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

Page 22 of 99

May 11. The farmer keeps pace with his crops and the revolutions of the seasons, but the merchant with the fluctuations of trade. Observe how differently they walk in the streets.


May 16. Virtue is the very heart and lungs of vice: it cannot stand up but it lean on virtue.

Who has not admired the twelve labors? And yet nobody thinks if Hercules had sufficient motive for 79 racking his bones to that degree. Men are not so much virtuous as patrons of virtue, and every one knows that it is easier to deal with the real possessor of a thing than the temporary guardian of it.


May 17. We say justly that the weak person is flat; for, like all flat substances, he does not stand in the direction of his strength, that is on his edge, but affords a convenient surface to put upon. He slides all the way through life. Most things are strong in one direction,---a straw longitudinally, a board in the direction of its edge, a knee transversely to its grain,---but the brave man is a perfect sphere, which cannot fall on its flat side, and is equally strong every way. The coward is wretchedly spheroidal at best, too much educated or drawn out on one side commonly and depressed on the other; or he may be likened to a hollow sphere, whose disposition of matter is best when the greatest bulk is intended.[55]


May 21. Who knows how incessant a surveillance a strong man may maintain over himself,---how far subject passion and appetite to reason, and lead the life his imagination paints? Well has the poet said,---

"By manly mind

Not e'en in sleep is will resigned."

By a strong effort may he not command even his brute body in unconscious moments? 80


June 4. I sit here this fourth of June, looking out on men and nature from this that I call my perspective window, through which all things are seen in their true relations. This is my upper empire, bounded by four walls, viz., three of boards yellow-washed, facing the north, west, and south, respectively, and the fourth of plaster, likewise yellow-washed, fronting the sunrise,---to say nothing of the purlieus and outlying provinces, unexplored as yet but by rats.

The words of some men are thrown forcibly against you and adhere like burs.


June 22. Saturday. I have within the last few days come into contact with a pure, uncompromising spirit, that is somewhere wandering in the atmosphere, but settles not positively anywhere. Some persons carry about them the air and conviction of virtue, though they themselves are unconscious of it, and are even backward to appreciate it in others. Such it is impossible not to love; still is their loveliness, as it were, independent of them, so that you seem not to lose it when they are absent, for when they are near it is like an invisible presence which attends you.

That virtue we appreciate is as much ours as another's. We see so much only as we possess.


June 24.

Lately, alas, I knew a gentle boy,

Whose features all were cast in Virtue's mould, 81

As one she had designed for Beauty's toy,

But after manned him for her own stronghold.

On every side he open was as day,

That you might see no lack of strength within,

For walls and ports do only serve alway

For a pretense to feebleness and sin.

Say not that Csar was victorious,

With toil and strife who stormed the House of Fame;

In other sense this youth was glorious,

Himself a kingdom wheresoe'er he came.

No strength went out to get him victory,

When all was income of its own accord;

For where he went none other was to see,

But all were parcel of their noble lord.

He forayed like the subtle haze of summer,

That stilly shows fresh landscapes to our eyes,

And revolutions works without a murmur,

Or rustling of a leaf beneath the skies.

So was I taken unawares by this,

I quite forgot my homage to confess;

Yet now am forced to know, though hard it is,

I might have loved him, had I loved him less.

Each moment, as we nearer drew to each,

A stern respect withheld us farther yet,

So that we seemed beyond each other's reach,

And less acquainted than when first we met. 82

We two were one while we did sympathize,

So could we not the simplest bargain drive;

And what avails it now that we are wise,

If absence doth this doubleness contrive?

Eternity may not the chance repeat,

But I must tread my single way alone,

In sad remembrance that we once did meet,

And know that bliss irrevocably gone.

The spheres henceforth my elegy shall sing,

For elegy has other subject none;

Each strain of music in my ears shall ring

Knell of departure from that other one.

Make haste and celebrate my tragedy;

With fitting strain resound, ye woods and fields;

Sorrow is dearer in such case to me

Than all the joys other occasion yields.

Is't then too late the damage to repair?

Distance, forsooth, from my weak grasp hath reft

The empty husk, and clutched the useless tare,

But in my hands the wheat and kernel left.

If I but love that virtue which he is,

Though it be scented in the morning air,

Still shall we be truest acquaintances,

Nor mortals know a sympathy more rare.


July 4.

With cunning plates the polished leaves were decked,

Each one a window to the poet's world, 83

So rich a prospect that you might suspect

In that small space all paradise unfurled.

It was a right delightful road to go,

Marching through pastures of such fair herbage,

O'er hill and dale it led, and to and fro,

From bard to bard, making an easy stage;

Where ever and anon I slaked my thirst

Like a tired traveller at some poet's well,

Which from the teeming ground did bubbling burst,

And tinkling thence adown the page it fell.

Still through the leaves its music you might hear,

Till other springs fell faintly on the ear.


July 11. At length we leave the river and take to the road which leads to the hilltop, if by any means we may spy out what manner of earth we inhabit. East, west, north, and south, it is farm and parish, this world of ours. One may see how at convenient, eternal intervals men have settled themselves, without thought for the universe. How little matters it all they have built and delved there in the valley! It is after all but a feature in the landscape. Still the vast impulse of nature breathes over all. The eternal winds sweep across the interval to-day, bringing mist and haze to shut out their works. Still the crow caws from Nawshawtuct to Annursnack, as no feeble tradesman nor smith may do. And in all swamps the hum of mosquitoes drowns this modern hum of industry. 84

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