Thoreau Over the Deep

  • Eric Wilson


On New Year’s Day, 1851, Thoreau as usual set out on his afternoon walk, exhilarated by another warm day, the third in a row, surrounded, though the sky was sunless, by a luminous mist. He made his way to a deep cut in the bank around Waiden Pond, his former habitat. There he beheld thawing clay, the frozen earth melting under the plastic power of midwinter spring: earth returning to first water. Metamorphosing his head to hands and feet, Thoreau dug below the surface of the sliding mud to unearth its subterranean significance:

These things suggest—that there is motion in the earth as well as on the surface; it lives & grows. It is warmed & influenced by the sun—just as my blood by my thoughts. I seem to see some of the life that is in the spring bud & blossom more intimately nearer its fountain head—the fancy sketches & designs of the artist. It is more simple & primitive growth. As if for ages sand and clay might have thus flowed into the forms of foliage—before plants were produced to clothe the earth. The earth I tread on is not a dead inert mass. It is a body—has a spirit—is organic—and fluid to the influence of its spirit—and to whatever particle of that spirit is in me. She is not dead but sleepeth. It is more cheering than the fertility & luxuriance of vineyards—this fundamental fertility near to the principle of growth. To be sure it is somewhat foecal and stercoral—. So the poet’s creative moment is when the frost is coming out in the spring. (J 4:230)


Centripetal Force French Historian Plastic Power Voiceless Spirant Transcendentalist Philosophy 
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    Drawing from Thoreau’s journal (J 1:121, 140–1, 156n, 180), Robert D. Richardson Jr., details Thoreau’s reading of Cudworth, Gerando, and Fenelon during the spring, summer, and fall of 1840 in Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1986), 78, 81. See also Robert Sattelmeyer, Thoreau’s Reading: A Study in Intellectual History (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1988), 28–9.Google Scholar
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© Eric Wilson 2000

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