May 24, 2018

Reading Uncertainly? Ruminations on Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, 1854

With the advent of a new year, this seemed the perfect time to publish this wonderful review by our resident book reviewer and aspiring poet Felix Kloman. Felix looks back at a book published 161 years ago and yet finds contemporary wisdom among its pages, some of which is especially pertinent as we enter 2016.

Walden_by_Henry_David_ThoreauAs my stack of reading dwindled recently to nothingness, by chance I was drawn to my ancient copy of Thoreau’s story of his two-year-long self-proclaimed “exile” to the shores of Massachusetts’ Walden Pond. My re-read was well worth the time.

Some stimulating thoughts from the Massachusetts monk, who sought solitude but could not refrain from talking and writing about it:

  • On a Lyme summer evening’s solitude: “This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore.” I considered this observation as I, too, sat quietly on our Lyme porch, overlooking meadows, our Ely’s Ferry Road, and, closer to hand, our orange-embossed cyphea (pronounced like “goofier,” I am advised by my resident horticulturist), whose juices were being avidly sucked away by several hummingbirds. They actually seemed to squeak after each tongue-licking. As Thoreau concluded “… my serenity is rippled but not ruffled.”
  • On the delights of quiet conversation with a few intelligent friends, reminding me of my regular Friday morning “communions” at Ashlawn Farm Coffee: “Having each some shingles of thought well dried, we sat and whittled them, trying our knives, and admiring the clear yellowish grain of the pumpkin pine. We waded so gently and reverently, or we pulled together so smoothly, that the fishes of thought were not scared from the stream, nor feared by any angler on the bank, but came and went grandly, like the clouds which float through the western sky, and the mother-o’-pearl flocks which sometimes form and dissolve there. There we worked, revising mythology, rounding a fable here and there, and building castles in the air for which earth offered no worthy foundation … To converse with whom was a New England Night’s Entertainment. Ah! Such discourse we had …”
  • On spending too much time worrying: “A man sits as many risks as he runs.” Thoreau went on to explain: “The old and the infirm and the timid, of whatever age or sex, thought most of sickness, and sudden accident and death; to them life seemed full of danger – what danger is there if you don’t think of any? – and they thought that a prudent man would carefully select the safest position.” Has anything changed in the past 161 years? Doesn’t seem like it …
  • As I am an aspiring yet amateur poet, contributing occasional haiku to the Ashlawn Farm cognoscenti, I found reassurance in this from Henry David: “… but nothing can deter a poet  … Who can predict his comings and going?”
  • And, finally, Thoreau’s concluding advice: “ … explore your own higher latitudes … Open new channels, not of trade, but of thought … There are continents and seas in the moral world, to which every man is an isthmus or an inlet, yet unexplored by him …“

Surprises can be enthralling and energizing, if only we anticipate them with pleasure. This is just how I found my re-reading of Walden.

Do try your own re-read.

Felix Kloman_headshot_2005_284x331-150x150About the Author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.


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