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Chapter 13. House-Warming 
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Post Chapter 13. House-Warming
Summary

autumn fruit

chestnuts

the ground-nut

leaves turning

wasps

solar warmth

chimney construction

plastering

burning lime

first ice

hard winter

fuel

nesting moles

lethal cold

a small cooking-stove for economy

http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transcendenta ... ter13.html
Walden Study Text



Sat Jul 19, 2008 8:42 pm
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Post First ice
The following is one of my favorite passages in Walden. As a girl I spent as many hours outside, year round, as school and parents would allow. First ice was always a very exciting event. I can remember calling and being called by brothers to show the seasons first thin attempt at ice. We skated as often as the ice would hold us. I remember being fascinated by all the different ways ice looked and being told that weather conditions while the ice was forming caused the variations.

This passage also illustrates what I like best about Henry David Thoreau; his curiosity and skill at patient observation.


[11] The pond had in the meanwhile skimmed over in the shadiest and shallowest coves, some days or even weeks before the general freezing. The first ice is especially interesting and perfect, being hard, dark, and transparent, and affords the best opportunity that ever offers for examining the bottom where it is shallow; for you can lie at your length on ice only an inch thick, like a skater insect on the surface of the water, and study the bottom at your leisure, only two or three inches distant, like a picture behind a glass, and the water is necessarily always smooth then. There are many furrows in the sand where some creature has travelled about and doubled on its tracks; and, for wrecks, it is strewn with the cases of caddis-worms made of minute grains of white quartz. Perhaps these have creased it, for you find some of their cases in the furrows, though they are deep and broad for them to make. But the ice itself is the object of most interest, though you must improve the earliest opportunity to study it. If you examine it closely the morning after it freezes, you find that the greater part of the bubbles, which at first appeared to be within it, are against its under surface, and that more are continually rising from the bottom; while the ice is as yet comparatively solid and dark, that is, you see the water through it. These bubbles are from an eightieth to an eighth of an inch in diameter, very clear and beautiful, and you see your face reflected in them through the ice. There may be thirty or forty of them to a square inch. There are also already within the ice narrow oblong perpendicular bubbles about half an inch long, sharp cones with the apex upward; or oftener, if the ice is quite fresh, minute spherical bubbles one directly above another, like a string of beads. But these within the ice are not so numerous nor obvious as those beneath.


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Thu Aug 28, 2008 9:26 am
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Saffron,
It (ice) is one of those miracles that usually occurs beneath our notice, I think you're right. Thoreau might have been unique in this ability to place precise observation at the service of poetry (never mind that Walden is prose). Do you recall that passage in "Spring" where he talks at such length about "the forms which thawing sand and clay assume in flowing down the steep sides of a deep cut on the railroad"? That one takes some patience for me to get through, but it is an amazing example of a mind converting scientific observation into poetry.

I used to welcome the ice, too, although I'm afraid that the appreciation phase didn't last long before the destructive urge of the boy then took over. But I truly feel sorry for those who have always lived in southern climes.

DW



Thu Aug 28, 2008 9:45 am
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DWill wrote:
I used to welcome the ice, too, although I'm afraid that the appreciation phase didn't last long before the destructive urge of the boy then took over. But I truly feel sorry for those who have always lived in southern climes.
DW


DW,
That urge is not just in boys! When writing my post I decided to leave out that after finding the new ice, the very next act was to smash it before the summoned sibling came and could do it.

I think that most of us as children find change, of all sorts, exciting and exhilarating. Something about growing up (not sure if this is specific to our culture or it is a more universal phenomenon) involves wanting and attempting to nail everything in place. Resistance to change makes life more painful (as I can personally attest). I am sure that seasonal celebrations are rooted in the need to assist people in embracing the movement of life and greasing the wheel of change. When I let go, I know that there is real joy in letting the current of change drag you away, chair and all.

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Thu Aug 28, 2008 10:25 am
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Saffron,
Nice one. Thanks for that. Since you have opened up "Housewarming," I'll continue. Bear with me (or not!)
Quote:
but the now almost exterminated ground-nut will perhaps revive and flourish in spite of frosts and wildness, prove itself indigenous, and resume its ancient importance and dignity as the diet of the hunter tribe. Some Indian Ceres or Minerva must have been the inventor and bestower of it; and when the reign of poetry commences here, its leaves and string of nuts may be represented on our works of art.

