His signature catches my eye. What can we learn about Henry David Thoreau to explain the swagger in the tail of his first name and the period at the end of his last? To me, these strokes of the pen are statements about the man. My memories are fuzzy about this transcendental philosopher, so here’s what I’ve relearned: “Thoreau thought through our potential as human beings to live complete lives — lives that encompass joy, adventure, reflection, natural beauty, meaningful work, and relaxation.”
Transcendentalists believe in the goodness of people and nature — but only if we’re self-reliant and independent of the corrupting influence of society and its institutions.
So how did this brilliant American essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, and historian escape the clutches of society to learn about love and friendship, art and creativity, spirituality, aging and death?
Thoreau believed, "wisdom and simplicity are closely related." His way of keeping life simple was to investigate his own nature and “avoid any temptation to conform to society.” He declined invitations to dinner parties, shunned alcohol “because it interferes with his taste for simple water,” and when asked what food he liked best, he responded, “the nearest.”
He spent two years, two months, and two days living alone in a cabin he built near Walden Pond, in the deep woodland owned by his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau lived his life deliberately, immersing himself in nature hoping “to gain a more objective understanding of society through simple living, self-sufficiency, and personal introspection.”
He lived his philosophy and was devoted to writing about it. He left a powerful body of work that’s inspiring. We're fortunate to have his book, THOREAU AND THE ART OF LIFE; Reflections on Nature and the Mystery of Existence. These excerpts from his personal journals give us insights into his thoughts .
“Be yourself – not your idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of you should be.”
“It is not worth our while to let our imperfections disturb us always.”
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”
“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”
“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run."
“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.
“Things do not change; we change.”
“Dreams are the touchstones of our characters.”
“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.”
And, his most well known:
“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.”
When writing hits the mark as powerfully as Thoreau's does, we can understand why he signs his name with a flourish. Given his enthusiasm for life and truth, it’s a surprise he didn’t end his signature with an exclamation point!
Sources: www.litcharts.com/lit/walden/where-i-lived-and-what-i-lived-for, Wikipedia.org