Thoreau spent two years, two months and two days in a cabin near Walden Pond where he wrote Walden. He spent a little over two years at the cabin, and used one year, the four seasons, as a metaphor for growth in Nature and in human nature. He was urged on in his inner pursuits by Ralph Waldo Emerson, his neighbor, who was firing up the emergent, new American imagination. Walden was Thoreau’s personal attempt at spiritual enlightenment and a flag for self-reliance in the search for inner growth and peace. Again, I have to say the book that opens up Walden like no other is Stanley Cavel’s Senses of Walden, which really should be read before reading Walden.
Thoreau’s notebook journal from Nov. 11, 1858.
“And many of the Serranos, the Indians from the hills, wearing their little conical black felt hats, seem capped with night, above the straight white shoulders. Some have come far, walking all yesterday in their black hats and black-sheathed sandals. Tomorrow they will walk back. And their eyes will be just the same, black and bright and wild, in the dark faces. They have no goal, any more than the hawks in the air, and no course to run, any more than the clouds.”
– D.H. Lawrence, in his nonfiction voice, heavy with mysticism and lyrical description on the otherness of the Indian culture he observed while staying near Oxaca in the mid-1920s.
Albert Murray, Ralph Ellison’s friend, remembers a short poem, which I will call a haiku, from their days as students together: Murray recalls the author of Invisible Man as the smartest-dressed upperclassman at Tuskegee. Murray was impressed that Ellison always seemed to check out the best books in the library, and he presented a “nascent elegance” in his two-tone shoes, bow tie, contrasting slacks, and whatever else the best haberdasher in Oklahoma had to offer.
“I even remember the poetry Ralph wrote,” Murray said:
“‘Death is nothing, / Life is nothing, / How beautiful these two nothings!’ “
“Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst. What is the right use? What is the one end which all means go to effect? They are for nothing but to inspire.
“I had better never see a book than to be warped by its attraction clean out of my own orbit, and made a satellite instead of a system.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Not magnitude, not lavishness,
But Form—the Site;
Not innovating wilfulness,
But reverence for the Archetype.
I just finished Moby Dick for the second time. A hybrid, genius work way ahead of its time, combining a nonfiction, direct address to the reader and narrative fiction, in short a swirl and swerve that follows Melville’s daemon to tell his tale like no other, which he did. By the end, he’s understandably exhausted. But we have been told in a new, pre-modern archetype.
Red Pine, Stonehouse and Gary Snyder are mentioned in Jim Harrison’s new trilogy of novellas that was just released, The Ancient Minstrel:
“After attending and giving at least a hundred poetry readings he could remember only one that struck him as a hundred percent genuine and honest. A poet named, simply enough, Red Pine read from an ancient Chinese poet he had translated, called Stonehouse. Red Pine read with quiet integrity just what he translated. Usually after a reading he was in a private snit and needed a drink, but now he walked down and looked at the harbor, his spine still tingling. The other true exception was Gary Snyder. He never wanted Snyder’s readings to end.”