Walden | Study Guide

Henry David Thoreau

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Walden | Chapter 17 : Spring | Summary

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Summary

"The first sparrow of spring! The year beginning with younger hope than ever!" is how Thoreau welcomes spring and a chance to watch the season arrive at Walden Pond. The ice breaks up and disappears, a process as complex as any geological phenomenon; Thoreau takes copious notes. He is also fascinated by the leaf-like patterns made when sand and clay begin to thaw on a nearby hillside. For Thoreau, this muddy sight is one of the most important signs of spring: "You find thus in the very sands an anticipation of the vegetable leaf," he says.

But more traditional signs of spring arrivals also thrill him. New plants pop up and the trees begin to bud. Animals and birds are once again everywhere. Thoreau reflects that just as a spring rain makes grass greener, "so our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. ... In a pleasant spring morning all men's sins are forgiven." Even the light is purer and brighter than in other seasons.

These ruminations take on a special poignancy with the chapter's abrupt last sentence: "I finally left Walden September 6th, 1847."

Analysis

It's no surprise that Thoreau loves the sense of rebirth that comes with spring. But it seems unique to Thoreau to be so enraptured by watching clay and sand course down a hillside as the weather warms up. It's an unusual nature writer who sees signs of spring in geological changes.

He correctly notes that the flowing sand, with its branching streams, "obeys half way the law of currents, and half way that of vegetation ... You here see perchance how blood-vessels are formed." His comment on the sand's "excrementitious" appearance is typical Thoreau: exquisitely precise description and a determination to appreciate everything about nature, not just the pretty parts.

Thoreau even finds symbolic rebirth in a dead horse near his house. Its decomposition reminds him of nature's "strong appetite." The reader has to wonder whether this is an overreach on Thoreau's part, but at least he's working to see signs of spring everywhere.

In its second-to-last paragraph, Thoreau switches from the present to the past tense as if to remind readers that this spring took place in the past: "And so the seasons went rolling on into summer, as one rambles into higher and higher grass." Then, bang—he's left Walden Pond for good. This is a dramatically abrupt sentence, but Thoreau will expand on it in the next and final chapter.

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