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Walking

by Henry David Thoreau

This essay was presented as a lecture by Thoreau in his later years but only published after his death. It’s best known quote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world,” has become one of the rallying cries of the environmental movement. But Thoreau means much more by the phrase than most of his modern admirers realize. “Wildness” is Nature itself, and Man is seen as an aspect or manifestation of Nature. The rules that apply to one apply to the other. This is, in fact, one of the three seminal works of the environmental movement, the other two being Emerson’s Nature and George Perkins Marsh’s Man and nature; or, Physical geography as modified by human action.

I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and
wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil — to
regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather
than a member of society. I wish to make an extreme statement, if
so I may make an emphatic one, for there are enough champions of
civilization: the minister and the school committee and every one of
you will take care of that.

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who
understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks — who had a
genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully
derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the
Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte
Terre
,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a
Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to
the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere
idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in
the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the
word from sans terre without land or a home, which, therefore, in
the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally
at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering.
He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant
of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than
the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the
shortest course to the sea. But I prefer the first, which, indeed, is
the most probable derivation. For every walk is a sort of crusade,
preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer
this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels.

It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers,
nowadays, who undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises.
Our expeditions are but tours, and come round again at evening to
the old hearthside from which we set out. Half the walk is but
retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walk,
perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return,
prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our
desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and
brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see
them again — if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and
settled all your affairs, and are a free man — then you are ready for
a walk.

To come down to my own experience, my companion and I, for I
sometimes have a companion, take pleasure in fancying ourselves
knights of a new, or rather an old, order — not Equestrians or
Chevaliers, not Ritters or Riders, but Walkers, a still more ancient
and honorable class, I trust. The Chivalric and heroic spirit which
once belonged to the Rider seems now to reside in, or perchance to
have subsided into, the Walker — not the Knight, but Walker,
Errant. He is a sort of fourth estate, outside of Church and State
and People.

We have felt that we almost alone hereabouts practiced this noble
art; though, to tell the truth, at least if their own assertions are to
be received, most of my townsmen would fain walk sometimes, as I
do, but they cannot. No wealth can buy the requisite leisure,
freedom, and independence which are the capital in this profession.
It comes only by the grace of God. It requires a direct dispensation
from Heaven to become a walker. You must be born into the family
of the Walkers. Ambulator nascitur, non fit. Some of my
townsmen, it is true, can remember and have described to me some
walks which they took ten years ago, in which they were so blessed
as to lose themselves for half an hour in the woods; but I know
very well that they have confined themselves to the highway ever
since, whatever pretensions they may make to belong to this select
class. No doubt they were elevated for a moment as by the
reminiscence of a previous state of existence, when even they were
foresters and outlaws.

“When he came to grene wode,
In a mery mornynge,
There he herde the notes small
Of byrdes mery syngynge.

“It is ferre gone, sayd Robyn,
That I was last here;
Me Lyste a lytell for to shote
At the donne dere.”

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend
four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than
that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields,
absolutely free from all worldly engagements. You may safely say,
A penny for your thoughts, or a thousand pounds. When sometimes
I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their
shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting
with crossed legs, so many of them — as if the legs were made to
sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon — I think that they deserve
some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.

I, who cannot stay in my chamber for a single day without
acquiring some rust, and when sometimes I have stolen forth for a
walk at the eleventh hour, or four o’clock in the afternoon, too late
to redeem the day, when the shades of night were already beginning
to be mingled with the daylight, have felt as if I had committed
some sin to be atoned for — I confess that I am astonished at the
power of endurance, to say nothing of the moral insensibility, of
my neighbors who confine themselves to shops and offices the
whole day for weeks and months, aye, and years almost together. I
know not what manner of stuff they are of, sitting there now at
three o’clock in the afternoon, as if it were three o’clock in the
morning. Bonaparte may talk of the three-o’clock- in-the-morning
courage, but it is nothing to the courage which can sit down
cheerfully at this hour in the afternoon over against one’s self
whom you have known all the morning, to starve out a garrison to
whom you are bound by such strong ties of sympathy. I wonder
that about this time, or say between four and five o’clock in the
afternoon, too late for the morning papers and too early for the
evening ones, there is not a general explosion heard up and down
the street, scattering a legion of antiquated and house-bred notions
and whims to the four winds for an airing — and so the evil cure
itself.

How womankind, who are confined to the house still more than
men, stand it I do not know; but I have ground to suspect that most
of them do not stand it at all. When, early in a summer afternoon,
we have been shaking the dust of the village from the skirts of our
garments, making haste past those houses with purely Doric or
Gothic fronts, which have such an air of repose about them, my
companion whispers that probably about these times their
occupants are all gone to bed. Then it is that I appreciate the
beauty and the glory of architecture, which itself never turns in, but
forever stands out and erect, keeping watch over the slumberers.

No doubt temperament, and, above all, age, have a good deal to do
with it. As a man grows older, his ability to sit still and follow
indoor occupations increases. He grows vespertinal in his habits as
the evening of life approaches, till at last he comes forth only just
before sundown, and gets all the walk that he requires in half an
hour.

But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking
exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated
hours — as the Swinging of dumb- bells or chairs; but is itself the
enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise, go
in search of the springs of life. Think of a man’s swinging
dumbbells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in
far-off pastures unsought by him!

Moreover, you must walk like a camel, which is said to be the only
beast which ruminates when walking. When a traveler asked
Wordsworth’s servant to show him her master’s study, she
answered, “Here is his library, but his study is out of doors.”

Living much out of doors, in the sun and wind, will no doubt
produce a certain roughness of character — will cause a thicker
cuticle to grow over some of the finer qualities of our nature, as on
the face and hands, or as severe manual labor robs the hands of
some of their delicacy of touch. So staying in the house, on the
other hand, may produce a softness and smoothness, not to say
thinness of skin, accompanied by an increased sensibility to certain
impressions. Perhaps we should be more susceptible to some
influences important to our intellectual and moral growth, if the
sun had shone and the wind blown on us a little less; and no doubt
it is a nice matter to proportion rightly the thick and thin skin. But
methinks that is a scurf that will fall off fast enough — that the
natural remedy is to be found in the proportion which the night
bears to the day, the winter to the summer, thought to experience.
There will be so much the more air and sunshine in our thoughts.
The callous palms of the laborer are conversant with finer tissues
of self-respect and heroism, whose touch thrills the heart, than the
languid fingers of idleness. That is mere sentimentality that lies
abed by day and thinks itself white, far from the tan and callus of
experience.

