Where I Lived, and What I Lived For

At a certain season of our life we are accustomed to consider every spot as the possible site of a house. I have thus surveyed the country on every side within a dozen miles of where I live. In imagination I have bought all the farms in succession, for all were to be bought, and I knew their price. I walked over each farmer's premises, tasted his wild apples, discoursed on husbandry with him, took his farm at his price, at any price, mortgaging it to him in my mind; even put a higher price on it -- took everything but a deed of it -- took his word for his deed, for I dearly love to talk -- cultivated it, and him too to some extent, I trust, and withdrew when I had enjoyed it long enough, leaving him to carry it on. This experience entitled me to be regarded as a sort of real-estate broker by my friends. Wherever I sat, there I might live, and the landscape radiated from me accordingly. What is a house but a sedes, a seat? -- better if a country seat. I discovered many a site for a house not likely to be soon improved, which some might have thought too far from the village, but to my eyes the village was too far from it. Well, there I might live, I said; and there I did live, for an hour, a summer and a winter life; saw how I could let the years run off, buffet the winter through, and see the spring come in. The future inhabitants of this region, wherever they may place their houses, may be sure that they have been anticipated. An afternoon sufficed to lay out the land into orchard, wood-lot, and pasture, and to decide what fine oaks or pines should be left to stand before the door, and whence each blasted tree could be seen to the best advantage; and then I let it lie, fallow, perchance, for a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.

My imagination carried me so far that I even had the refusal of several farms -- the refusal was all I wanted -- but I never got my fingers burned by actual possession. The nearest that I came to actual possession was when I bought the Hollowell place, and had begun to sort my seeds, and collected materials with which to make a wheelbarrow to carry it on or off with; but before the owner gave me a deed of it, his wife -- every man has such a wife -- changed her mind and wished to keep it, and he offered me ten dollars to release him. Now, to speak the truth, I had but ten cents in the world, and it surpassed my arithmetic to tell, if I was that man who had ten cents, or who had a farm, or ten dollars, or all together. However, I let him keep the ten dollars and the farm too, for I had carried it far enough; or rather, to be generous, I sold him the farm for just what I gave for it, and, as he was not a rich man, made him a present of ten dollars, and still had my ten cents, and seeds, and materials for a wheelbarrow left. I found thus that I had been a rich man without any damage to my poverty. But I retained the landscape, and I have since annually carried off what it yielded without a wheelbarrow. With respect to landscapes,

     "I am monarch of all I survey,
     My right there is none to dispute."

I have frequently seen a poet withdraw, having enjoyed the most valuable part of a farm, while the crusty farmer supposed that he had got a few wild apples only. Why, the owner does not know it for many years when a poet has put his farm in rhyme, the most admirable kind of invisible fence, has fairly impounded it, milked it, skimmed it, and got all the cream, and left the farmer only the skimmed milk.

The real attractions of the Hollowell farm, to me, were: its complete retirement, being, about two miles from the village, half a mile from the nearest neighbor, and separated from the highway by a broad field; its bounding on the river, which the owner said protected it by its fogs from frosts in the spring, though that was nothing to me; the gray color and ruinous state of the house and barn, and the dilapidated fences, which put such an interval between me and the last occupant; the hollow and lichen-covered apple trees, nawed by rabbits, showing what kind of neighbors I should have; but above all, the recollection I had of it from my earliest voyages up the river, when the house was concealed behind a dense grove of red maples, through which I heard the house-dog bark. I was in haste to buy it, before the proprietor finished getting out some rocks, cutting down the hollow apple trees, and grubbing up some young birches which had sprung up in the pasture, or, in short, had made any more of his improvements. To enjoy these advantages I was ready to carry it on; like Atlas, to take the world on my shoulders -- I never heard what compensation he received for that -- and do all those things which had no other motive or excuse but that I might pay for it and be unmolested in my possession of it; for I knew all the while that it would yield the most abundant crop of the kind I wanted, if I could only afford to let it alone. But it turned out as I have said.

All that I could say, then, with respect to farming on a large scale -- I have always cultivated a garden -- was, that I had had my seeds ready. Many think that seeds improve with age. I have no doubt that time discriminates between the good and the bad; and when at last I shall plant, I shall be less likely to be disappointed. But I would say to my fellows, once for all, As long as possible live free and uncommitted. It makes but little difference whether you are committed to a farm or the county jail.

