Week in Review: April 27-May 3
The Week in Review: May 4-10

Thoreau's Journal: On This Day

 Henry David Thoreau

Journal Entries

Screen Shot 2020-04-27 at 4.02.08 PMSays I to myself” should be the motto of my journal. It is fatal to the writer to be too much possessed by his thought.
Things must lie a little remote to be described. 

Henry David Thoreau, Journal

    Over the course of his life, Thoreau's Journals comprised 47 full-length manuscripts. He wrote something almost every day of his adult life. Many entries are simply observations of nature or details his excursions in the woods and fields and rivers in and around Concord; many others are simply thoughts and philosophical explorations. These journal entries built the foundation of his classic literary works. I will add a new journal entry for each corresponding day while we read and study--and mimic Thoreau in our own journal entries.

May 6, 1854

It makes no odds into what seeming deserts the poet is born. Though all his neighbors pronounce it a Sahara, it will be a paradise to him; for the desert which we see is the result of the barrenness of our experience. No mere willful activity whatever, whether in writing verses or collecting statistics, will produce true poetry or science. If you are really a sick man, it is indeed to be regretted, for you cannot accomplish so much as if you were well. All that a man has to say or do that can possibly concern mankind, is in some shape or other to tell the story of his love, - to sing; and, if he is fortunate and keeps alive, he will be forever in love. This alone is to be alive to the extremities. It is a pity that this divine creature should ever suffer from cold feet; a still greater pity that the coldness so often reaches to his heart. I look over the report of the doings of a scientific association and am surprised that there is so little life to be reported; I am put off with a parcel of dry technical terms. Anything living is easily and naturally expressed in popular language. I cannot help suspecting that the life of these learned professors has been almost as inhuman and wooden as a rain-gauge or self-registering magnetic machine. They communicate no face which rises to the temperature of blood-heat. It doesn’t all amount to one rhyme.

May 5, 1838

Portland to Bath via Brunswick; Bath to Brunswick.

Each one’s world is but a clearing in the forest, so much open and inclused ground. When the mail coach rumbles into one of these, the villagers gaze after you with a compassionate look, as much as to say: “Where have you been all this time, that you make your debut in the world at this late hour? Nevertheless, here we are; come and study us, that you may learn men and manners.”

May 4, 1859

Crossing that first Conantum field, I perceive a peculiar fragrance in the air (not the meadow fragrance), like that of vernal flowers or of expanding buds. The ground is covered with the mouse-ear in full bloom, and it may be that in part. It is a temperate southwest breeze, and this is a scent as of willows (flowers and leafets), bluets, violets, shad-bush, mouse-ear, etc., combined; or perhaps the last chiefly; at any rate it is very perceptible. The air is more genial, laden with the fragrance of spring flowers. I, sailing in the spring ocean, getting in from my winter voyage, begin to smell the land. Such a scent perceived by a mariner would be very exciting. I not only smell the land breeze, but I perceive in it the fragrance of spring flowers. I draw near to the land; I begin to lie down and stretch myself on it. After my winter voyage I begin to smell the land.

May 3, 1852

I go along the side of Fair Haven Hill. The clock strikes distinctly, showing the wind is easterly. There is a grand, rich, musical echo trembling on the air long after the clock has ceased to strike, like a vast organ, filling the air with a trembling music like a flower of sound. Nature adopts it. Beautiful is sound. The water is so calm the woods and single trees are doubled by the reflection, and in this light you cannot divide them as you walk along the river. See the spearers’ lights, one northeast, one southwest, toward Sudbury, beyond Lee’s Bridge, - scarlet-colored fires. From the hill the river is a broad blue stream exactly the color of the heavens which it reflects. Sit on the Cliff with comfort, in greatcoat. All the tawny and russet earth - for no green is seen on the ground at this hour - sending only this faint multitudinous sound (of frogs) to heaven. The vast, wild earth. The first whip-or-u-will startles me. Hear three.

May 2, 1857

Saturday. Building a fence between us and Mrs. Richardson. In digging the holes I find the roots of small apple trees, seven or eight feet distant and four or more inches in diameter, two feet underground, and as big as my little finger. This is two or three feet beyond any branches. They reach at least twice as far as the branches. The branches get trimmed, the roots do not.

Nations! What are nations? Tartars! and Huns! and Chinamen! Like insects they swarm. The historian strives in vain to make them memorable. It is for want of a man that there are so many men. It is individuals that populate the world.

April 30, 1851

Even the cat which lies on a rug all day commences to prowl about the fields at night, resumes her ancient forest habits. The most tenderly bred grimalkin steals forth at night, - watches some bird on its perch for an hour in the furrow, like a gun at rest. She catches no cold; it is her nature. Caressed by children and cherished with a saucer of milk. Even she can erect her back and expand her tail and spit at her enemies like the wild cat of the woods. Sweet Sylvia!

April 28, 1841

I approach a great nature with infinite expectation and uncertainty, not knowing what I may meet. It lies as broad and unexplored before me as a scraggy hillside or pasture. I may hear a fox bark, or a partridge drum, or some bird new to these localilties may fly up. It lies out there as old, and yet as new. The aspect of the woods varies every day, what with their growth and the changes of the seasons and the influence of the elements, so that the eye of the forester never twice rests upon the same prospect. Much more does a character show newly and variedly, if directly seen.

April 27, 1841

It is only by a sort of voluntary blindness, and omitting to see, that we know ourselves, as when we see stars with the side of the eye. The nearest approach to discovering what we are is in dreams. It is as hard to see one’s self as to look backwards without turning round. And foolish are they that look in glasses with that intent.

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