When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods: what
would become of us, if we walked only in a garden or a mall? Even
some sects of philosophers have felt the necessity of importing the
woods to themselves, since they did not go to the woods. “They
planted groves and walks of Platanes,” where they took subdiales
ambulationes
in porticos open to the air. Of course it is of no use to
direct our steps to the woods, if they do not carry us thither. I am
alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods
bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk I would
fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to
Society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the
village. The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not
where my body is — I am out of my senses. In my walks I would
fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I
am thinking of something out of the woods? I suspect myself, and
cannot help a shudder when I find myself so implicated even in
what are called good works — for this may sometimes happen.

My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many
years I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several
days together, I have not yet exhausted them. An absolutely new
prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon.
Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country
as I expect ever to see. A single farmhouse which I had not seen
before is sometimes as good as the dominions of the King of
Dahomey. There is in fact a sort of harmony discoverable between
the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles’ radius,
or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the threescore years and ten
of human life. It will never become quite familiar to you.

Nowadays almost all man’s improvements, so called, as the
building of houses and the cutting down of the forest and of all
large trees, simply deform the landscape, and make it more and
more tame and cheap. A people who would begin by burning the
fences and let the forest stand! I saw the fences half consumed,
their ends lost in the middle of the prairie, and some worldly miser
with a surveyor looking after his bounds, while heaven had taken
place around him, and he did not see the angels going to and fro,
but was looking for an old post-hole in the midst of paradise. I
looked again, and saw him standing in the middle of a boggy
Stygian fen, surrounded by devils, and he had found his bounds
without a doubt, three little stones, where a stake had been driven,
and looking nearer, I saw that the Prince of Darkness was his
surveyor.

I can easily walk ten, fifteen, twenty, any number of miles,
commencing at my own door, without going by any house, without
crossing a road except where the fox and the mink do: first along
by the river, and then the brook, and then the meadow and the
woodside. There are square miles in my vicinity which have no
inhabitant. From many a hill I can see civilization and the abodes
of man afar. The farmers and their works are scarcely more
obvious than woodchucks and their burrows. Man and his affairs,
church and state and school, trade and commerce, and
manufactures and agriculture even politics, the most alarming of
them all — I am pleased to see how little space they occupy in the
landscape. Politics is but a narrow field, and that still narrower
highway yonder leads to it. I sometimes direct the traveler thither.
If you would go to the political world, follow the great road, follow
that market-man, keep his dust in your eyes, and it will lead you
straight to it; for it, too, has its place merely, and does not occupy
all space. I pass from it as from a bean field into the forest, and it
is forgotten. In one half-hour I can walk off to some portion of the
earth’s surface where a man does not stand from one year’s end to
another, and there, consequently, politics are not, for they are but
as the cigar-smoke of a man.

The village is the place to which the roads tend, a sort of expansion
of the highway, as a lake of a river. It is the body of which roads
are the arms and legs — a trivial or quadrivial place, the
thoroughfare and ordinary of travelers. The word is from the Latin
villa which together with via, a way, or more anciently ved and
vella, Varro derives from veho, to carry, because the villa is the
place to and from which things are carried. They who got their
living by teaming were said vellaturam facere. Hence, too, the
Latin word vilis and our vile, also villain. This suggests what kind
of degeneracy villagers are liable to. They are wayworn by the
travel that goes by and over them, without traveling themselves.

Some do not walk at all; others walk in the highways; a few walk
across lots. Roads are made for horses and men of business. I do
not travel in them much, comparatively, because I am not in a
hurry to get to any tavern or grocery or livery-stable or depot to
which they lead. I am a good horse to travel, but not from choice a
roadster. The landscape-painter uses the figures of men to mark a
road. He would not make that use of my figure. I walk out into a
nature such as the old prophets and poets, Menu, Moses, Homer,
Chaucer, walked in. You may name it America, but it is not
America; neither Americus Vespueius, nor Columbus, nor the rest
were the discoverers of it. There is a truer amount of it in
mythology than in any history of America, so called, that I have
seen.

However, there are a few old roads that may be trodden with
profit, as if they led somewhere now that they are nearly
discontinued. There is the Old Marlborough Road, which does not
go to Marlborough now, me- thinks, unless that is Marlborough
where it carries me. I am the bolder to speak of it here, because I
presume that there are one or two such roads in every town.

THE OLD MARLBOROUGH ROAD

Where they once dug for money,
But never found any;
Where sometimes Martial Miles
Singly files,
And Elijah Wood,
I fear for no good:
No other man,
Save Elisha Dugan —
O man of wild habits,
Partridges and rabbits
Who hast no cares
Only to set snares,
Who liv’st all alone,
Close to the bone
And where life is sweetest
Constantly eatest.
When the spring stirs my blood
With the instinct to travel,
I can get enough gravel
On the Old Marlborough Road.
Nobody repairs it,
For nobody wears it;
It is a living way,
As the Christians say.
Not many there be
Who enter therein,
Only the guests of the
Irishman Quin.
What is it, what is it
But a direction out there,
And the bare possibility
Of going somewhere?
Great guide-boards of stone,
But travelers none;
Cenotaphs of the towns
Named on their crowns.
It is worth going to see
Where you might be.
What king Did the thing,
I am still wondering;
Set up how or when,
By what selectmen,
Gourgas or Lee,
Clark or Darby?
They’re a great endeavor
To be something forever;
Blank tablets of stone,
Where a traveler might groan,
And in one sentence
Grave all that is known
Which another might read,
In his extreme need.
I know one or two
Lines that would do,
Literature that might stand
All over the land
Which a man could remember
Till next December,
And read again in the spring,
After the thawing.
If with fancy unfurled
You leave your abode
You may go round the world
By the Old Marlborough Road.

At present, in this vicinity, the best part of the land is not private
property; the landscape is not owned, and the walker enjoys
comparative freedom. But possibly the day will come when it will
be partitioned off into so-called pleasure-grounds, in which a few
will take a narrow and exclusive pleasure only — when fences shall
be multiplied, and man-traps and other engines invented to confine
men to the public road, and walking over the surface of God’s earth
shall be construed to mean trespassing on some gentleman’s
grounds. To enjoy a thing exclusively is commonly to exclude
yourself from the true enjoyment of it. Let us improve our
opportunities, then, before the evil days come.

What is it that makes it so hard sometimes to determine whither we
will walk? I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature,
which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright. It is not
indifferent to us which way we walk. There is a right way; but we
are very liable from heedlessness and stupidity to take the wrong
one. We would fain take that walk, never yet taken by us through
this actual world, which is perfectly symbolical of the path which
we love to travel in the interior and ideal world; and sometimes, no
doubt, we find it difficult to choose our direction, because it does
not yet exist distinctly in our idea.

