Sunday, July 11, 2010

Happy Birthday Henry David Thoreau!

July 12, 2010 marks the 193rd anniversary of the birth of Henry David Thoreau. Generally unrecognized in his own day or, worse, dismissed as a second-rate imitator of his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau has emerged as one of America's greatest literary figures. Walden; Or, Life in the Woods (1854), his account of two years spent living in a cabin on the shore of a pond in his native Concord, Massachusetts is universally recognized as the preeminent piece of American nature writing, though it is far more than simply a nature book. Civil Disobedience, the account of and justification for his night spent in jail as a protest against slavery, particularly through its influence on such activists as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, has had wider political impact around the world than any other American literary document. As a prose stylist, Thoreau has been acknowledged by writers as disparate as Robert Louis Stevenson, Marcel Proust, Sinclair Lewis, and Henry Miller to be their master.

This past Saturday, author Kenny Luck of Thumbing Through Thoreau: A Book of Quotations by Henry David Thoreau traveled to Walden Pond to participate in the 69th Annual Gathering of the Thoreau Society. Thoreau Society presenters spoke about how Thoreau and transcendentalism have inspired them as artists, photographers, and, of course, as teachers and educators. Presenters came from the global community, including: Bulgaria, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States. Thoreau and the transcendentalists continue to inspire readers around the world.

Following is selection from Luck's introduction for Thumbing Through Thoreau:

As I stood on the edge of Walden Pond, about to make a symbolic leap into what had become in my mind a sacred place, Hawthorne’s poetic observation was not present in my thoughts. For a summer day, it was unusually cold; a light mist rose above the surface of the water; and having forgotten my towel and bathing suit at home in Pennsylvania, I was forced to strip down, making do with what I was wearing in that revealing moment. I hung my clothes on a nearby tree branch and began inching my way toward the water. It was a ritual Henry David Thoreau, one of America’s first literary giants, had performed countless times during his stay in the woods.

It was June 2007, and this was my second trip to Walden Pond. I had visited the previous summer but resolved only to walk along the shoreline, avoiding the seduction of the water. “This time,” I thought to myself, “I am going in.” Although I was initially reluctant, once the water rose past by waistline, I felt an extraordinary release. I made one final push off the rock where I was standing and let go. I let the water take me. Feeling free from constraints, I had transformed into one of Hawthorne’s angels, baptized by the clear, cool waters of the pond.

My experience at Walden Pond that day was emblematic. It was the culmination of a two-year journey which led me to Concord, Massachusetts, where I hoped to retrace the steps of a man who I had never met, but felt an extraordinary affinity towards. Moreover, I saw a little bit of myself in Thoreau. Here was a man who, despite the conventions of his day, shunned every comfort and convenience. Thoreau once refused to take a doormat, for instance, offered to him by an elderly woman, hoping to avoid what he called the “beginnings of evil.” It seemed like something I would have done had I not read about it first. For the first time in my young life, I met my literary and intellectual soul mate.

In celebration we invited a host of bloggers to participate in honoring one of the greats of American literature with us.

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September 15-16, 2010

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September 15-16, 2010

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  1. Wow, what an amazing experience.

    Thank you for this wonderful post. It is a great way to remember all that Thoreau has contributed to this world.


  2. Nice to see all the different blogs paying their tributes to Thoreau.

  3. Over 20 bloggers helped us celebrate Henry David Thoreau's birthday today - THANK YOU!