Thoreau's Journal: 28-Jan-1841

It would be worth while, once for all, fairly and cleanly to tell how we are to be used, as vendors of Lucifer matches send directions in the envelope, both how light may be readily procured and no accident happen to the user.


Thoreau's Journal: 27-Jan-1860

As I go along the edge of Hubbard’s Wood, on the ice, it is very warm in the sun—and calm there. There are certain spots I could name, by hill and wood sides, which are always thus sunny and warm in fair weather, and have been, for aught I know, since the world was made. What a distinction they enjoy!

How many memorable localities in a river walk! Here is the warm wood-side; next, the good fishing bay; and next, where the old settler was drowned when crossing on the ice a hundred years ago. It is all storied.

I occasionally hear a musquash plunge under the ice next the shore.

These winter days I occasionally hear the note of a goldfinch, or maybe a redpoll, unseen, passing high overhead.

When you think that your walk is profitless and a failure, and you can hardly persuade yourself not to return, it is on the point of being a success, for then you are in that subdued and knocking mood to which Nature never fails to open.

Thoreau's Journal: 26-Jan-1856

Walked as far as the Flint’s Bridge with Abel Hunt, where I took to the river. I told him I had come to walk on the river as the best place, for the snow had drifted somewhat in the road, while it was converted into ice almost entirely on the river. “But,” asked he, “are you not afraid that you will get in?” “Oh, no, it will bear a load of wood from one end to the other.” “But then there may be some weak places.” Yet he is some seventy years old and was born and bred immediately on its banks. Truly one half the world does not know how the other half lives.


Thoreau's Journal: 25-Jan-1858

You must love the crust of the earth on which you dwell more than the sweet crust of any bread or cake. You must be able to extract nutriment out of a sandheap. You must have so good an appetite as this, else you will live in vain.


Thoreau's Journal: 24-Jan-1856

I have seen many a collection of stately elms which better deserved to be represented at the General Court than the manikins beneath,—than the barroom and victualling cellar and groceries they overshadowed. When I see their magnificent domes, miles away in the horizon, over intervening valleys and forests, they suggest a village, a community, there. But, after all, it is a secondary consideration whether there are human dwellings beneath them; these may have long since passed away. I find that into my idea of the village has entered more of the elm than of the human being. They are worth many a political borough. They constitute a borough. The poor human representative of his party sent out from beneath their shade will not suggest a tithe of the dignity, the true nobleness and comprehensiveness of the view, the sturdiness and independence, and the serene beneficence that they do. They look from township to township. A fragment of their bark is worth the backs of all the politicians in the union. They are free-soilers in their own broad sense. They send their roots north and south and east into many a conservative’s Kansas and Carolina, who does not suspect such underground railroads,—they improve the subsoil he has never disturbed,—and many times their length, if the support of their principles requires it. They battle with the tempests of a century. See what scars they bear, what limbs they lost before we were born! Yet they never adjourn; they steadily vote for their principles, and send their roots further and wider from the same centre. They die at their posts, and they leave a tough butt for the choppers to exercise themselves about, and a stump which serves for their monument. They attend no caucus, they make no compromise, they use no policy. Their one principle is growth. They combine a true radicalism with a true conservatism. Their radicalism is not cutting away of roots, but an infinite multiplication and extension of them under all surrounding institutions. They take a firmer hold on the earth that they may rise higher into the heavens. Their conservative heartwood, in which no sap longer flows, does not impoverish their growth, but is a firm column to support it; and when their expanding trunks no longer require it, it utterly decays. Their conservatism is a dead but solid heart-wood, which is the pivot and firm column of support to all this growth, appropriating nothing to itself, but forever by its support assisting to extend the area of their radicalism. Half a century after they are dead at the core, they are preserved by radical reforms. They do not, like men, from radicals turn conservative. Their conservative part dies out first; their radical and growing part survives. They acquire new States and Territories, while the old dominions decay, and become the habitation of bears and owls and coons.


Thoreau's Journal: 23-Jan-1857

The coldest day that I remember recording, clear and bright, but very high wind, blowing the snow. Ink froze.


Thoreau's Journal: 22-Jan-1852

But why I changed? why I left the woods? I do not think that I can tell. I have often wished myself back. I do not know any better how I ever came to go there. Perhaps it is none of my business, even if it is yours. Perhaps I wanted a change. There was a little stagnation, it may be. About 2 o’clock in the afternoon the world’s axle creaked as if it needed greasing, as if the oxen labored with the wain and could hardly get their load over the ridge of the day. Perhaps if I lived there much longer, I might live there forever. One would think twice before he accepted heaven on such terms.


