Photo by Frank Mckenna on Unsplash
‘Henry Thoreau died from tuberculosis at his parent’s home in Concord, Massachusetts, on May 6, 1862. His mother, sister Sophia, and Aunt Louisa were with him at the end. Not long before he passed, Sophia heard Henry mutter the words, “Now comes good sailing”; he was 44-years-old.’
His life journey was a transformative journey of hope, seeking to reconcile his relationship with himself, his faith, the Earth, Mother Nature and with others in order to transform communities.
Nature and simple living were his solace and he has left us with a wonderful and meaningful legacy, a legacy of hope, resilience, inner and outer peace, through a rewardingly deep engagement and dialogue with mother nature, which we, too, have all discovered its benefits and healing powers since the rise of COVID-19 global pandemic. Long may it be so.
Life in the Woods Is a Reflection Upon Simple Living in Natural Surroundings
Thoreau's Journey to Find the Simple Life
Why is it that more than 200 years since his birth Henry David Thoreau remains more relevant than ever?
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
“There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, not even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.”-Henry David Thoreau
‘Henry David Thoreau was a true child of nature. He appreciated the natural environment on a deep level, finding spiritual replenishment and inspiration in his lengthy walks each day. Henry pursued his own ideals in every aspect of his life. He moved to Walden Pond as an experiment in living simply and deliberately, while taking ample time for writing, walking, and observing nature.’
More than 200 years after his death, Henry Thoreau continues to inspire and influence us.
In 1862, Emerson believed that the country was unaware “how great a son it has lost.” Today, we are very much aware of Thoreau’s greatness. Emerson predicted, “Wherever there is knowledge, wherever there is virtue, wherever there is beauty, he will find a home.”
And, in a very real sense, these words have come true. Henry Thoreau has found a home in the hearts and lives of millions of people around the world.**
Here are a few clues to why does Thoreau live on:
‘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 practice 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.’
Photo:Walden Woods Project
‘Walden Pond is the centerpiece of Thoreau’s Walden Woods and is the focus of Thoreau’s most famous piece: Walden.’
‘Thoreau lived on the shore of Walden Pond in order to enjoy a life of “simplicity.” He believed that people often became slaves to the things they own, so he sought to own less and spend more of his time enjoying himself rather than working to pay for material things. He wrote Walden in order to share this experience with others...The work is part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and manual for self-reliance. It describes Thoreau’s experiences over the course of two years in a cabin he built near Walden Pond, amidst woodland in Massachusetts, owned by his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson.’
‘If you spent the day with Thoreau you’d wake up at sunrise and watch the sunrise.
Take a sunrise walk and watch the world wake-up.
What do you see?
What can you hear?
What’s the temperature like?
Does it get warmer as the sun comes up?
How does the world wake up where you live?
If you walked with Thoreau you would tend his beans in his bean patch. Plant some green beans of your own and watch them grow. If you’re reading this post in a non-growing season, take some Lima beans and place them in a wet towel in a glass jar and watch them sprout and come alive.
Take a walk in the woods together.
Listen to the birds. What are they saying ? How many different sorts of birds can you hear?
Pick huckleberries, blueberries, or blackberries. Then make a yummy cobbler.
Lie on your back and watch the clouds. Thoreau called this “Dreaming Awake” time.
Lie on your stomach on the ground and watch the ants.’-A Day with Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond
"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."- Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Henry Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond.-Photo:4peaks.com
Why Does Thoreau Live On? A Few Famous Writers Offer Answers.
NOW COMES GOOD SAILING
Writers Reflect on Henry David Thoreau
Edited by Andrew Blauner
A reflection by John Kaag* Via The New York Times
‘Our 4-year-old son, Henry, calls it “my rock.” It’s right near our house in Concord, Mass., and we visit it often at the burial ground at Author’s Ridge, the final resting place of Hawthorne and Emerson. It is the plainest yet most impressive of headstones, a small marble slab bearing a single word: HENRY.
Photo: The Boston Globe
“Now comes good sailing.”
Before Henry David Thoreau died on May 6, 1862, he whispered four words to his sister that have always puzzled me, at least until now — “Now comes good sailing.” It’s a strange suggestion that the journey of life might only truly begin after death.
