Henry David Thoreau: Nature’s Friend
Henry David Thoreau was born July 12, 1817, in Concord, Massachusetts where he spent most of his life and was educated at Harvard University. But he was no lover of town life and the mundane, more trivial things pertaining to man. He was a very deeply spiritual person who had a deep love for and a connection to nature, and he subscribed to Transcendentalist thought. Transcendentalist thought is a philosophy in which he believed that spirit is greater than matter and intuitive thought more insightful than mere reasoning. In short, this man had the mind of a poet, and the story has it that he bristled so much at the status-qua that he insisted on wearing a green jacket to chapel as a young student when the rules of the school called for black.
But no discussion of Thoreau is complete without touching on Thoreau’s close friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the foremost writers and transcendentalists of the day. Emerson was a man who staunchly believed in the value of the individual over the group and the importance of the ability of man to live independently and free from having overmuch reliance on others. Thus Emerson became a close mentor to Thoreau and provided the parcel of land where Thoreau built his tiny cabin on Walden Pond to launch his own experiment in independent living by living off the land, connecting with nature, and to write his most famous book, Walden. So there on Walden pond, he lived alone for the span of two years,
Walden is a book about his adventure in the wilderness and is a vivid description of the natural world there throughout the four seasons and embodies the many-core Transcendentalist philosophies such as the importance of living a simple life, with few expenses, as the way to true independence and joy. He was a minimalist whose three most famous words “Simplify!” “Simplify!” “Simplify!” really resonate with my spirit today. Thoreau hated the technology that encroached upon nature especially the railroad and commercial farming, but always believed that nature would ultimately triumph as expressed in the following poem:
The moon now rises to her absolute rule
The moon now rises to her absolute rule,
And the husbandman and hunter
Acknowledge her for their mistress.
Asters and golden reign in the fields
And the life everlasting withers not.
The fields are reaped and shorn of their pride
But an inward verdure still crowns them;
The thistle scatters its down on the pool
And yellow leaves clothe the river—
And nought disturbs the serious life of men.
But behind the sheaves and under the sod
There lurks a ripe fruit which the reapers have not gathered,
The true harvest of the year—the boreal fruit
Which it bears forever,
With fondness annually watering and maturing it.
But man never severs the stalk
Which bears this palatable fruit.
He himself lived by hunting and foraging for fruits and vegetables in the wood and growing his own small patch of beans.
Thoreau was not commercially successful in his lifetime selling only 200 copies of his first self published book and his most famous book Walden only sold 2000 copies over the span of his lifetime, and it took 5 years.
As Thoreau grew older, he moved away from transcendentalism to become an anti-slavery political activist and wrote his most important essay, Civil Disobedience which was largely ignored until the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war movements of the 1960s, He died on May 6, 1862, at age 44.