Thoreau's Journal: 21-Jan-1853

I pine for a new world in the heavens as well as on earth, and though it is some consolation to hear of the wilderness of stars and systems invisible to the naked eye, yet the sky does not make that impression of variety and wildness that even the forest does, as it ought. It makes an impression, rather, of simplicity and unchangeableness, as of eternal laws; this being the same constellation which the shepherds saw, and obedient still to the same law. It does not affect me as that unhandselled wilderness which the forest is. I seem to see it pierced with visual rays from a thousand observatories. It is more the domain of science than of poetry. But is the stars as not known to science that I would know, the stars which the lonely traveler knows.

The Chaldean shepherds saw not the same stars which I see, and if I am elevated in the least toward the heavens, I do not accept their classification of them. I am not to be distracted by their names which they have imposed. The sun which I know is not Apollo, nor is the evening star Venus. The heavens should be as new, at least, as the world is new. This classification of the stars is old and musty; it is as if a mildew had taken place in the heavens, as if the stars so closely packed had heated and moulded there. If they appear fixed, it is because that hitherto men have been thus necessitated to see them. I see not merely old but new testaments of the skies. Do not I stand as near the stars as the Chaldean shepherds? The heavens commonly look as dry and meager as our astronomers are,—mere troops, as the latter are catalogues, of stars. The Milky Way yields no milk.


Thoreau's Journal: 20-Jan-1852

The farmers nowadays can cart out peat and muck over the frozen meadows. Somewhat analogous, methinks, the scholar does; drives in with tight-braced energy and winter cheer on to his now firm meadowy grounds, and carts, hauls off, the virgin loads of fertilizing soil which he threw up in the warm, soft summer. We now bring our muck out of the meadows, but it was thrown up first in summer. The scholar’s and the farmer’s work are strictly analogous. Easily he now conveys, sliding over the snow-clad ground, great loads of fuel and of lumber which have grown in many summers, from the forest to the town. He deals with the dry hay and cows, the spoils of summer meads and fields, stored in his barns, doling it out from day to day, and manufactures milk for men. When I see the farmer driving into his barn-yard with a load of muck, whose blackness contrasts strangely with the white snow, I have the thoughts which I have described. He is doing like myself. My barn-yard is my journal.


Thoreau's Journal: 19-Jan-1855

Yesterday it rained hard all day, washing off the little snow that was left down to the ice, the gutters being good-sized mill-brooks and the water over shoes in the middle of the road.

In the night it turned to snow, which still falls, and now covers the wet ground three or four inches deep. It is a very damp snow or sleet, perhaps mixed with rain, which the strong northwest wind plasters to that side of the trees and houses. I never saw the blue in snow so bright as this damp, dark, stormy morning at 7 A.M., as I was coming down the railroad. I did not have to make a hole in it, but I saw it some rods off in the deep, narrow ravines of the drifts and under their edges or eaves, like the serenest blue of heaven, though the sky was, of course, wholly concealed by the driving snow-storm; suggesting that in darkest storms we may still have the hue of heaven in us.


Thoreau's Journal: 18-Jan-1856

This is a very mild, melting winter day, but clear and bright, yet I see the blue shadows on the snow at Walden. The snow lies very level there, about ten inches deep, and for the most part bears me as I go across with my hatchet. I think I never saw a more elysian blue than my shadow. I am turned into a tall blue Persian from my cap to my boots, such as no mortal dye can produce, with an amethystine hatchet in my hand. I am in rapture at my own shadow. What if the substance were of as ethereal a nature?


Thoreau's Journal: 17-Jan-1852

One day two young woman—a Sunday—stopped at the door of my hut and asked for some water. I answered that I had no cold water but I would lend them a dipper. They never returned the dipper, and I had a right to suppose they came to steal. They were a disgrace to their sex and to humanity. Pariahs of the moral world. Evil spirits that thirsted not for water but threw the dipper into the lake. Such as Dante saw. What the lake to them but liquid fire and brimstone? They will never know peace till they have returned the dipper. In all the worlds this is decreed.


Thoreau's Journal: 16-Jan-1853

Trench says that “’rivals’ in the primary sense of the word, are those who dwell on the banks of the same stream” or “on opposite banks,” but as he says, in many words, since the use of water-rights is a fruitful source of contention between such neighbors, the word has acquired this secondary sense. My friends are my rivals on the Concord, in the primitive sense of the word. There is no strife between us respecting the use of the stream. The Concord offers many privileges, but none to quarrel about. It is a peaceful, not a brawling, stream. It has not made rivals out of neighbors that lived on its banks but friends. My friends are my rivals; we dwell on opposite banks of the stream, but that stream is the Concord, which flows without a ripple or a murmur, without a rapid or a brawl, and offers no petty privileges to quarrel about.


