Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau was born in 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts. He was introduced to the countryside at a young age, and this first contact with the natural world sparked a lifelong fascination. Although his family lived in relative poverty, subsisting on the income from their small pencil-making business, Thoreau was able to attend Harvard, where he gained an early reputation as an individualist. After graduating in 1837, he assisted his father with the family business and worked for several years as a schoolteacher.
In 1841, Thoreau was invited to live in the home of his neighbor, Ralph Waldo Emerson. There he began meeting with the group now known as the Transcendentalist Club, which included A. Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, and George Ripley. Thoreau passed his time at the Emerson house writing essays and poems for the transcendentalist journal The Dial and doing odd jobs like gardening and mending fences. In 1845, he began building a small house on Emerson's land on the shore of Walden Pond, where he spent more than two years "living deep and sucking out all the marrow of life." His experiences there formed the basis for two books, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, and his masterpiece, Walden, which advocated a lifestyle of self-sufficiency and simplicity.
Although Thoreau thought of himself primarily as a poet during his early years, he was later discouraged in this pursuit and gradually came to feel that poetry was too confining. It is as a prose writer that Thoreau made his most meaningful contributions, both as a stylist and as a philosopher. A tireless champion of the human spirit against the materialism and conformity that he saw as dominant in American culture, Thoreau's ideas about civil disobedience, as set forth in his 1849 essay, have influenced, among others, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., and his mastery of prose style has been acknowledged by writers as disparate as Robert Louis Stevenson, Marcel Proust, Sinclair Lewis, and Henry Miller. Largely ignored in his own time, the self-styled "inspector of snowstorms and rainstorms" has emerged as one of America's greatest literary figures. Thoreau died of tuberculosis in 1862, in his native Concord.
A Selected Bibliography
Collected Poems (1943)
Poems of Nature (1895)
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)
A Yankee in Canada, with Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers (1866)
Cape Cod (1865)
Letters to Various Persons (1865)
The Correspondance of Henry David Thoreau (1958)
Thoreau's Literary Notebook (1840-1840) (1964)
Walden; Or, Life in the Wood
by Henry David Thoreau
Whate'er we leave to God, God does,
And blesses us;
The work we choose should be our own,
God leaves alone.
If with light head erect I sing,
Though all the Muses lend their force,
From my poor love of anything,
The verse is weak and shallow as its source.
But if with bended neck I grope
Listening behind me for my wit,
With faith superior to hope,
More anxious to keep back than forward it;
Making my soul accomplice there
Unto the flame my heart hath lit,
Then will the verse forever wear—
Time cannot bend the line which God hath writ.
Always the general show of things
Floats in review before my mind,
And such true love and reverence brings,
That sometimes I forget that I am blind.
But now there comes unsought, unseen,
Some clear divine electuary,
And I, who had but sensual been,
Grow sensible, and as God is, am wary.
I hearing get, who had but ears,
And sight, who had but eyes before,
I moments live, who lived but years,
And truth discern, who knew but learning's lore.
I hear beyond the range of sound,
I see beyond the range of sight,
New earths and skies and seas around,
And in my day the sun doth pale his light.
A clear and ancient harmony
Pierces my soul through all its din,
As through its utmost melody—
Farther behind than they, farther within.
More swift its bolt than lightning is,
Its voice than thunder is more loud,
It doth expand my privacies
To all, and leave me single in the crowd.
It speaks with such authority,
With so serene and lofty tone,
That idle Time runs gadding by,
And leaves me with Eternity alone.
Now chiefly is my natal hour,
And only now my prime of life;
Of manhood's strength it is the flower,
'Tis peace's end and war's beginning strife.
It comes in summer's broadest noon,
By a grey wall or some chance place,
Unseasoning Time, insulting June,
And vexing day with its presuming face.
Such fragrance round my couch it makes,
More rich than are Arabian drugs,
That my soul scents its life and wakes
The body up beneath its perfumed rugs.
Such is the Muse, the heavenly maid,
The star that guides our mortal course,
Which shows where life's true kernel's laid,
Its wheat's fine flour, and its undying force.
She with one breath attunes the spheres,
And also my poor human heart,
With one impulse propels the years
Around, and gives my throbbing pulse its start.
I will not doubt for evermore,
Nor falter from a steadfast faith,
For thought the system be turned o'er,
God takes not back the word which once He saith.
I will not doubt the love untold
Which not my worth nor want has bought,
Which wooed me young, and woos me old,
And to this evening hath me brought.
My memory I'll educate
To know the one historic truth,
Remembering to the latest date
The only true and sole immortal youth.
Be but thy inspiration given,
No matter through what danger sought,
I'll fathom hell or climb to heaven,
And yet esteem that cheap which love has bought.
Fame cannot tempt the bard
Who's famous with his God,
Nor laurel him reward
Who has his Maker's nod.