Old Cato, whose "De Re Rustica" is my "Cultivator," says -- and the only translation I have seen makes sheer nonsense of the passage -- "When you think of getting a farm turn it thus in your mind, not to buy greedily; nor spare your pains to look at it, and do not think it enough to go round it once. The oftener you go there the more it will please you, if it is good." I think I shall not buy greedily, but go round and round it as long as I live, and be buried in it first, that it may please me the more at last.


The present was my next experiment of this kind, which I purpose to describe more at length, for convenience putting the experience of two years into one. As I have said, I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.

When first I took up my abode in the woods, that is, began to spend my nights as well as days there, which, by accident, was on Independence Day, or the Fourth of July, 1845, my house was not finished for winter, but was merely a defence against the rain, without plastering or chimney, the walls being of rough, weather-stained boards, with wide chinks, which made it cool at night. The upright white hewn studs and freshly planed door and window casings gave it a clean and airy look, especially in the morning, when its timbers were saturated with dew, so that I fancied that by noon some sweet gum would exude from them. To my imagination it retained throughout the day more or less of this auroral character, reminding me of a certain house on a mountain which I had visited a year before. This was an airy and unplastered cabin, fit to entertain a travelling god, and where a goddess might trail her garments. The winds which passed over my dwelling were such as sweep over the ridges of mountains, bearing the broken strains, or celestial parts only, of terrestrial music. The morning wind forever blows, the poem of creation is uninterrupted; but few are the ears that hear it. Olympus is but the outside of the earth everywhere.

The only house I had been the owner of before, if I except a boat, was a tent, which I used occasionally when making excursions in the summer, and this is still rolled up in my garret; but the boat, after passing from hand to hand, has gone down the stream of time. With this more substantial shelter about me, I had made some progress toward settling in the world. This frame, so slightly clad, was a sort of crystallization around me, and reacted on the builder. It was suggestive somewhat as a picture in outlines. I did not need to go outdoors to take the air, for the atmosphere within had lost none of its freshness. It was not so much within doors as behind a door where I sat, even in the rainiest weather. The Harivansa says, "An abode without birds is like a meat without seasoning." Such was not my abode, for I found myself suddenly neighbor to the birds; not by having imprisoned one, but having caged myself near them. I was not only nearer to some of those which commonly frequent the garden and the orchard, but to those smaller and more thrilling songsters of the forest which never, or rarely, serenade a villager -- the wood thrush, the veery, the scarlet tanager, the field sparrow, the whip-poor-will, and many others.

I was seated by the shore of a small pond, about a mile and a half south of the village of Concord and somewhat higher than it, in the midst of an extensive wood between that town and Lincoln, and about two miles south of that our only field known to fame, Concord Battle Ground; but I was so low in the woods that the opposite shore, half a mile off, like the rest, covered with wood, was my most distant horizon. For the first week, whenever I looked out on the pond it impressed me like a tarn high up on the side of a mountain, its bottom far above the surface of other lakes, and, as the sun arose, I saw it throwing off its nightly clothing of mist, and here and there, by degrees, its soft ripples or its smooth reflecting surface was revealed, while the mists, like ghosts, were stealthily withdrawing in every direction into the woods, as at the breaking up of some nocturnal conventicle. The very dew seemed to hang upon the trees later into the day than usual, as on the sides of mountains.

This small lake was of most value as a neighbor in the intervals of a gentle rain-storm in August, when, both air and water being perfectly still, but the sky overcast, mid-afternoon had all the serenity of evening, and the wood thrush sang around, and was heard from shore to shore. A lake like this is never smoother than at such a time; and the clear portion of the air above it being, shallow and darkened by clouds, the water, full of light and reflections, becomes a lower heaven itself so much the more important. From a hill-top near by, where the wood had been recently cut off, there was a pleasing vista southward across the pond, through a wide indentation in the hills which form the shore there, where their opposite sides sloping toward each other suggested a stream flowing out in that direction through a wooded valley, but stream there was none. That way I looked between and over the near green hills to some distant and higher ones in the horizon, tinged with blue. Indeed, by standing on tiptoe I could catch a glimpse of some of the peaks of the still bluer and more distant mountain ranges in the northwest, those true-blue coins from heaven's own mint, and also of some portion of the village. But in other directions, even from this point, I could not see over or beyond the woods which surrounded me. It is well to have some water in your neighborhood, to give buoyancy to and float the earth. One value even of the smallest well is, that when you look into it you see that earth is not continent but insular. This is as important as that it keeps butter cool. When I looked across the pond from this peak toward the Sudbury meadows, which in time of flood I distinguished elevated perhaps by a mirage in their seething valley, like a coin in a basin, all the earth beyond the pond appeared like a thin crust insulated and floated even by this small sheet of interverting water, and I was reminded that this on which I dwelt was but dry land.

Though the view from my door was still more contracted, I did not feel crowded or confined in the least. There was pasture enough for my imagination. The low shrub oak plateau to which the opposite shore arose stretched away toward the prairies of the West and the steppes of Tartary, affording ample room for all the roving families of men. "There are none happy in the world but beings who enjoy freely a vast horizon" -- said Damodara, when his herds required new and larger pastures.

Both place and time were changed, and I dwelt nearer to those parts of the universe and to those eras in history which had most attracted me. Where I lived was as far off as many a region viewed nightly by astronomers. We are wont to imagine rare and delectable places in some remote and more celestial corner of the system, behind the constellation of Cassiopeia's Chair, far from noise and disturbance. I discovered that my house actually had its site in such a withdrawn, but forever new and unprofaned, part of the universe. If it were worth the while to settle in those parts near to the Pleiades or the Hyades, to Aldebaran or Altair, then I was really there, or at an equal remoteness from the life which I had left behind, dwindled and twinkling with as fine a ray to my nearest neighbor, and to be seen only in moonless nights by him. Such was that part of creation where I had squatted;

     "There was a shepherd that did live,
          And held his thoughts as high
     As were the mounts whereon his flocks
          Did hourly feed him by."

What should we think of the shepherd's life if his flocks always wandered to higher pastures than his thoughts?

Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself. I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks. I got up early and bathed in the pond; that was a religious exercise, and one of the best things which I did. They say that characters were engraven on the bathing tub of King Tchingthang to this effect: "Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again." I can understand that. Morning brings back the heroic ages. I was as much affected by the faint hum of a mosquito making its invisible and unimaginable tour through my apartment at earliest dawn, when I was sitting with door and windows open, as I could be by any trumpet that ever sang of fame. It was Homer's requiem; itself an Iliad and Odyssey in the air, singing its own wrath and wanderings. There was something cosmical about it; a standing advertisement, till forbidden, of the everlasting vigor and fertility of the world. The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night. Little is to be expected of that day, if it can be called a day, to which we are not awakened by our Genius, but by the mechanical nudgings of some servitor, are not awakened by our own newly acquired force and aspirations from within, accompanied by the undulations of celestial music, instead of factory bells, and a fragrance filling the air -- to a higher life than we fell asleep from; and thus the darkness bear its fruit, and prove itself to be good, no less than the light. That man who does not believe that each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a descending and darkening way. After a partial cessation of his sensuous life, the soul of man, or its organs rather, are reinvigorated each day, and his Genius tries again what noble life it can make. All memorable events, I should say, transpire in morning time and in a morning atmosphere. The Vedas say, "All intelligences awake with the morning." Poetry and art, and the fairest and most memorable of the actions of men, date from such an hour. All poets and heroes, like Memnon, are the children of Aurora, and emit their music at sunrise. To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning. It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep. Why is it that men give so poor an account of their day if they have not been slumbering? They are not such poor calculators. If they had not been overcome with drowsiness, they would have performed something. The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. If we refused, or rather used up, such paltry information as we get, the oracles would distinctly inform us how this might be done.

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. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to "glorify God and enjoy him forever."

Still we live meanly, like ants; though the fable tells us that we were long ago changed into men; like pygmies we fight with cranes; it is error upon error, and clout upon clout, and our best virtue has for its occasion a superfluous and evitable wretchedness. Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion. Our life is like a German Confederacy, made up of petty states, with its boundary forever fluctuating, so that even a German cannot tell you how it is bounded at any moment. The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which, by the way are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain. If we do not get out sleepers, and forge rails, and devote days and nights to the work, but go to tinkering upon our lives to improve them, who will build railroads? And if railroads are not built, how shall we get to heaven in season? But if we stay at home and mind our business, who will want railroads? We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us. Did you ever think what those sleepers are that underlie the railroad? Each one is a man, an Irishman, or a Yankee man. The rails are laid on them, and they are covered with sand, and the cars run smoothly over them. They are sound sleepers, I assure you. And every few years a new lot is laid down and run over; so that, if some have the pleasure of riding on a rail, others have the misfortune to be ridden upon. And when they run over a man that is walking in his sleep, a supernumerary sleeper in the wrong position, and wake him up, they suddenly stop the cars, and make a hue and cry about it, as if this were an exception. I am glad to know that it takes a gang of men for every five miles to keep the sleepers down and level in their beds as it is, for this is a sign that they may sometime get up again.

Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry. Men say that a stitch in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches today to save nine tomorrow. As for work, we haven't any of any consequence. We have the Saint Vitus' dance, and cannot possibly keep our heads still. If I should only give a few pulls at the parish bell-rope, as for a fire, that is, without setting the bell, there is hardly a man on his farm in the outskirts of Concord, notwithstanding that press of engagements which was his excuse so many times this morning, nor a boy, nor a woman, I might almost say, but would forsake all and follow that sound, not mainly to save property from the flames, but, if we will confess the truth, much more to see it burn, since burn it must, and we, be it known, did not set it on fire -- or to see it put out, and have a hand in it, if that is done as handsomely; yes, even if it were the parish church itself. Hardly a man takes a half-hour's nap after dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, "What's the news?" as if the rest of mankind had stood his sentinels. Some give directions to be waked every half-hour, doubtless for no other purpose; and then, to pay for it, they tell what they have dreamed. After a night's sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast. "Pray tell me anything new that has happened to a man anywhere on this globe" -- and he reads it over his coffee and rolls, that a man has had his eyes gouged out this morning on the Wachito River; never dreaming the while that he lives in the dark unfathomed mammoth cave of this world, and has but the rudiment of an eye himself.

For my part, I could easily do without the post-office. I think that there are very few important communications made through it. To speak critically, I never received more than one or two letters in my life -- I wrote this some years ago -- that were worth the postage. The penny-post is, commonly, an institution through which you seriously offer a man that penny for his thoughts which is so often safely offered in jest. And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter -- we never need read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications? To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea. Yet not a few are greedy after this gossip. There was such a rush, as I hear, the other day at one of the offices to learn the foreign news by the last arrival, that several large squares of plate glass belonging to the establishment were broken by the pressure -- news which I seriously think a ready wit might write a twelve-month, or twelve years, beforehand with sufficient accuracy. As for Spain, for instance, if you know how to throw in Don Carlos and the Infanta, and Don Pedro and Seville and Granada, from time to time in the right proportions -- they may have changed the names a little since I saw the papers -- and serve up a bull-fight when other entertainments fail, it will be true to the letter, and give us as good an idea of the exact state or ruin of things in Spain as the most succinct and lucid reports under this head in the newspapers: and as for England, almost the last significant scrap of news from that quarter was the revolution of 1649; and if you have learned the history of her crops for an average year, you never need attend to that thing again, unless your speculations are of a merely pecuniary character. If one may judge who rarely looks into the newspapers, nothing new does ever happen in foreign parts, a French revolution not excepted.

What news! how much more important to know what that is which was never old! "Kieou-he-yu (great dignitary of the state of Wei) sent a man to Khoung-tseu to know his news. Khoung-tseu caused the messenger to be seated near him, and questioned him in these terms: What is your master doing? The messenger answered with respect: My master desires to diminish the number of his faults, but he cannot come to the end of them. The messenger being gone, the philosopher remarked: What a worthy messenger! What a worthy messenger!" The preacher, instead of vexing the ears of drowsy farmers on their day of rest at the end of the week -- for Sunday is the fit conclusion of an ill-spent week, and not the fresh and brave beginning of a new one -- with this one other draggle-tail of a sermon, should shout with thundering voice, "Pause! Avast! Why so seeming fast, but deadly slow?"

Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous. If men would steadily observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, life, to compare it with such things as we know, would be like a fairy tale and the Arabian Nights' Entertainments. If we respected only what is inevitable and has a right to be, music and poetry would resound along the streets. When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality. This is always exhilarating and sublime. By closing the eyes and slumbering, and consenting to be deceived by shows, men establish and confirm their daily life of routine and habit everywhere, which still is built on purely illusory foundations. Children, who play life, discern its true law and relations more clearly than men, who fail to live it worthily, but who think that they are wiser by experience, that is, by failure. I have read in a Hindoo book, that "there was a king's son, who, being expelled in infancy from his native city, was brought up by a forester, and, growing up to maturity in that state, imagined himself to belong to the barbarous race with which he lived. One of his father's ministers having discovered him, revealed to him what he was, and the misconception of his character was removed, and he knew himself to be a prince. So soul," continues the Hindoo philosopher, "from the circumstances in which it is placed, mistakes its own character, until the truth is revealed to it by some holy teacher, and then it knows itself to be Brahme." I perceive that we inhabitants of New England live this mean life that we do because our vision does not penetrate the surface of things. We think that that is which appears to be. If a man should walk through this town and see only the reality, where, think you, would the "Mill-dam" go to? If he should give us an account of the realities he beheld there, we should not recognize the place in his description. Look at a meeting-house, or a court-house, or a jail, or a shop, or a dwelling-house, and say what that thing really is before a true gaze, and they would all go to pieces in your account of them. Men esteem truth remote, in the outskirts of the system, behind the farthest star, before Adam and after the last man. In eternity there is indeed something true and sublime. But all these times and places and occasions are now and here. God himself culminates in the present moment, and will never be more divine in the lapse of all the ages. And we are enabled to apprehend at all what is sublime and noble only by the perpetual instilling and drenching of the reality that surrounds us. The universe constantly and obediently answers to our conceptions; whether we travel fast or slow, the track is laid for us.

Let us spend our lives in conceiving then. The poet or the artist never yet had so fair and noble a design but some of his posterity at least could accomplish it. Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito's wing that falls on the rails. Let us 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. Why should we knock under and go with the stream? Let us not be upset and overwhelmed in that terrible rapid and whirlpool called a dinner, situated in the meridian shallows. Weather this danger and you are safe, for the rest of the way is down hill. With unrelaxed nerves, with morning vigor, sail by it, looking another way, tied to the mast like Ulysses. If the engine whistles, let it whistle till it is hoarse for its pains. If the bell rings, why should we run? We will consider what kind of music they are like. Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through Church and State, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake; and then begin, having a point d'appui, below freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall or a state, or set a lamp-post safely, or perhaps a gauge, not a Nilometer, but a Realometer, that future ages might know how deep a freshet of shams and appearances had gathered from time to time. If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter, and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our business.

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one. I know not the first letter of the alphabet. I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born. The intellect is a cleaver; it discerns and rifts its way into the secret of things. I do not wish to be any more busy with my hands than is necessary. My head is hands and feet. I feel all my best faculties concentrated in it. My instinct tells me that my head is an organ for burrowing, as some creatures use their snout and fore paws, and with it I would mine and burrow my way through these hills. I think that the richest vein is somewhere hereabouts; so by the divining-rod and thin rising vapors I judge; and here I will begin to mine.

Footnotes

  1. Thoreau is exaggerating many of these points and shouldn't be taken seriously regarding avoiding the necessity for counting. He is being hyperbolic to emphasize how strongly he rejects an ant-like existence that focuses on acquiring property and performing rote actions. Thoreau wants us to pay less attention to trivial things so that we can concentrate on the meaningful things in life.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The unified nation of Germany is young compared to many other countries in Europe. This group of 39 German states existed in a loose confederacy from 1815 to 1866 to coordinate the economies of these German-speaking countries in an effort to replace the former Holy Roman Empire.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Spartans are native inhabitants of Sparta in Greece. Calling someone or something Spartan or "Spartan-like" characterizes it as typical of historical Sparta, its people, and customs; that is, a minimalist lifestyle distinguished by simplicity, frugality, courage, or brevity of speech.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. This statement and paragraph captures the very essence of Walden, particularly considering what Thoreau sought to find there. It builds on the foundation he established in "Economy" and combines those notions with the power of Nature and the importance of self-reliance. Characteristic of his style, it includes many metaphors because (as we've seen is often the case with Thoreau) he cannot quite express his wishes directly, preferring to have his readers come to their own understanding through his experiences.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Thoreau asks us to wake up fully and "elevate [our lives] by conscious endeavor." He states that it is our duty to make every moment of life meaningful. Recall how Thoreau stated that he went to the woods to live deliberately. For him, faith in simplicity is the path to spiritual wakefulness. This philosophy of transcendentalism details his spiritual aims: self-reliance and its inherent simplicity are the ways Thoreau uses to achieve his goals.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. This is a general word for many of the most ancient Hindu scriptures. The four chief collections are the Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Vedas. These were written in early Sanskrit and contain hymns, philosophy, and guidance on ritual.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. While we commonly use "genius" today to refer to exceptional talent and ideas, the Romantics used it to refer to a classical pagan belief: everyone has a guiding spirit provided at birth to govern his or her fortunes, determine character, and conduct him or her out of the world.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. The Iliad and the Odyssey are attributed to the Greek poet Homer. Thoreau has efficiently captures the main subjects of both of Homer's works in this tight phrase: the wrath of Achilles (Iliad) and the wanderings of Odysseus (Odyssey). Thoreau's intention here is to awaken his readers to the power of ordinary events. Flying insects don't normally awaken a sense of fascination with the natural world, but they live in a world alien to many humans due to how they experience life. Thoreau notices them to show Nature's beautiful and powerful intricacies.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. This is the brightest star in the Taurus constellation. It is a part of a binary system with a red giant (a very large, bright star with low surface temperature). The name is from the Arabic, which translates as "the follower (of the Pleiades)."

