Henry David Thoreau

Walking by Henry David Thoreau
This etext was prepared by Q Myers, Bend, Oregon.

by Henry David Thoreau

I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and
wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely
civil--to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of
Nature, rather than a member of society. I wish to make an
extreme statement, if so I may make an emphatic one, for there
are enough champions of civilization: the minister and the school
committee and every one of you will take care of that.

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life
who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks--who
had a genius, so to speak, for SAUNTERING, which word is
beautifully derived "from idle people who roved about the
country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of
going a la Sainte Terre," to the Holy Land, till the children
exclaimed, "There goes a Sainte-Terrer," a Saunterer, a
Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks,
as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they
who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean.
Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre without land
or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having
no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is
the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house
all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the
saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the
meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the
shortest course to the sea. But I prefer the first, which,
indeed, is the most probable derivation. For every walk is a sort
of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth
and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels.

It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers,
nowadays, who undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises.
Our expeditions are but tours, and come round again at evening to
the old hearth-side from which we set out. Half the walk is but
retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walk,
perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return--
prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our
desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother,
and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never
see them again--if you have paid your debts, and made your will,
and settled all your affairs, and are a free man--then you are
ready for a walk.

To come down to my own experience, my companion and I, for I
sometimes have a companion, take pleasure in fancying ourselves
knights of a new, or rather an old, order--not Equestrians or
Chevaliers, not Ritters or Riders, but Walkers, a still more
ancient and honorable class, I trust. The Chivalric and heroic
spirit which once belonged to the Rider seems now to reside in,
or perchance to have subsided into, the Walker--not the Knight,
but Walker, Errant. He is a sort of fourth estate, outside of
Church and State and People.

We have felt that we almost alone hereabouts practiced this noble
art; though, to tell the truth, at least if their own assertions
are to be received, most of my townsmen would fain walk
sometimes, as I do, but they cannot. No wealth can buy the
requisite leisure, freedom, and independence which are the
capital in this profession. It comes only by the grace of God. It
requires a direct dispensation from Heaven to become a walker.
You must be born into the family of the Walkers. Ambulator
nascitur, non fit. Some of my townsmen, it is true, can remember
and have described to me some walks which they took ten years
ago, in which they were so blessed as to lose themselves for half
an hour in the woods; but I know very well that they have
confined themselves to the highway ever since, whatever
pretensions they may make to belong to this select class. No
doubt they were elevated for a moment as by the reminiscence of a
previous state of existence, when even they were foresters and
"When he came to grene wode,
In a mery mornynge,
There he herde the notes small
Of byrdes mery syngynge.

"It is ferre gone, sayd Robyn,
That I was last here;
Me Lyste a lytell for to shote
At the donne dere."

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I
spend four hours a day at least--and it is commonly more than
that--sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields,
absolutely free from all worldly engagements. You may safely say,
A penny for your thoughts, or a thousand pounds. When sometimes I
am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their
shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too,
sitting with crossed legs, so many of them--as if the legs were
made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon--I think that
they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide
long ago.

I, who cannot stay in my chamber for a single day without
acquiring some rust, and when sometimes I have stolen forth for a
walk at the eleventh hour, or four o'clock in the afternoon, too
late to redeem the day, when the shades of night were already
beginning to be mingled with the daylight, have felt as if I had
committed some sin to be atoned for,--I confess that I am
astonished at the power of endurance, to say nothing of the moral
insensibility, of my neighbors who confine themselves to shops
and offices the whole day for weeks and months, aye, and years
almost together. I know not what manner of stuff they are
of--sitting there now at three o'clock in the afternoon, as if it
were three o'clock in the morning. Bonaparte may talk of the
three-o'clock-in-the-morning courage, but it is nothing to the
courage which can sit down cheerfully at this hour in the
afternoon over against one's self whom you have known all the
morning, to starve out a garrison to whom you are bound by such
strong ties of sympathy. I wonder that about this time, or say
between four and five o'clock in the afternoon, too late for the
morning papers and too early for the evening ones, there is not a
general explosion heard up and down the street, scattering a
legion of antiquated and house-bred notions and whims to the four
winds for an airing-and so the evil cure itself.

How womankind, who are confined to the house still more than men,
stand it I do not know; but I have ground to suspect that most of
them do not STAND it at all. When, early in a summer afternoon,
we have been shaking the dust of the village from the skirts of
our garments, making haste past those houses with purely Doric or
Gothic fronts, which have such an air of repose about them, my
companion whispers that probably about these times their
occupants are all gone to bed. Then it is that I appreciate the
beauty and the glory of architecture, which itself never turns
in, but forever stands out and erect, keeping watch over the

No doubt temperament, and, above all, age, have a good deal to do
with it. As a man grows older, his ability to sit still and
follow indoor occupations increases. He grows vespertinal in his
habits as the evening of life approaches, till at last he comes
forth only just before sundown, and gets all the walk that he
requires in half an hour.

But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking
exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated
hours--as the Swinging of dumb-bells or chairs; but is itself the
enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise,
go in search of the springs of life. Think of a man's swinging
dumbbells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in
far-off pastures unsought by him!

Moreover, you must walk like a camel, which is said to be the
only beast which ruminates when walking. When a traveler asked
Wordsworth's servant to show him her master's study, she
answered, "Here is his library, but his study is out of doors."

Living much out of doors, in the sun and wind, will no doubt
produce a certain roughness of character--will cause a thicker
cuticle to grow over some of the finer qualities of our nature,
as on the face and hands, or as severe manual labor robs the
hands of some of their delicacy of touch. So staying in the
house, on the other hand, may produce a softness and smoothness,
not to say thinness of skin, accompanied by an increased
sensibility to certain impressions. Perhaps we should be more
susceptible to some influences important to our intellectual and
moral growth, if the sun had shone and the wind blown on us a
little less; and no doubt it is a nice matter to proportion
rightly the thick and thin skin. But methinks that is a scurf
that will fall off fast enough--that the natural remedy is to be
found in the proportion which the night bears to the day, the
winter to the summer, thought to experience. There will be so
much the more air and sunshine in our thoughts. The callous palms
of the laborer are conversant with finer tissues of self-respect
and heroism, whose touch thrills the heart, than the languid
fingers of idleness. That is mere sentimentality that lies abed
by day and thinks itself white, far from the tan and callus of

When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods: what would
become of us, if we walked only in a garden or a mall? Even some
sects of philosophers have felt the necessity of importing the
woods to themselves, since they did not go to the woods. "They
planted groves and walks of Platanes," where they took subdiales
ambulationes in porticos open to the air. Of course it is of no
use to direct our steps to the woods, if they do not carry us
thither. I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile
into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my
afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and
my obligations to Society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot
easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run
in my head and I am not where my body is--I am out of my senses.
In my walks I would fain return to my senses. What business have
I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods? I
suspect myself, and cannot help a shudder when I find myself so
implicated even in what are called good works--for this may
sometimes happen.

