Saturday, September 3, 2022

Thoreau on Solitude, Sympathy, and the Salve for Melancholy

 From The Marginalian:

“These are the times in life — when nothing happens — but in quietness the soul expands,” the artist Rockwell Kent wrote as he was finding himself on the solitary shores of Alaska, contemplating the relationship between wilderness, solitude, and creativity while immersed in the writings of the Transcendentalist philosopher and poet Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817–May 6, 1862).

Since its publication on August 9, 1854, Thoreau’s Walden has gone on to inspire generations with its purehearted ethos, its prayerful passion for the living world, and its singular lens on how human nature is annealed by communion with the rest of nature.

In one of the boldest and most shimmering passages in all of literature, Thoreau writes:
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 came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Solitary by nature, Thoreau let solitude nurture him in the cabin he built for a total of $28.12½ on the shore of a small lake in New England, where his nearest neighbor was a mile away and all about he could see only hilltops. He writes:
It is as solitary where I live as on the prairies. It is as much Asia or Africa as New England. I have, as it were, my own sun and moon and stars, and a little world all to myself.


I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go [out among others] than when we stay in our chambers.


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