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. Another cluster of stars in the constellation Taurus, Hyades surrounds the bright star Aldebaran.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. This open cluster of stars in the constellation Taurus is named after the seven daughters of the Titan Atlas and the Oceanid Pleione. Many of the stars are visible without the aid of a telescope, but in actuality there are around five hundred in the cluster. The group of stars is also known as the Seven Sisters.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. Notice how Thoreau immediately describes this morning ritual as a religious exercise, which actually has two meanings. "Religious exercise" can mean rigid or consistently planned; however, since water is involved, there is an aspect of baptism or rebirth in his sentiment. Thoreau has repeatedly talked about the importance of self-reliance, and here he compared this new life at Walden Pond to something like a religious conversion.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. Throughout Walden, Thoreau often asks rhetorical questions like this one. While few would ask such questions, Thoreau's use of them helps set up his points or prepare readers for the next stage of his argument.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. Damodar or "Damodara" is another name for the Hindu god Krishna, and it refers to one of Krishna’s childhood stories, in which his mother binds him for being mischievous.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. A "conventicle" is a kind of assembly or meeting and has several nuances in meaning. Considering the context Thoreau situates the word, the best definition is a meeting that is private or unsanctioned by the law. Note how Thoreau describes the landscape with words that are mystical and evocative, as opposed to his more practical descriptions in "Economy."

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. From context it's easy to see that Thoreau simply means a small mountain lake when using the term "tarn." This word is most often used by geologists and geographers, so Thoreau's use here captures the feeling of beauty and remoteness he experiences at Walden Pond.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  17. This quote speaks volumes to Thoreau's intention in writing Walden. The meaning of "morning" should be carefully considered, as the metaphor Thoreau invokes here reinforces why he went into the woods to live at Walden Pond: to discover self-reliance, and to be closer to nature.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  18. By "compensation" Thoreau means "payment." Notice here how this little side remark exhibits humor on his end and reveals a playful character to his text by juxtaposing legend with practical questions and comments.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  19. This is an excellent example of how fond Thoreau is for making exaggerations in order to demonstrate his points. Here, he doesn't mean to be literally buried in the ground; rather, he wants to emphasize how much time he wishes to spent with the land and how intimately he wants to be one with nature.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  20. Walden is prefaced with the line that follows this selection. Thoreau stands true to this sentiment, expressing his desire to "wake" himself in this chapter. Additionally, this sentence serves a rhetorical purpose by detailing his purpose for writing the book.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  21. The field sparrow (Spizella pusilla) is a small bird found in many places across North America, particularly eastern Canada and the eastern United States, with a wingspan of approximately 8 inches.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  22. Thoreau tells us that his house is still unfinished, but in characteristic fashion he informs us that this is perfectly desirable for him. The unfinished house is more a part of nature, with the wind blowing through it and the company of birds, which allows him to experience being one with nature, rather than separated from it by closed doors. This bit of evidence further refines and adds to one of Thoreau's themes of humans needing to live closer to nature.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  23. The whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferus) is a species of bird from eastern North America that is primarily active at night or twilight. Its name is an example of onomatopoeia, as it is named after the song it makes. This species of bird is also the source of many legends and stories, often intended to frighten, as the song is quite haunting and the birds are difficult to see due to their camouflage.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  24. The scarlet tanager (Piranga olivacea) is an American songbird that has a wingspan of approximately 10 inches. It used to be classified as belonging to the cardinal family, due to its red plumage and vocalizations being similar to other cardinal species, before it was re-classed into the tanager family, Thraupidae.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  25. The veery (Catharus fuscescens) is another species of North American thrush. This species is smaller than the wood thrush, with a wingspan of about 6 1/2 to 7 inches in length. Similar to other thrushes, veeries have light brown coloring on their backs and white coloring with faint brownish spots on the chests.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  26. A wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) is native to eastern North America and has a wingspan of over one standard foot (12–16 inches). The bird has rusty brown coloring on its head and back, large black spots dot the white chest, and it is also notable for its loud clear song.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  27. A "garret" is typically a very small, dingy room on the top floor of a building. Such rooms have historical associations with artists in particular..