My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many years
I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days
together, I have not yet exhausted them. An absolutely new
prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any
afternoon. Two or three hours' walking will carry me to as
strange a country as I expect ever to see. A single farmhouse
which I had not seen before is sometimes as good as the dominions
of the King of Dahomey. There is in fact a sort of harmony
discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a
circle of ten miles' radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk,
and the threescore years and ten of human life. It will never
become quite familiar to you.

Nowadays almost all man's improvements, so called, as the
building of houses and the cutting down of the forest and of all
large trees, simply deform the landscape, and make it more and
more tame and cheap. A people who would begin by burning the
fences and let the forest stand! I saw the fences half consumed,
their ends lost in the middle of the prairie, and some worldly
miser with a surveyor looking after his bounds, while heaven had
taken place around him, and he did not see the angels going to
and fro, but was looking for an old post-hole in the midst of
paradise. I looked again, and saw him standing in the middle of a
boggy Stygian fen, surrounded by devils, and he had found his
bounds without a doubt, three little stones, where a stake had
been driven, and looking nearer, I saw that the Prince of
Darkness was his surveyor.

I can easily walk ten, fifteen, twenty, any number of miles,
commencing at my own door, without going by any house, without
crossing a road except where the fox and the mink do: first along
by the river, and then the brook, and then the meadow and the
woodside. There are square miles in my vicinity which have no
inhabitant. From many a hill I can see civilization and the
abodes of man afar. The farmers and their works are scarcely more
obvious than woodchucks and their burrows. Man and his affairs,
church and state and school, trade and commerce, and manufactures
and agriculture even politics, the most alarming of them all--I
am pleased to see how little space they occupy in the landscape.
Politics is but a narrow field, and that still narrower highway
yonder leads to it. I sometimes direct the traveler thither. If
you would go to the political world, follow the great
road--follow that market-man, keep his dust in your eyes, and it
will lead you straight to it; for it, too, has its place merely,
and does not occupy all space. I pass from it as from a bean
field into the forest, and it is forgotten. In one half-hour I
can walk off to some portion of the earth's surface where a man
does not stand from one year's end to another, and there,
consequently, politics are not, for they are but as the
cigar-smoke of a man.

The village is the place to which the roads tend, a sort of
expansion of the highway, as a lake of a river. It is the body of
which roads are the arms and legs--a trivial or quadrivial place,
the thoroughfare and ordinary of travelers. The word is from the
Latin villa which together with via, a way, or more anciently ved
and vella, Varro derives from veho, to carry, because the villa
is the place to and from which things are carried. They who got
their living by teaming were said vellaturam facere. Hence, too,
the Latin word vilis and our vile, also villain. This suggests
what kind of degeneracy villagers are liable to. They are wayworn
by the travel that goes by and over them, without traveling

Some do not walk at all; others walk in the highways; a few walk
across lots. Roads are made for horses and men of business. I do
not travel in them much, comparatively, because I am not in a
hurry to get to any tavern or grocery or livery-stable or depot
to which they lead. I am a good horse to travel, but not from
choice a roadster. The landscape-painter uses the figures of men
to mark a road. He would not make that use of my figure. I walk
out into a nature such as the old prophets and poets, Menu,
Moses, Homer, Chaucer, walked in. You may name it America, but it
is not America; neither Americus Vespueius, nor Columbus, nor the
rest were the discoverers of it. There is a truer amount of it in
mythology than in any history of America, so called, that I have

However, there are a few old roads that may be trodden with
profit, as if they led somewhere now that they are nearly
discontinued. There is the Old Marlborough Road, which does not
go to Marlborough now, me- thinks, unless that is Marlborough
where it carries me. I am the bolder to speak of it here, because
I presume that there are one or two such roads in every town.


Where they once dug for money,
But never found any;
Where sometimes Martial Miles
Singly files,
And Elijah Wood,
I fear for no good:
No other man,
Save Elisha Dugan--
O man of wild habits,
Partridges and rabbits
Who hast no cares
Only to set snares,
Who liv'st all alone,
Close to the bone
And where life is sweetest
Constantly eatest.
When the spring stirs my blood
With the instinct to travel,
I can get enough gravel
On the Old Marlborough Road.
Nobody repairs it,
For nobody wears it;
It is a living way,
As the Christians say.
Not many there be
Who enter therein,
Only the guests of the
Irishman Quin.
What is it, what is it
But a direction out there,
And the bare possibility
Of going somewhere?
Great guide-boards of stone,
But travelers none;
Cenotaphs of the towns
Named on their crowns.
It is worth going to see

Where you MIGHT be.
What king
Did the thing,
I am still wondering;
Set up how or when,
By what selectmen,
Gourgas or Lee,
Clark or Darby?
They're a great endeavor
To be something forever;
Blank tablets of stone,
Where a traveler might groan,
And in one sentence
Grave all that is known
Which another might read,
In his extreme need.
I know one or two
Lines that would do,
Literature that might stand
All over the land
Which a man could remember
Till next December,
And read again in the spring,
After the thawing.
If with fancy unfurled
You leave your abode,
You may go round the world
By the Old Marlborough Road.

At present, in this vicinity, the best part of the land is not
private property; the landscape is not owned, and the walker
enjoys comparative freedom. But possibly the day will come when
it will be partitioned off into so-called pleasure-grounds, in
which a few will take a narrow and exclusive pleasure only--when
fences shall be multiplied, and man-traps and other engines
invented to confine men to the PUBLIC road, and walking over the
surface of God's earth shall be construed to mean trespassing on
some gentleman's grounds. To enjoy a thing exclusively is
commonly to exclude yourself from the true enjoyment of it. Let
us improve our opportunities, then, before the evil days come.

