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

Page 20 of 99

Who has not hearkened to her infinite din? She is Truth's speaking trumpet, which every man carries slung over his shoulder, and when he will may apply to his ear. She is the sole oracle, the true Delphi and Dodona, which kings and courtiers would do well to consult, nor will they be balked by an ambiguous answer. Through her have all revelations been made. Just as 68 far as men have consulted her oracle, they have obtained a clear insight, and their age been marked for an enlightened one. But as often as they have gone gadding abroad to a strange Delphi and her mad priestess, they have been benighted, and their age Dark or Leaden.---These are garrulous and noisy eras, which no longer yield any sound; but the Grecian, or silent and melodious, Era is ever sounding on the ears of men.

A good book is the plectrum with which our silent lyres are struck. In all epics, when, after breathless attention, we come to the significant words "He said," then especially our inmost man is addressed. We not unfrequently refer the interest which belongs to our own unwritten sequel to the written and comparatively lifeless page. Of all valuable books this same sequel makes an indispensable part. It is the author's aim to say once and emphatically, "He said." This is the most the bookmaker can attain to. If he make his volume a foil whereon the waves of silence may break, it is well. It is not so much the sighing of the blast as that pause, as Gray expresses it, "when the gust is recollecting itself," that thrills us, and is infinitely grander than the importunate howlings of the storm.

At evening Silence sends many emissaries to me, some navigating the subsiding waves which the village murmur has agitated.

It were vain for me to interpret the Silence. She cannot be done into English. For six thousand years have 69 men translated her, with what fidelity belonged to each; still is she little better than a sealed book. A man may run on confidently for a time, thinking he has her under his thumb, and shall one day exhaust her, but he too must at last be silent, and men remark only how brave a beginning he made; for, when he at length dives into her, so vast is the disproportion of the told to the untold that the former will seem but the bubble on the surface where he disappeared.

Nevertheless will we go on, like those Chinese cliff swallows, feathering our nests with the froth, so they may one day be bread of life to such as dwell by the seashore.


Dec. 23.


Behold, how, spring appearing,

The Graces send forth roses;

Behold, how the wave of the sea

Is made smooth by the calm;

Behold, how the duck dives;

Behold, how the crane travels;

And Titan shines constantly bright.

The shadows of the clouds are moving;

The works of man shine;

The earth puts forth fruits;

The fruit of the olive puts forth.

The cup of Bacchus is crowned. 70

Along the leaves, along the branches,

The fruit, bending them down, flourishes.


Love once among roses

A sleeping bee

Did not see, but was stung;

And, being wounded in the finger

Of his hand, cried for pain.

Running as well as flying

To the beautiful Venus,

I am killed, mother, said he,

I am killed, and I die.

A little serpent has stung me,

Winged, which they call

A bee,---the husbandmen.

And she said, If the sting

Of a bee afflicts you,

How, think you, are they afflicted,

Love, whom you smite?

[Dated only 1838.] Sometimes I hear the veery's silver clarion, or the brazen note of the impatient jay, or in secluded woods the chickadee doles out her scanty notes, which sing the praise of heroes, and set forth the loveliness of virtue evermore.---Phe-be.[48] 71

(T. 21-22)


Jan. 11.

I saw the civil sun drying earth's tears,

Her tears of joy, that only faster flowed.

Fain would I stretch me by the highway-side,

To thaw and trickle with the melting snow,

That, mingled soul and body with the tide,

I too may through the pores of nature flow.

But I, alas, nor trickle can nor fume,

One jot to forward the great work of Time,

'Tis mine to hearken while these ply the loom,

So shall my silence with their music chime.


Jan. 20. The prospect of our river valley from Tahatawan Cliff appeared to me again in my dreams.

Last night, as I lay gazing with shut eyes

Into the golden land of dreams,

I thought I gazed adown a quiet reach

Of land and water prospect,

Whose low beach 72

Was peopled with the now subsiding hum

Of happy industry, whose work is done.

And as I turned me on my pillow o'er,

I heard the lapse of waves upon the shore,

Distinct as it had been at broad noonday,

And I were wandering at Rockaway.


We two that planets erst had been

Are now a double star,

And in the heavens may be seen,

Where that we fixd are.

Yet, whirled with subtle power along,

Into new space we enter,

And evermore with spheral song

Revolve about one centre.

Feb. 3.

The deeds of king and meanest hedger

Stand side by side in heaven's ledger.

'Twill soon appear if we but look

At evening into earth's day-book,

Which way the great account doth stand

Between the heavens and the land.


The eastern mail comes lumbering in,

With outmost waves of Europe's din; 73

The western sighs adown the slope,

Or 'mid the rustling leaves doth grope,

Laden with news from Californ',

Whate'er transpired hath since morn,

How wags the world by brier and brake,

From hence to Athabasca lake.[50]


Feb. 8. When the poetic frenzy seizes us, we run and scratch with our pen, delighting, like the cock, in the dust we make, but do not detect where the jewel lies, which perhaps we have in the meantime cast to a distance, or quite covered up again.[51]

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