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  28. Thoreau's choosing to move to Walden Pond on Independence Day has symbolic meaning (which was perhaps intentional on his part even though he says it was accidental). The day celebrates the independence of the United States, and so it is also the day Thoreau becomes self-reliant and one of nature's inhabitants.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  29. While context in this sentence helps readers understand that "chanticleer" is a rooster, it is also an allusion to Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, and "The Nun's Priest's Tale" in particular. The proud, fierce rooster named Chanticleer dominates the barnyard.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  30. In Sanskrit literature, the Harivamsha (Thoreau's spelling is incorrect) is an important work, believed to be a supplement to the wisdom and teachings found in the Mahabharata.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  31. In Greek mythology, Olympus is the home of the gods and can be used to refer to a kind of heaven or paradise. Thoreau is saying that simply being outdoors is akin to being on Olympus—that the world of the gods is the world of nature, and it's all around.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  32. When Thoreau says "my 'Cultivator,'" he is likely referring to the periodicals, such as the Boston Cultivator, that were popular during his time. The Boston Cultivator was a successful agricultural paper in New England from the late 1830s until after the Civil War. So, the use of "Cultivator" here is similar to saying "my daily newspaper."

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  33. This statement reinforces Thoreau's claims about the necessity for self-reliance. Possessions act as commitments to one's time and can also act as a burden on one's financial status. This can lead to debt or other troubles, and Thoreau believes that avoiding such things can help one live a freer, more truthful existence.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  34. It's unclear why Thoreau spelled "gnawed" in this way, as the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster's do not show "nawed" as an acceptable spelling. Regardless, from context we can conclude that Thoreau means "gnawed," or bit or chewed on repeatedly, to refer to what the rabbits have been doing to the apple trees.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  35. In this context, "bounding" means a border; that is, the farm is bordered by the river. While the owner considers this boundary beneficial to protect the farm from frost, Thoreau sees through this practical point of view to look more at the color and state of things, revealing himself to be more of a romantic, rather than a pragmatic, person..

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  36. Having entertained the possibility of buying many farms, Thoreau almost acquires the Hollowell Farm, but then the farmer's wife changed her mind. Thoreau talks about the virtues the farm has, but ultimately he is content to have kept his poverty and not acquired it, because he believes the best part of the farm is the beauty of the landscape, which he can enjoy for free. Thoreau values being close to nature, and he claims that the most important part when choosing a home is that the location allows one to enjoy nature. Possessing a house is something Thoreau must deal with in order to live in or near his preferred landscape.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  37. To leave land "fallow" is to avoid tilling the soil or planting new crops. This allows nature the opportunity to restore fertility to the ground. Not allowing fields to fallow can cause nutrients to be stripped from the ground, creating lower yields of produce.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  38. This is subtle, but notice the distinct change in perspective between this clause and the preceding one: Thoreau prefers to think of the house as the central focal point rather than the village, emphasizing his preference for living in a space that allows him to contemplate and be separate from society.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  39. Thoreau again refers to Marcus Porcius Cato (234–149 BCE), the Roman general and author of many agricultural texts. Notice how he uses Cato as an authority on land and agriculture by bringing in a quote from De Re Rusticaand then building on it with his own ideas. This strategy helps demonstrate Thoreau's thorough knowledge of the topic while simultaneously showing his own thoughts alongside those of renown.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  40. In Greek mythology, the Titan Atlas was condemned by Zeus to hold up the sky and the heavens on his shoulders for eternity. Thoreau invokes this myth to illustrate his willingness to enjoy these advantages even if they require enormous amounts of strength and endurance.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  41. William Cowper (1731–1800) was an English poet, hymnodist, and considered one of the forerunners of Romantic poetry. This line is from his work The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor