Thoreau's "Walking"

Thoreau, Henry David. "Walking." The Heath Anthology of American Literature: Early Nineteenth Century 1800-1865, edited by Paul Lauter, 5th Ed., Vol. B, Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 2006, pp. 1803-1824.

(Note: I'm especially focusing on pages 18114-1816 because I am looking at how Thoreau talks about swamps--not the essay as a whole. Basically just logging quotes here as I work out my paper's focus.)

Thoreau advocates for walking, which he describes like it is a source of spiritual, transcendental fulfillment. He links "saunterer" with a person from the "Holy Land" etymologically, and says one needs a clear mind (Thoreau 1803-1804). Thoreau states it has nothing to do with exercise (1805). He also romanticizes the West, because progress means going into the unknown; basically manifest destiny (1810). He writes, "The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild" (1813).

Thoreau goes on about wildness: "Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the wildest . . . Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, nor in towns or cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps" (1814).

Thoreau writes of swamps,

"There are no richer parterres to my eyes than the dense beds of dwarf andromeda (Cassandra calyculata) which cover these tender places on earth's surface. Botany cannot go farther than tell me the names of the shrubs which grow there,--the high blueberry, panicled andromeda, lamb-kill, azalea, and rhodora, --all standing in the quaking sphagnum" (1815).
"When I would recreate myself, I seek the darkest wood, 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 wild-wood 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" (Thoreau 1815).
"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" (Thoreau 1816).

Thoreau on risking drowning for future agriculture, waiting to drain the swamp into fertile soil--the wild swamp as untamed Inferno:

"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 . . . 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" (Thoreau 1816).

Thoreau on the power of wildness in literature:

"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" (Thoreau 1816).

Thoreau uses violent and domineering language to describe a poet harnessing nature and putting it to the page; then romantic language to describe the satisfied reader"

."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" (Thoreau 1817).

There's this from Thoreau:

"In short, all good things are wild and free" (1818).

And this:

"The world with which we are commonly acquanted leaves no trace, and it will have no anniversary" (1822).


Katie Ancheta