What does "the reign of poetry" entail for Thoreau? It seems to be almost a heaven-on-earth condition for him. It's hard for me to say how he envisions this. It might not be simply living in a state of nature, because we have indications that he thinks civilization is on balance a good thing--or at least could be a good thing. He would be aware, for example, that the classic books he loves would not exist without civilization. So It would be a hybrid of sorts. I picture a kind of Arcadian society, one "under nature" instead of under God.
Quote:
The mortar on them was fifty years old, and was said to be still growing harder; but this is one of those sayings which men love to repeat whether they are true or not. Such sayings themselves grow harder and adhere more firmly with age, and it would take many blows with a trowel to clean an old wiseacre of them. Many of the villages of Mesopotamia are built of second-hand bricks of a very good quality, obtained from the ruins of Babylon, and the cement on them is older and probably harder still.

Good example of Thoreau's humor.
Quote:
13.7 I sometimes dream of a larger and more populous house, standing in a golden age, of enduring materials, and without gingerbread work, which shall still consist of only one room, a vast, rude, substantial, primitive hall, without ceiling or plastering, with bare rafters and purlins supporting a sort of lower heaven over one's head -- useful to keep off rain and snow, where the king and queen posts stand out to receive your homage

Right, why have your house all sectioned off into little square rooms? Thoreau was much taken with the old, heroic (but lengendary) ways of living that he read of in romances such as the tales of Ossian. But it is an appealing vision, and not one that a hermit would come up with.
Quote:
I would that our farmers when they cut down a forest felt some of that awe which the old Romans did when they came to thin, or let in the light to, a consecrated grove (lucum conlucare), that is, would believe that it is sacred to some god. The Roman made an expiatory offering, and prayed, Whatever god or goddess thou art to whom this grove is sacred, be propitious to me, my family, and children, etc.

This is good Romanticism. The Romantics regretted the loss of wonder and the miraculous that came along with the Enlightment. The sentiment Thoreau expresses is similar to Wordworth's "The World is Too Much With Us" sonnet:

........Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

Quote:
The animal merely makes a bed, which he warms with his body, in a sheltered place; but man, having discovered fire, boxes up some air in a spacious apartment, and warms that, instead of robbing himself, makes that his bed, in which he can move about divested of more cumbrous clothing, maintain a kind of summer in the midst of winter, and by means of windows even admit the light, and with a lamp lengthen out the day. Thus he goes a step or two beyond instinct, and saves a little time for the fine arts. Though, when I had been exposed to the rudest blasts a long time, my whole body began to grow torpid, when I reached the genial atmosphere of my house I soon recovered my faculties and prolonged my life. But the most luxuriously housed has little to boast of in this respect, nor need we trouble ourselves to speculate how the human race may be at last destroyed. It would be easy to cut their threads any time with a little sharper blast from the north. We go on dating from Cold Fridays and Great Snows; but a little colder Friday, or greater snow would put a period to man's existence on the globe.

Maybe this is in essence what man gains through his civilized ways: an advantage over the animals that allows us to cultivate our minds. But obviously, we go way beyond what we need to effect this advantage, so that all is superfluity in the well-appointed house. And despite all the luxury and seeming security from nature, that would be useless if nature decided to turn just a bit nastier.
DWill



Thu Aug 28, 2008 12:32 pm
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DWill:
Quote:
What does "the reign of poetry" entail for Thoreau? It seems to be almost a heaven-on-earth condition for him. It's hard for me to say how he envisions this. It might not be simply living in a state of nature, because we have indications that he thinks civilization is on balance a good thing--or at least could be a good thing. He would be aware, for example, that the classic books he loves would not exist without civilization. So It would be a hybrid of sorts. I picture a kind of Arcadian society, one "under nature" instead of under God.


Could he be getting at concepts like balance and symbiosis? Living and seeing ourselves not just in, but as part of nature.

Life as poetry -- poetry as the highest form of written art. Poetry is a practice; it requires attention to detail and generalization; it is conscious and careful word selection and a way of seeing value and beauty in the full spectrum of life experience. What a way to live! Stripped bare to the essentials, raw and exuberant and yet intentional and consciously chosen.


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Thu Aug 28, 2008 12:49 pm
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Quote:
Could he be getting at concepts like balance and symbiosis? Living and seeing ourselves not just in, but as part of nature.

No doubt a big part of it. This would be poetic in a way that I can't quite explain but am pretty sure is applicable. Maybe this balance and nature-ness is more like "beauty," something poetry shares with all the other arts. I imagine the other arts flourishing as well in his reign of poetry. Living would itself be an art. (You liked a statement of Montaigne's to that effect.) Thoreau would be merrily playing his flute!
Quote:
Life as poetry -- poetry as the highest form of written art. Poetry is a practice; it requires attention to detail and generalization; it is conscious and careful word selection and a way of seeing value and beauty in the full spectrum of life experience. What a way to live! Stripped bare to the essentials, raw and exuberant and yet intentional and consciously chosen.

He always stresses being fully awake to our lives, and to live in the grand and marvellous way you invoke would certainly require us to be more awake than we probably have yet been.

DWill



Thu Aug 28, 2008 3:08 pm
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