photo of replica Thoreau cabin

The “Experiment” of Henry David Thoreau

Today, August 9, is the anniversary of the 1854 publication of Walden, a collection of essays written by American author Henry David Thoreau. The body of work is Thoreau’s woodland experiment, alternatively entitled A Life in the Woods. It is a poetic reflection of Thoreau’s experiences in isolated contemplation.

Sample: Walden’s poetic prose

This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore. I go and come with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself. As I walk along the stony shore of the pond in my shirt-sleeves, though it is cool as well as cloudy and windy, and I see nothing special to attract me, all the elements are unusually congenial to me. The bullfrogs trump to usher in the night, and the note of the whip-poor-will is borne on the rippling wind from over the water. Sympathy with the fluttering alder and poplar leaves almost takes away my breath; yet, like the lake, my serenity is rippled but not ruffled.

Chapter 5, Solitude: Henry David Thoreau via American Literature

Emotive words and phrases are carefully chosen by the author, so as to enable the fullest possible telling (and total recall, on a personal level). The result is a magnificent example of poetic prose. Initial copies sold for $1 each at a rate of about 300 per year.

Intended as a transcendental experiment on self-reliance, it’s noteworthy that the cabin in which Thoreau escaped sat upon land owned: isolation was not complete, and the opportunity, of course, not available to most people.

Thoreau lived at Walden Pond for a two-year period, most likely a decision come to after finding civil trouble through transcendentalist tax avoidance and strong attention to civil rights work. While there, he explored whether a culture of nature could sustain “a man”, and ultimately returned to society and resorted to day jobs to support himself.

Still, Thoreau’s attempt, his attention to doing with as little as possible (and still able to do) resulted in a contemplation of nature—and need—for many.


Move to Walden Pond of Henry David Thoreau, Britannica
Essays, Henry David Thoreau, Standard EBooks


One thought on “The “Experiment” of Henry David Thoreau”

  1. Henry David Thoreau was a very thoughtful writer, indeed. Even though he did eventually return to “civilization,” I agree that the book written as a result of his time in the woods offered unique perspectives of being out there in a natural environment. Hopefully it drove more people to become closer to nature.

    Liked by 1 person

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