When I go out of the house for a walk, uncertain as yet whither I
will bend my steps, and submit myself to my instinct to decide for
me, I find, strange and whimsical as it may seem, that I finally and
inevitably settle southwest, toward some particular wood or
meadow or deserted pasture or hill in that direction. My needle is
slow to settle, varies a few degrees, and does not always point due
southwest, it is true, and it has good authority for this variation,
but it always settles between west and south-southwest. The future
lies that way to me, and the earth seems more unexhausted and
richer on that side. The outline which would bound my walks
would be, not a circle, but a parabola, or rather like one of those
cometary orbits which have been thought to be non-returning
curves, in this case opening westward, in which my house occupies
the place of the sun. I turn round and round irresolute sometimes
for a quarter of an hour, until I decide, for a thousandth time, that I
will walk into the southwest or west. Eastward I go only by force;
but westward I go free. Thither no business leads me. It is hard for
me to believe that I shall find fair landscapes or sufficient wildness
and freedom behind the eastern horizon. I am not excited by the
prospect of a walk thither; but I believe that the forest which I see
in the western horizon stretches uninterruptedly toward the setting
sun, and there are no towns nor cities in it of enough consequence
to disturb me. Let me live where I will, on this side is the city, on
that the wilderness, and ever I am leaving the city more and more,
and withdrawing into the wilderness. I should not lay so much
stress on this fact, if I did not believe that something like this is the
prevailing tendency of my countrymen. I must walk toward
Oregon, and not toward Europe. And that way the nation is
moving, and I may say that mankind progress from east to west.
Within a few years we have witnessed the phenomenon of a
southeastward migration, in the settlement of Australia; but this
affects us as a retrograde movement, and, judging from the moral
and physical character of the first generation of Australians, has
not yet proved a successful experiment. The eastern Tartars think
that there is nothing west beyond Thibet. “The world ends there,”
say they; “beyond there is nothing but a shoreless sea.” It is
unmitigated East where they live.

We go eastward to realize historyand study the works of art and
literature, retracing the steps of the race; we go westward as into
the future, with a spirit of enterprise and adventure. The Atlantic
is a Lethean stream, in our passage over which we have had an
opportunity to forget the Old World and its institutions. If we do
not succeed this time, there is perhaps one more chance for the race
left before it arrives on the banks of the Styx; and that is in the Lethe
of the Pacific, which is three times as wide.

I know not how significant it is, or how far it is an evidence of
singularity, that an individual should thus consent in his pettiest
walk with the general movement of the race; but I know that
something akin to the migratory instinct in birds and
quadrupeds — which, in some instances, is known to have affected
the squirrel tribe, impelling them to a general and mysterious
movement, in which they were seen, say some, crossing the
broadest rivers, each on its particular chip, with its tail raised for a
sail, and bridging narrower streams with their dead — that
something like the furor which affects the domestic cattle in the
spring, and which is referred to a worm in their tails, affects both
nations and individuals, either perennially or from time to time. Not
a flock of wild geese cackles over our town, but it to some extent
unsettles the value of real estate here, and, if I were a broker, I
should probably take that disturbance into account.

“Than longen folk to gon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken strange strondes.”

Every sunset which I witness inspires me with the desire to go to a
West as distant and as fair as that into which the sun goes down.
He appears to migrate westward daily, and tempt us to follow him.
He is the Great Western Pioneer whom the nations follow. We
dream all night of those mountain-ridges in the horizon, though
they may be of vapor only, which were last gilded by his rays. The
island of Atlantis, and the islands and gardens of the Hesperides, a
sort of terrestrial paradise, appear to have been the Great West of
the ancients, enveloped in mystery and poetry. Who has not seen in
imagination, when looking into the sunset sky, the gardens of the
Hesperides, and the foundation of all those fables?

Columbus felt the westward tendency more strongly than any
before. He obeyed it, and found a New World for Castile and Leon.
The herd of men in those days scented fresh pastures from afar,

“And now the sun had stretched out all the hills,
And now was dropped into the western bay;
At last he rose, and twitched his mantle blue;
Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new.”

Where on the globe can there be found an area of equal extent with
that occupied by the bulk of our States, so fertile and so rich and
varied in its productions, and at the same time so habitable by the
European, as this is? Michaux, who knew but part of them, says
that “the species of large trees are much more numerous in North
America than in Europe; in the United States there are more than
one hundred and forty species that exceed thirty feet in height; in
France there are but thirty that attain this size.” Later botanists
more than confirm his observations. Humboldt came to America to
realize his youthful dreams of a tropical vegetation, and he beheld
it in its greatest perfection in the primitive forests of the Amazon,
the most gigantic wilderness on the earth, which he has so
eloquently described. The geographer Guyot, himself a European,
goes farther — farther than I am ready to follow him; yet not when
he says: “As the plant is made for the animal, as the vegetable
world is made for the animal world, America is made for the man
of the Old World…. The man of the Old World sets out upon his
way. Leaving the highlands of Asia, he descends from station to
station towards Europe. Each of his steps is marked by a new
civilization superior to the preceding, by a greater power of
development. Arrived at the Atlantic, he pauses on the shore of this
unknown ocean, the bounds of which he knows not, and turns upon
his footprints for an instant.” When he has exhausted the rich soil
of Europe, and reinvigorated himself, “then recommences his
adventurous career westward as in the earliest ages.” So far Guyot.

From this western impulse coming in contact with the barrier of the
Atlantic sprang the commerce and enterprise of modern times. The
younger Michaux, in his Travels West of the Alleghanies in 1802,
says that the common inquiry in the newly settled West was,
“‘From what part of the world have you come?’ As if these vast and
fertile regions would naturally be the place of meeting and common
country of all the inhabitants of the globe.”

To use an obsolete Latin word, I might say, Ex Oriente lux; ex
Occidente
FRUX. From the East light; from the West fruit.

Sir Franeis Head, an English traveler and a Governor- General of
Canada, tells us that “in both the northern and southern
hemispheres of the New World, Nature has not only outlined her
works on a larger scale, but has painted the whole picture with
brighter and more costly colors than she used in delineating and in
beautifying the Old World…. The heavens of America appear
infinitely higher, the sky is bluer, the air is fresher, the cold is
intenser, the moon looks larger, the stars are brighter the thunder is
louder, the lightning is vivider, the wind is stronger, the rain is
heavier, the mountains are higher, the rivers longer, the forests
bigger, the plains broader.” This statement will do at least to set
against Buffon’s account of this part of the world and its
productions.

