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

Page 39 of 99

July 14. Our discourse should be ex tempore, but not pro tempore.

July 16. We are as much refreshed by sounds as by sights, or scents, or flavors,---as the barking of a dog heard in the woods at midnight, or the tinklings which attend the dawn.

As I picked blackberries this morning, by starlight, the distant yelping of a dog fell on my inward ear, as the cool breeze on my cheek.

July 19. These two days that I have not written in my Journal, set down in the calendar as the 17th and 18th of July, have been really an on in which a Syrian empire might rise and fall. How many Persias have been lost and won in the interim? Night is spangled with fresh stars.

July 26. When I consider how, after sunset, the stars come out gradually in troops from behind the hills and woods, I confess that I could not have contrived a more curious and inspiring night.

July 27. Some men, like some buildings, are bulky but not great. The Pyramids any traveller may measure with his line, but the dimensions of the Parthenon 171 in feet and inches will seem to dangle from its entablature like an elastic drapery.[186]

Much credit is due to a brave man's eye. It is the focus in which all rays are collected. It sees from within, or from the centre, just as we scan the whole concave of the heavens at a glance, but can compass only one side of the pebble at our feet.[187]

The grandeur of these stupendous masses of clouds, tossed into such irregular greatness across the sky, seems thrown away on the meanness of my employment. The drapery seems altogether too rich for such poor acting.[188]

In vain the sun challenges man to equal greatness in his career. We look in vain over earth for a Roman greatness to answer the eternal provocation.[189]

We look up to the gilded battlements of the eternal city, and are contented to be suburban dwellers outside the walls.[190]

By the last breath of the May air I inhale I am reminded that the ages never got so far down as this before. The wood thrush is a more modern philosopher than Plato and Aristotle. They are now a dogma, but he preaches the doctrine of this hour. 172

This systole-diastole of the heart, the circulation of the blood from the centre to the extremities, the chylification which is constantly going on in our bodies are a sort of military evolution, a struggle to outgeneral the decay of time by the skillfulest tactics.

When bravery is worsted, it joins the peace society.

A word is wiser than any man, than any series of words. In its present received sense it may be false, but in its inner sense by descent and analogy it approves itself. Language is the most perfect work of art in the world. The chisel of a thousand years retouches it.

Nature refuses to sympathize with our sorrow. She seems not to have provided for, but by a thousand contrivances against it. She has bevelled the margins of the eyelids that the tears may not overflow on the cheek.[191]

We can conceive of a Bravery so wide that nothing can meet to befall it, so omnipresent that nothing can lie in wait for it, so permanent that no obstinacy can reduce it. The stars are its silent sentries by night, and the sun its pioneer by day. From its abundant cheerfulness spring flowers and the rainbow, and its infinite humor and wantonness produce corn and vines.[192] 173

(T. 23-24)

Jan. 23. A day is lapsing. I hear cockerels crowing in the yard, and see them stalking among the chips in the sun. I hear busy feet on the floors, and the whole house jars with industry. Surely the day is well spent, and the time is full to overflowing. Mankind is as busy as the flowers in summer, which make haste to unfold themselves in the forenoon, and close their petals in the afternoon.

The momentous topics of human life are always of secondary importance to the business in hand, just as carpenters discuss politics between the strokes of the hammer while they are shingling a roof.[193]

The squeaking of the pump sounds as necessary as the music of the spheres.

The solidity and apparent necessity of this routine insensibly recommend it to me. It is like a cane or a cushion for the infirm, and in view of it all are infirm. If there were but one erect and solid-standing tree in the woods, all creatures would go to rub against it and make sure of their footing. Routine is a ground to stand on, a wall to retreat to; we cannot draw on our boots without bracing ourselves against it.[194] It is the fence over which neighbors lean when they talk. All this 174 cockcrowing, and hawing and geeing, and business in the streets, is like the spring-board on which tumblers perform and develop their elasticity. Our health requires that we should recline on it from time to time. When we are in it, the hand stands still on the face of the clock, and we grow like corn in the genial dankness and silence of the night.[195] Our weakness wants it, but our strength uses it. Good for the body is the work of the body, good for the soul the work of the soul, and good for either the work of the other. Let them not call hard names, nor know a divided interest.

When I detect a beauty in any of the recesses of nature, I am reminded, by the serene and retired spirit in which it requires to be contemplated, of the inexpressible privacy of a life,---how silent and unambitious it is. The beauty there is in mosses will have to be considered from the holiest, quietest nook.[196]

The gods delight in stillness; they say, 'St---'st. My truest, serenest moments are too still for emotion; they have woollen feet. In all our lives we live under the hill, and if we are not gone we live there still.

Jan. 24. Sunday. I almost shrink from the arduousness of meeting men erectly day by day.

Be resolutely and faithfully what you are; be humbly what you aspire to be. Be sure you give men the best of your wares, though they be poor enough, and the gods will help you to lay up a better store for the future. 175 Man's noblest gift to man is his sincerity, for it embraces his integrity also. Let him not dole out of himself anxiously, to suit their weaker or stronger stomachs, but make a clean gift of himself, and empty his coffers at once. I would be in society as in the landscape; in the presence of nature there is no reserve, nor effrontery.

Coleridge says of the "ideas spoken out everywhere in the Old and New Testament," that they "resemble the fixed stars, which appear of the same size to the naked as to the armed eye; the magnitude of which the telescope may rather seem to diminish than to increase."

It is more proper for a spiritual fact to have suggested an analogous natural one, than for the natural fact to have preceded the spiritual in our minds.

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