July 20, 2021

#08-111: Thoreau's Walden

engraving of a small cabin surrounded by woods
Thoreau's cabin, from the book's first edition

Note: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately," Thoreau wrote. Meet this foundational American philosopher and hear his thoughts.

Get Ready: If you could, would you like to live alone in the woods for a year (or two) and try to be self-sufficient? Why or why not?

New England writer Henry David Thoreau presents a uniquely American voice, shaped by his experience, and in turn shaping the experience of others. Of all his many experiences, though, none was as profound, and so resonant for others, as the year he spent (well, two years, actually) living more-or-less self-sufficiently at the edge of Walden Pond near his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts.

The reason I say "one or two years" is that the "experiment," as he called it, actually took place over two years, but the book he wrote about it--Walden; or, Life in the Woods--is presented as a journal of one year, conflated from the experience of two.

And why "more-or-less self-sufficiently"? There was just a little bit of cheating involved. Though Thoreau writes the book as though he were in the deep woods, in fact, he was a pleasant amble from his friend Emerson's house--in fact, Emerson owned the pond Thoreau lived by--and he used to walk up and have dinner with the Emersons. (I have walked the "Emerson-Thoreau Amble" myself, a matter of less than two miles.)

Nevertheless, Thoreau's keen observations, and his searing rebuke of modernization, remain inspiring to this day.

Take, for example, this observation:

  • "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to [con]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."

Or this:

  • "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."


  • "In the long run men hit only what they aim at."

Yet another:

  • "I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion."

One of his most famous:

  • "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

And, summing up:

  • "Our life is frittered away by detail.... Simplify, simplify."

Truly inspirational!


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walden

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. amble
  2. conflated
  3. endeavors
  4. frittered
  5. inspirational
  6. profound
  7. rebuke
  8. resonant
  9. searing
  10. self-sufficiently

  1. attempts; strives
  2. burning; scathing; cutting deeply
  3. squandered; wasted
  4. deep
  5. without help from others
  6. producing feelings; influencing
  7. a slow, easy walk
  8. calling forth agreement
  9. merged; fused
  10. sharp disapproval

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for July 20, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. g; 2. i; 3. a; 4. c; 5. f; 6. d; 7. j; 8. h; 9. b; 10. e