Thursday, July 9, 2020

his peaceful death and his insight


excerpts from:

Henry David Thoreau

Henry Thoreau as Remembered by a Young Friend
Edward Emerson, (1917)

Thoreau was but forty-four years old when he died.
 Even his health could not throw off a chill got by long stooping
 in a wet snow storm counting the growth-rings on the stumps of some old trees.
 The family infection became active. He lived a year and a half 
after this exposure and made a trip to Minnesota in vain for health.

 For the last months he was confined to the house, he was affectionate,
 and utterly brave, and worked on his manuscript until the last days.
 When his neighbour, Reverend Mr. Reynolds, came in
 he found him so employed, and he looked up cheerfully and, 
with a twinkle in his eye, whispered -- his voice was gone --
 "you know it's respectable to leave an estateto one's friends "
His old acquaintance Staples, once his jailer,
 coming out, meeting Mr. Emerson coming in, reported that he
 "never saw a man dying with so much pleasure and peace." 

To his Calvinistic Aunt who felt obliged to ask,
 "Henry, have you made your peace with God?" -- 
"I did not know we had ever quarreled, Aunt," 
was the pleasant answer. 

His friend and companion, Edward Hoar, 
said to me, "With Thoreau's life something went out of Concord woods
 and fields and river that never will return. He so loved Nature,
 delighted in her every aspect and seemed to infuse himself into her." 
Yes, something went. But our woods and waters will always be different
 because of this man. Something of him abides and truly "for good"
 in his town. Here he was born, and within its borders he found 
a wealth of beauty and interest -- 
all that he asked -- 
and shared it with us all.


Thoreau writes: "Explore your own higher latitudes; nay,
 be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, 
opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.
 Every man is lord of a realm beside which the earthly empire of the Czar
 is but a petty state. I do not wish to be any more busy with my hands 
than is necessary. My head is hands and feet. I feel all my best faculties
 concentrated in it. My instinct tells me that my head is an organ for burrowing,
 as some creatures use their snout and fore-paws, and with it I would mine
 and burrow my way through these hills. I think that the richest vein 
is somewhere hereabouts: so by the divining rod and thin rising vapours
 I judge: and here I will begin to mine."

Again: "If my curve is large, why bend it to a smaller circle?"

Emerson wrote of Thoreau:
 "He who sees the horizon may securely say what he pleases
 of any twig or tree between him and it."

Thoreau, living by Walden wrote:
 "In a pleasant spring morning all men's sins are forgiven. 
Such a day is a truce to vice. While such a sun holds out to burn,
 the vilest sinner may return. Through our own recovered innocence
 we discern the innocence of our neighbors. You may have known
 your neighbour yesterday for a thief, a drunkard, or a sensualist, 
and merely pitied or despised him, and despaired of the world;
 but the sun shines bright and warm this spring morning, 
recreating the world, and you meet him at some serene work, 
and see how his exhausted and debauched veins expand with still joy
 and bless the new day, feel the spring influence with the innocence 
of infancy, and all his faults are forgotten. There is not only an atmosphere 
of goodwill about him, but even a savour of holiness groping for expression,
 blindly and ineffectually perhaps, like a new-born instinct, 
 and for a short hour the south hill-side echoes to no vulgar jest. 
You see some innocent fair shoots preparing to burst from his gnarled rind 
 and try another year's life, tender and fresh as the youngest plant. 
Even he has entered into the joy of his lord. 
Why the jailer does not leave open his prison doors, -- 
why the judge does not dismiss his case, --
 why the preacher does not dismiss his congregation.
 It is because they do not obey the hint that God gives them, 
nor accept the pardon that he freely offers to all."

  He loved the River: "It is my own highway, the only wild 
and unfenced part of the world hereabouts.
" But always he looked for something behind what he saw. 
At another time he writes: "Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.
 I drink at it, but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect
 how shallow it is. Its thin current glides away, but eternity remains.
 I would drink deeper; fish in the sky whose bottom
 is pebbly with stars."


  The news of Thoreau's death came to Louisa Alcott, 
then nursing in a military hospital. In the watches of the night, 
sitting by the cot of a dying soldier, her thoughts wandered back 
to the happy evenings when Thoreau might bring his flute with him 
to please the growing girls, when he visited the elders; that yellow flute, 
very melodious in its tone, which his brother John used to play. 
In these sad surroundings she wrote: --
Thoreau's Flute We sighing said, "Our Pan is dead --
His pipe hangs mute beside the river,
Around it friendly moonbeams quiver,
But music's airy voice is fled.
Spring comes to us in guise forlorn,
The blue-bird chants a requiem,
The willow-blossom waits for him,
The genius of the wood is gone"
Then from the flute, untouched by hands,
There came a low, harmonious breath:
For such as he there is no death.
His life the eternal life commands.
Above men's aims his nature rose.
The wisdom of a just content
Made one small spot a continent,
And turned to poetry life's prose
Haunting the hills, the stream, the wild,
Swallow and aster, lake and pine
To him seemed human or divine,
Fit mates for this large-hearted child.
Such homage Nature ne'er forgets;
And yearly on the coverlid
'Neath which her darling lieth hid
Will write his name in violets.
To him no vain regrets belong
Whose soul, that finer instrument,
Gave to the world no poor lament,
But wood-notes ever sweet and strong.
Oh lonely friend, He still will be
A potent presence, though unseen,
Steadfast, sagacious and serene.
Seek not for him: he is with Thee.


  The friendship and honour one for the other ran true to the end, 
in spite of temperamental barriers in communication.
 Emerson spoke his feeling about his friend at the burial: -- 

"The Country knows not yet, or in the least part how great a son it has lost. 
It seems an injury that he should leave, in the midst, his broken task, 
which none can finish, a kind of indignity to so noble a soul 
that he should depart out of Nature before yet he has been really shown
 to his peers for what he is. But he, at least, is content.
 His soul was made for the noblest society; he had in a short life
 exhausted the capabilities of this world: wherever there is knowledge,
 wherever there is virtue, wherever there is beauty,
 he will find a home."

the entire transcript found here: