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

Page 27 of 99

Music is either a sedative or a tonic to the soul.[97] I read that "Plato thinks the gods never gave men music, the science of melody and harmony, for mere delectation or to tickle the ear; but that the discordant parts of the circulations and beauteous fabric of the soul, and that of it that roves about the body, and many times, for want of tune and air, breaks forth into many extravagances and excesses, might be sweetly recalled and artfully wound up to their former consent and agreement."[98]

By dint of wind and stringed instruments the coward endeavors to put the best face on the matter,---whistles to keep his courage up.

There are some brave traits related by Plutarch; e. g.: "Homer acquaints us how Ajax, being to engage in a single combat with Hector, bade the Grecians pray to the gods for him; and while they were at their devotions, he was putting on his armor."

On another occasion, a storm arises, "which as soon as the pilot sees, he falls to his prayers, and invokes 106 his tutelar dmons, but neglects not in the meantime to hold to the rudder and let down the main yard."

"Homer directs his husbandman, before he either plow or sow, to pray to the terrestrial Jove and the venerable Ceres, but with his hand upon the plow-tail."

. (Verily, to be brave is the beginning of victory.)

The Romans "made Fortune surname to Fortitude," for fortitude is that alchemy that turns all things to good fortune. The man of fortitude, whom the Latins called fortis, is no other than that lucky person whom fors favors, or vir summae fortis. If we will, every bark may "carry Csar and Csar's fortune." The brave man stays at home. For an impenetrable shield, stand inside yourself; he was an arrant coward who first made shields of brass. For armor of proof, mea virtute me involvo (I wrap myself in my virtue);

"Tumble me down, and I will sit

Upon my ruins, smiling yet."[99]

The bravest deed, which for the most part is left quite out of history, which alone wants the staleness of a deed done and the uncertainty of a deed doing, is the life of a great man. To perform exploits is to be temporarily bold, as becomes a courage that ebbs and flows, the soul quite vanquished by its own deed subsiding into indifference and cowardice; but the exploit of a brave life consists in its momentary completeness.[100] 107


Fall of 1839. Then first I conceive of a true friendship, when some rare specimen of manhood presents itself. It seems the mission of such to commend virtue to mankind, not by any imperfect preaching of her word, but by their own carriage and conduct. We may then worship moral beauty without the formality of a religion.

They are some fresher wind that blows, some new fragrance that breathes. They make the landscape and the sky for us.

The rules of other intercourse are all inapplicable to this.

We are one virtue, one truth, one beauty. All nature is our satellite, whose light is dull and reflected. She is subaltern to us,---an episode to our poem; but we are primary, and radiate light and heat to the system.

I am only introduced once again to myself.

Conversation, contact, familiarity are the steps to it and instruments of it, but it is most perfect when these are done, and distance and time oppose no barrier.

I need not ask any man to be my friend, more than the sun the earth to be attracted by him. It is not his to give, nor mine to receive. I cannot pardon my enemy; let him pardon himself. 108

Commonly we degrade Love and Friendship by presenting them under the aspect of a trivial dualism.

What matter a few words more or less with my friend,---with all mankind;---they will still be my friends in spite of themselves. Let them stand aloof if they can! As though the most formidable distance could rob me of any real sympathy or advantage! No, when such interests are at stake, time, and distance, and difference fall into their own places.

But alas! to be actually separated from that parcel of heaven we call our friend, with the suspicion that we shall no more meet in nature, is source enough for all the elegies that ever were written. But the true remedy will be to recover our friend again piecemeal, wherever we can find a feature, as etes gathered up the members of his son, which Medea had strewn in her path.

The more complete our sympathy, the more our senses are struck dumb, and we are repressed by a delicate respect, so that to indifferent eyes we are least his friend, because no vulgar symbols pass between us. On after thought, perhaps, we come to fear that we have been the losers by such seeming indifference, but in truth that which withholds us is the bond between us.

My friend will be as much better than myself as my aspiration is above my performance. 109

This is most serene autumn weather. The chirp of crickets may be heard at noon over all the land. As in summer they are heard only at nightfall, so now by their incessant chirp they usher in the evening of the year.[102] The lively decay of autumn promises as infinite duration and freshness as the green leaves of spring. 110

(T. 22-23)


Jan. 10.

I know the world where land and water meet,

By yonder hill abutting on the main;

One while I hear the waves incessant beat,

Then, turning round, survey the land again.

Within a humble cot that looks to sea,

Daily I breathe this curious warm life;

Beneath a friendly haven's sheltering lee

My noiseless day with myst'ry still is rife.

'Tis here, they say, my simple life began;

And easy credit to the tale I lend,

For well I know 'tis here I am a man.

But who will simply tell me of the end?

These eyes, fresh opened, spied the far-off Sea,

Which like a silent godfather did stand,

Nor uttered one explaining word to me,

But introduced straight Godmother Land.

And yonder still stretches that silent main,

With many glancing ships besprinkled o'er; 111

And earnest still I gaze and gaze again

Upon the selfsame waves and friendly shore,

Till like a watery humor on the eye

It still appears whichever way I turn,

Its silent waste and mute o'erarching sky

With close-shut eyes I clearly still discern.

And yet with lingering doubt I haste each morn

To see if ocean still my gaze will greet,

And with each day once more to life am born,

And tread once more the earth with infant feet.

My years are like a stroll upon the beach,

As near the ocean's edge as I can go;

My tardy steps its waves do oft o'erreach,

Sometimes I stay to let them overflow.

Infinite work my hands find there to do,

Gathering the relics which the waves upcast;

Each storm doth scour the deep for something new,

And every time the strangest is the last.

My sole employment 'tis, and scrupulous care,

To place my gains beyond the reach of tides,

Each smoother pebble, and each shell more rare,

Which ocean kindly to my hand confides.

I have no fellow-laborer on the shore;

They scorn the strand who sail upon the sea;

Sometimes I think the ocean they've sailed o'er

Is deeper known upon the strand to me. 112

The middle sea can show no crimson dulse,

Its deeper waves cast up no pearls to view,

Along the shore my hand is on its pulse,

Whose feeble beat is elsewhere felt by few.

My neighbors come sometimes with lumb'ring carts.

As it would seem my pleasant toil to share,

But straightway take their loads to distant marts,

For only weeds and ballast are their care.

'Tis by some strange coincidence, if I

Make common cause with ocean when he storms,

Who can so well support a separate sky,

And people it with multitude of forms.

Oft in the stillness of the night I hear

Some restless bird presage the coming din,

And distant murmurs faintly strike my ear

From some bold bluff projecting far within.

My stillest depths straightway do inly heave

More genially than rests the summer's calm;

The howling winds through my soul's cordage grieve,

Till every shelf and ledge gives the alarm.

Far from the shore the swelling billows rise,

And gathering strength come rolling to the land,

And, as each wave retires, and murmur dies,

I straight pursue upon the streaming sand,

Till the returning surge with gathered strength

Compels once more the backward way to take, 113

And, creeping up the beach a cable's length,

In many a thirsty hollow leaves a lake.

Oft as some ruling star my tide has swelled

The sea can scarcely brag more wrecks than I;

Ere other influence my waves has quelled,

The stanchest bark that floats is high and dry.

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