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

Page 93 of 99

But it is in the order of destiny that whatever is remote shall be near. Whatever the eyes see, the hands shall touch. The sentinels upon the turret and at the window and on the wall behold successively the approaching traveller whom the host will soon welcome in the hall.

It is not to be forgotten that the poet is innocent; but he is young, he is not yet a parent or a brother to his race. There are a thousand degrees of grace and beauty before absolute humanity and disinterestedness.

The meanest man can easily test the noblest. Is he embraced? Does he find him a brother?

I am sometimes made aware of a kindness which may have long since been shown, which surely memory cannot retain, which reflects its light long after its heat. I realize, my friend, that there have been times when thy thoughts of me have been of such lofty kindness that they passed over me like the winds of heaven unnoticed, so pure that they presented no object to my eyes, so generous and universal that I did not detect them. Thou hast loved me for what I was not, but for what I aspired to be. We shudder to think of the kindness of our friend which has fallen on us cold, though in some true but tardy hour we have awakened. There has just reached me the kindness of some acts, not to be forgotten, not to be remembered. I wipe off these scores at midnight, at rare intervals, in moments of insight and gratitude. 457

Far o'er the bow,

Amid the drowsy noon,

Souhegan, creeping slow,

Appeareth soon.[496]

Methinks that by a strict behavior

I could elicit back the brightest star

That hides behind a cloud.

I have rolled near some other spirit's path,

And with a pleased anxiety have felt

Its purer influence on my opaque mass,

But always was I doomed to learn, alas!

I had scarce changd its sidereal time.

Gray sedulously cultivated poetry, but the plant would not thrive. His life seems to have needed some more sincere and ruder experience.

Occasionally we rowed near enough to a cottage to see the sunflowers before the door, and the seed-vessels of the poppy, like small goblets filled with the waters of Lethe, but without disturbing the sluggish household.

Driving the small sandpiper before us.


Thou drifting meadow of the air,

Where bloom the daisied banks and violets, 458

And in whose fenny labyrinths

The bittern booms and curlew peeps,

The heron wades and boding rain-crow clucks;

Low-anchored cloud,

Newfoundland air,

Fountain-head and source of rivers,

Ocean branch that flowest to the sun,

Diluvian spirit, or Deucalion shroud,

Dew-cloth, dream drapery,

And napkin spread by fays,

Spirit of lakes and seas and rivers,

Sea-fowl that with the east wind

Seek'st the shore, groping thy way inland,

By whichever name I please to call thee,

Bear only perfumes and the scent

Of healing herbs to just men's fields.

I am amused with the manner in which Quarles and his contemporary poets speak of Nature,---with a sort of gallantry, as a knight of his lady,---not as lovers, but as having a thorough respect for her and some title to her acquaintance. They speak manfully, and their lips are not closed by affection.

"The pale-faced lady of the black-eyed night."

Nature seems to have held her court then, and all authors were her gentlemen and esquires and had ready an abundance of courtly expressions.

Quarles is never weak or shallow, though coarse and untasteful. He presses able-bodied and strong-backed words into his service, which have a certain rustic fragrance and force, as if now first devoted to literature 459 after having served sincere and stern uses. He has the pronunciation of a poet though he stutters. He certainly speaks the English tongue with a right manly accent. To be sure his poems have the[498] musty odor of a confessional.

How little curious is man,

Who hath not searched his mystery a span,

But dreams of mines of treasure

Which he neglects to measure,

For threescore years and ten

Walks to and fro amid his fellow men

O'er this small tract of continental land,

His fancy bearing no divining wand.

Our uninquiring corpses lie more low

Than our life's curiosity doth go;

Our most ambitious steps climb not so high

As in their hourly sport the sparrows fly.

Yonder cloud's blown farther in a day

Than our most vagrant feet may ever stray.

Surely, O Lord, he hath not greatly erred

Who hath so little from his birthplace stirred.

He wanders through this low and shallow world,

Scarcely his bolder thoughts and hopes unfurled,

Through this low walld world, which his huge sin

Hath hardly room to rest and harbor in.

Bearing his head just o'er some fallow ground,

Some cowslip'd meadows where the bitterns sound,

He wanders round until his end draws nigh, 460

And then lays down his aged head to die.

And this is life! this is that famous strife!

His head doth court a fathom from the land,

Six feet from where his grovelling feet do stand.

What is called talking is a remarkable though I believe universal phenomenon of human society. The most constant phenomenon when men or women come together is talking. A chemist might try this experiment in his laboratory with certainty, and set down the fact in his journal. This characteristic of the race may be considered as established. No doubt every one can call to mind numerous conclusive instances. Some nations, it is true, are said to articulate more distinctly than others; yet the rule holds with those who have the fewest letters in their alphabet. Men cannot stay long together without talking, according to the rules of polite society. (As all men have two ears and but one tongue, they must spend the extra and unavoidable hours of silence in listening to the whisperings of genius, and this fact it is that makes silence always respectable in my eyes.) Not that they have anything to communicate, or do anything quite natural or important to be done so, but by common consent they fall to using the invention of speech, and make a conversation, good or bad. They say things, first this one and then that. They express their "opinions," as they are called.

By a well-directed silence I have sometimes seen threatening and troublesome people routed. You sit musing as if you were in broad nature again. They cannot stand it. Their position becomes more and 461 more uncomfortable every moment. So much humanity over against one without any disguise,---not even the disguise of speech! They cannot stand it nor sit against it.

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