Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Conscience by the Pond | by Tom Hayden

Orion Magazine is featuring a new column about Thoreau and the Spirit of Resistance by Tom Hayden:

Walden Pond in Snow Walden Pond | Photograph by Kathy Tarantola

ON THE 150TH ANNIVERSARY of Walden, several new editions of the classic were published. Some are elegantly footnoted or designed. Others explore the recurring significance of Thoreau as a mirror reflecting America's nature, and Barksdale Maynard's detailed history of Walden Pond itself contains invaluable new material for students of Thoreau.

Rachel Carson kept Walden by her bedside. Annie Dillard wrote her master's thesis about Walden Pond. Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac were affected by it in their early years, as was Pete Seeger. Arlo Guthrie named his cat after Henry; my wife named a dog. Besides these individuals, millions of anonymous backpackers carry their own paperback editions of Walden wherever they seek respite.

These days Thoreau is mainly remembered for the self-conscious life he lived, and for his vital role in the creation of environmentalism. In his own time he embodied ideas that others merely discussed in their parlors. The liquid clarity of Thoreau's sentences arose from the natural simplicity in which he was grounded.

The danger in such memories is that he becomes a harmless icon whose example is salutary but obsolete. The problem is that Thoreau cannot be understood through Walden alone. One wonders if the prestigious publishers of these volumes will issue new editions of the whole Thoreau, the Thoreau who drafted Civil Disobedience (1849), who penned Slavery in Massachusetts (1854), A Plea for Captain John Brown (1860), and Life Without Principle (1863), who kept thirteen notebooks on Native Americans, and whose last mysterious words were "moose" and "Indians" -- or whether he will be reduced to an ascetic hermit... [Read the full column]
TOM HAYDEN, a social activist since the 60s, has been a California State Assemblyman and state senator. He is a professor at Occidental College and the author of nine books.

1 comment:

Michael said...


Thanks, I was looking for the link to this!