On Solitude and the Grace of Simple Living

Thoreau quote near his cabin site Walden pond.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I am to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rot all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms….

Henry David Thoreau

An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he wound not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion….

The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which, by the way are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain….

It is easy to imagine that Thoreau loved trees more than humans – to begin with, he believed trees did their duty more than his fellow citizens – Thoreau | Thoreau cabin near Walden pond.

Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life?…For my part, I could easily do without the post-office. I think that there are very few important communications made through it. To speak critically, I never received more than one or two letters in my life—I wrote this some years ago—that were worth the postage. And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that pretty fears and pretty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality.

SOURCE: Henry David Thoreau, Walden

NOTE: Between 1845 and 1847 Thoreau lived in a cabin he had built himself on his friend and mentor R.W.Emerson’s property near to Walden Pond. He called the move an experiment, to test the transcendentalist idea that divinity was present in nature and the human soul. In order to get closer to nature, he stripped his life down to the barest of essentials.   

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