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

Page 29 of 99

He enjoys true leisure who has time to improve his soul's estate.

Feb. 12. Opposition is often so strong a likeness as to remind us of the difference.

Truth has properly no opponent, for nothing gets so far up on the other side as to be opposite. She looks broadcast over the field and sees no opponent.

The ring-leader of the mob will soonest be admitted into the councils of state. 119

Knavery is more foolish than folly, for that, half knowing its own foolishness, it still persists. The knave has reduced folly to a system, is the prudent, common-sense fool. The witling has the simplicity and directness of genius, is the inspired fool. His incomprehensible ravings become the creed of the dishonest of a succeeding era.

Feb. 13. An act of integrity is to an act of duty what the French verb tre is to devoir. Duty is ce que devrait tre.

Duty belongs to the understanding, but genius is not dutiful, the highest talent is dutiful. Goodness results from the wisest use of talent.

The perfect man has both genius and talent. The one is his head, the other his foot; by one he is, by the other he lives.

The unconsciousness of man is the consciousness of God, the end of the world.[111]

The very thrills of genius are disorganizing. The body is never quite acclimated to its atmosphere, but how often succumbs and goes into a decline!

Feb. 14. Beauty lives by rhymes. Double a deformity is a beauty. Draw this blunt quill over the paper, and fold it once transversely to the line, pressing it suddenly before the ink dries, and a delicately shaded and regular figure is the result, which art cannot surpass.[112] 120

A very meagre natural history suffices to make me a child. Only their names and genealogy make me love fishes. I would know even the number of their fin-rays, and how many scales compose the lateral line. I fancy I am amphibious and swim in all the brooks and pools in the neighborhood, with the perch and bream, or doze under the pads of our river amid the winding aisles and corridors formed by their stems, with the stately pickerel. I am the wiser in respect to all knowledges, and the better qualified for all fortunes, for knowing that there is a minnow in the brook. Methinks I have need even of his sympathy, and to be his fellow in a degree. I do like him sometimes when he balances himself for an hour over the yellow floor of his basin.[113]

Feb. 15. The good seem to inhale a more generous atmosphere and be bathed in a more precious light than other men. Accordingly Virgil describes the sedes beatas thus:---

"Largior hic campos aether et lumine vestit

Purpureo: Solemque suum, sua sidera nrunt."[114]

Feb. 16. Divination is prospective memory.

There is a kindred principle at the bottom of all affinities. The magnet cultivates a steady friendship with the pole, all bodies with all others. The friendliness of nature is that goddess Ceres who presides over every sowing and harvest, and we bless the same in sun and 121 rain. The seed in the ground tarries for a season with its genial friends there; all the earths and grasses and minerals are its hosts, who entertain it hospitably, and plenteous crops and teeming wagons are the result.

Feb. 18. All romance is grounded on friendship. What is this rural, this pastoral, this poetical life but its invention? Does not the moon shine for Endymion? Smooth pastures and mild airs are for some Corydon and Phyllis. Paradise belongs to Adam and Eve. Plato's republic is governed by Platonic love.

Feb. 20. The coward's hope is suspicion, the hero's doubt a sort of hope. The gods neither hope nor doubt.

Feb. 22. The river is unusually high, owing to the melting of the snow. Men go in boats over their gardens and potato-fields, and all the children of the village are on tiptoe to see whose fence will be carried away next. Great numbers of muskrats, which have been driven out of their holes by the water, are killed by the sportsmen.

They are to us instead of the beaver. The wind from over the meadows is laden with a strong scent of musk, and by its racy freshness advertises us of an unexplored wildness. Those backwoods are not far off. I am affected by the sight of their cabins of mud and grass, raised four or five feet, along the river, as when I read of the Pyramids, or the barrows of Asia.[115]

People step brisker in the street for this unusual 122 movement of the waters. You seem to hear the roar of a waterfall and the din of factories where the river breaks over the road.

Who would have thought that a few feet might not have been spared from the trunks of most trees? Such as grow in the meadows, and are now surrounded by that depth of water, have a dwarfish appearance. No matter whether they are longer or shorter, they are now equally out of proportion.


Feb. 24.

A stir is on the Worcester hills,

And Nobscot too the valley fills;

Where scarce you'd fill an acorn cup

In summer when the sun was up,

No more you'll find a cup at all,

But in its place a waterfall.

O that the moon were in conjunction

To the dry land's extremest unction,

Till every dike and pier were flooded,

And all the land with islands studded,

For once to teach all human kind,

Both those that plow and those that grind,

There is no fixture in the land,

But all unstable is as sand.

The river swelleth more and more,

Like some sweet influence stealing o'er

The passive town; and for a while

Each tussock makes a tiny isle, 123

Where, on some friendly Ararat,

Resteth the weary water-rat.

No ripple shows Musketaquid,

Her very current e'en is hid,

As deepest souls do calmest rest

When thoughts are swelling in the breast;

And she, that in the summer's drought

Doth make a rippling and a rout,

Sleeps from Nawshawtuct to the Cliff,

Unruffled by a single skiff;

So like a deep and placid mind

Whose currents underneath it wind,

For by a thousand distant hills

The louder roar a thousand rills,

And many a spring which now is dumb,

And many a stream with smothered hum,

Doth faster well and swifter glide,

Though buried deep beneath the tide.

Our village shows a rural Venice,

Its broad lagunes where yonder fen is,

Far lovelier than the Bay of Naples

Yon placid cove amid the maples,

And in my neighbor's field of corn

I recognize the Golden Horn.

Here Nature taught from year to year,

When only red men came to hear,

Methinks 'twas in this school of art

Venice and Naples learned their part, 124

But still their mistress, to my mind,

Her young disciples leaves behind.[116]

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