Henry David Thoreau: Transcendentalist

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Henry David Thoreau: Transcendentalist

By | October 2008
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Henry David Thoreau spent much time studying nature and applying those studies to the human condition. His Transcendentalist ideas shone through in his writings and his life. In “Economy” he asks, “Why has man rooted himself thus firmly in the earth, but that he may rise in the same proportion into the heavens above” (Thoreau 58). He asks this question in response to man’s ever increasing need to have more than the basic necessities of life. In other words, if we have warmth, food, water, and clothing what purpose does added luxury serve. Thoreau reinforces this later when he writes, “When I have met an immigrant tottering under a bundle which contained his all – looking like an enormous wen which had grown out of the nape of his neck – I have pitied him, not because that was his all, but because he had all that to carry” (Thoreau 110). In Thoreau’s opinion these things only hamper one’s ability to rise above a mundane existence. Moving to the pond and living off what it supplied helped him in that quest. Reading on into “Where I Lived” he says, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is dear, nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary" (Thoreau 135). This is an extremely telling statement. Thoreau is speaking of his dedication to finding truth in nature. The real travesty, for him, would be to neglect this opportunity to learn what nature has to teach him or die never the wiser. He honestly believed nature to be the highest physical reality on Earth and only by understanding it could a person understand oneself. Living in harmony with nature was the first and best way to realize the truths of human nature. He furthers these ideas later in “Sounds” by asking what is gained by earnestly listening to what is around...

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