What is it that makes it so hard sometimes to determine whither
we will walk? I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in
Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us
aright. It is not indifferent to us which way we walk. There is a
right way; but we are very liable from heedlessness and stupidity
to take the wrong one. We would fain take that walk, never yet
taken by us through this actual world, which is perfectly
symbolical of the path which we love to travel in the interior
and ideal world; and sometimes, no doubt, we find it difficult to
choose our direction, because it does not yet exist distinctly in
our idea.

When I go out of the house for a walk, uncertain as yet whither I
will bend my steps, and submit myself to my instinct to decide
for me, I find, strange and whimsical as it may seem, that I
finally and inevitably settle southwest, toward some particular
wood or meadow or deserted pasture or hill in that direction. My
needle is slow to settle,--varies a few degrees, and does not
always point due southwest, it is true, and it has good authority
for this variation, but it always settles between west and
south-southwest. The future lies that way to me, and the earth
seems more unexhausted and richer on that side. The outline which
would bound my walks would be, not a circle, but a parabola, or
rather like one of those cometary orbits which have been thought
to be non-returning curves, in this case opening westward, in
which my house occupies the place of the sun. I turn round and
round irresolute sometimes for a quarter of an hour, until I
decide, for a thousandth time, that I will walk into the
southwest or west. Eastward I go only by force; but westward I go
free. Thither no business leads me. It is hard for me to believe
that I shall find fair landscapes or sufficient wildness and
freedom behind the eastern horizon. I am not excited by the
prospect of a walk thither; but I believe that the forest which I
see in the western horizon stretches uninterruptedly toward the
setting sun, and there are no towns nor cities in it of enough
consequence to disturb me. Let me live where I will, on this side
is the city, on that the wilderness, and ever I am leaving the
city more and more, and withdrawing into the wilderness. I should
not lay so much stress on this fact, if I did not believe that
something like this is the prevailing tendency of my countrymen.
I must walk toward Oregon, and not toward Europe. And that way
the nation is moving, and I may say that mankind progress from
east to west. Within a few years we have witnessed the phenomenon
of a southeastward migration, in the settlement of Australia; but
this affects us as a retrograde movement, and, judging from the
moral and physical character of the first generation of
Australians, has not yet proved a successful experiment. The
eastern Tartars think that there is nothing west beyond Thibet.
"The world ends there," say they; "beyond there is nothing but a
shoreless sea." It is unmitigated East where they live.

We go eastward to realize history and study the works of art and
literature, retracing the steps of the race; we go westward as
into the future, with a spirit of enterprise and adventure. The
Atlantic is a Lethean stream, in our passage over which we have
had an opportunity to forget the Old World and its institutions.
If we do not succeed this time, there is perhaps one more chance
for the race left before it arrives on the banks of the Styx; and
that is in the Lethe of the Pacific, which is three times as

I know not how significant it is, or how far it is an evidence of
singularity, that an individual should thus consent in his
pettiest walk with the general movement of the race; but I know
that something akin to the migratory instinct in birds and
quadrupeds--which, in some instances, is known to have affected
the squirrel tribe, impelling them to a general and mysterious
movement, in which they were seen, say some, crossing the
broadest rivers, each on its particular chip, with its tail
raised for a sail, and bridging narrower streams with their
dead--that something like the furor which affects the domestic
cattle in the spring, and which is referred to a worm in their
tails,--affects both nations and individuals, either perennially
or from time to time. Not a flock of wild geese cackles over our
town, but it to some extent unsettles the value of real estate
here, and, if I were a broker, I should probably take that
disturbance into account.

"Than longen folk to gon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken strange strondes."

Every sunset which I witness inspires me with the desire to go to
a West as distant and as fair as that into which the sun goes
down. He appears to migrate westward daily, and tempt us to
follow him. He is the Great Western Pioneer whom the nations
follow. We dream all night of those mountain-ridges in the
horizon, though they may be of vapor only, which were last gilded
by his rays. The island of Atlantis, and the islands and gardens
of the Hesperides, a sort of terrestrial paradise, appear to have
been the Great West of the ancients, enveloped in mystery and
poetry. Who has not seen in imagination, when looking into the
sunset sky, the gardens of the Hesperides, and the foundation of
all those fables?

Columbus felt the westward tendency more strongly than any
before. He obeyed it, and found a New World for Castile and Leon.
The herd of men in those days scented fresh pastures from afar,

"And now the sun had stretched out all the hills,
And now was dropped into the western bay;
At last HE rose, and twitched his mantle blue;
Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new."

Where on the globe can there be found an area of equal extent
with that occupied by the bulk of our States, so fertile and so
rich and varied in its productions, and at the same time so
habitable by the European, as this is? Michaux, who knew but part
of them, says that "the species of large trees are much more
numerous in North America than in Europe; in the United States
there are more than one hundred and forty species that exceed
thirty feet in height; in France there are but thirty that attain
this size." Later botanists more than confirm his observations.
Humboldt came to America to realize his youthful dreams of a
tropical vegetation, and he beheld it in its greatest perfection
in the primitive forests of the Amazon, the most gigantic
wilderness on the earth, which he has so eloquently described.
The geographer Guyot, himself a European, goes farther--farther
than I am ready to follow him; yet not when he says: "As the
plant is made for the animal, as the vegetable world is made for
the animal world, America is made for the man of the Old
World.... The man of the Old World sets out upon his way. Leaving
the highlands of Asia, he descends from station to station
towards Europe. Each of his steps is marked by a new civilization
superior to the preceding, by a greater power of development.
Arrived at the Atlantic, he pauses on the shore of this unknown
ocean, the bounds of which he knows not, and turns upon his
footprints for an instant." When he has exhausted the rich soil
of Europe, and reinvigorated himself, "then recommences his
adventurous career westward as in the earliest ages." So far

From this western impulse coming in contact with the barrier of
the Atlantic sprang the commerce and enterprise of modern times.
The younger Michaux, in his Travels West of the Alleghanies in
1802, says that the common inquiry in the newly settled West was,
"'From what part of the world have you come?' As if these vast
and fertile regions would naturally be the place of meeting and
common country of all the inhabitants of the globe."

To use an obsolete Latin word, I might say, Ex Oriente lux; ex
Occidente FRUX. From the East light; from the West fruit.

