Walden & Civil Disobedience by Henry David ThoreauA naturalist, a transcendentalist or an individualist?
Thoreau’s principles could be labelled with the previous statutory concepts and yet none of them would suffice to provide a full description of him. He struck me as a man who didn’t want to be restricted by category; he chose experience and common sense as modus operandi to lead a deliberate lifestyle and to reach his own conclusions without meaning to inculcate them on others.
Walden is the result of Thoreau’s minute observations that he compiled while he lived in a rustic shed near a lake in Concort, Massachusets. Full of all kind of practical detail, the book is more than a diary but less than a philosophical abstraction. It arises as a fragmented tapestry of the meditations of a man concerned about his surroundings and the society to which he belongs, even if he makes a conscious effort to disentangle from his contemporary fellowmen in order to think straight, in order to stablish priorities without the social distractions attached to community living.
The idea that shines brighter in Thoreau’s discourse is that actions should be faithful mirrors of belief, so he decided to act consequently and he cut back comfort to be more in charge of his simple, frugal life. Man lives in constant stimulation to consume above his real needs according to a general interest that doesn’t necessarily correlate to his own.
It’s important not to mistake Thoreau’s aversion to frivolity with unfounded rejection of modernity or technological progress by default. He professes that man can achieve spiritual and physical serenity by contemplation of the natural world, and redefine the notion of welfare, which shouldn’t imply accumulating wealth, but rather making use of it only when it is required.
Austerity, self-reliance and a clearly defined frame of values are essential to write one’s destiny without giving way to external pressures. Thoreau’s “original experiment” doesn’t aspire to preach or to impose a guideline to create a following. Instead, it invites to reflect about the principles that rule our lives and question whether we are investing our limited time on what is really essential.
Far from being a grumpy hermit, Thoreau sings the praises of a good conversation and basks in the company of those with inquisitive minds, dismissing the lulling tonality of generalized academic discourse. Poet, philosopher and fisherman share equal positions in Thoreau’s mental horizon because they all have a close relationship with nature and they don’t take its precious gifts for granted.
Walden is in fact a hymn to the natural rhythms and seasons, to the trees and vegetation that blooms and decays in perfect communion with the birds and fauna that populate the wilderness. The pond is the ever-present witness to Thoreau’s unusual moral firmness, to the authenticity of his resolutions, and sometimes overwhelming culture that is exquisitely balanced out with his surprising sensitivity. Ice melting into transparent-blue water that later acquires a greenish tint when the spring sun hauls the earth finds the ideal recipient in Thoreau’s ideals of justice and beauty.
Personally, I might not fully agree with everything that Thoreau exposes in this work, his reasoning might end up being repetitive and it runs the risk of sounding a bit like postulating, but I can’t help but admire the man who knew how to include as much poetry in his life as life in literature and inspire future generations to fight for what they believe is right.
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