On Thoreau and Literary Roots

thoreauI have been reading Thoreau again of late. Not Walden, but excerpts from his Journals and a few lesser-known works like Canoeing in the Wilderness.

Down the road perhaps, I may review one or two of these works here at MontanaWriter. But I will not promise anything. A restless spirit makes it difficult for me to stop long enough to review something I have already finished.

As an American writer, I read Thoreau (and Whitman and Emerson and Twain) for the same reason that a Spanish writer would read Cervantes or an English writer would read Shakespeare and Milton and Johnson. It is about literary roots.

I used to think that it was Whitman who was the first “American” writer. But reading now Thoreau’s journals I think maybe I have been wrong. Emerson, who could only have come from America, has too much of the Old World or the Continental in him. Thoreau has none of it. He is all New World and wilderness.

Maybe it would be most accurate to say: Whitman was the first “American” poet and Thoreau the first “American” writer.

Reading Thoreau is like spending time in the wilderness that he so loved: it restores your soul. And God knows… my tired soul needs all the restoration and re-energizing it can get.

Postings at MontanaWriter have been lean for quite some time now. I hope this will soon be changing. With the help of a second-job schedule change and Thoreau, I think it might.

In the meantime, I read Thoreau, I take walks along the river, and I listen.



How important is a constant intercourse with nature and the contemplation of natural phenomena to the preservation of moral and intellectual health! [Journal, 6 May 1851]


* * * * * * * * * *


I do not know where to find in any literature, whether ancient or modern, any adequate account of that Nature with which I am acquainted. [Journal, February 1851]


* * * * * * * * * *


The Indian…stands free and unconstrained in Nature, is her inhabitant and not her guest, and wears her easily and gracefully. But the civilized man has the habits of the house. His house is a prison. [Journal, April 1841]



Comments are closed.