Linnaeus said long ago, “Nescio quae facies laeta, glabra plantis
Americanis
” (I know not what there is of joyous and smooth in the
aspect of American plants); and I think that in this country there
are no, or at most very few, Africanae bestiae, African beasts, as
the Romans called them, and that in this respect also it is peculiarly
fitted for the habitation of man. We are told that within three miles
of the center of the East-Indian city of Singapore, some of the
inhabitants are annually carried off by tigers; but the traveler can
lie down in the woods at night almost anywhere in North America
without fear of wild beasts.

These are encouraging testimonies. If the moon looks larger here
than in Europe, probably the sun looks larger also. If the heavens
of America appear infinitely higher, and the stars brighter, I trust
that these facts are symbolical of the height to which the
philosophy and poetry and religion of her inhabitants may one day
soar. At length, perchance, the immaterial heaven will appear as
much higher to the American mind, and the intimations that star it
as much brighter. For I believe that climate does thus react on
man — as there is something in the mountain air that feeds the spirit
and inspires. Will not man grow to greater perfection intellectually
as well as physically under these influences? Or is it unimportant
how many foggy days there are in his life? I trust that we shall be
more imaginative, that our thoughts will be clearer, fresher, and
more ethereal, as our sky — our understanding more comprehensive
and broader, like our plains — our intellect generally on a grander
seale, like our thunder and lightning, our rivers and mountains and
forests — and our hearts shall even correspond in breadth and depth
and grandeur to our inland seas. Perchance there will appear to the
traveler something, he knows not what, of laeta and glabra, of
joyous and serene, in our very faces. Else to what end does the
world go on, and why was America discovered?
To Americans I hardly need to say,

“Westward the star of empire takes its way.”

As a true patriot, I should be ashamed to think that Adam in
paradise was more favorably situated on the whole than the
backwoodsman in this country.

Our sympathies in Massachusetts are not confined to New
England; though we may be estranged from the South, we
sympathize with the West. There is the home of the younger sons,
as among the Scandinavians they took to the sea for their
inheritance. It is too late to be studying Hebrew; it is more
important to understand even the slang of today.

Some months ago I went to see a panorama of the Rhine. It was
like a dream of the Middle Ages. I floated down its historic stream
in something more than imagination, under bridges built by the
Romans, and repaired by later heroes, past cities and castles whose
very names were music to my ears, and each of which was the
subject of a legend. There were Ehrenbreitstein and Rolandseck
and Coblentz, which I knew only in history. They were ruins that
interested me chiefly. There seemed to come up from its waters and
its vine-clad hills and valleys a hushed music as of Crusaders
departing for the Holy Land. I floated along under the spell of
enchantment, as if I had been transported to an heroic age, and
breathed an atmosphere of chivalry.

Soon after, I went to see a panorama of the Mississippi, and as I
worked my way up the river in the light of today, and saw the
steamboats wooding up, counted the rising cities, gazed on the
fresh ruins of Nauvoo, beheld the Indians moving west across the
stream, and, as before I had looked up the Moselle, now looked up
the Ohio and the Missouri and heard the legends of Dubuque and
of Wenona’s Cliff — still thinking more of the future than of the past
or present — I saw that this was a Rhine stream of a different kind;
that the foundations of castles were yet to be laid, and the famous
bridges were yet to be thrown over the river; and I felt that this was
the heroic age itself
, though we know it not, for the hero is
commonly the simplest and obscurest of men.

The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and
what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the
preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in
search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plow and
sail for it. From the forest and wilderness come the tonics and
barks which brace mankind. Our ancestors were savages. The story
of Romulus and Remus being suckled by a wolf is not a
meaningless fable. The founders of every state which has risen to
eminence have drawn their nourishment and vigor from a similar
wild source. It was because the children of the Empire were not
suckled by the wolf that they were conquered and displaced by the
children of the northern forests who were.

I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which
the corn grows. We require an infusion of hemlock, spruce or arbor
vitae in our tea. There is a difference between eating and drinking
for strength and from mere gluttony. The Hottentots eagerly devour
the marrow of the koodoo and other antelopes raw, as a matter of
course. Some of our northern Indians eat raw the marrow of the
Arctic reindeer, as well as various other parts, including the
summits of the antlers, as long as they are soft. And herein,
perchance, they have stolen a march on the cooks of Paris. They
get what usually goes to feed the fire. This is probably better than
stall-fed beef and slaughterhouse pork to make a man of. Give me a
wildness whose glance no civilization can endure — as if we lived
on the marrow of koodoos devoured raw.

There are some intervals which border the strain of the wood
thrush, to which I would migrate — wild lands where no settler has
squatted; to which, methinks, I am already acclimated.

The African hunter Cumming tells us that the skin of the eland, as
well as that of most other antelopes just killed, emits the most
delicious perfume of trees and grass. I would have every man so
much like a wild antelope, so much a part and parcel of nature, that
his very person should thus sweetly advertise our senses of his
presence, and remind us of those parts of nature which he most
haunts. I feel no disposition to be satirical, when the trapper’s coat
emits the odor of musquash even; it is a sweeter scent to me than
that which commonly exhales from the merchant’s or the scholar’s
garments. When I go into their wardrobes and handle their
vestments, I am reminded of no grassy plains and flowery meads
which they have frequented, but of dusty merchants’ exchanges and
libraries rather.

A tanned skin is something more than respectable, and perhaps
olive is a fitter color than white for a man — a denizen of the
woods. “The pale white man!” I do not wonder that the African
pitied him. Darwin the naturalist says, “A white man bathing by the
side of a Tahitian was like a plant bleached by the gardener’s art,
compared with a fine, dark green one, growing vigorously in the
open fields.”
Ben Jonson exclaims,

“How near to good is what is fair!”

So I would say,

“How near to good is what is wild!

Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the wildest. Not yet
subdued to man, its presence refreshes him. One who pressed
forward incessantly and never rested from his labors, who grew
fast and made infinite demands on life, would always find himself
in a new country or wilderness, and surrounded by the raw material
of life. He would be climbing over the prostrate stems of primitive
forest-trees.

Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields,
not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps.
When, formerly, I have analyzed my partiality for some farm which
I had contemplated purchasing, I have frequently found that I was
attracted solely by a few square rods of impermeable and
unfathomable bog — a natural sink in one corner of it. That was the
jewel which dazzled me. I derive more of my subsistence from the
swamps which surround my native town than from the cultivated
gardens in the village. There are no richer parterres to my eyes than
the dense beds of dwarf andromeda (Cassandra calyculata) which
cover these tender places on the earth’s surface. Botany cannot go
farther than tell me the names of the shrubs which grow there — the
high blueberry, panicled andromeda, lambkill, azalea, and
rhodora — all standing in the quaking sphagnum. I often think that I
should like to have my house front on this mass of dull red bushes,
omitting other flower plots and borders, transplanted spruce and
trim box, even graveled walks — to have this fertile spot under my
windows, not a few imported barrowfuls of soil only to cover the
sand which was thrown out in digging the cellar. Why not put my
house, my parlor, behind this plot, instead of behind that meager
assemblage of curiosities, that poor apology for a Nature and Art,
which I call my front yard? It is an effort to clear up and make a
decent appearance when the carpenter and mason have departed,
though done as much for the passer-by as the dweller within. The
most tasteful front-yard fence was never an agreeable object of
study to me; the most elaborate ornaments, acorn tops, or what not,
soon wearied and disgusted me. Bring your sills up to the very edge
of the swamp, then (though it may not be the best place for a dry
cellar), so that there be no access on that side to citizens. Front
yards are not made to walk in, but, at most, through, and you could
go in the back way.

