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

Page 53 of 99

April 5. This long series of desultory mornings does not tarnish the brightness of the prospective days. Surely faith is not dead. Wood, water, earth, air are essentially what they were; only society has degenerated. This lament for a golden age is only a lament for golden men.

I only ask a clean seat. I will build my lodge on the southern slope of some hill, and take there the life the gods send me. Will it not be employment enough to accept gratefully all that is yielded me between sun and sun?[231] Even the fox digs his own burrow. If my jacket and trousers, my boots and shoes, are fit to worship God in, they will do. Won't they, Deacon Spaulding?[232]

April 7. Wednesday. My life will wait for nobody, but is being matured still irresistibly while I go about the streets and chaffer with this man and that to secure it a living. It will cut its own channel, like the mountain stream, which by the longest ridges and by level 245 prairies is not kept from the sea finally. So flows a man's life, and will reach the sea water, if not by an earthy channel, yet in dew and rain, overleaping all barriers, with rainbows to announce its victory. It can wind as cunningly and unerringly as water that seeks its level; and shall I complain if the gods make it meander? This staying to buy me a farm is as if the Mississippi should stop to chaffer with a clamshell.

What have I to do with plows? I cut another furrow than you see. Where the off ox treads, there is it not, it is farther off; where the nigh ox walks, it will not be, it is nigher still. If corn fails, my crop fails not. What of drought? What of rain? Is not my sand well clayed, my peat well sanded? Is it not underdrained and watered?[233]

My ground is high,

But 'tis not dry,

What you call dew

Comes filtering through;

Though in the sky,

It still is nigh;

Its soil is blue

And virgin too.

If from your price ye will not swerve,

Why, then I'll think the gods reserve

A greater bargain there above,

Out of their sup'rabundant love 246

Have meantime better for me cared,

And so will get my stock prepared,

Plows of new pattern, hoes the same,

Designed a different soil to tame,

And sow my seed broadcast in air,

Certain to reap my harvest there.

April 8. Friends are the ancient and honorable of the earth. The oldest men did not begin friendship. It is older than Hindostan and the Chinese Empire. How long has it been cultivated, and is still the staple article! It is a divine league struck forever. Warm, serene days only bring it out to the surface. There is a friendliness between the sun and the earth in pleasant weather; the gray content of the land is its color.

You can tell what another's suspicions are by what you feel forced to become. You will wear a new character, like a strange habit, in their presence.

April 9. Friday. It would not be hard for some quiet brave man to leap into the saddle to-day and eclipse Napoleon's career by a grander,---show men at length the meaning of war. One reproaches himself with supineness, that he too has sat quiet in his chamber, and not treated the world to the sound of the trumpet; that the indignation which has so long rankled in his breast does not take to horse and to the field. The bravest warrior will have to fight his battles in his dreams, and no earthly war note can arouse him. There are who would not run with Leonidas. Only the third-rate Napoleons 247 and Alexanders does history tell of. The brave man does not mind the call of the trumpet nor hear the idle clashing of swords without, for the infinite din within. War is but a training, compared with the active service of his peace. Is he not at war? Does he not resist the ocean swell within him, and walk as gently as the summer's sea? Would you have him parade in uniform, and manuvre men, whose equanimity is his uniform and who is himself manuvred?

The times have no heart. The true reform can be undertaken any morning before unbarring our doors. It calls no convention. I can do two thirds the reform of the world myself. When two neighbors begin to eat corn bread, who before ate wheat, then the gods smile from ear to ear, for it is very pleasant to them. When an individual takes a sincere step, then all the gods attend, and his single deed is sweet.[234]

April 10. Saturday. I don't know but we should make life all too tame if we had our own way, and should miss these impulses in a happier time.

How much virtue there is in simply seeing! We may almost say that the hero has striven in vain for his pre-eminency, if the student oversees him. The woman who sits in the house and sees is a match for a stirring captain. Those still, piercing eyes, as faithfully exercised on their talent, will keep her even with Alexander or Shakespeare. They may go to Asia with parade, or to 248 fairyland, but not beyond her ray. We are as much as we see. Faith is sight and knowledge. The hands only serve the eyes. The farthest blue streak in the horizon I can see, I may reach before many sunsets. What I saw alters not; in my night, when I wander, it is still steadfast as the star which the sailor steers by.

Whoever has had one thought quite lonely, and could contentedly digest that in solitude, knowing that none could accept it, may rise to the height of humanity, and overlook all living men as from a pinnacle.

Speech never made man master of men, but the eloquently refraining from it.

April 11. Sunday. A greater baldness my life seeks, as the crest of some bare hill, which towns and cities do not afford. I want a directer relation with the sun.


True friendship is so firm a league

That's maintenance falls into the even tenor

Of our lives, and is no tie,

But the continuance of our life's thread.

If I would safely keep this new-got pelf,

I have no care henceforth but watch myself,

For lo! it goes untended from my sight,

Waxes and wanes secure with the safe star of night.

See with what liberal step it makes its way,

As we could well afford to let it stray 249

Throughout the universe, with the sun and moon,

Which would dissolve allegiance as soon.

Shall I concern myself for fickleness,

And undertake to make my friends more sure,

When the great gods out of sheer kindliness,

Gave me this office for a sinecure?

Death cannot come too soon

Where it can come at all,

But always is too late

Unless the fates it call.

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