A Conversation with Henry David Thoreau
With Gary Corseri
"A time is coming when those who are in the mad rush today of multiplying their wants, vainly thinking that they add to the real substance, real knowledge of the world, will retrace their steps and say what have we done? Civilizations have come and gone and, in spite of all our vaunted progress, I am tempted to ask again and again: To what purpose?"
--Mahatma Gandhi(Note: I had first read Thoreau's "Walden" in my teens; and knew even in those formative days that he would be a major influence on my life. During three intermittent years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I'd visit Walden Pond when the need called, and sometimes swim in its cool water. Only during a recent visit to Cambridge did I think to visit his gravesite. At "Sleepy Hollow Cemetery" (really!), just a few paces from the impressive family plot of the Emersons (with its amorphous, mysterious monolith), there is the much humbler plot of a family of pencil-makers--the Thoreaus. And when I saw his gray tombstone slab--about the size of a large cereal box!--with nothing but the capitals "HENRY" inscribed on it, I thought at first: Surely this writer-philosopher-naturalist-activist deserved better notice than this! And then I thought: This is fitting....
It was a lazy, hazy day in June, and I had walked much around the Concord and Lexington Commons and the Concord Bridge where the "shot heard round the world"--igniting the American Revolution--had been fired. I gazed long at the humble stone-slate-slab. I sat and gazed and wandered back in reveries. A fly buzzed; I dozed.)
HDT: "A man needs only to be turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost."
GC: What?... How?... Where?... Who?....
(But I knew who he was, though the garments were the homespun style of 150 years ago. The voice was calm and reassuring--emitted from a sparsely whisker-fringed face, crowned with somewhat unruly hair. A long, thin nose, like the prow (not the rudder) of a boat parted expressive eyes--the left slightly larger, looking straight at one (or upon whatever it focused) while the right looked slightly right and downward and within. A perceptive soul might feel at once fully apprehended in the here and now by one eye, and settled into timeless, interior worlds by the other.)
GC: I'm sleeping, aren't I?
HDT: Kind of".GC: Will I remember?
HDT: Kind of".
GC: I felt a need to" get back in touch". Things are spinning out of hand. You saw it happening back then". But, it's even worse now. We've got wars that never end. And the noise and the chattering--twittering, they call it". You thought it was bad at Walden Pond when the train went by at night. You'd gotten away from so much of it--
HDT: For 2 years, 2 months, 2 days. A good walking distance from neighbors! I went to live in a little house I built myself for $28. Ten feet by 15'; with two trapdoors and a chimney; a small bed; a small closet; a table at which to write and dine; three wooden chairs: "one for solitude; two for friendship; three for society."