Going further - Walden (task 3, p. 242)

"Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." Henry David Thoreau

We have perhaps all felt the desire to “step to a different drummer” at times, but the pressure to conform is formidable. In 1846, one of the most famous American non-conformists – Henry David Thoreau – conceived of an unconventional idea. He decided to withdraw from society and build a cabin along Walden Lake where he wanted to live in close communion with nature. “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity,” Thoreau insisted. In the woods he believed that nature could teach him about what was essential to living a fulfilled life. Thoreau lived there for exactly two years and two days before he left the cabin for good. In 1854 he published Walden which has established Thoreau’s reputation as the father of American nature writing.

Walden Pond Walden Pond

In the late 1980s, developers wanted to build an office building and condos on the site of Walden Pond where Thoreau had his cabin. Several rock stars rallied to the threat, however, and developed the Walden Woods Project, thus saving the area from development.

Walden is divided into 18 chapters. The following excerpts are taken from various sections in the book.



By Henry David Thoreau

When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again. […]

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. […]

Replica of Thoreau's cabin Replica of Thoreau's cabin I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will. Solitude is not measured by the miles of space that intervene between a man and his fellows. […]

I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear, that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! […]

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. […]

However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man's abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace. The town's poor seem to me often to live the most independent lives of any. [...]

Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts. God will see that you do not want society. If I were confined to a corner of a garret all my days, like a spider, the world would be just as large to me while I had my thoughts about me. The philosopher said: “From an army of three divisions one can take away its general, and put it in disorder; from the man the most abject and vulgar one cannot take away his thought.



See task 3 on page 242.


The author

Henry David Thoreau (1817–62) from Massachusetts is one of the most eccentric figures of American literature. He was a man of many talents and interests. In a questionnaire asking his profession he wrote: “I am a Schoolmaster – a private Tutor – a Gardener, a Farmer – a Painter, I mean a House Painter, a Carpenter, a Mason, A Day-Laborer, a Pencil-Maker, a Glass-paper Maker, a Writer, and sometimes a Poetaster.”

Thoreau was a man of deep and often controversial convictions, which often led him into conflict with authority. He was passionately opposed to slavery and advocated non-violent resistance as a method for fighting injustice. (In 1846 he was arrested for failing to pay his taxes in a protest against the state’s role in maintaining slavery.)

In his twenties he became associated with the New England Transcendentalists, becoming a personal friend of the older Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau’s writings on nature and ecology have influenced modern environmentalist thought, while his work Civil Disobedience is mentioned by figures like Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King as being a source of inspiration.

Glossary: Walden

communion fellesskap

simplicity enkelhet/enkelheit

sojourner en som oppholder seg et sted / ein som held til på ein stad

deliberately med overlegg

marrow marg/merg

put to rout jage på flukt

cut a swath her: tiltrekke oppmersomhet / trekkje til seg merksemd

sublime opphøyd/opphøgd

dissipating utmattende/utmattande

solitude ensomhet/einsemd

impressible som lett får avtrykk

rut (hjul)spor

endeavor anstrenge seg / anstrengje seg

shun sky

almshouse fattighus

sage salvie

confined sperret inne / sperra inne

garret kvist(værelse)/kvist(rom)

abject foraktelig/forakteleg