April 21, 2012

"I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear..."

"... nor did I wish to practise 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.
That's the rest of the paragraph in Thoreau's "Walden" that begins "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'd looked it up when I was writing this morning's post "'Baseball as a Road to God' — the name of a course at NYU" and saying that "my father never went for a walk in the woods." I was big on "Walden" back in those days. Well, you know that. You know the story of me and religion and my high school graduation. It was back in that "Meade's Mud" post.

Remember: "Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through Church and State, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place...."

And everything seems connected, now, doesn't it? There's Paris, and we were just talking about France and the French, and whether they're the ones who are not living what is not life.

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...

Rout. Cut. Shave. Drive. Reduce.

20 comments:

Ah Pooh said...

That Tiny House move is sooooo close!

edutcher said...

Thoreau opposed the Mexican War.

They should have shot him.

Ron said...

I don't think there's any more truth in being someone who eats acorns vs. foie gras.

Stephen A. Meigs said...

I overlooked the coffee post. The "right" way to drink coffee would be to soak the coffee beans without first cutting or otherwise injuring them--that would be what would most serve the coffee beans' needs, and so would be what most likely would produce the healthiest coffee. Also, one might try experimenting by (say) adding a little food grade hydrochloric acid (very dangerous when not buffered or diluted) beforehand, so as to better emulate stomach acid, as might be necessary if the resulting coffee is too weak. Maybe before drinking add just the right amount of a base like ground limestone to neutralize the acid so the coffee doesn't taste funny or dissolve teeth.

Or you could just try swallowing the coffee beans. Apparently, asian palm civets do something similar, eating coffee berries without chewing the seeds--and the defecated beans are collected and used to make some of the world's most expensive coffee, Kopi Luwak, hmm.

rhhardin said...

Stanley Cavell The Senses of Walden is a reading by somebody who loves the book.

David R. Graham said...

Living for bedrock, certainty, fixed-ness.

In a relativistic stochastic structure, such as a "multi-culti" society, that living is seditious.

Thus Henry's reply to Ralph from behind bars; "What are you doing out there?" (@edutcher: civil, moral and spiritual law recognize "conscientious objection," and if one, such as civil, does not at a particular time or place, one or both of the others do. I am not a conscientious objector. I accept that some are.)

traditionalguy said...

Verbs describe life. They are our motions arising from our emotions. Emotions arise out of our souls which are inspired by our spirits, such as one of the the last true great spirits of my or any other generation.

ricpic said...

So Thoreau was all het up about life - in a nerdy way - and the Frogs are all blase about it. Or at least that's their pose. I don't see a Thoreau-Frog connection.

Richard Dolan said...

So what exactly is this "life" that you want to rout, cut, shave, drive, reduce? I don't think it has much to do with biology, evolution or any of that. And what's the point of accepting substitutes when the real thing is ready at hand, if only you will grasp it?

Moose said...

No shriving?

sleepless nights said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Quaestor said...

Thoreau was a wonderful craftsman with the language, but as one paring life down to its bare essentials he was a bit of a milquetoast. So he strolls out of Kaankerd and sets up in a 10 x 10 shack for two years, and thinks very highly of himself for his industry and frontier daring-do, while anyone living west of the Ohio was likely getting by with less and feeling less self-approbation as well. Some years after Walden Pond Thoreau made a trip into the Adirondacks where he met a less genteel Nature. He almost went mad.

I could have liked Thoreau if I had met him, but I think I would have ended up punching him in the face.

bagoh20 said...

"I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life..."

It would have been a much better book, although shorter, if instead of the serene Massachusetts woods he chose to sleep naked on the Serengeti.

He was the original Eco-poseur. Now we got millions of 'em. Someone should make a hybrid called the "Walden".

Quaestor said...

Someone should make a hybrid called the "Walden".

Nah, it'd get keyed in a New York minute.

Speaking of hybrids, a good friend of mine is now driving her third Prius in five years. I don't know if she's leasing, but if not that quick turn over suggests to me that the fuel savings (which are dramatic) doesn't amount to much from a fiscal perspective, i.e. one Focus driven for five years plus the extra fuel doesn't equal three Prii. This friend is also a dabbler in Feng Shui and back in 2008 a voluble Obama devotee, though so far in this election cycle she's been very quiet about Lord Zero. No bumper stick has yet appeared on Prius III. Could be an ominous portent for the One.

Luke Lea said...

If you want to live life mean you cannot be a free and independent person living in the woods. You need to be a peasant slave or a serf.

Rob said...

Thoreau was so much interested in simplicity that he'd drop off his laundry at his mother's place in town. I can't think of a simpler way to get your laundry done.

Eleanor said...

We live very close to Walden. When my daughter was away at college and was reading "Walden", she shared with her professor just what a fraud Thoreau was. The prof nearly had a nervous breakdown. Living in walking distance to his mom's house and off the largesse of others doesn't make his prose any less poetic, but it does sort of destroy the folk hero status.

deborah said...

"Such an eye was not born when the bird was, but is coeval with the sky it reflects."

http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/hdthoreau/bl-hdtho-wald-12.htm

Peeps who are ragging on him for mom doing his laundry, etc., seem to be missing the insights, clever turns of phrase, and pristine beauty of his writing. No one would be discussing him now if not for that.

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Smilin' Jack said...

“Which is nonsense, for whatever you live is Life. That is something to remember when you meet the old classmate who says, "Well now, on our last expedition up the Congo-" or the one who says, "Gee, I got the sweetest little wife and three of the swellest kids ever-" You must remember it when you sit in hotel lobbies or lean over bars to talk to the bartender or walk down a dark street at night, in early March, and stare into a lighted window. And remember little Susie has adenoids and the bread is probably burned, and turn up the street, for the time has come to hand me down that walking cane, for I got to catch that midnight train, for all my sin is taken away. For whatever you live is life”
― Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men