Thoreau's Journal: 15-Jan-1856

A bright day, not cold. I can comfortably walk without gloves, yet my shadow is a most celestial blue. This only requires a clear bright day and snow-clad earth, not great cold. I cross the river on the crust with some hesitation. The snow appears considerably deeper than the 12th, maybe four or five inches deeper, and the river is indicated by a mere depression in it.

In the street not only the fences but trees are obviously shortened, as by a flood. You are sensible that you are walking at a level a foot or more above the usual one. Seeing the tracks where a leaf had blown along and then tacked and finally doubled and returned on its trail, I though it must be the tracks of some creature new to me.


Thoreau's Journal: 14-Jan-1854

I just had a coat come home from the tailor’s. Ah me! Who am I that should wear this coat? It was fitted upon one of the devil’s angels about my size. Of what use that measuring of me if he did not measure my character, but only the breadth of my shoulders, as it were a peg to hang it on. This is not the figure that I cut. This is the figure the tailor cuts. That presumptuous and impertinent fashion whispered in his ear, so that he heard no word of mine. As if I had said, “Not my will, O Fashion, but thine be done.” We worship not the Parcae, nor the Graces, but Fashion, offspring of Proteus and Vanessa, of Whim and Vanity. She spins and weaves and cuts with the authority of the Fates. Oh, with what delight I could thrust a spear through her vitals or squash he under my heel! Every village might well keep constantly employed a score of knights to rid it of this monster. It changes men into bears or monkeys with a single wave of its wand. The head monkey at Paris, Count D’Ornay, put on the traveller’s cap and now all the monkeys in the world do the same thing. He merely takes the breadth of my shoulders and proceeds to fit the garment to Puck, or some other grotesque devil of his acquaintance to whom he has sold himself.


Thoreau's Journal: 13-Jan-1852

To please our friends and relatives we turn out our silver ore in cartloads, while we neglect to work our mines of gold known only to ourselves far up in the Sierras, where we pulled up a bush in our mountain walk, and saw the glittering treasure.


Thoreau's Journal: 12-Jan-1855

Perhaps what moves us most in winter is some reminiscence of far-off summer. How we leap by the side of the open brooks! What beauty in the running brooks! What life! What society! The cold is merely superficial; it is summer still at the core, far, far within. It is in the cawing of the crow, the crowing of the cock, the warmth of the sun on our backs. I hear faintly the cawing of a crow far, far away, echoing from some unseen wood-side, as if deadened by the springlike vapor which the sun is drawing from the ground. It mingles with the slight murmur of the village, the sound of children at play, as one stream empties gently into another, and the wild and tame are one. What a delicious sound! It is not merely crow calling to crow, for it speaks to me too. I am part of one great creature with him; if he has voice, I have ears. I can hear when he calls, and have engaged not to shoot nor stone him if he will caw to me each spring. On the one hand, it may be, is the sound of children at school saying their a, b, ab’s, on the other, far in the wood-fringed horizon, the cawing of crows from their blessed eternal vacation, out at their long recess, children who have got dismissed! While the vaporous incense goes up from all the fields of the spring—if it were spring. Ah, bless the Lord, O my soul! bless him for wildness, for crows that will not alight within gunshot! and bless him for hens, too, that croak and cackle in the yard!


Thoreau's Journal: 11-Jan-1854

To Cliffs and Walden.

The north side of all stubble, weeds, and trees, and the whole forest is covered with a hoar frost a quarter to a half inch deep. It is easily shaken off. The air is still full of mist. No snow has fallen, but, as it were, the vapor has been caught by the trees like a cobweb. The trees are bright hoary forms, the ghosts of trees. In fact, the warm breath of the earth is frozen on its beard.


Thoreau's Journal: 10-Jan-1851

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of taking walks daily, —not [to] exercise the legs or body merely, nor barely to recruit the spirits, but positively to exercise both body and spirit, and to succeed to the highest and worthiest ends by the abandonment of all specific ends,—who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering. And this word “saunter,” by the way, is happily derived “from idle people who roved about the country [in the Middle Ages] and asked charity under pretence of going a la Sainte-Terrer,” a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds.


Thoreau's Journal: 09-Jan-1859

At sundown to Walden.

Standing on the middle of Walden I see with perfect distinctness the forms and outlines of the low hills which surround it, though they are wooded, because they are quite white, being covered with snow, while the woods are for the most part bare or very thin-leaved. I see thus the outline of the hills eight or ten rods back through the trees. This I can never do in the summer, when the leaves are thick and the ground is nearly the same color with them. The white hills are now seen as through a veil of stems. Immediately after the wood was cut off, this outline, of course, was visible at all seasons, but the wood, springing up again, concealed it, and now the snow has come to reveal the lost outline.