Yes, though you may think me perverse, if it were proposed to me
to dwell in the neighborhood of the most beautiful garden that ever
human art contrived, or else of a Dismal Swamp, I should certainly
decide for the swamp. How vain, then, have been all your labors,
citizens, for me!

My spirits infallibly rise in proportion to the outward dreariness.
Give me the ocean, the desert, or the wilderness! In the desert, pure
air and solitude compensate for want of moisture and fertility. The
traveler Burton says of it: “Your morale improves; you become
frank and cordial, hospitable and single-minded…. In the desert,
spirituous liquors excite only disgust. There is a keen enjoyment in
a mere animal existence.” They who have been traveling long on
the steppes of Tartary say, “On re-entering cultivated lands, the
agitation, perplexity, and turmoil of civilization oppressed and
suffocated us; the air seemed to fail us, and we felt every moment
as if about to die of asphyxia.” When I would recreate myself, I
seek the darkest woods the thickest and most interminable and, to
the citizen, most dismal, swamp. I enter a swamp as a sacred place,
a sanctum sanctorum. There is the strength, the marrow, of Nature.
The wildwood covers the virgin mould, and the same soil is good
for men and for trees. A man’s health requires as many acres of
meadow to his prospect as his farm does loads of muck. There are
the strong meats on which he feeds. A town is saved, not more by
the righteous men in it than by the woods and swamps that
surround it. A township where one primitive forest waves above
while another primitive forest rots below — such a town is fitted to
raise not only corn and potatoes, but poets and philosophers for the
coming ages. In such a soil grew Homer and Confucius and the
rest, and out of such a wilderness comes the Reformer eating
locusts and wild honey.

To preserve wild animals implies generally the creation of a forest
for them to dwell in or resort to. So it is with man. A hundred years
ago they sold bark in our streets peeled from our own woods. In the
very aspect of those primitive and rugged trees there was,
methinks, a tanning principle which hardened and consolidated the
fibers of men’s thoughts. Ah! already I shudder for these
comparatively degenerate days of my native village, when you
cannot collect a load of bark of good thickness, and we no longer
produce tar and turpentine.

The civilized nations — Greece, Rome, England — have been
sustained by the primitive forests which anciently rotted where they
stand. They survive as long as the soil is not exhausted. Alas for
human culture! little is to be expected of a nation, when the
vegetable mould is exhausted, and it is compelled to make manure
of the bones of its fathers. There the poet sustains himself merely
by his own superfluous fat, and the philosopher comes down on his
marrow-bones.

It is said to be the task of the American “to work
the virgin soil,” and that “agriculture here already assumes
proportions unknown everywhere else.” I think that the farmer
displaces the Indian even because he redeems the meadow, and so
makes himself stronger and in some respects more natural. I was
surveying for a man the other day a single straight line one hundred
and thirty- two rods long, through a swamp at whose entrance
might have been written the words which Dante read over the
entrance to the infernal regions, “Leave all hope, ye that
enter” — that is, of ever getting out again; where at one time I saw
my employer actually up to his neck and swimming for his life in
his property, though it was still winter. He had another similar
swamp which I could not survey at all, because it was completely
under water, and nevertheless, with regard to a third swamp, which
I did survey from a distance, he remarked to me, true to his
instincts, that he would not part with it for any consideration, on
account of the mud which it contained. And that man intends to put
a girdling ditch round the whole in the course of forty months, and
so redeem it by the magic of his spade. I refer to him only as the
type of a class.

The weapons with which we have gained our most important
victories, which should be handed down as heirlooms from father
to son, are not the sword and the lance, but the bushwhack, the
turf-cutter, the spade, and the bog hoe, rusted with the blood of
many a meadow, and begrimed with the dust of many a hard-
fought field. The very winds blew the Indian’s cornfield into the
meadow, and pointed out the way which he had not the skill to
follow. He had no better implement with which to intrench himself
in the land than a clam- shell. But the farmer is armed with plow
and spade.

In literature it is only the wild that attracts us. Dullness is but
another name for tameness. It is the uncivilized free and wild
thinking in Hamlet and the Iliad, in all the scriptures and
mythologies, not learned in the schools, that delights us. As the
wild duck is more swift and beautiful than the tame, so is the
wild — the mallard — thought, which ‘mid falling dews wings its
way above the fens. A truly good book is something as natural, and
as unexpectedly and unaccountably fair and perfect, as a
wild-flower discovered on the prairies of the West or in the jungles
of the East. Genius is a light which makes the darkness visible, like
the lightning’s flash, which perchance shatters the temple of
knowledge itself — and not a taper lighted at the hearthstone of the
race, which pales before the light of common day.

English literature, from the days of the minstrels to the Lake
PoetsVhaueer and Spenser and Milton, and even Shakespeare,
included — breathes no quite fresh and, in this sense, wild strain. It
is an essentially tame and civilized literature, reflecting Greece and
Rome. Her wilderness is a greenwood, her wild man a Robin Hood.
There is plenty of genial love of Nature, but not so much of Nature
herself. Her Chronicles inform us when her wild animals, but not
when the wild man in her, became extinct.

The science of Humboldt is one thing, poetry is another thing. The
poet today, notwithstanding all the discoveries of science, and the
accumulated learning of mankind, enjoys no advantage over
Homer.

Where is the literature which gives expression to Nature? He would
be a poet who could impress the winds and streams into his service,
to speak for him; who nailed words to their primitive senses, as
farmers drive down stakes in the spring, which the frost has
heaved; who derived his words as often as he used
them — transplanted them to his page with earth adhering to their
roots; whose words were so true and fresh and natural that they
would appear to expand like the buds at the approach of spring,
though they lay half smothered between two musty leaves in a
library — aye, to bloom and bear fruit there, after their kind,
annually, for the faithful reader, in sympathy with surrounding
Nature.