Sir Francis Head, an English traveler and a Governor-General of
Canada, tells us that "in both the northern and southern
hemispheres of the New World, Nature has not only outlined her
works on a larger scale, but has painted the whole picture with
brighter and more costly colors than she used in delineating and
in beautifying the Old World.... The heavens of America appear
infinitely higher, the sky is bluer, the air is fresher, the cold
is intenser, the moon looks larger, the stars are brighter the
thunder is louder, the lightning is vivider, the wind is
stronger, the rain is heavier, the mountains are higher, the
rivers longer, the forests bigger, the plains broader." This
statement will do at least to set against Buffon's account of
this part of the world and its productions.

Linnaeus said long ago, "Nescio quae facies laeta, glabra plantis
Americanis" (I know not what there is of joyous and smooth in the
aspect of American plants); and I think that in this country
there are no, or at most very few, Africanae bestiae, African
beasts, as the Romans called them, and that in this respect also
it is peculiarly fitted for the habitation of man. We are told
that within three miles of the center of the East-Indian city of
Singapore, some of the inhabitants are annually carried off by
tigers; but the traveler can lie down in the woods at night
almost anywhere in North America without fear of wild beasts.

These are encouraging testimonies. If the moon looks larger here
than in Europe, probably the sun looks larger also. If the
heavens of America appear infinitely higher, and the stars
brighter, I trust that these facts are symbolical of the height
to which the philosophy and poetry and religion of her
inhabitants may one day soar. At length, perchance, the
immaterial heaven will appear as much higher to the American
mind, and the intimations that star it as much brighter. For I
believe that climate does thus react on man--as there is
something in the mountain air that feeds the spirit and inspires.
Will not man grow to greater perfection intellectually as well as
physically under these influences? Or is it unimportant how many
foggy days there are in his life? I trust that we shall be more
imaginative, that our thoughts will be clearer, fresher, and more
ethereal, as our sky--our understanding more comprehensive and
broader, like our plains--our intellect generally on a grander
seale, like our thunder and lightning, our rivers and mountains
and forests-and our hearts shall even correspond in breadth and
depth and grandeur to our inland seas. Perchance there will
appear to the traveler something, he knows not what, of laeta and
glabra, of joyous and serene, in our very faces. Else to what end
does the world go on, and why was America discovered?

To Americans I hardly need to say--

"Westward the star of empire takes its way."

As a true patriot, I should be ashamed to think that Adam in
paradise was more favorably situated on the whole than the
backwoodsman in this country.

Our sympathies in Massachusetts are not confined to New England;
though we may be estranged from the South, we sympathize with the
West. There is the home of the younger sons, as among the
Scandinavians they took to the sea for their inheritance. It is
too late to be studying Hebrew; it is more important to
understand even the slang of today.

Some months ago I went to see a panorama of the Rhine. It was
like a dream of the Middle Ages. I floated down its historic
stream in something more than imagination, under bridges built by
the Romans, and repaired by later heroes, past cities and castles
whose very names were music to my ears, and each of which was the
subject of a legend. There were Ehrenbreitstein and Rolandseck
and Coblentz, which I knew only in history. They were ruins that
interested me chiefly. There seemed to come up from its waters
and its vine-clad hills and valleys a hushed music as of
Crusaders departing for the Holy Land. I floated along under the
spell of enchantment, as if I had been transported to an heroic
age, and breathed an atmosphere of chivalry.

Soon after, I went to see a panorama of the Mississippi, and as I
worked my way up the river in the light of today, and saw the
steamboats wooding up, counted the rising cities, gazed on the
fresh ruins of Nauvoo, beheld the Indians moving west across the
stream, and, as before I had looked up the Moselle, now looked up
the Ohio and the Missouri and heard the legends of Dubuque and of
Wenona's Cliff--still thinking more of the future than of the
past or present--I saw that this was a Rhine stream of a
different kind; that the foundations of castles were yet to be
laid, and the famous bridges were yet to be thrown over the
river; and I felt that THIS WAS THE HEROIC AGE ITSELF, though we
know it not, for the hero is commonly the simplest and obscurest
of men.

The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and
what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the
preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in
search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plow
and sail for it. From the forest and wilderness come the tonics
and barks which brace mankind. Our ancestors were savages. The
story of Romulus and Remus being suckled by a wolf is not a
meaningless fable. The founders of every state which has risen to
eminence have drawn their nourishment and vigor from a similar
wild source. It was because the children of the Empire were not
suckled by the wolf that they were conquered and displaced by the
children of the northern forests who were.

I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in
which the corn grows. We require an infusion of hemlock, spruce
or arbor vitae in our tea. There is a difference between eating
and drinking for strength and from mere gluttony. The Hottentots
eagerly devour the marrow of the koodoo and other antelopes raw,
as a matter of course. Some of our northern Indians eat raw the
marrow of the Arctic reindeer, as well as various other parts,
including the summits of the antlers, as long as they are soft.
And herein, perchance, they have stolen a march on the cooks of
Paris. They get what usually goes to feed the fire. This is
probably better than stall-fed beef and slaughterhouse pork to
make a man of. Give me a wildness whose glance no civilization
can endure--as if we lived on the marrow of koodoos devoured raw.

There are some intervals which border the strain of the wood
thrush, to which I would migrate--wild lands where no settler has
squatted; to which, methinks, I am already acclimated.

The African hunter Cumming tells us that the skin of the eland,
as well as that of most other antelopes just killed, emits the
most delicious perfume of trees and grass. I would have every man
so much like a wild antelope, so much a part and parcel of
nature, that his very person should thus sweetly advertise our
senses of his presence, and remind us of those parts of nature
which he most haunts. I feel no disposition to be satirical, when
the trapper's coat emits the odor of musquash even; it is a
sweeter scent to me than that which commonly exhales from the
merchant's or the scholar's garments. When I go into their
wardrobes and handle their vestments, I am reminded of no grassy
plains and flowery meads which they have frequented, but of dusty
merchants' exchanges and libraries rather.

A tanned skin is something more than respectable, and perhaps
olive is a fitter color than white for a man--a denizen of the
woods. "The pale white man!" I do not wonder that the African
pitied him. Darwin the naturalist says, "A white man bathing by
the side of a Tahitian was like a plant bleached by the
gardener's art, compared with a fine, dark green one, growing
vigorously in the open fields."

