FRIDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: HENRY DAVID THOREAU


an excerpt from WALDEN
by HENRY DAVID THOREAU

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 a 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 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…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 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 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…

I came 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.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was a morning person. His other hats include poet, philosopher, abolitionist, social critic, and naturalist. Many consider him one of the fathers of the modern-day ecological movement. Thoreau is best known for his essay “Civil Disobedience,” and his book Walden, chronicling two years spent living alone in a cabin he built on land owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Dying of tuberculosis, his last words were, “Here comes good sailing.”

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4 Responses to FRIDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: HENRY DAVID THOREAU

  1. Sivan Butler-Rotholz says:

    My favorite part of today’s post: ” Henry David Thoreau was a morning person.” You are too funny. My mom also loves to wake and write early. Perhaps when I am older I will grow fond of the mornings, but for now I am not yet awake and alive, Thoreau style, at that hour.

    An interesting manifesto indeed, with a little jab at visual artists, if I caught that right. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Deborah says:

    Sivan — I think his point is that he’s redefining what morning is. It’s not determined by the hour, but by one’s attitude. I also don’t think he’s taking a jab at artists, visual or not, as much as he’s exalting true utter unadorned consciousness. BWTFDIK. I do know I’m ready for living in the woods for two years. Two years minimum.

  3. lezliemayers says:

    Sivan, I’m with you. If a genius were such a genius, he would know that sleeping in is the cat’s pajamas. But who is me to argue with Thoreau and all the Vedas? Maybe cultivating an “infinite expectation of the dawn” would be facilitated by actually witnessing a dawn from time to time. I didn’t get that he was denigrating artists so much as that artists need to start by molding their own perceptions through moral purification. However, t’s 1:30 am and I just got home from a bar, so WTFDIK. Deborah – can I come visit you in the woods? Even Thoreau had three chairs for visitors.

  4. Deborah says:

    A slave to my own nighttime rhythm, yet secret devotee of people who go off and live in the woods for a few years, I want to take him not so literally and think he’s just being metaphorical about the dawn. I know he’s not. But I also think if I lived in the woods, all Ted Kazinsky (sp?) like, sans bomb aparatus, I’d probably get up early. What with the chopping of wood and mending of fences and such. What to do when it’s dark but sleep? And, yes, Lezlie, I will certainly have a chair for you and if you give me enough warning, perhaps there will be a freshly baked pie waiting for you. Also, I was kind of [blown away/impressed/speechless/felt like a country bumpkin, in the bumpkin way] that he referenced the Vedas. WTF? Who knew they had yoga classes in the 19th Century. He musta picked it up whilst hanging with Emerson. As long as I came back to ramble, Lezlie, thanks for posting this piece. As a result, I picked up a copy and am reading it (in its entirety for the first time) and quite enjoying it. Namaste, bitches. See you at last call.

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