Been a while since this blog has heard from Thoreau. This was on my feed today, and it left an impression enough that I highlight it here.
We falsely attribute to men a determined character; putting together all their yesterdays and averaging them, we presume we know them. Pity the man who has a character to support. It is worse than a large family. He is silent poor indeed. But in fact character is never explored, nor does it get developed in time, but eternity is its development, time its envelope. In view of this distinction, a sort of divine politeness and heavenly good breeding suggests itself, to address always the enveloped character of a man. I approach a great nature with infinite expectation and uncertainty, not knowing what I may meet. It lies as broad and unexplored before me as a scraggy hillside or pasture. I may hear a fox bark, or a partridge drum, or some bird new to these localities may fly up.
From the blog of Henry David Thoreau.
Have no mean hours, but be grateful for every hour, and accept what it brings. The reality will make any sincere record respectable. No day will have been wholly misspent, if one sincere, thoughtful page has been written.
Let the daily tide leave some deposit on these pages, as it leaves sand and shells on the shore. So much increase of terra firma. This may be a calendar of the ebbs and flows of the soul; and on these sheets as a beach, the waves may cast up pearls and seaweed.
So says Thoreau…
Men commonly exaggerate the theme. Some themes they think are significant and others insignificant. I feel that my life is very homely, my pleasures very cheap. Joy and sorrow, success and failure, grandeur and meanness, and indeed most words in the English language do not mean for me what they do for my neighbors. I see that my neighbors look with compassion on me, that they think it is a mean and unfortunate destiny which makes me to walk in these fields and woods so much and sail on this river alone. But as long as I find here the only real elysium, I cannot hesitate in my choice. My work is writing, and I do not hesitate, though I know that no subject is too trivial for me, tried by ordinary standards; for, ye fools, the theme is nothing, the life is everything. All that interests the reader is the depth and intensity of the life excited. We touch our subject but by a point which has no breadth, but the pyramid of our experience, or our interest in it, rests on us by a broader or narrower base. That is, man is all in all. Nature nothing, but as she draws him out and reflects him. Give me simple, cheap, and homely themes.
And Thoreau says:
It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know. I do not get nearer by a hair’s breadth to any natural object so long as I presume that I have an introduction to it from some learned man. To conceive of it with a total apprehension I must for the thousandth time approach it as something totally strange. If you would make acquaintance with the ferns you must forget your botany.
It is interesting to see near the sources, even of small streams or brooks, which now flow through an open country, perhaps shrunken in their volume, the traces of ancient mills, which have devoured the primitive forest, the earthen dams and old sluiceways, and ditches and banks for obtaining a supply of water. These relics of a more primitive period are still frequent in our midst. Such, too, probably, has been the history of the most thickly settled and cleared countries of Europe. The saw-miller is neighbor and successor to the Indian.
It is observable that not only the moose and the wolf disappear before the civilized man, but even many species of insects, such as the black fly and the almost microscopic “no-see-em.” How imperfect a notion have we commonly of what was the actual conditions of the place where we dwell, three centuries ago!
Henry David Thoreau
At sundown to Walden.
Standing on the middle of Walden I see with perfect distinctness the forms and outlines of the low hills which surround it, though they are wooded, because they are quite white, being covered with snow, while the woods are for the most part bare or very thin-leaved. I see thus the outline of the hills eight or ten rods back through the trees. This I can never do in the summer, when the leaves are thick and the ground is nearly the same color with them. The white hills are now seen as through a veil of stems. Immediately after the wood was cut off, this outline, of course, was visible at all seasons, but the wood, springing up again, concealed it, and now the snow has come to reveal the lost outline.
The sun has been set some minutes, and as I stand on the pond looking westward toward the twilight sky, a soft, satiny light is reflected from the ice in flakes here and there, like the light from the under side of a bird’s wing. It is worth the while to stand here at this hour and look into the soft western sky, over the pines whose outlines are so rich and distinct against the clear sky. I am inclined to measure the angle at which a pine bough meets the stem. That soft, still, cream-colored sky seems the scene, the stage or field, for some rare drama to be acted on.
C. says the winter is the Sabbath of the year. The perfect winter days are cold, but clear and bright.
–Henry David Thoreau
Some men make their due impression upon their generation, because a petty occasion is enough to call forth all their energies; but are there not others who would rise to much higher levels, whom the world has never provoked to make the effort? I believe there are men now living who have never opened their mouths in a public assembly, in whom nevertheless there is such a well of eloquence that the appetite of any age could never exhaust it; who pine for an occasion worthy of them, and will pine till they are dead; who can admire, as well as the rest, at the flowing speech of the orator, but do not yet miss the thunder and lightning and visible sympathy of the elements which would garnish their own utterance.
If in any strait I see a man fluttered and his ballast gone, then I lose all hope of him, he is undone; but if he reposes still, though he do nothing else worthy of him, if he is still a man in reserve, then is there everything to hope of him. The age may well go pine itself that it cannot put to use this gift of the gods. He lives on, still unconcerned, not needing to be used. The greatest occasion will be the slowest to come.
Henry David Thoreau
Since I don’t have anything original to say these days, here’s something from that man, Thoreau, again.
What is called genius is the abundance of life or health, so that whatever addresses the senses, as the flavor of these berries, or the lowing of that cow, which sounds as if it echoed along a cool mountain-side just before night, where odiferous dews perfume the air and there is everlasting vigor, serenity, and expectation of perpetual untarnished morning,—each sight and sound and scent and flavor,—intoxicates with a healthy intoxication. The shrunken stream of life overflows its banks, makes and fertilizes broad intervals, from which generations derive their sustenances. This is the true overflowing of the Nile. So exquisitely sensitive are we, it makes us embrace our fates, and, instead of suffering or indifference, we enjoy and bless. If we have not dissipated the vital, the divine, fluids, there is, then, a circulation of vitality beyond our bodies. The cow is nothing. Heaven is not there, but in the condition of the hearer. I am thrilled to think that I owe a perception to the commonly gross sense of taste, that I have been inspired through the palate, that these berries have fed my brain. After I had been eating these simple, wholesome, ambrosial fruits on this high hillside, I found my senses whetted. I was young again, and whether I stood or sat I was not the same creature.
I love that line there – “Heaven is not there, but in the condition of the hearer”.
…Coming out of town,—willingly as usual,—when I saw that reach of Charles River just above the depot, the fair, still water this cloudy evening suggesting the way to eternal peace and beauty, whence it flows, the placid, lake-like fresh water, so unlike the salt brine, affected me not a little. I was reminded of the way in which Wordsworth so coldly speaks of some natural visions or scenes “giving him pleasure.” This is perhaps the first vision of Elysium on this route from Boston. And just then I saw an encampment of Penobscots, their wigwams appearing above the railroad fence, they, too, looking up the river as they sat on the ground, and enjoying the scene. What can be more impressive than to look up a noble river just at evening,—and behold its placid water, reflecting the woods and sky, lapsing inaudibly towards the ocean; to behold as a lake, but know it as a river, tempting the beholder to explore it and his own destiny at once? Haunt of waterfowl. This was above the factories,—all that I saw. That water could never have flowed under a factory. How then could it have reflected the sky?
What can be more impressive indeed? And a dig at Wordsworth, to boot! Lol 🙂