Ben Jonson exclaims,--

"How near to good is what is fair!"

So I would say,--

"How near to good is what is WILD!"

Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the wildest. Not
yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him. One who pressed
forward incessantly and never rested from his labors, who grew
fast and made infinite demands on life, would always find himself
in a new country or wilderness, and surrounded by the raw
material of life. He would be climbing over the prostrate stems
of primitive forest trees.

Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated
fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and
quaking swamps. When, formerly, I have analyzed my partiality for
some farm which I had contemplated purchasing, I have frequently
found that I was attracted solely by a few square rods of
impermeable and unfathomable bog--a natural sink in one corner of
it. That was the jewel which dazzled me. I derive more of my
subsistence from the swamps which surround my native town than
from the cultivated gardens in the village. There are no richer
parterres to my eyes than the dense beds of dwarf andromeda
(Cassandra calyculata) which cover these tender places on the
earth's surface. Botany cannot go farther than tell me the names
of the shrubs which grow there--the high blueberry, panicled
andromeda, lambkill, azalea, and rhodora--all standing in the
quaking sphagnum. I often think that I should like to have my
house front on this mass of dull red bushes, omitting other
flower plots and borders, transplanted spruce and trim box, even
graveled walks--to have this fertile spot under my windows, not a
few imported barrowfuls of soil only to cover the sand which was
thrown out in digging the cellar. Why not put my house, my
parlor, behind this plot, instead of behind that meager
assemblage of curiosities, that poor apology for a Nature and
Art, which I call my front yard? It is an effort to clear up and
make a decent appearance when the carpenter and mason have
departed, though done as much for the passer-by as the dweller
within. The most tasteful front-yard fence was never an agreeable
object of study to me; the most elaborate ornaments, acorn tops,
or what not, soon wearied and disgusted me. Bring your sills up
to the very edge of the swamp, then (though it may not be the
best place for a dry cellar), so that there be no access on that
side to citizens. Front yards are not made to walk in, but, at
most, through, and you could go in the back way.

Yes, though you may think me perverse, if it were proposed to me
to dwell in the neighborhood of the most beautiful garden that
ever human art contrived, or else of a Dismal Swamp, I should
certainly decide for the swamp. How vain, then, have been all
your labors, citizens, for me!

My spirits infallibly rise in proportion to the outward
dreariness. Give me the ocean, the desert, or the wilderness! In
the desert, pure air and solitude compensate for want of moisture
and fertility. The traveler Burton says of it--"Your MORALE
improves; you become frank and cordial, hospitable and
single-minded.... In the desert, spirituous liquors excite only
disgust. There is a keen enjoyment in a mere animal existence."
They who have been traveling long on the steppes of Tartary say,
"On re-entering cultivated lands, the agitation, perplexity, and
turmoil of civilization oppressed and suffocated us; the air
seemed to fail us, and we felt every moment as if about to die of
asphyxia." When I would recreate myself, I seek the darkest woods
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
wildwood 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.

To preserve wild animals implies generally the creation of a
forest for them to dwell in or resort to. So it is with man. A
hundred years ago they sold bark in our streets peeled from our
own woods. In the very aspect of those primitive and rugged trees
there was, methinks, a tanning principle which hardened and
consolidated the fibers of men's thoughts. Ah! already I shudder
for these comparatively degenerate days of my native village,
when you cannot collect a load of bark of good thickness, and we
no longer produce tar and turpentine.

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. Alas for human
culture! little is to be expected of a nation, when the vegetable
mould is exhausted, and it is compelled to make manure of the
bones of its fathers. There the poet sustains himself merely by
his own superfluous fat, and the philosopher comes down on his

It is said to be the task of the American "to work the virgin
soil," and that "agriculture here already assumes proportions
unknown everywhere else." I think that the farmer displaces the
Indian even because he redeems the meadow, and so makes himself
stronger and in some respects more natural. 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; where at one time I saw my employer
actually up to his neck and swimming for his life in his
property, though it was still winter. He had another similar
swamp which I could not survey at all, because it was completely
under water, and nevertheless, 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 which it contained. And that
man intends to put a girdling ditch round the whole in the course
of forty months, and so redeem it by the magic of his spade. I
refer to him only as the type of a class.

The weapons with which we have gained our most important
victories, which should be handed down as heirlooms from father
to son, are not the sword and the lance, but the bushwhack, the
turf-cutter, the spade, and the bog hoe, rusted with the blood of
many a meadow, and begrimed with the dust of many a hard-fought
field. The very winds blew the Indian's cornfield into the
meadow, and pointed out the way which he had not the skill to
follow. He had no better implement with which to intrench himself
in the land than a clam-shell. But the farmer is armed with plow
and spade.

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.

English literature, from the days of the minstrels to the Lake
Poets--Chaucer and Spenser and Milton, and even Shakespeare,
included--breathes no quite fresh and, in this sense, wild
strain. It is an essentially tame and civilized literature,
reflecting Greece and Rome. Her wilderness is a green wood, her
wild man a Robin Hood. There is plenty of genial love of Nature,
but not so much of Nature herself. Her chronicles inform us when
her wild animals, but not when the wild man in her, became

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

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

I do not know of any poetry to quote which adequately expresses
this yearning for the Wild. Approached from this side, the best
poetry is tame. I do not know where to find in any literature,
ancient or modern, any account which contents me of that Nature
with which even I am acquainted. You will perceive that I demand
something which no Augustan nor Elizabethan age, which no
culture, in short, can give. Mythology comes nearer to it than
anything. How much more fertile a Nature, at least, has Grecian
mythology its root in than English literature! Mythology is the
crop which the Old World bore before its soil was exhausted,
before the fancy and imagination were affected with blight; and
which it still bears, wherever its pristine vigor is unabated.
All other literatures endure only as the elms which overshadow
our houses; but this is like the great dragon-tree of the Western
Isles, as old as mankind, and, whether that does or not, will
endure as long; for the decay of other literatures makes the soil
in which it thrives.

The West is preparing to add its fables to those of the East. The
valleys of the Ganges, the Nile, and the Shine having yielded
their crop, it remains to be seen what the valleys of the Amazon,
the Plate, the Orinoco, the St. Lawrence, and the Mississippi
will produce. Perchance, when, in the course of ages, American
liberty has become a fiction of the past--as it is to some extent
a fiction of the present--the poets of the world will be inspired
by American mythology.

