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Life in the Woods

By Henry David Thoreau
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Walden: Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

Walden (1854) is the result of the two years Henry David Thoreau spent in the woods on the north shore of Walden Pond, a lake in Massachusetts. It is both a practical and philosophical account of how he sustained himself through farming and by building his own house, and what he learned about human nature by living a simpler life. Although it was a deeply personal experience, Thoreau’s approach to society teaches us how we, too, can approach the modern world.

Key idea 1 of 10

Thoreau was concerned that modern life was offering little opportunity for gaining real wisdom and knowledge.

It was in the spring of 1845 that Henry David Thoreau made his way to the wooded shore of Walden Pond, a lake in Concord, Massachusetts. The worries of the world weighed heavily upon him; he found modern life to be profoundly disturbing. To Thoreau, the approaching new era bled wisdom and freedom from his society. People were crushed under the servitude of work and had little chance of enjoying what life had to offer.

As he famously put it, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” They toiled and labored to make money to buy houses that were surplus to requirements and to fill them with useless knick-knacks.

Thoreau reacted forcefully. To him, such an existence was “a fool’s life.” It was a life devoid of meaning and wisdom, replaced with exertion and drudgery.

Part of the problem, as he saw it, was that people who worked so hard simply didn’t have the time or energy to read. More people seemed to know the intricacies of accounting and bookkeeping than classic literature.

He was convinced that those who stopped reading in childhood were intellectually stunted, since there is so much to be learned from literature, especially for people who can read a work in its original language.

A favorite work of Thoreau’s was Homer’s epic poem The Iliad, which became a source of comfort in his new environment. Reading, to Thoreau, could act as a guide and comfort. Perhaps you, too, can find volumes that breathe life and knowledge into your daily life or offer responses to the questions that loom over you.

Thoreau moved to Walden to show himself that there was more to modern life. And there is much for us to learn from his personal experience that we can still apply today.

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