OK, Lawrence, let's kick in the afterburners and ascend to a
high-flying transcendental altitude. Don't try to bail out on me
by shouting "Eisegesis!"
. Make sure your oxygen's good and
let's fly. What is "Brute Neighbors" really about?
The Lost Meditation of "Brute Neighbors"
At the beginning of "Brute Neighbors" Hermit is interrupted and loses
track of his thoughts as did Coleridge in composing "Kubla Khan."
After taking thought, Hermit recovers sufficiently to state the
question of his meditation:
This questioning is followed by a list of animals. Questions are
often followed by answers. How does Hermit's list answer the question
of his meditation?
Hermit, bless his sly Yankee soul, has left us a trail of clues. He
is surveying the boundaries of a world, he is going to heaven, it all
involves a list of animals, and these animals carry all the aspects
of the human self. Only one object satisfies these conditions: the
zodiac. Hermit, like an Adam in an Eden of animals, is defining the
zodiac in terms of the beasts and birds of Walden.
There are, however, fourteen animals in Hermit's list instead of the
obligatory twelve. Why should he make it too easy for us? Phoebe,
robin, and partridge all fall in the single category of small, highly
maternal (Taurean), domestic birds. The details of this category
concern only the partridge.
So considered, the list of animals is:
2. partridge (and phoebe and robin)
The mouse (Rat: Aries), the creature of beginnings as Thoreau builds
his house, is the first animal of the Chinese zodiac, the
constellation looking as much like a mouse as it does a ram; the
partridge exhibits the maternal care of the cow (Taurus); the otter,
as playful as a boy, has the mecurial quality of Gemini; the racoon
seizes as does a crab (Cancer); the protective woodcock has a large
brood ('Increase' is the property of Leo and the Fifth House); the
turtledove represents the Virgin (Virgo); the squirrel balances
(Libra) on the boughs; ants sting like Scorpio; the dog hunts like
Sagittarius; the cat ascends like Capricornus; the loon is a water-
bringer like Aquarius; and the Piscean ducks evade human contact.