The wildest dreams of wild men, even, are not the less true,
though they may not recommend themselves to the sense which is
most common among Englishmen and Americans today. It is not every
truth that recommends itself to the common sense. Nature has a
place for the wild Clematis as well as for the cabbage. Some
expressions of truth are reminiscent--others merely SENSIBLE, as
the phrase is,--others prophetic. Some forms of disease, even,
may prophesy forms of health. The geologist has discovered that
the figures of serpents, griffins, flying dragons, and other
fanciful embellishments of heraldry, have their prototypes in the
forms of fossil species which were extinct before man was
created, and hence "indicate a faint and shadowy knowledge of a
previous state of organic existence." The Hindus dreamed that the
earth rested on an elephant, and the elephant on a tortoise, and
the tortoise on a serpent; and though it may be an unimportant
coincidence, it will not be out of place here to state, that a
fossil tortoise has lately been discovered in Asia large enough
to support an elephant. I confess that I am partial to these wild
fancies, which transcend the order of time and development. They
are the sublimest recreation of the intellect. The partridge
loves peas, but not those that go with her into the pot.

In short, all good things are wild and free. There is something
in a strain of music, whether produced by an instrument or by the
human voice--take the sound of a bugle in a summer night, for
instance--which by its wildness, to speak without satire, reminds
me of the cries emitted by wild beasts in their native forests.
It is so much of their wildness as I can understand. Give me for
my friends and neighbors wild men, not tame ones. The wildness of
the savage is but a faint symbol of the awful ferity with which
good men and lovers meet.

I love even to see the domestic animals reassert their native
rights--any evidence that they have not wholly lost their
original wild habits and vigor; as when my neighbor's cow breaks
out of her pasture early in the spring and boldly swims the
river, a cold, gray tide, twenty-five or thirty rods wide,
swollen by the melted snow. It is the buffalo crossing the
Mississippi. This exploit confers some dignity on the herd in my
eyes--already dignified. The seeds of instinct are preserved
under the thick hides of cattle and horses, like seeds in the
bowels of the earth, an indefinite period.

Any sportiveness in cattle is unexpected. I saw one day a herd of
a dozen bullocks and cows running about and frisking in unwieldy
sport, like huge rats, even like kittens. They shook their heads,
raised their tails, and rushed up and down a hill, and I
perceived by their horns, as well as by their activity, their
relation to the deer tribe. But, alas! a sudden loud WHOA! would
have damped their ardor at once, reduced them from venison to
beef, and stiffened their sides and sinews like the locomotive.
Who but the Evil One has cried "Whoa!" to mankind? Indeed, the
life of cattle, like that of many men, is but a sort of
locomotiveness; they move a side at a time, and man, by his
machinery, is meeting the horse and the ox halfway. Whatever part
the whip has touched is thenceforth palsied. Who would ever think
of a SIDE of any of the supple cat tribe, as we speak of a SIDE
of beef?

I rejoice that horses and steers have to be broken before they
can be made the slaves of men, and that men themselves have some
wild oats still left to sow before they become submissive members
of society. Undoubtedly, all men are not equally fit subjects for
civilization; and because the majority, like dogs and sheep, are
tame by inherited disposition, this is no reason why the others
should have their natures broken that they may be reduced to the
same level. Men are in the main alike, but they were made several
in order that they might be various. If a low use is to be
served, one man will do nearly or quite as well as another; if a
high one, individual excellence is to be regarded. Any man can
stop a hole to keep the wind away, but no other man could serve
so rare a use as the author of this illustration did. Confucius
says,--"The skins of the tiger and the leopard, when they are
tanned, are as the skins of the dog and the sheep tanned." But it
is not the part of a true culture to tame tigers, any more than
it is to make sheep ferocious; and tanning their skins for shoes
is not the best use to which they can be put.

When looking over a list of men's names in a foreign language, as
of military officers, or of authors who have written on a
particular subject, I am reminded once more that there is nothing
in a name. The name Menschikoff, for instance, has nothing in it
to my ears more human than a whisker, and it may belong to a rat.
As the names of the Poles and Russians are to us, so are ours to
them. It is as if they had been named by the child's
rigmarole,--IERY FIERY ICHERY VAN, TITTLE-TOL-TAN. I see in my
mind a herd of wild creatures swarming over the earth, and to
each the herdsman has affixed some barbarous sound in his own
dialect. The names of men are, of course, as cheap and
meaningless as BOSE and TRAY, the names of dogs.

Methinks it would be some advantage to philosophy if men were
named merely in the gross, as they are known. It would be
necessary only to know the genus and perhaps the race or variety,
to know the individual. We are not prepared to believe that every
private soldier in a Roman army had a name of his own--because we
have not supposed that he had a character of his own.

At present our only true names are nicknames. I knew a boy who,
from his peculiar energy, was called "Buster" by his playmates,
and this rightly supplanted his Christian name. Some travelers
tell us that an Indian had no name given him at first, but earned
it, and his name was his fame; and among some tribes he acquired
a new name with every new exploit. It is pitiful when a man bears
a name for convenience merely, who has earned neither name nor

I will not allow mere names to make distinctions for me, but
still see men in herds for all them. A familiar name cannot make
a man less strange to me. It may be given to a savage who retains
in secret his own wild title earned in the woods. We have a wild
savage in us, and a savage name is perchance somewhere recorded
as ours. I see that my neighbor, who bears the familiar epithet
William or Edwin, takes it off with his jacket. It does not
adhere to him when asleep or in anger, or aroused by any passion
or inspiration. I seem to hear pronounced by some of his kin at
such a time his original wild name in some jaw-breaking or else
melodious tongue.

Here is this vast, savage, hovering mother of ours, Nature, lying
all around, with such beauty, and such affection for her
children, as the leopard; and yet we are so early weaned from her
breast to society, to that culture which is exclusively an
interaction of man on man--a sort of breeding in and in, which
produces at most a merely English nobility, a civilization
destined to have a speedy limit.

