In this inspiring and thought-provoking essay, Thoreau beautifully articulates how Man derives his sustenance, his physical and spiritual well-being, his imagination and inspirations, from Nature, the Wild.
Thoreau’s essays are always delightful, refreshing and stimulating, but above all, he urges readers to action, to adventure into the wild and seek the springs of life.
If you would get exercise, go in search of the springs of life. Think of a man’s swinging dumbbells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in far-off pastures unsought by him!
Moreover, you must walk like a camel, which is said to be the only beast which ruminates when walking. When a traveler asked Wordsworth’s servant to show him her master’s study, she answered, “Here is his library, but his study is out of doors.”
(Note: Thoreau recounts that during his own walks he often follows an internal compass and takes the westward direction. He relates it to the migration of the civilization from East to West, as though chasing the Sun, first across the Atlantic from Europe to America, then across America to the western frontier. “The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild.” I wonder though, if the trend continues, might not the peak of civilization migrate cross the Pacific from America into China?)
Life and Wildness
Life consists with Wildness. The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him. One who pressed forward incessantly and never rested from his labors, who grew fast and made infinite demands on life, would always find himself in a new country or wilderness, and surrounded by the raw material of life.
There is something servile in the habit of seeking after a law which we may obey. We may study the laws of matter at and for our convenience, but a successful life knows no law. … The man who takes the liberty to live is superior to all the laws both of heaven and earth, by virtue of his relation to the Law-maker
Literature and the Wild
In Literature, it is only the wild that attracts us. Dullness is but another name for tameness.
A truly good book is something as natural, and as unexpectedly and unaccountably fair and perfect, as a wild flower discovered on the prairies of the west, or in the jungles of the east. Genius is a light which makes the darkness visible, like the lightning’s flash, which perchance shatters the temple of knowledge itself.
Where is the literature which gives expression to Nature? He would be a poet who could impress the winds and streams into his service, to speak for him; who nailed words to their primitive senses, as farmers drive down stakes in the spring which the frost has heaved; who derived his words as often as he used them — transplanted them to his page with earth adhering to their roots; — whose words were so true, and fresh, and natural that they would appear to expand like the buds at the approach of spring, though they lay half smothered between two musty leaves in a library, — aye, to bloom and bear fruit there after their kind annually for the faithful reader, in sympathy with surrounding Nature.
As the Land, So the Man Who Lives in It
For I believe that climate does thus react on man–as there is something in the mountain air that feeds the spirit and inspires. …I trust that we shall be more imaginative, that our thoughts will be clearer, fresher, and more ethereal, as our sky–our understanding more comprehensive and broader, like our plains–our intellect generally on a grander scale, like our thunder and lightning, our rivers and mountains and forests-and our hearts shall even correspond in breadth and depth and grandeur to our inland seas.