Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
Edited by Bill McKibben
Published over a century and a half ago, Henry David Thoreau’s, Walden, remains a masterpiece in American literature. One of the many ways Walden succeeds as a text is due to Thoreau’s optimistic outlook concerning one’s quest for self-fulfillment and a comfortable recognition of personal place in the world. The reason Thoreau chose to live at Walden Pond, just outside of Concord, Massachusetts, was because he wanted 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…to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” (85) Along with his own process of self-discovery, Thoreau simultaneously urges the reader to be more self-aware and live more consciously. “Be it life or death, we crave only reality”, but he questions if we are really living in reality or are only mere observers of life.
Thoreau claims we’re not completely immersed in reality and to get there, to our own personal reality, we need to figure out our purpose. He writes, “In eternity there is indeed something true and sublime. But all these times and places and occasions are now and here…And we are enabled to apprehend at all what is sublime and noble only by the perpetual instilling and drenching of the reality that surrounds us…whether we travel fast or slow, the track is laid for us.” (91) Similar to the eastern philosophy of Buddhism which values the present moment as a way towards deeper understanding, Thoreau believes that truths are not only found in eternity, but in the “now and here.” It is our duty to recognize meaning in each moment, if we are to come to a better understanding of our self and the “track” that “is laid for us.”