Project: Reading Thoreau’s Journal (1)

by | Feb 1, 2013 | Reading


Over the past two weeks or so, I have been reading Henry David Thoreau’s Journal extensively and have been extremely inspired by it.

Despite my growing interest in this collection, though, I have found that it is Thoreau’s least-well-known work, if not arguably his most extensive and successful.

So, for my own inspiration’s sake, and to share some aspects of Thoreau’s journal with others, I have decided to give myself a somewhat long-term project: to read Thoreau’s entire journal.

Along the way, I intend, first, to hand-write in my own journal (and then type here, as posts), those portions which are the most meaningful to me. Second, I plan to couple my reading of the Journal with Thoreau’s poetry, and to post those poems here which connect best with the passages I’ve chosen from his Journal—whether in a literal, intellectual or imagistic sense.

Below, I have included the first edition of my project. I hope you enjoy the passages as they come along!


Reading The Journal of Henry David Thoreau: Part 1


Sept. 19—


The trees on the bank of the river have white furrows worn about them, marking the height of the freshets, at which levels the water has stood.

Water is so much more fine and sensitive an element than earth. A single boatman passing up or down unavoidably shakes the whole of a wide river, and disturbs its every reflection.

The air is an element which our voices shake still further than our oars the water.

My companion said he would drink when the boat got under the bridge, because the water would be cooler in the shade, though the steam quickly passes through the piers from shade to sun again. It is something beautiful, the act of drinking, the stooping to imbibe some of this widespread element, in obedience to instinct, without whim. We do not so simply drink in other influences.

It is pleasant to have been to a place by the way a river went.

The forms of trees and groves change with every stroke of the oar.


Nov. 11—


Now is the time for wild apples. I pluck them as a wild fruit native to this quarter of the earth, fruit of old trees that have been dying ever since I was a boy and are not yet dead. From the appearance of the tree you would expect nothing but lichens to drop from it, but underneath your faith is rewarded by finding the ground strewn with spirited fruit. Frequented only by the woodpecker, deserted now by the farmer, who has not faith enough to look under the boughs. Food for walkers. Sometimes apples red inside, perfused with a beautiful blush, faery food, too beautiful to eat—an apple of the evening sky, of the Hesperides.

This afternoon I heard a single cricket singing, chirruping, in a bank, the only one I have heard for a long time, like a squirrel or a little bird, clear and shrill—and as I fancied, like an evening robin, singing in this evening of the year. A very fine and poetical strain for such a little singer. I had never before heard the cricket so like a bird. It is a remarkable note. The earth-song.


Nov. 16—


I found three good arrowheads to-day behind Dennis’s. The season for them began some time ago, as soon as the farmers had sown their winter rye, but the spring, after the melting of the snow, is still better.

In literature it is only the wild that attracts us. Dullness is only another name for tameness. It is the untame, uncivilized, free, and wild thinking in Hamlet, in the Illiad, and in all the scriptures and mythologies that delights us—not learned in the schools, not refined and polished by art. A truly good book is something as wildly natural and primitive, mysterious, and marvelous, ambrosial and fertile, as a fungus or a lichen. Suppose the muskrat or beaver were to turn his views to literature, what fresh views of nature would he present! The fault of our books and other deeds is that they are too humane, I want something speaking in some measure to the condition of muskrats and skunk-cabbage as well as of men—not merely to a pining and complaining coterie of philanthropists.

I discover again about these times that cranberries are good to eat in small quantities as you are crossing the meadows.

What shall we do with a man who is afraid of the woods, their solitude and darkness? What salvation is there for him? God is silent and mysterious.

Some of our richest days are those in which no sun shines outwardly, but so much the more a sun shines inwardly. I love nature, I love the landscape, because it is so sincere. It never cheats me. It never jests. It is cheerfully, musically earnest. I lie and relie the earth.

Land where the wood has been cut off and is just beginning to come up again is called sprout land.

The partridge-berry leaves checker the ground on the side of moist hillsides in the woods. Are they not properly called checker-berries?

My Journal should be the record of my love. I would write in it only of the things I love, my affection for any aspect of the world, what I love to think of. I have no more distinctness or pointedness in my yearnings than an expanding bud, which does indeed point to flower and fruit, to summer and autumn, but is aware of the warm sun and spring influence only. I feel ripe for something, yet do nothing, can’t discover what that thing is. I feel fertile merely. It is seedtime with me. I have lain fallow long enough.

Notwithstanding a sense of unworthiness which possesses me, not without reason, notwithstanding that I regard myself as a good deal of a scamp, yet for the most part the spirit of the universe is unaccountably kind to me, and I enjoy perhaps an unusual share of happiness. Yet I question sometimes if there is not some settlement to come.




Thoreau, Henry David. The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1837-1861. Ed. Damion Searls. New York Review Book Classics, 2009. Print.