[ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]

Many men have been likened to it, but few deserve that
honor. Though the woodchoppers have laid bare first
this shore and then that, and the Irish have built their
sties by it, and the railroad has infringed on its border,
and the ice-men have skimmed it once, it is itself un-
changed, the same water which my youthful eyes fell on;
all the change is in me. It has not acquired one perma-
nent wrinkle after all its ripples. It is perennially young,
and I may stand and see a swallow dip apparently to
pick an insect from its surface as of yore. It struck me
again to-night, as if I had not seen it almost daily for
more than twenty years, Why, here is Walden, the
159
Walden
same woodland lake that I discovered so many years
ago; where a forest was cut down last winter another is
springing up by its shore as lustily as ever; the same
thought is welling up to its surface that was then;
it is the same liquid joy and happiness to itself and its
Maker, ay, and it may be to me.25
The only reason I can think of why Thoreau would say something
as untrue as this  unchanged,  the same,  as of yore 
is that the logic of his suppressing the differences between God,
Nature, and Life requires him to believe that nature is, like God,
invulnerable: nothing that you or I can do to God troubles His
security, nor is He bound to offer answers, excuses, or apologies.
As in  The Dispersion of Seeds, Thoreau could apply himself to
the phenomena, the things on the grounds, trying to make sense
of their habits. He was at his best when he paid attention to birds,
beasts, flowers, water, and soil rather than to himself in the act of
paying such attention.
But there were moments in which Thoreau doubted that
Nature was enough, or that it would conduct a wooing both
ways between his interests and hers. As in the Journal for No-
vember 13, 1851:
Truly a hard day hard Times these. Not a mosquito
left. Not an insect to hum. Crickets gone into winter
quarters Friends long since gone there & you left to
160
Walden
walk on frozen ground with your hands in your pock-
ets. Ah but is not this a glorious time for your deep in-
ward fires? & will not your green hickory & white oak
burn clean in this frosty air?
Now is not your manhood taxed by the great Asses-
sor? Taxed for having a soul a rateable soul. A day
when you cannot pluck a flower cannot dig a parsnip
nor pull a turnip for the frozen ground what do the
thoughts find to live on? What avails you now the fire
you stole from heaven? Does not each thought become
a vulture to gnaw your vitals? No Indian summer have
we had this November I see but few traces of the
perennial spring.
Now is there nothing not even the cold beauty of
ice crystals & snowy architecture. Nothing but the
echo of your steps over the frozen ground no voice of
birds nor frogs You are dry as a farrow? Cow. The
earth will not admit a spade. All fields lie fallow Shall
not your mind?26
In American literature, one answer to the question  What do
the thoughts find to live on?  is  They live on themselves and
on one another. This is Stevens s answer, however provisional, in
 The Snow Man :  One must have a mind of winter . . .  If you
have a mind of winter, you can survive every moment of blank-
ness, you can even turn nothingness into an affirmative entity:
161
Walden
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.27
But Thoreau, at least in this journal entry, needs crickets, pars-
nips, and turnips to keep the thinking going. The irony he turns
upon  your deep inward fires is sufficiently appalled to mock
Prometheus s act in stealing fire from the gods and giving it to
mankind. The eagle, sent to punish Prometheus every day by de-
vouring his liver, becomes in Thoreau s parable the mind itself,
endlessly but speciously inventive. The liver that regenerates itself
every night to make the punishment eternal is the certainty that
one unmoored thought, without turnips, leads only to another. A
mind of winter is no satisfaction.
Empson has remarked that there are three main ideas about
Nature,  putting her above, equal to, and below man. The three
amount to this: (1)  she is the work of God, or a god herself, and
therefore a source of revelation, or (2)  she fits man, sympathises
with him, corresponds to his social order, has magical connections
with him and so forth, or (3)  she is not morally responsible so
that to contemplate her is a source of relief (this last is Cowper s
main business with her, for example). 28 Thoreau has something
of the three in his sensibility, though he plays down the God of (1).
He rarely goes Wordsworthian with (2), but you can find instances
of it in the Journal:  If I have no friend what is nature to me?
She ceases to be morally significant. 29 He has a lot of (3), which
162
Walden
explains why he gets tired of being ecocentrically pious and likes
finding life gratuitous without pestering it for disclosures. He is
not dismayed to think that Nature has no interest in him. In Cape
Cod (my favorite among Thoreau s books) he writes:  There is
naked Nature, inhumanly sincere, wasting no thought on man,
nibbling at the cliffy shore where gulls wheel amid the spray. 30
A mild version of (1) comes up when he acknowledges that some-
one we may as well call God must have created a world as won-
derful as this one, but Thoreau doesn t want to be always on his
knees thanking Him. By identifying God, Nature, and Life, he can
spend his life enjoying the spectacle without being precise about
its cause.
This is one of the many differences between Thoreau and
Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins believed, with as much cer-
tainty as that two and three make five, that God created the uni-
verse and gave us the privilege of enjoying it and adoring Him.
You could do that by praying and by receiving the sacraments of
the Roman Catholic Church. You could add to these devotions by
paying attention to the created world, the first and most visible
book of revelation. If you lavished attention on the world in its
multitudinous detail, you practiced something analogous to
prayer, if not prayer itself. It was like meditating on a text of the
Bible before going on a retreat. Others in Hopkins s day who paid
attention to the natural world Thoreau, Darwin, Chambers,
Edward Tuckerman, Hugh Miller, Ruskin, Agassiz had not
Hopkins s clarity of motive, but they had a subdued version of it,
163
Walden
attendant on the prestige of the scientific vocation. Empson has
pointed out, in an essay on the Alice books, that one reason for the
moral grandeur of the Knight is  that he stands for the Victorian
scientist, who was felt to have invented a new kind of Roman
virtue; earnestly, patiently, carefully (it annoyed Samuel Butler to
have these words used so continually about scientists) without sen-
suality, without self-seeking, without claiming any but a fragment
of knowledge, he goes on labouring at his absurd but fruitful con-
ceptions. 31 You would have to feel some of that Roman virtue in
yourself before you would think of spending years peering into a
pond and annotating what you saw. Thoreau justified it by saying
that he had to learn all the laws of Nature if he wanted to under-
stand the harmony of the system: [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]