I do not know of any poetry to quote which adequately expresses
this yearning for the Wild. Approached from this side, the best
poetry is tame. I do not know where to find in any literature,
ancient or modern, any account which contents me of that Nature
with which even I am acquainted. You will perceive that I demand
something which no Augustan nor Elizabethan age, which no
culture, in short, can give. Mythology comes nearer to it than
anything. How much more fertile a Nature, at least, has Grecian
mythology its root in than English literature! Mythology is the crop
which the Old World bore before its soil was exhausted, before the
fancy and imagination were affected with blight; and which it still
bears, wherever its pristine vigor is unabated. All other literatures
endure only as the elms which overshadow our houses; but this is
like the great dragon-tree of the Western Isles, as old as mankind,
and, whether that does or not, will endure as long; for the decay of
other literatures makes the soil in which it thrives.

The West is preparing to add its fables to those of the East. The
valleys of the Ganges, the Nile, and the Shine having yielded their
crop, it remains to be seen what the valleys of the Amazon, the
Plate, the Orinoco, the St. Lawrence, and the Mississippi will
produce. Perchance, when, in the course of ages, American liberty
has become a fiction of the past — as it is to some extent a fiction of
the present — the poets of the world will be inspired by American
mythology.

The wildest dreams of wild men, even, are not the less true, though
they may not recommend themselves to the sense which is most
common among Englishmen and Americans today. It is not every
truth that recommends itself to the Common sense. Nature has a
place for the wild Clematis as well as for the Cabbage. Some
expressions of truth are reminiscent, others merely sensible, as the
phrase is, others prophetic. Some forms of disease, even, may
prophesy forms of health. The geologist has discovered that the
figures of serpents, griffins, flying dragons, and other fanciful
embellishments of heraldry, have their prototypes in the forms of
fossil species which were extinct before man was created, and
hence “indicate a faint and shadowy knowledge of a previous state
of organic existence.” The Hindus dreamed that the earth rested on
an elephant, and the elephant on a tortoise, and the tortoise on a
serpent; and though it may be an unimportant coincidence, it will
not be out of place here to state, that a fossil tortoise has lately
been discovered in Asia large enough to support an elephant. I
confess that I am partial to these wild fancies, which transcend the
order of time and development. They are the sublimest recreation of
the intellect. The partridge loves peas, but not those that go with
her into the pot.

In short, all good things are wild and free. There is something in a
strain of music, whether produced by an instrument or by the
human voice — take the sound of a bugle in a summer night, for
instance-which by its wildness, to speak without satire, reminds me
of the cries emitted by wild beasts in their native forests. It is so
much of their wildness as I can understand. Give me for my friends
and neighbors wild men, not tame ones. The wildness of the savage
is but a faint symbol of the awful ferity with which good men and
lovers meet.

I love even to see the domestic animals reassert their native
rights — any evidence that they have not wholly lost their original
wild habits and vigor; as when my neighbor’s cow breaks out of her
pasture early in the spring and boldly swims the river, a cold, gray
tide, twenty-five or thirty rods wide, swollen by the melted snow. It
is the buffalo crossing the Mississippi. This exploit confers some
dignity on the herd in my eyes — already dignified. The seeds of
instinct are preserved under the thick hides of cattle and horses, like
seeds in the bowels of the earth, an indefinite period.

Any sportiveness in cattle is unexpected. I saw one day a herd of a
dozen bullocks and cows running about and frisking in unwieldy
sport, like huge rats, even like kittens. They shook their heads,
raised their tails, and rushed up and down a hill, and I perceived by
their horns, as well as by their activity, their relation to the deer
tribe. But, alas! a sudden loud Whoa! would have damped their
ardor at once, reduced them from venison to beef, and stiffened
their sides and sinews like the locomotive. Who but the Evil One
has cried “Whoa!” to mankind? Indeed, the life of cattle, like that of
many men, is but a sort of locomotiveness; they move a side at a
time, and man, by his machinery, is meeting the horse and the ox
halfway. Whatever part the whip has touched is thenceforth
palsied. Who would ever think of a side of any of the supple cat
tribe, as we speak of a side of beef?

I rejoice that horses and steers have to be broken before they can be
made the slaves of men, and that men themselves have some wild
oats still left to sow before they become submissive members of
society. Undoubtedly, all men are not equally fit subjects for
civilization; and because the majority, like dogs and sheep, are
tame by inherited disposition, this is no reason why the others
should have their natures broken that they may be reduced to the
same level. Men are in the main alike, but they were made several
in order that they might be various. If a low use is to be served, one
man will do nearly or quite as well as another; if a high one,
individual excellence is to be regarded. Any man can stop a hole to
keep the wind away, but no other man could serve so rare a use as
the author of this illustration did. Confucius says, “The skins of the
tiger and the leopard, when they are tanned, are as the skins of the
dog and the sheep tanned.” But it is not the part of a true culture to
tame tigers, any more than it is to make sheep ferocious; and
tanning their skins for shoes is not the best use to which they can
be put.

When looking over a list of men’s names in a foreign language, as
of military officers, or of authors who have written on a particular
subject, I am reminded once more that there is nothing in a name.
The name Menschikoff, for instance, has nothing in it to my ears
more human than a whisker, and it may belong to a rat. As the
names of the Poles and Russians are to us, so are ours to them. It is
as if they had been named by the child’s rigmarole, Iery fiery ichery
van, tittle-tol-tan
. I see in my mind a herd of wild creatures
swarming over the earth, and to each the herdsman has affixed
some barbarous sound in his own dialect. The names of men are, of
course, as cheap and meaningless as Bose and Tray, the names of
dogs.

Methinks it would be some advantage to philosophy if men were
named merely in the gross, as they are known. It would be
necessary only to know the genus and perhaps the race or variety,
to know the individual. We are not prepared to believe that every
private soldier in a Roman army had a name of his own — because
we have not supposed that he had a character of his own.

At present our only true names are nicknames. I knew a boy who,
from his peculiar energy, was called “Buster” by his playmates,
and this rightly supplanted his Christian name. Some travelers tell
us that an Indian had no name given him at first, but earned it, and
his name was his fame; and among some tribes he acquired a new
name with every new exploit. It is pitiful when a man bears a name
for convenience merely, who has earned neither name nor fame.

I will not allow mere names to make distinctions for me, but still
see men in herds for all them. A familiar name cannot make a man
less strange to me. It may be given to a savage who retains in secret
his own wild title earned in the woods. We have a wild savage in
us, and a savage name is perchance somewhere recorded as ours. I
see that my neighbor, who bears the familiar epithet William or
Edwin, takes it off with his jacket. It does not adhere to him when
asleep or in anger, or aroused by any passion or inspiration. I seem
to hear pronounced by some of his kin at such a time his original
wild name in some jaw-breaking or else melodious tongue.