The sun has been set some minutes, and as I stand on the pond looking westward toward the twilight sky, a soft, satiny light is reflected from the ice in flakes here and there, like the light from the under side of a bird’s wing. It is worth the while to stand here at this hour and look into the soft western sky, over the pines whose outlines are so rich and distinct against the clear sky. I am inclined to measure the angle at which a pine bough meets the stem. That soft, still, cream-colored sky seems the scene, the stage or field, for some rare drama to be acted on.

C. says the winter is the Sabbath of the year. The perfect winter days are cold, but clear and bright.


Thoreau's Journal: 08-Jan-1852

I notice that almost every track which I made yesterday in the snow—perhaps ten inches deep—has got a dead leaf in it, though none is to be seen on the snow around.

Even as early as 3 o’clock these winter afternoons the axes in the woods sound like nightfall, like the sound of a twilight labor.

Reading from my manuscripts to Miss Emerson this evening and using the word “god” in one instance, in perchance a merely heathenish sense, she inquired hastily in a tone of dignified anxiety, “Is that god spelt with a little g?” Fortunately it was. (I had brought in the word “god” without any solemnity of voice or connection.) So I went on as if nothing had happened.

I perceive that the livid lettuce-leaved lichen which I gathered the other day has dried almost an ash or satin, with no green about it,—has bleached.


Thoreau's Journal: 07-Jan-1857

I should not be ashamed to have a shrub oak for my coat-of-arms.


Thoreau's Journal: 06-Jan-1857

A man asked me the other night whether such and such persons were not as happy as anybody, being conscious, as I perceived, of such unhappiness himself and not aspiring to much more than an animal content. “Why!” said I, speaking to his condition, “the stones are happy. Concord River is happy, and I am happy too. When I took up a fragment of a walnut-shell this morning, I saw by its very grain and composition, the form and color, etc., that it was made for happiness. The most brutish and inanimate objects that are made suggest an everlasting and thorough satisfaction; they are the homes of content. Wood, earth, mould, etc., exist for joy. Do you think that Concord River would have continued to flow these millions of years by Clamshell Hill and round Hunt’s Island, if it had not been happy,—if it had been miserable in its channel, tired of existence, and cursing its maker and the hour that it sprang?”


Thoreau's Journal: 05-Jan-1858

Mr. Hosmer is loading hay in his barn. It is meadow-hay, and I am interested in it chiefly as a botanist. If meadow-hay is of less worth in the market, it is more interesting to the poet. In this there is a large proportion of Osmunda regalis. But I fear that in the long run it is not so interesting to the cattle to contemplate and chew this as English hay and clover. How completely a load of hay in the winter revives the memory of past summers! Summer in us is only a little dried like it. The rowen in Hosmer’s barn has a finer and greener look than the first crop. And so the ferns in coal remind us of summer still longer past.


Thoreau's Journal: 04-Jan-1852

To Fair Haven on the ice partially covered with snow.

The cracks in the ice show a white cleavage. What is their law? Somewhat like foliage, but too rectangular, like the characters of some Oriental language. I feel as if I could get grammar and dictionary and go into it. They are of the form which a thin flake of ice takes in melting, somewhat rectangular with an irregular edge.

The pond is covered,—dappled or sprinkled,—more than half covered, with flat drifts or patches of snow which has lodged, of graceful curving outlines. One would like to skim over it like a hawk, and detect their law.


Thoreau's Journal: 03-Jan-1842

It is pleasant when one can relieve the grossness of the kitchen and the table by the simple beauty of his repast, so that there may be anything in it to attract the eye of the artist even. I have been popping corn tonight, which is only a more rapid blossoming of the seed under a greater than July heat. The popped corn is a perfect winter flower, hinting of anemones and houstonias. For this little grace man has, mixed in with the vulgarness of his repast, he may well thank his stars.

Thoreau's Journal: 02-Jan-1859

Essentially your truest poetic sentence is as free and lawless as a lamb’s bleat. The grammarian is often one who can neither cry nor laugh, yet thinks that he can express human emotions. So the posture-masters tell you how you shall walk,—turning your toes out, perhaps, excessively,—but so the beautiful walkers are not made.


Thoreau's Journal: 01-Jan-1852

Now let me read my verses, and I will tell you if the god has had a hand in them. I wish to survey my composition for a moment from the least favorable point of view. I wish to be translated to the future, and look at my work as it were at a structure on the plain, to observe what portions have crumbled under the influence of the elements.