why I left the woods?
...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.


Anonymous said...

Though this will no doubt disturb the more sensitive of you who wish to imagine Henry as being pure as the driven snow, one reason besides writing that he went to the woods as he called it was to meet up with men so they could express the love that dare not speak his name, especially in his time.

I just hope I didn't make you humanities majors and New Age types spill your herbal tea.

If only Henry could have visited the Cape now.

greg perry said...

That's an interesting hypothesis, and doesn't disturb me at all. Thoreau wasn't just the sum of his books, or even his journal. But what documentation do you have to suggest this possibility (not that there's anything wrong...). I'd really like to see it. Thanks.

greentangle said...

Likewise not disturbed in the least and acknowledging that he wrote passages which could be interpreted as a homosexual inclination (and more of a heterosexual inclination).

But as far as I know, being a Thoreau buff and having been a member of the Thoreau Society and having talked to many people who made him the focus of their lives and scholarship, if there's a shred of evidence to indicate that he ever had any 'love expressions' anywhere, there must be a big conspiracy to keep it quiet.

SanFranciscoTreat said...

Honey, if you need to ask why an intelligent, sensitive, and a bit delicate man put up a cabin in the forest away from town and invited hunky woodsmen and hunters to visit, then all the reading and evidence in the world won't do you any good.

I just love how the Thoreau Society continues to downplay if not outright oppress Henry's homosexual side, while pretending not to have "anything wrong with that" in public.

Henry wasn't stupid enough to broadcast his preference to the world, especially not in stuffy and conservative Concord, which I see has not changed a bit.

greg perry said...

OK, thanks. That's what I thought. It's your opinion. Nothing wrong with that. Henry shall have my last word though: "Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion."

SanFranciscoTreat said...

I will adopt a more serious tone, since I want you and others to see that this is not some mere opinion I pulled out of the air.

Start with these online essays:





If anyone has access to an online version of Harding's famous 1991 paper on the subject, I would greatly appreciate it being posted or linked to here, thank you.

cowsandplows said...

My question is why does it matter? Not to belittle any life choice, but why do we feel the need to classify someone as this, that, or the other? Social groups across the political spectrum want to place an author/artist/whatever into a box, to say that they were "X". If he was homosexual, why does that matter? Why do we have to constantly ruin the discourse and study of any subject by labelling someone so that are more special to one group than to another? In my mind, this goes hand in hand with conversations calling Jesus (one of the cited websites), Lincoln and others homosexual, when in all intents and purposes, it does not matter one iota in the slightest.

Also, I would have to disagree with the cited materials that discuss Thoreau's meeting with Whitman. From my understanding and reading of the primary material, Thoreau was completely nonplussed with Whitman; something along the lines of a good poet with no inclination to know him any further than that.

OhHenry said...

No, if you're not gay, it probably doesn't matter to you. Nor do you fully understand or appreciate the other side of things.

If you want to truly understand Henry - unless all you really care about is some quote he made on the weather in 1852 so you can say, yeah, it's cold here too - then you need to appreciate him fully as a person. That includes his gender preferences.

The other side of Henry is something that he not only hid from the world of his time but later generations of scholars and so-called fans also suppresed, needs to be brought out into the light. Much of it has to do with full appreciating Henry, but also for historical truth.

I won't spend my all my time trying to convince this blog of Henry's preferences because I still see more than a little lingering of preference on his "fans" part to avoid the subject under the pretense of "What does it matter?"

Well, dear folks, it matters as much as the presence of your family and friends matter in your lives, and as much as the daily influences of the world and your culture do in shaping you and making you what you are.

I get the picture here that most visitors to this blog would rather be content with the daily portion of quotes from Henry's Journal, so be it.

But for those of us who would like to converse with Henry scholars and serious "fans", is there a place online for that?

Anonymous said...

It would be easier to believe this theory if there was any source that didn't have an agenda. LGBT sites and publications seem to be biased. When the theory crosses into mainstream, it might be easier to swallow.

Of course, same-sex relationships weren't defined the same way back in those days. It was quite easy for two men to have a platonic relationship that was deeply emotional and even romantic, without sex or anything naughty. Terms like "homosexual" were not invented yet and, therefore, are not easily applied anachronistically.

greentangle said...

As a line from this journal quote says: Perhaps it is none of my business, even if it is yours.

I think the man wrote some of the most important words in American history, had and still has major effects on several fields including natural history, nature writing, and political philosophy, and has been a major influence in my life because of his ideas and values.

If you think his relationship with his family or who if anyone he had sex with is on an equal level of importance with those matters, and if you think that generations of scholars have engaged in a conspiracy of silence, then I guess the best source of the kind of conversation you want to have is a gay organization because no one else is going to give it as much importance as you do, or claim with certainty that particular words written by a man who delighted in contradicting himself provide proof of anything.

Anonymous said...

Then perhaps no one should take seriously or quote a man who purposely contradicted himself all the time. There are enough liars and deceivers in the world as it is.

greg perry said...

But to quote Whitman:
"Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)"

And Emerson:
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day."

Anonymous said...

Never had much respect for Emerson, and neither I would think should many true Thoreauvians.

He did help Henry with his writing career to some degree, but when it started to seem that Henry would overtake his mentor, Emerson put the kaibash on things. More than once Emerson did not come to Henry's rescue when the man needed his works published.

Worst of all, when Emerson found out that his family was becoming very attached to Henry while Emerson was in Europe doing quite well for himself career-wise, he came home and essentially pushed Henry out of the main picture.

The really unfortunate part about this is that Emerson made Henry stop living at Walden Pond so he could watch his family.

Plus I find much of Emerson literary output a slog to read through, unlike Henry who I would consider to be our first modern American writer. Emerson was still like old Europe - no wonder he secretly envied and disdained Henry.

Plus if you still feel Henry was ambiguous when it comes to his gender preferences, Emerson is prety much a foregone conclusion and you can read as much from the links I provided earlier.

Maybe you New Age types can live with a world of inconsistency and no deep thinking (and please don't tell me that emptying one's mind takes a lot of intelligence), but I like to have at least a few facts pinned down.

Even Henry said have your castles in the air, but put a foundation under them as well.

Awaiting the next volley of enlightenment to make me feel bad for expressing myself beyond Oh gosh, Henry is just so delightful.

greg perry said...

Well, you are consistent if nothing else. By the way, thanks for the links. They were interesting conjecture. I too would like to read the Harding, but it's unavailable through any of the databases through which I have access. And I'm not buying it through Haworth. Maybe some day I'll run across it.

Cathy said...

The world's axle creaked all night long in central Ohio. I woke with a start several times as tree limbs sounded in the subzero air.

PS. Geeze. I feel so simple having just read the comments that precede mine.

I'll just disappear back into the woodwork and wonder about this fascinating creature - man.

xavierv14 said...

It's very much in his style, to describe his life as a day, and that 2 o'clock in the afternoon could very well be his own youthful wanderlust searching out a new life, disdainful of the vices of a more formalized and dishonest society - a searching out and away for something truer.

Paul Howard said...

This discussion is just another example of how our culture, and some individuals in particular, are obsessed with sex and sexuality. All things must devolve to that single issue. To me, this is just the opposite of Henry's way of life and thought.