Walking (Thoreau)

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"Walking" is an essay written by Henry David Thoreau. Between 1851 and 1860 Thoreau read the piece a total of ten times, more than any other of his lectures. He considered it one of his seminal works, so much so, that he once wrote of the lecture, "I regard this as a sort of introduction to all that I may write hereafter." Thoreau constantly reworked and revised the piece throughout the 1850s, calling the essay "Walking." Also at this time he was working on another piece called "The Wild." Sometimes he would deliver one of the essays, while at other times he would read the other. Sometimes he would combine the two and call it, "Walking; or, The Wild." "Walking" was published posthumously after Thoreau's death on May 6, 1862. It appeared in the June 1862 issue of the Atlantic Monthly.

It is the source of the quote:

Along with Ralph Waldo Emerson's Nature, and George Perkins Marsh's "Man and Nature", it has become one of the most important essays in the environmental movement.

Relationship between civilization and wilderness...Thoreau neither rejected civilization nor fully embraced wilderness. Instead he sought a middle ground, the pastoral realm that integrates both nature and civilization.

In the essay, "Walking," by Henry David Thoreau, one of the "Seven Elements in Nature Writing," which is continuous throughout the entire essay, is the philosophy of nature. Thoreau begins his three-part essay by referring to human's role in nature "as an inhabitant, or a part or parcel of Nature." He later criticizes members of society for their lack of such a relationship with nature. Furthermore, Thoreau also uses an experience from his own life to represent a personal account in nature, more specifically his experiences while walking into the forest near his property. Socioeconomic politics can be seen in this essay when Thoreau analyzes building development as a taming and cheapening of the landscape. Thoreau brings the reader into a spiritual realm when he associates the divinity of nature and the spirit of walking with Christianity and Greek Mythology. In addition, when describing the Mississippi River, Thoreau describes the river as a kind of enchanted Holy Land.

Throughout all parts of the essay, including Thoreau's description of an ecological psychology and philosophy on nature, the use of figurative language is prevalent. Before one can truly become a Walker, one must be prepared to "send our embalmed hearts only, as relics to our desolate kingdoms" (Thoreau 1). Thoreau uses a simile to describe a village with roads springing from it as a lake with rivers springing from it. He also uses rhetorical questions and hypophoras to impact the reader; after describing the mythological wonders Thoreau sees while witnessing a sunset, he uses a rhetorical question to challenge the reader about whether they have looked at the sunset without imagining the mythological wonders themselves.

This essay is divided into three distinct parts. One commonality in this reading is that each part relates nature to being good and each part provides a piece of poetry to help illustrate this. In the first part the reader, who is probably the general public, develops a sense of inferiority. The author asserts that the kind of relationship he has with nature is one that is innate. In part two, the author speaks of nature as magical and criticizes the negative effects American society has had on the environment. In the third part, Thoreau leaves us stimulating our sensitivity toward the existence of nature and the spirituality it beholds. The structuring of the essay into three parts is effective in progressively showing that walking goes beyond the physical activity, but into an appreciation of nature.

Concerning Thoreau's stance, this essay seems to arise out of the author's negative view of American society, and is an attempt to open-up the reader's sensitivity toward nature. At times he seems like a preacher at mass, using personal experiences with nature and relating those experiences to a higher being. The author effectively influences the reader to believe he or she is part of a Holy Land; the Holy Land has a personality, much like that of the reader. However, if the reader only sees nature to be instrumentally valuable, this reading may not be very effective in addressing the ecological effects of environmental degradation.


"I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil—to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society".

"Let me live where I will, on this side is the city, on that the wilderness, and ever I am leaving the city more and more, and withdrawing into the wilderness".

"Ben Jonson exclaims: 'How near to good is what is fair.' So I would say: 'How near to good is what is wild.'"

"Here is this vast, savage, hovering mother of ours, Nature, lying all around, with such beauty, and such affection for her children, as the leopard; and yet we are so early weaned from her breast to society, to that culture which is exclusively an interaction of man on man"...

"So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn".

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