Thoreau and Walden


卷宗 2015年11期


Abstract: As a representative work of noted transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, “Walden” is a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings. It details Thoreaus experiences over the course of two years, two months, and two days in a cabin he built near Walden Pond. The work is part personal declaration of independence and self-reliance.

Key Words: American renaissance Walden way of life

American renaissance is an artistic and intellectual movement that stressed strong emotion, imagination, freedom from classical correctness in art forms, and rebellion against social conventions. It can be seen as a rejection of the rules of order, calm, harmony, balance, idealization, and rationality that typified classicism in general. It was also to some extent a reaction against the enlightenment and against rationalism and physical materialism.American renaissance emphasized the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental. Henry David Thoreau stands at the heart of renaissance thought in literature whose works show a deepened appreciation of the beauties of nature; a focus on his passions and inner struggles and the persistence of his soul.

Henry David Thoreau, Emersons sincere friend and disciple, is a famous American essayist and thinker of the nineteenth century. His masterpiece Walden is a collection of 18 essays with an elegant and delicate style. Thoreau thinks urban life is disgusting, where people work all the day and chase material enjoyment crazily. As a result, their life becomes less and less meaningful. Tired of this social condition and discontent with this kind of life, Thoreau went to Walden Pond and lived there from 1845 to 1847. There he built himself a cabin next to a spring-fed pond and lived by growing crops and vegetables. He strolled in woods and explored the true meaning of life. Walden is the real record of his life during this period.

Thoreau's meditation on self and soul and the desire of living an awakened life in a world full of social vanities can be manifested in many parts of Walden. For instance, “I went to the woods,” he writes in the opening section, “because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” He then argues “Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life?” Between work, home and all of the demands and stresses in between, its easy to lose touch with who we are, that core essence with which we were born. Rushing around all day it sometimes feels like the “I” inside is simply the result of the things we do all day, or the effects those things have on our minds, bodies and spirits. But “to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life”

What is life? What is the true meaning of life? “Direct your eye sight inward, and youll find a thousand regions in your mind.” Thoreau argues. When we open up the spiritual aspects of our being and explore the inner selves, we may find the answer. Thoreau, in 1845 cut himself off from his friends and local society and built himself a cabin in the woods to seek for the answer, and what he found out is that “most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hinderances to the elevation of mankind.” In Economy, the first chapter of Walden, Thoreau presented six detailed accounts of the costs spent on shelter, foods, fuels, clothing, which are considered as the necessities of life, and he proves with his own practice in the woods that one can live a simple but meaningful life, and that “to maintain ones self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely.” To simplify our life, we can strip away the things that try to mis-define us, the emotions, sensations, desires, achievements and failures of daily life. We may then be able to develop a greater awareness of our soul and the natural world around us- water, earth, trees, wind, seasons…., which Thoreau depicts with great elegance in Walden.

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” Thoreau argues. The truths are the virtues of plain-living, and the need for a sensuous engagement with the natural world. They get lost in our relentless pursuit of material enjoyment. “Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature,” Thoreau advocates, “let rise early and fast, or break fast, gently and without perturbation; let company come and let company go, let the bells ring and the children cry, -- determined to make a day of it[….]With unrelaxed nerves, with morning vigor sail by it, looking another way” .


1. Thoreau. H. D, “Walden”, 中央編译出版社,2010

2. Howard Mumford Jones, “ The Renaissance and American Origins”, Ideas in America, 1945


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