Literary Influences: Walden or, Life in the Woods

Independence Day, July 4th, 1845:  Henry David Thoreau (HDT) moves to his cabin on Walden Pond.

Occasionally, Independence Day passes without my remembrance of Thoreau’s great experiment, but most of the time in early July I recall the event. The Christian Science Monitor reminded me this year in the article linked below.

http://www.csmonitor.com/Books/chapter-and-verse/2014/0704/Fourth-of-July-Almost-two-hundred-years-ago-Thoreau-moved-into-his-Walden-Pond-cabin

“My house is 10 feet wide by 15 long–with a garret & closet–2 windows one door at the end–and a fire-place.”

“But my object is not to live cheaply nor to live dearly–but to transact a little private business there with the fewest obstacles.”           Thoreau Journal entries–1845

Thoreau had an adequate house for his purpose there, not large but devoid of distractions nonetheless. Thoreau spent most of his writing time at Walden Pond working on A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. It would be his enduring story and musings of the memorable trip with his brother, John, in 1839. John Thoreau died just three years before Henry moved to Walden.

Although A Week on the Concord… is a great read, it was not my introduction to HDT. During my junior year at West Hopkins High School, my English teacher, Carolyn Ridenour, included a few chapters from Walden as part of a survey of American literature. I don’t remember which chapters were included nor any great impact at the time. However, something stayed with me about a man living alone in the woods, writing about nature, reading, raising a garden, and seeking the marrow of life in the 19th century.

The original title page of Walden or, Life in the Woods

The original title page of Walden or, Life in the Woods

I’m not sure of the exact date, but sometime in the summer of 1980 leading up to my freshman year in college at Murray State University, I bought my first copy of Walden. The book cost $1.50 in paperback. I could have read it in a couple of weeks even with the load of college assignments, but I didn’t. I read it slower than any book prior to or since then.

My first Walden a Signet Classic $1.50 in 1980

My first Walden a Signet Classic $1.50 in 1980

Almost every page had bits of wisdom. I underlined and wrote notes in the margins as I worked my way through every page and chapter. It was an unassigned part of my freshman year but one that has lasted greater than thirty years.

Walden 003

Walden– annotations and marginalia in my first paperback copy

My college roommate, John Pryor, was a huge music fan. He had pictures of Ronnie Milsap and Henry Mancini taped to the wall on his side of the room. To balance the decor, I needed something of interest for my bland block wall over the bed. So, one evening while studying in the Waterfield Library I found the section of books by HDT and made four copies of a 19th century daguerreotype Thoreau photo. Later that night on returning to the dorm, I taped my collection to the wall. Thoreau was a nice balance to Milsap and Mancini. It was self-expression–my Independence Day with help from Henry David Thoreau.

Henry David Thoreau from 1856

Henry David Thoreau from 1856

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3 Responses to Literary Influences: Walden or, Life in the Woods

  1. I enjoyed reading your thoughts about HDT.

  2. Jon Pryor says:

    Don’t know that I remember exactly the posters of Ronnie or Henry. My memory is not what it used to be. Not that it was ever good. As you recall, I could never remember my wallet. I do remember listening to a variety of music. It blended in well with your John Denver. . . .and Thoreau. God Bless, and best of luck with your book.

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