I have been rereading Walden by Henry David Thoreau – which I’ve not perused in over 30 years. To think that a man not yet thirty wrote this is truly profound. His observations are both incisive as well as insightful – considering they were written in 1845! And though thankfully times have changed for both men and women, I still discover wisdom in his prose. Herewith some of my favorite excerpts, so far – shortened to exact meaning and not to disrespect the author:
Most men … are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them. He has no time to be anything but a machine. How can he remember well his ignorance – which his growth requires – who has so often to use his knowledge? We should feed and clothe him gratuitously sometimes, and recruit him with our cordials, before we judge of him. The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly.
I sometimes wonder that we can be so frivolous, I may almost say, as to attend to the gross but somewhat foreign form[s] of servitude … there are so many keen and subtle masters … worst of all when you are the slave-driver of yourself. Talk of a divinity in man! How godlike, how immortal is he? See how he cowers and sneaks, how vaguely all the day he fears, not being immortal nor divine, but the slave and prisoner of his own opinion of himself. Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate. Think also of the ladies of the land weaving toilet cushions against the last day, not to betray too green an interest in their fates! As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.
Who shall say what prospect life offers to another? Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant? We should live in all the ages of the world in an hour; ay, in all the worlds of the ages. I know of no reading of another’s experience so startling and informing as this would be.
Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit? If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes. Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or dirty the old, until we have so conducted, so enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel like new men in the old.
I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion.
We now no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven.
And I’ve not yet gotten to page forty! Hope you enjoyed reflecting on these as much as I did.