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.
Achan Sumano in the Double-Eye Cave in Thailand, where he has lived for more than 20 years. He practices Buddhism in the tradition of the late Achan Mun and Achan Chaa of the Forest Meditation Center near Ubon, Thailand. Photograph by Roy Hamric
“Viewing TV, reading newspapers, and staying on top of the dramas happening in the world causes a lot of anxiety and frustration to short circuit our ability to respond appropriately to events in our personal lives. In our intimate relationships, more so than any other, there is a need to function with spontaneous penetrating wisdom, with humanity, with love and with compassion. Penetrating wisdom is a critical aspect because it can see through circumstances. Wisdom recognizes the need for compassion beginning with compassion for ourselves. I regard family and intimate relationships as the ground for training ourselves to act and live as whole, kind-hearted human beings. In the family, in marriages and partnerships, we soak up massive amounts of pain from disappointment, frustration, jealousy, misunderstanding, etc. As painful as this is, all of this is needed to cultivate wisdom…” For more, see here.
Here’s Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize speech, which is a peek at his inspirations, entanglements and bondings and the power of stories to convey word pictures of the world. I was surprised he barely mentioned poetry.
“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!’ “
“For as the carpenter’s material is wood, and that of the statuary is copper, so the matter of the art of living is each man’s life…
“The question at stake,” said Epictetus, “is no common one; it is this:—Are we in our senses, or are we not?”
– Excerpt From: Epictetus. “A Selection from the Discourses of Epictetus with the Encheiridion.”
“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