Thoreau never understood, and could never have guessed, how popular he would become. When he fell ill with his final bout of tuberculosis, his masterpiece, “Walden,” was out of print. Today, millions of readers cherish it and its call to “live deliberately.” “Walden” will probably never go out of print again, and the first edition, the one Thoreau struggled to sell for a dollar, fetches thousands at auction today.
‘The main literary product of Thoreau’s time living in the woods was a book called Walden, a dense, unclassifiable text that is part autobiography, part nature writing, and part ‘simple living’ manifesto, but which is now widely regarded as one of the true classics of American literature. Not only that, Walden offers a penetrating critique of materialistic culture, one all the more piercing due to the fact that Thoreau was both a ruthless social critic and a literary genius. It makes for engaging and challenging reading, especially at those times when we see ourselves in the object of Thoreau’s often scathing cultural critique.
In today’s era of overlapping ecological, economic, and cultural crises, Walden is a text that is more relevant than ever before. As well as providing early insight into the destructive and oppressive nature of many processes of industrialisation, it also warns people of the self-imposed slavery that can flow from mindlessly dedicating one’s life to the never-ending pursuit of ‘nice things’. If nothing else, Thoreau’s life and work serve as a fiery, poetic reminder that there are alternative, simpler ways to live – ways which are far freer and indeed more fulfilling than those governed by consumerist values and practices. Thoreau’s message, in short, is that a simple life is a good life, and in our age of ecological overshoot, this is a message deserving of our closest attention.’-The Simple Life of Henry David Thoreau
Why does Thoreau live on? This is the central question answered by a remarkable anthology gathered by Andrew Blauner, entitled “Now Comes Good Sailing.” Anthologies are rarely remarkable. It is extremely unusual for any number of iconic writers (much less 27 of them) to team up in defense of their literary hero, but Blauner’s table of contents reads like a “Who’s Who of Intelligent Modern Prose”: Megan Marshall, Lauren Groff, Celeste Headlee, Pico Iyer, Amor Towles, Alan Lightman and Adam Gopnik, among 20 others.
Why does Thoreau live on? Because we need him to. Thoreau suggested that the busyness of life — the frenetic pace of our jobs, the demands of our bank accounts, the status that we seek and never find — should never be the exclusive focus of living. Can we, as Lightman puts it in his essay, free ourselves from the “rush and the heave of the external world”? This is the lesson of Walden Pond: that our immediate concerns usually obscure the important ones, and almost always distract us from what is ultimate, the chance to live and die with the knowledge that we have tried to “truly live.” This collection amplifies the wisdom of Thoreau for an age that is frequently hard of hearing.
Groff echoes Thoreau’s instruction from Walden: “Look at a pond no more miraculous than any other pond in the world, which is to say infinitely miraculous, look at your own ponds whatever shape they take … look deeply.” This isn’t Narcissus at the pool, but rather the attempt to see your true self, and to reckon with what you might become. Iyer is particularly good on this point, writing, “Thoreau stepped away from the world only so that he would have more to give back.” Thoreau’s single task was to “improve the nick of time.” This is easier said than done. As Blauner’s collection demonstrates, the task continues for readers who negotiate our world of existential anxiety, gross injustice, mass conformity and environmental degradation. Thoreau speaks clearly, urgently, for our time, but only if we are willing to listen and live accordingly.
The most beautiful essay here is also the most bittersweet: a Thoreauvian elegy written by Megan Marshall entitled “Without.” Marshall is now without her husband and nothing will bring him back to life. This is, however, precisely what her words accomplish, expressing the underlying hope of “Good Sailing,” namely that the most meaningful moments, the most meaningful lives and writers, are never fully lost. This is true in the case of Henry David Thoreau.
I hope our son Henry continues to return to the simple headstone on Author’s Ridge, to find meaning and to find himself, to add yet another pencil or pen to the pile that slowly accumulates at Thoreau’s grave. As Amor Towles explains, his “meditations lead us always toward a better understanding of ourselves.” Just as for an untold number of readers, Thoreau’s writings will remain “my rock.”
*John Kaag is a professor and chair of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Read the original article HERE
** Richard Smith, ‘Now Comes Good Sailing’
NOW COMES GOOD SAILING
Writers Reflect on Henry David Thoreau
Edited by Andrew Blauner
348 pp. Princeton University Press.
Purchase it HERE
Nature and simple living were his solace
A pick from our archive