Here is this vast, savage, hovering mother of ours, Nature, lying all
around, with such beauty, and such affection for her children, as
the leopard; and yet we are so early weaned from her breast to
society, to that culture which is exclusively an interaction of man
on man — a sort of breeding in and in, which produces at most a
merely English nobility, a civilization destined to have a speedy
limit.

In society, in the best institutions of men, it is easy to detect a
certain precocity. When we should still be growing children, we are
already little men. Give me a culture which imports much muck
from the meadows, and deepens the soil — not that which trusts to
heating manures, and improved implements and modes of culture
only!

Many a poor sore-eyed student that I have heard of would grow
faster, both intellectually and physically, if, instead of sitting up so
very late, he honestly slumbered a fool’s allowance.

There may be an excess even of informing light. Niepce, a
Frenchman, discovered “actinism,” that power in the sun’s rays
which produces a chemical effect; that granite rocks, and stone
structures, and statues of metal “are all alike destructively acted
upon during the hours of sunshine, and, but for provisions of
Nature no less wonderful, would soon perish under the delicate
touch of the most subtle of the agencies of the universe.” But he
observed that “those bodies which underwent this change during the
daylight possessed the power of restoring themselves to their
original conditions during the hours of night, when this excitement
was no longer influencing them.” Hence it has been inferred that
“the hours of darkness are as necessary to the inorganic creation as
we know night and sleep are to the organic kingdom.” Not even
does the moon shine every night, but gives place to darkness.

I would not have every man nor every part of a man cultivated, any
more than I would have every acre of earth cultivated: part will be
tillage, but the greater part will be meadow and forest, not only
serving an immediate use, but preparing a mould against a distant
future, by the annual decay of the vegetation which it supports.

There are other letters for the child to learn than those which
Cadmus invented. The Spaniards have a good term to express this
wild and dusky knowledge, Gramatica parda, tawny grammar, a
kind of mother-wit derived from that same leopard to which I have
referred.

We have heard of a Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.
It is said that knowledge is power, and the like. Methinks there is
equal need of a Society for the Diffusion of Useful Ignorance, what
we will call Beautiful Knowledge, a knowledge useful in a higher
sense: for what is most of our boasted so-called knowledge but a
conceit that we know something, which robs us of the advantage of
our actual ignorance? What we call knowledge is often our positive
ignorance; ignorance our negative knowledge. By long years of
patient industry and reading of the newspapers — for what are the
libraries of science but files of newspapers — a man accumulates a
myriad facts, lays them up in his memory, and then when in some
spring of his life he saunters abroad into the Great Fields of
thought, he, as it were, goes to grass like a horse and leaves all his
harness behind in the stable. I would say to the Society for the
Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, sometimes, Go to grass. You have
eaten hay long enough. The spring has come with its green crop.
The very cows are driven to their country pastures before the end
of May; though I have heard of one unnatural farmer who kept his
cow in the barn and fed her on hay all the year round. So,
frequently, the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge
treats its cattle.

A man’s ignorance sometimes is not only useful, but
beautiful — while his knowledge, so called, is oftentimes worse than
useless, besides being ugly. Which is the best man to deal with — he
who knows nothing about a subject, and, what is extremely rare,
knows that he knows nothing, or he who really knows something
about it, but thinks that he knows all?

My desire for knowledge is intermittent, but my desire to bathe my
head in atmospheres unknown to my feet is perennial and constant.
The highest that we can attain to is not Knowledge, but Sympathy
with Intelligence. I do not know that this higher knowledge amounts
to anything more definite than a novel and grand surprise on a
sudden revelation of the insufficiency of all that we called
Knowledge before — a discovery that there are more things in
heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy. It is the
lighting up of the mist by the sun. Man cannot know in any higher
sense than this, any more than he can look serenely and with
impunity in the face of the sun: greek1
“You will not perceive that, as perceiving a particular thing,” say the
Chaldean Oracles.

There is something servile in the habit of seeking after a law which
we may obey. We may study the laws of matter at and for our
convenience, but a successful life knows no law. It is an
unfortunate discovery certainly, that of a law which binds us where
we did not know before that we were bound. Live free, child of the
mist — and with respect to knowledge we are all children of the
mist. The man who takes the liberty to live is superior to all the
laws, by virtue of his relation to the lawmaker. “That is active
duty,” says the Vishnu Purana, “which is not for our bondage; that
is knowledge which is for our liberation: all other duty is good only
unto weariness; all other knowledge is only the Cleverness of an
artist.”

It is remarkable how few events or crises there are in our histories,
how little exercised we have been in our minds, how few
experiences we have had. I would fain be assured that I am
growing apace and rankly, though my very growth disturb this dull
equanimity — though it be with struggle through long, dark, muggy
nights or seasons of gloom. It would be well if all our lives were a
divine tragedy even, instead of this trivial comedy or farce. Dante,
Bunyan, and others appear to have been exercised in their minds
more than we: they were subjected to a kind of culture such as our
district schools and colleges do not contemplate. Even Mahomet,
though many may scream at his name, had a good deal more to to
live for, aye, and to die for, than they have commonly.

When, at rare intervals, some thought visits one, as perchance he is
walking on a railroad, then, indeed, the cars go by without his
hearing them. But soon, by some inexorable law, our life goes by
and the cars return.

“Gentle breeze, that wanderest unseen,
And bendest the thistles round Loira of storms,
Traveler of the windy glens,
Why hast thou left my ear so soon?”

While almost all men feel an attraction drawing them to society,
few are attracted strongly to Nature. In their reaction to Nature
men appear to me for the most part, notwithstanding their arts,
lower than the animals. It is not often a beautiful relation, as in the
case of the animals. How little appreciation of the beauty of the
land- scape there is among us! We have to be told that the Greeks
called the world greek2, Beauty, or Order, but we do not see
clearly why they did so, and we esteem it at best only a curious
philological fact.

For my part, I feel that with regard to Nature I live a sort of border
life, on the confines of a world into which I make occasional and
transient forays only, and my patriotism and allegiance to the state
into whose territories I seem to retreat are those of a moss-trooper.
Unto a life which I call natural I would gladly follow even a
will-o’-the-wisp through bogs and sloughs unimaginable, but no
moon nor firefly has shown me the causeway to it. Nature is a
personality so vast and universal that we have never seen one of
her features. The walker in the familiar fields which stretch around
my native town sometimes finds himself in another land than is
described in their owners’ deeds, as it were in some faraway field
on the confines of the actual Concord, where her jurisdiction
ceases, and the idea which the word Concord suggests ceases to be
suggested. These farms which I have myself surveyed, these
bounds which I have set up, appear dimly still as through a mist;
but they have no chemistry to fix them; they fade from the surface
of the glass, and the picture which the painter painted stands out
dimly from beneath. The world with which we are commonly
acquainted leaves no trace, and it will have no anniversary.