In society, in the best institutions of men, it is easy to detect
a certain precocity. When we should still be growing children, we
are already little men. Give me a culture which imports much muck
from the meadows, and deepens the soil--not that which trusts to
heating manures, and improved implements and modes of culture

Many a poor sore-eyed student that I have heard of would grow
faster, both intellectually and physically, if, instead of
sitting up so very late, he honestly slumbered a fool's

There may be an excess even of informing light. Niepce, a
Frenchman, discovered "actinism," that power in the sun's rays
which produces a chemical effect; that granite rocks, and stone
structures, and statues of metal "are all alike destructively
acted upon during the hours of sunshine, and, but for provisions
of Nature no less wonderful, would soon perish under the delicate
touch of the most subtle of the agencies of the universe." But he
observed that "those bodies which underwent this change during
the daylight possessed the power of restoring themselves to their
original conditions during the hours of night, when this
excitement was no longer influencing them." Hence it has been
inferred that "the hours of darkness are as necessary to the
inorganic creation as we know night and sleep are to the organic
kingdom." Not even does the moon shine every night, but gives
place to darkness.

I would not have every man nor every part of a man cultivated,
any more than I would have every acre of earth cultivated: part
will be tillage, but the greater part will be meadow and forest,
not only serving an immediate use, but preparing a mould against
a distant future, by the annual decay of the vegetation which it

There are other letters for the child to learn than those which
Cadmus invented. The Spaniards have a good term to express this
wild and dusky knowledge--Gramatica parda--tawny grammar, a kind
of mother-wit derived from that same leopard to which I have

We have heard of a Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.
It is said that knowledge is power, and the like. Methinks there
is equal need of a Society for the Diffusion of Useful Ignorance,
what we will call Beautiful Knowledge, a knowledge useful in a
higher sense: for what is most of our boasted so-called knowledge
but a conceit that we know something, which robs us of the
advantage of our actual ignorance? What we call knowledge is
often our positive ignorance; ignorance our negative knowledge.
By long years of patient industry and reading of the
newspapers--for what are the libraries of science but files of
newspapers--a man accumulates a myriad facts, lays them up in his
memory, and then when in some spring of his life he saunters
abroad into the Great Fields of thought, he, as it were, goes to
grass like a horse and leaves all his harness behind in the
stable. I would say to the Society for the Diffusion of Useful
Knowledge, sometimes,--Go to grass. You have eaten hay long
enough. The spring has come with its green crop. The very cows
are driven to their country pastures before the end of May;
though I have heard of one unnatural farmer who kept his cow in
the barn and fed her on hay all the year round. So, frequently,
the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge treats its

A man's ignorance sometimes is not only useful, but
beautiful--while his knowledge, so called, is oftentimes worse
than useless, besides being ugly. Which is the best man to deal
with--he who knows nothing about a subject, and, what is
extremely rare, knows that he knows nothing, or he who really
knows something about it, but thinks that he knows all?

My desire for knowledge is intermittent, but my desire to bathe
my head in atmospheres unknown to my feet is perennial and
constant. The highest that we can attain to is not Knowledge, but
Sympathy with Intelligence. I do not know that this higher
knowledge amounts to anything more definite than a novel and
grand surprise on a sudden revelation of the insufficiency of all
that we called Knowledge before--a discovery that there are more
things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy.
It is the lighting up of the mist by the sun. Man cannot KNOW in
any higher sense than this, any more than he can look serenely
and with impunity in the face of the sun: "You will not perceive
that, as perceiving a particular thing," say the Chaldean

There is something servile in the habit of seeking after a law
which we may obey. We may study the laws of matter at and for our
convenience, but a successful life knows no law. It is an
unfortunate discovery certainly, that of a law which binds us
where we did not know before that we were bound. Live free, child
of the mist--and with respect to knowledge we are all children of
the mist. The man who takes the liberty to live is superior to
all the laws, by virtue of his relation to the lawmaker. "That is
active duty," says the Vishnu Purana, "which is not for our
bondage; that is knowledge which is for our liberation: all other
duty is good only unto weariness; all other knowledge is only the
cleverness of an artist."

It is remarkable how few events or crises there are in our
histories, how little exercised we have been in our minds, how
few experiences we have had. I would fain be assured that I am
growing apace and rankly, though my very growth disturb this dull
equanimity--though it be with struggle through long, dark, muggy
nights or seasons of gloom. It would be well if all our lives
were a divine tragedy even, instead of this trivial comedy or
farce. Dante, Bunyan, and others appear to have been exercised in
their minds more than we: they were subjected to a kind of
culture such as our district schools and colleges do not
contemplate. Even Mahomet, though many may scream at his name,
had a good deal more to live for, aye, and to die for, than they
have commonly.

When, at rare intervals, some thought visits one, as perchance he
is walking on a railroad, then, indeed, the cars go by without
his hearing them. But soon, by some inexorable law, our life goes
by and the cars return.

"Gentle breeze, that wanderest unseen,
And bendest the thistles round Loira of storms,
Traveler of the windy glens,
Why hast thou left my ear so soon?"

While almost all men feel an attraction drawing them to society,
few are attracted strongly to Nature. In their reaction to Nature
men appear to me for the most part, notwithstanding their arts,
lower than the animals. It is not often a beautiful relation, as
in the case of the animals. How little appreciation of the beauty
of the land- scape there is among us! We have to be told that the
Greeks called the world Beauty, or Order, but we do not see
clearly why they did so, and we esteem it at best only a curious
philological fact.

For my part, I feel that with regard to Nature I live a sort of
border life, on the confines of a world into which I make
occasional and transient forays only, and my patriotism and
allegiance to the state into whose territories I seem to retreat
are those of a moss-trooper. Unto a life which I call natural I
would gladly follow even a will-o'-the-wisp through bogs and
sloughs unimaginable, but no moon nor firefly has shown me the
causeway to it. Nature is a personality so vast and universal
that we have never seen one of her features. The walker in the
familiar fields which stretch around my native town sometimes
finds himself in another land than is described in their owners'
deeds, as it were in some faraway field on the confines of the
actual Concord, where her jurisdiction ceases, and the idea which
the word Concord suggests ceases to be suggested. These farms
which I have myself surveyed, these bounds which I have set up,
appear dimly still as through a mist; but they have no chemistry
to fix them; they fade from the surface of the glass, and the
picture which the painter painted stands out dimly from beneath.
The world with which we are commonly acquainted leaves no trace,
and it will have no anniversary.

