Shelter with Thoreau – WSJ

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Almost 180 years ago, Henry David Thoreau did, willingly and happily, what many of us were forced to do last year: he took refuge. On July 4, 1845, he moved into his cabin near Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, where he lived alone for two years and two months, “solely by the work of my hands.” Well, most of the time. Lionized by generations of nature enthusiasts, Thoreau also had many detractors, calling him a hypocrite to dine at the Emersons or ask his mother to take care of his laundry. And then there’s what David Gessner, in “Quiet Desperation, Savage Delight,” calls Thoreau’s “imperative voice,” telling us where to live, what to eat, and how to dress. All this makes Thoreau’s “Walden” (1854) one of the most difficult texts to teach. “Arrogant” is the verdict I frequently hear from undergraduates. Who does he think he is?

Thoreau would have appreciated such a step back. He never wanted followers; no doubt he did not even follow his own advice. “Walden”, his best-known book, ends with Thoreau ending his experience of enduring life: the path he made from the hut to the pond is smashed, worn out, just like the paths his mind has taken. traveled. “I still had several lives to live and I couldn’t spend any more time on this one.” “Walden” was, he tells us, intended for “poor students,” the impatient, those willing to embark on their own experiences, to write their own books.


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