Walden and Civil Disobedience
Henry David Thoreau
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Henry David Thoreau’s masterwork Walden is a collection of his reflections on life and society.
In 1845, Thoreau moved to a cabin that he built with his own hands along the shores of Walden Pond in Massachusetts. Shedding the trivial ties that he felt bound much of humanity, Thoreau reaped from the land both physically and mentally, and pursued truth in the quiet of nature. In Walden, he explains how separating oneself from the world of men can truly awaken the sleeping self. Thoreau holds fast to the notion that you have not truly existed until you adopt such a lifestyle—and only then can you reenter society, as an enlightened being.
These simple but profound musings—as well as “Civil Disobedience,” his protest against the government’s interference with civil liberty—have inspired many to embrace his philosophy of individualism and love of nature. More than a century and a half later, his message is more timely than ever.
With an Introduction by W.S. Merwin
and an Afterword by Will Howarth
tracks of the last traveller. And when I returned new drifts would have formed, through which I floundered, where the busy north-west wind had been depositing the powdery snow round a sharp angle in the road, and not a rabbit’s track, nor even the fine print, the small type, of a meadow mouse was to be seen. Yet I rarely failed to find, even in mid-winter, some warm and springy swamp where the grass and the skunk-cabbage still put forth with perennial verdure, and some hardier bird occasionally
eternal life commands; Above man’s aims his nature rose: The wisdom of a just content Made one small spot a continent, And turned to poetry Life’s prose. “Haunting the hills, the stream, the wild, Swallow and aster, lake and pine, To him grew human or divine,— Fit mates for this large-hearted child. Such homage Nature ne’er forgets, And yearly on the coverlid ’Neath which her darling lieth hid Will write his name in violets. “To him no vain regrets belong, Whose soul, that
hydra’s head, but as soon as one head is crushed, two spring up.2 I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of. Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in. Who made them serfs of the soil? Why should they eat their sixty acres, when man is condemned to eat only
time to that amount. He could defend many institutions better than any philosopher, because, in describing them as they concerned him, he gave the true reason for their prevalence, and speculation had not suggested to him any other. At another time, hearing Plato’s definition of a man,—a biped without feathers,—and that one exhibited a cock plucked and called it Plato’s man, he thought it an important difference that the knees bent the wrong way. He would sometimes exclaim, “How I love to talk!
of our fatherland were in such safe keeping;3 and as I turned to my hoeing again I was filled with an inexpressible confidence, and pursued my labor cheerfully with a calm trust in the future. When there were several bands of musicians, it sounded as if all the village was a vast bellows, and all the buildings expanded and collapsed alternately with a din. But sometimes it was a really noble and inspiring strain that reached these woods, and the trumpet that sings of fame, and I felt as if I