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

Page 97 of 99

How many young finny contemporaries of various character and destiny, form and habits, we have even 475 in this water! And it will not be forgotten by some memory that we were contemporaries. It is of some import. We shall be some time friends, I trust, and know each other better. Distrust is too prevalent now. We are so much alike! have so many faculties in common! I have not yet met with the philosopher who could, in a quite conclusive, undoubtful way, show me the, and, if not the, then how any, difference between man and a fish. We are so much alike! How much could a really tolerant, patient, humane, and truly great and natural man make of them, if he should try? For they are to be understood, surely, as all things else, by no other method than that of sympathy. It is easy to say what they are not to us, i. e., what we are not to them; but what we might and ought to be is another affair.

In the tributaries the brook minnow and the trout. Even in the rills emptying into the river, over which you stride at a step, you may see small trout not so large as your finger glide past or hide under the bank.

The character of this [the horned pout], as indeed of all fishes, depends directly upon that of the water it inhabits, those taken in clear and sandy water being of brighter hue and cleaner and of firmer and sweeter flesh. It makes a peculiar squeaking noise when drawn out, which has given it the name of the minister or preacher.

The bream is the familiar and homely sparrow, which makes her nest everywhere, and is early and late. 476

The pickerel is the hawk, a fish of prey, hovering over the finny broods.

The pout is the owl, which steals so noiselessly about at evening with its clumsy body.

The shiner is the summer yellowbird, or goldfinch, of the river.

The sucker is the sluggish bittern, or stake-driver.

The minnow is the hummingbird.

The trout is the partridge woodpecker.

The perch is the robin.[504]

We read Marlowe as so much poetical pabulum. It is food for poets, water from the Castalian Spring, some of the atmosphere of Parnassus, raw and crude indeed, and at times breezy, but pure and bracing. Few have so rich a phrase! He had drunk deep of the Pierian Spring, though not deep enough, and had that fine madness, as Drayton says,

"Which justly should possess a poet's brain."

We read his "Dr. Faustus," "Dido, Queen of Carthage," and "Hero and Leander," especially the last, without being wearied. He had many of the qualities of a great poet, and was in some degree worthy to precede Shakespeare. But he seems to have run to waste for want of seclusion and solitude, as if mere pause and deliberation would have added a new element of greatness to his poetry. In his unquestionably fine, heroic tone it would seem as if he had the rarest part of genius, and education could have added the rest. The "Hero 477 and Leander" tells better for his character than the anecdotes which survive.

I fain would stretch me by the highway-side,

To thaw and trickle with the melting snow,

That mingled soul and body with the tide

I too might through the pores of Nature flow,[505]

Might help to forward the new spring along,

If it were mine to choose my toil or day,

Scouring the roads with yonder sluice-way throng,

And so work out my tax on Her highway.

Yet let us thank the purblind race

Who still have thought it good

With lasting stone to mark the place

Where braver men have stood.

In Concord, town of quiet name

And quiet fame as well, ...

I've seen ye, sisters, on the mountain-side,

When your green mantles fluttered in the wind;

I've seen your footprints on the lake's smooth shore,

Lesser than man's, a more ethereal trace;

I have heard of ye as some far-famed race,

Daughters of gods, whom I should one day meet,

Or mothers, I might say, of all our race.

I reverence your natures, so like mine

Yet strangely different, like but still unlike.

Thou only stranger that hast crossed my path, 478

Accept my hospitality; let me hear

The message which thou bring'st.

Made different from me,

Perchance thou'rt made to be

The creature of a different destiny.

I know not who ye are that meekly stand

Thus side by side with man in every land.

When did ye form alliance with our race,

Ye children of the moon, who in mild nights

Vaulted upon the hills and sought this earth?

Reveal that which I fear ye cannot tell,

Wherein ye are not I, wherein ye dwell

Where I can never come.

What boots it that I do regard ye so?

Does it make suns to shine or crops to grow?

What boots [it] that I never should forget

That I have sisters sitting for me yet?

And what are sisters?

The robust man, who can so stoutly strive,

In this bleak world is hardly kept alive.

And who is it protects ye, smooths your way?

We can afford to lend a willing ear occasionally to those earnest reformers of the age. Let us treat them hospitably. Shall we be charitable only to the poor? What though they are fanatics? Their errors are likely to be generous errors, and these may be they who will put to rest the American Church and the American government, and awaken better ones in their stead.

Let us not meanly seek to maintain our delicate lives in chambers or in legislative halls by a timid watchfulness 479 of the rude mobs that threaten to pull down our baby-houses. Let us not think to raise a revenue which shall maintain our domestic quiet by an impost on the liberty of speech. Let us not think to live by the principle of self-defense. Have we survived our accidents hitherto, think you, by virtue of our good swords,---that three-foot lath that dangles by your side, or those brazen-mouthed pieces under the burying hill which the trainers keep to hurrah with in the April and July mornings? Do our protectors burrow under the burying-ground hill, on the edge of the bean-field which you all know, gorging themselves once a year with powder and smoke, and kept bright and in condition by a chafing of oiled rags and rotten stone? Have we resigned the protection of our hearts and civil liberties to that feathered race of wading birds and marching men who drill but once a month?---and I mean no reproach to our Concord train-bands, who certainly make a handsome appearance---and dance well. Do we enjoy the sweets of domestic life undisturbed, because the naughty boys are all shut up in that whitewashed "stone-yard," as it is called, and see the Concord meadows only through a grating.

No, let us live amid the free play of the elements. Let the dogs bark, let the cocks crow, and the sun shine, and the winds blow!

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