I took a walk on Spaulding's Farm the other afternoon. I saw the
setting sun lighting up the opposite side of a stately pine wood.
Its golden rays straggled into the aisles of the wood as into
some noble hall. I was impressed as if some ancient and
altogether admirable and shining family had settled there in that
part of the land called Concord, unknown to me--to whom the sun
was servant--who had not gone into society in the village--who
had not been called on. I saw their park, their pleasure-ground,
beyond through the wood, in Spaulding's cranberry-meadow. The
pines furnished them with gables as they grew. Their house was
not obvious to vision; the trees grew through it. I do not know
whether I heard the sounds of a suppressed hilarity or not. They
seemed to recline on the sunbeams. They have sons and daughters.
They are quite well. The farmer's cart-path, which leads directly
through their hall, does not in the least put them out, as the
muddy bottom of a pool is sometimes seen through the reflected
skies. They never heard of Spaulding, and do not know that he is
their neighbor--notwithstanding I heard him whistle as he drove
his team through the house. Nothing can equal the serenity of
their lives. Their coat-of-arms is simply a lichen. I saw it
painted on the pines and oaks. Their attics were in the tops of
the trees. They are of no politics. There was no noise of labor.
I did not perceive that they were weaving or spinning. Yet I did
detect, when the wind lulled and hearing was done away, the
finest imaginable sweet musical hum,--as of a distant hive in
May, which perchance was the sound of their thinking. They had no
idle thoughts, and no one without could see their work, for their
industry was not as in knots and excrescences embayed.

But I find it difficult to remember them. They fade irrevocably
out of my mind even now while I speak, and endeavor to recall
them and recollect myself. It is only after a long and serious
effort to recollect my best thoughts that I become again aware of
their cohabitancy. If it were not for such families as this, I
think I should move out of Concord.

We are accustomed to say in New England that few and fewer
pigeons visit us every year. Our forests furnish no mast for
them. So, it would seem, few and fewer thoughts visit each
growing man from year to year, for the grove in our minds is laid
waste--sold to feed unnecessary fires of ambition, or sent to
mill--and there is scarcely a twig left for them to perch on.
They no longer build nor breed with us. In some more genial
season, perchance, a faint shadow flits across the landscape of
the mind, cast by the WINGS of some thought in its vernal or
autumnal migration, but, looking up, we are unable to detect the
substance of the thought itself. Our winged thoughts are turned
to poultry. They no longer soar, and they attain only to a
Shanghai and Cochin- China grandeur. Those GRA-A-ATE THOUGHTS,
those GRA-A-ATE men you hear of!

We hug the earth--how rarely we mount! Methinks we might elevate
ourselves a little more. We might climb a tree, at least. I found
my account in climbing a tree once. It was a tall white pine, on
the top of a hill; and though I got well pitched, I was well paid
for it, for I discovered new mountains in the horizon which I had
never seen before--so much more of the earth and the heavens. I
might have walked about the foot of the tree for threescore years
and ten, and yet I certainly should never have seen them. But,
above all, I discovered around me--it was near the end of
June--on the ends of the topmost branches only, a few minute and
delicate red conelike blossoms, the fertile flower of the white
pine looking heavenward. I carried straightway to the village the
topmost spire, and showed it to stranger jurymen who walked the
streets--for it was court week--and to farmers and lumber-dealers
and woodchoppers and hunters, and not one had ever seen the like
before, but they wondered as at a star dropped down. Tell of
ancient architects finishing their works on the tops of columns
as perfectly as on the lower and more visible parts! Nature has
from the first expanded the minute blossoms of the forest only
toward the heavens, above men's heads and unobserved by them. We
see only the flowers that are under our feet in the meadows. The
pines have developed their delicate blossoms on the highest twigs
of the wood every summer for ages, as well over the heads of
Nature's red children as of her white ones; yet scarcely a farmer
or hunter in the land has ever seen them.

Above all, we cannot afford not to live in the present. He is
blessed over all mortals who loses no moment of the passing life
in remembering the past. Unless our philosophy hears the cock
crow in every barnyard within our horizon, it is belated. That
sound commonly reminds us that we are growing rusty and antique
in our employments and habits of thoughts. His philosophy comes
down to a more recent time than ours. There is something
suggested by it that is a newer testament,--the gospel according
to this moment. He has not fallen astern; he has got up early and
kept up early, and to be where he is is to be in season, in the
foremost rank of time. It is an expression of the health and
soundness of Nature, a brag for all the world,--healthiness as of
a spring burst forth, a new fountain of the Muses, to celebrate
this last instant of time. Where he lives no fugitive slave laws
are passed. Who has not betrayed his master many times since last
he heard that note?

The merit of this bird's strain is in its freedom from all
plaintiveness. The singer can easily move us to tears or to
laughter, but where is he who can excite in us a pure morning
joy? When, in doleful dumps, breaking the awful stillness of our
wooden sidewalk on a Sunday, or, perchance, a watcher in the
house of mourning, I hear a cockerel crow far or near, I think to
myself, "There is one of us well, at any rate,"--and with a
sudden gush return to my senses.

We had a remarkable sunset one day last November. I was walking
in a meadow, the source of a small brook, when the sun at last,
just before setting, after a cold, gray day, reached a clear
stratum in the horizon, and the softest, brightest morning
sunlight fell on the dry grass and on the stems of the trees in
the opposite horizon and on the leaves of the shrub oaks on the
hillside, while our shadows stretched long over the meadow east-
ward, as if we were the only motes in its beams. It was such a
light as we could not have imagined a moment before, and the air
also was so warm and serene that nothing was wanting to make a
paradise of that meadow. When we reflected that this was not a
solitary phenomenon, never to happen again, but that it would
happen forever and ever, an infinite number of evenings, and
cheer and reassure the latest child that walked there, it was
more glorious still.

The sun sets on some retired meadow, where no house is visible,
with all the glory and splendor that it lavishes on cities, and
perchance as it has never set before--where there is but a
solitary marsh hawk to have his wings gilded by it, or only a
musquash looks out from his cabin, and there is some little
black-veined brook in the midst of the marsh, just beginning to
meander, winding slowly round a decaying stump. We walked in so
pure and bright a light, gilding the withered grass and leaves,
so softly and serenely bright, I thought I had never bathed in
such a golden flood, without a ripple or a murmur to it. The west
side of every wood and rising ground gleamed like the boundary of
Elysium, and the sun on our backs seemed like a gentle herdsman
driving us home at evening.

So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall
shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine
into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a
great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a
bankside in autumn.


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