I took a walk on Spaulding’s Farm the other afternoon. I saw the
setting sun lighting up the opposite side of a stately pine wood. Its
golden rays straggled into the aisles of the wood as into some noble
hall. I was impressed as if some ancient and altogether admirable
and shining family had settled there in that part of the land called
Concord, unknown to me — to whom the sun was servant — who
had not gone into society in the village — who had not been called
on. I saw their park, their pleasure-ground, beyond through the
wood, in Spaulding’s cranberry-meadow. The pines furnished them
with gables as they grew. Their house was not obvious to vision;
the trees grew through it. I do not know whether I heard the sounds
of a suppressed hilarity or not. They seemed to recline on the
sunbeams. They have sons and daughters. They are quite well. The
farmer’s cart-path, which leads directly through their hall, does not
in the least put them out, as the muddy bottom of a pool is
sometimes seen through the reflected skies. They never heard of
Spaulding, and do not know that he is their
neighbor — notwithstanding I heard him whistle as he drove his
team through the house. Nothing can equal the serenity of their
lives. Their coat-of-arms is simply a lichen. I saw it painted on the
pines and oaks. Their attics were in the tops of the trees. They are
of no politics. There was no noise of labor. I did not perceive that
they were weaving or spinning. Yet I did detect, when the wind
lulled and hearing was done away, the finest imaginable sweet
musical hum — as of a distant hive in May — which perchance was
the sound of their thinking. They had no idle thoughts, and no one
without could see their work, for their industry was not as in knots
and excrescences embayed.

But I find it difficult to remember them. They fade irrevocably out
of my mind even now while I speak, and endeavor to recall them
and recollect myself. It is only after a long and serious effort to
recollect my best thoughts that I become again aware of their
cohabitancy. If it were not for such families as this, I think I should
move out of Concord.

We are accustomed to say in New England that few and fewer
pigeons visit us every year. Our forests furnish no mast for them.
So, it would seem, few and fewer thoughts visit each growing man
from year to year, for the grove in our minds is laid waste — sold to
feed unnecessary fires of ambition, or sent to mill — and there is
scarcely a twig left for them to perch on. They no longer build nor
breed with us. In some more genial season, perchance, a faint
shadow flits across the landscape of the mind, cast by the wings of
some thought in its vernal or autumnal migration, but, looking up,
we are unable to detect the substance of the thought itself. Our
winged thoughts are turned to poultry. They no longer soar, and
they attain only to a Shanghai and Cochin- China grandeur. Those
gra-a-ate thoughts, those gra-a- ate men you hear of!

We hug the earth — how rarely we mount! Methinks we might
elevate ourselves a little more. We might climb a tree, at least. I
found my account in climbing a tree once. It was a tall white pine,
on the top of a hill; and though I got well pitched, I was well paid
for it, for I discovered new mountains in the horizon which I had
never seen before — so much more of the earth and the heavens. I
might have walked about the foot of the tree for threescore years
and ten, and yet I certainly should never have seen them. But,
above all, I discovered around me — it was near the end of
June — on the ends of the topmost branches only, a few minute and
delicate red conelike blossoms, the fertile flower of the white pine
looking heavenward. I carried straightway to the village the
topmost spire, and showed it to stranger jury- men who walked the
streets — for it was court week — and to farmers and lumber-dealers
and woodchoppers and hunters, and not one had ever seen the like
before, but they wondered as at a star dropped down. Tell of
ancient architects finishing their works on the tops of columns as
perfectly as on the lower and more visible parts! Nature has from
the first expanded the minute blossoms of the forest only toward
the heavens, above men’s heads and unobserved by them. We see
only the flowers that are under our feet in the meadows. The pines
have developed their delicate blossoms on the highest twigs of the
wood every summer for ages, as well over the heads of Nature’s red
children as of her white ones; yet scarcely a farmer or hunter in the
land has ever seen them.

Above all, we cannot afford not to live in the present. He is blessed
over all mortals who loses no moment of the passing life in
remembering the past. Unless our philosophy hears the cock crow
in every barnyard within our horizon, it is belated. That sound
commonly reminds us that we are growing rusty and antique in our
employments and habits of thoughts. His philosophy comes down
to a more recent time than ours. There is something suggested by it
that is a newer testament — the gospel according to this moment.
He has not fallen astern; he has got up early and kept up early, and
to be where he is is to be in season, in the foremost rank of time. It
is an expression of the health and soundness of Nature, a brag for
all the world — healthiness as of a spring burst forth, a new
fountain of the Muses, to celebrate this last instant of time. Where
he lives no fugitive slave laws are passed. Who has not betrayed
his master many times since last he heard that note?

The merit of this bird’s strain is in its freedom from all
plaintiveness. The singer can easily move us to tears or to laughter,
but where is he who can excite in us a pure morning joy? When, in
doleful dumps, breaking the awful stillness of our wooden sidewalk
on a Sunday, or, perchance, a watcher in the house of mourning, I
hear a cockerel crow far or near, I think to myself, “There is one of
us well, at any rate,” and with a sudden gush return to my senses.

We had a remarkable sunset one day last November. I was walking
in a meadow, the source of a small brook, when the sun at last, just
before setting, after a cold, gray day, reached a clear stratum in the
horizon, and the softest, brightest morning sunlight fell on the dry
grass and on the stems of the trees in the opposite horizon and on
the leaves of the shrub oaks on the hillside, while our shadows
stretched long over the meadow east- ward, as if we were the only
motes in its beams. It was such a light as we could not have
imagined a moment before, and the air also was so warm and
serene that nothing was wanting to make a paradise of that
meadow. When we reflected that this was not a solitary
phenomenon, never to happen again, but that it would happen
forever and ever, an infinite number of evenings, and cheer and
reassure the latest child that walked there, it was more glorious
still.

The sun sets on some retired meadow, where no house is visible,
with all the glory and splendor that it lavishes on cities, and
perchance as it has never set before — where there is but a solitary
marsh hawk to have his wings gilded by it, or only a musquash
looks out from his cabin, and there is some little black-veined
brook in the midst of the marsh, just beginning to meander, winding
slowly round a decaying stump. We walked in so pure and bright a
light, gilding the withered grass and leaves, so softly and serenely
bright, I thought I had never bathed in such a golden flood, without
a ripple or a murmur to it. The west side of every wood and rising
ground gleamed like the boundary of Elysium, and the sun on our
backs seemed like a gentle herdsman driving us home at evening.

So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall
shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine
into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great
awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside
in autumn.

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