The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, Volume VII (of 20)

Page 13 of 99

Feb. 19.

Each summer sound

Is a summer round.[24]


Feb. 27. He jogs along at a snail's pace, but ever mindful that the earth is beneath and the heavens above him. His Italy is not merely the fatherland of lazzaroni and maccaroni but a solid turf-clad soil, daily illumined by a genial sun and nightly gleaming in the still moonshine,---to say nothing of the frequent showers which are so faithfully recorded. That sail to Palermo was literally a plowing through of the waves from Naples to Trinacria,---the sky overhead, and the sea with its isles on either hand.

His hearty good-will to all men is most amiable; not one cross word has he spoken, but on one occasion, the post boy snivelling, "Signore, perdonate! qusta la mia patria," he confesses, "to me poor northerner came something tear-like into the eyes."[25]


March 1. March fans it, April christens it, and May puts on its jacket and trousers. It never grows up, but Alexandrian-like "drags its slow length along," ever springing, bud following close upon leaf, and when winter comes it is not annihilated, but creeps on mole-like under the snow, showing its face nevertheless occasionally by fuming springs and watercourses.

So let it be with man,---let his manhood be a more 31 advanced and still advancing youth, bud following hard upon leaf. By the side of the ripening corn let's have a second or third crop of peas and turnips, decking the fields in a new green. So amid clumps of sere herd's-grass sometimes flower the violet and buttercup spring-born.


March 3. Three thousand years and the world so little changed! The Iliad seems like a natural sound which has reverberated to our days. Whatever in it is still freshest in the memories of men was most childlike in the poet. It is the problem of old age,---a second childhood exhibited in the life of the world. Phbus Apollo went like night,--- ' . This either refers to the gross atmosphere of the plague darkening the sun, or to the crescent of night rising solemn and stately in the east while the sun is setting in the west.

Then Agamemnon darkly lowers on Calchas, prophet of evil,--- ,---such a fire-eyed Agamemnon as you may see at town meetings and elections, as well here as in Troy neighborhood.


March 4. Here at my elbow sit five notable, or at least noteworthy, representatives of this nineteenth century,---of the gender feminine. One a sedate, indefatigable knitter, not spinster, of the old school, who had the supreme felicity to be born in days that tried men's souls, who can, and not unfrequently does, say with Nestor, another of the old school: "But you are younger than I. For time was when I conversed with greater 32 men than you. For not at any time have I seen such men, nor shall see them, as Perithous, and Dryas, and ," or, in one word, sole "shepherd of the people," Washington.

And when Apollo has now six times rolled westward, or seemed to roll, and now for the seventh time shows his face in the east, eyes well-nigh glazed, long glassed, which have fluctuated only between lamb's wool and worsted, explore ceaseless some good sermon book. For six days shalt thou labor and do all thy knitting, but on the seventh, forsooth, thy reading.[26]

Opposite, across this stone hearth, sits one of no school, but rather one who schools, a spinster who spins not, with elbow resting on the book of books, but with eyes turned towards the vain trumpery of that shelf,---trumpery of sere leaves, blossoms, and waxwork, built on sand, that presumes to look quite as gay, smell quite as earthy, as though this were not by good rights the sun's day. I marked how she spurned that innocent every-day book, "Germany by De Stal," as though a viper had stung her;---better to rest the elbow on The Book than the eye on such a page. Poor book! this is thy last chance.

Happy I who can bask in this warm spring sun which illumines all creatures, as well when they rest as when they toil, not without a feeling of gratitude! whose life is as blameless---how blameworthy soever it be---on the Lord's Mona-day as on his Suna-day![27]

Thus much at least a man may do: he may not impose on his fellows,---perhaps not on himself. Thus 33 much let a man do: confidently and heartily live up to his thought; for its error, if there be any, will soonest appear in practice, and if there be none, so much he may reckon as actual progress in the way of living.


The poet does not leap, even in imagination, from Asia to Greece through mid-air, neglectful of the fair sea and still fairer land beneath him, but jogs on humanly observant over the intervening segment of a sphere,---

, ,---

for there are very many

Shady mountains, and resounding seas between.[28]

March 5. How often, when Achilles like one whether to retaliate or suppress his wrath, has his good Genius, like Pallas Athene, gliding down from heaven, , , stood behind him, and whispered peace in his ear![29]

Men may dispute about the fact whether a goddess did actually come down from heaven, calling it a poet's fancy, but was it not, considering the stuff that gods are made of, a very truth?


"And to them rose up the sweet-worded Nestor, the shrill orator of the Pylians,

And words sweeter than honey flowed from his tongue."[30] 34

E'en in old Homer's day was honey sweet,---not yet is sour,---tickling the palate of the blind old man, forsooth, with fresher sweet; then, as now, whene'er from leaky jar or drivelling lips it daubed the festive board, proving a baneful lure to swarms of parasites, Homer's cotemporaries, but alas! like Phthian hero, vulnerable in heel.


But what does all this scribbling amount to? What is now scribbled in the heat of the moment one can contemplate with somewhat of satisfaction, but alas! to-morrow---aye, to-night---it is stale, flat, and unprofitable,---in fine, is not, only its shell remains, like some red parboiled lobster-shell which, kicked aside never so often, still stares at you in the path.

What may a man do and not be ashamed of it? He may not do nothing surely, for straightway he is dubbed Dolittle---aye! christens himself first---and reasonably, for he was first to duck. But let him do something, is he the less a Dolittle? Is it actually something done, or not rather something undone; or, if done, is it not badly done, or at most well done comparatively?

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