It wasn’t until I had a holiday in the US last year that I read Walden or Life in the Woods. Thoreau was born and lived most of his life in Concord Massachusetts. It influenced most of his writings. We were driving from Vermont to Salem MA and I begged my family to stop in Concord so that I could visit Louisa May Alcott’s home (surprisingly, my sons and husband were fairly disinterested in the author of Little Women). I did a tour there with my daughter (the boys chose to sit in the car and wait. How do they not appreciate the brilliance of Little Women?) and began to find out about the amazing people who lived in Concord at that time. Thoreau was one of them.
He was born in Concord in 1817 and is an American author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist and historian. He was also a leading transcendentalist (come back on Philosophy Friday where I’m going to learn all about the Transcendalists).
He is most famous for his novel Walden or Life in the Woods. It was based on over two years that he spent living in a handmade home in the woods, with little contact with the civilised world. He was an early environmentalist who had a deep fascination and affinity with the natural world. In many ways he was a visionary. He believed in civil disobedience and even influenced Martin Luther King Jnr . He was also an (almost) vegetarian and an advocate for national parks and publicly owned wilderness areas. As a young teacher he was against corporal punishment and even resigned from a job rather than take part in that system of discipline.
He was so incredibly open minded for a man of that time that he was an early proponent of abolition and participated in the underground railway. He even practised yoga. Yoga! In mid 19th century New England. Lucky he wasn’t a bit earlier or he’d have been burned at the stake.
I’ll leave you with another beautiful quote from Walden:
“I learned this, at least, by my experiment, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life of which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
Henry David Thoreau
Photo of Walden Pond: Author: ptwo https://www.flickr.com/people/31902638@N06