Walden | Study Guide

Henry David Thoreau

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Walden | Chapter 4 : Sounds | Summary

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Summary

Reading the classics is crucial, says Thoreau, but its benefits are trivial compared to those of living mindfully: "Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer?" he asks. Clearly, he identifies as the latter. Thoreau says that a seer is not someone who just sits around seeing things, he is someone who recognizes the importance of what he sees.

Thoreau recalls that some mornings he spent entire days in meditation—"sheer idleness to my fellow-townsmen, no doubt." But staying in the moment means that even routine chores become interesting.

The cabin is set among wonderfully varied foliage and animal life. The nearby railroad offers another fascinating object of study, and Thoreau comes to know it well. The trains that pass his cabin are both an irritant and a stimulant to Thoreau's imagination. The railroad is like a mythical creature—a "traveling demigod" that punctuates his days. He loves to envision the contents in each car. When it's gone and he's alone again, the sounds of the night creatures resume as his "soundtrack."

Analysis

As soon as Thoreau finishes his mini-essay about mindful living and starts describing the cabin and the railroad, this essay leaps to life. When Thoreau recounts his ideas and philosophies, his writing seems murky; when he describes what he sees and hears, it is as if someone has turned on the lights. His tone becomes energetic, focused, and creative.

Some critics feel that Thoreau dislikes the railroad, but a strong case can be made for the opposite. Thoreau describes it with as much enthusiasm as he might a wild animal: "When I hear the iron horse make the hills echo with his snort like thunder, shaking the earth with his feet, and breathing fire and smoke from his nostrils ... it seems as if the earth had got a race now worthy to inhabit it." The piercing train whistle reminds him of a hawk. He compares the train cars to "bright saloons"—a wonderful image—and loves to imagine what they're carrying: "I am refreshed and expanded when the freight train rattles past me." Thoreau may not like what railroads do to the landscape, but he nurses an interest in trains.

Thoreau brings the same descriptive powers to bear on his account of the nightlife around the cabin. The bullfrogs circling the pond sound like drunken aldermen passing a punch bowl. A screech owl hoots "Oh-o-o-o-o that I had never been bor-r-r-r-n!" But he adds that there are no domestic songs to comfort him: "An old-fashioned man would have lost his senses or died of ennui before this." The essay ends on a profoundly lonely note: "Instead of no path to the front-yard gate in the Great Snow—no gate—no front-yard—and no path to the civilized world." The pageant of natural sounds and sights comes at a price.

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I need answers whit this question! Responding to SCAS Chapter 5 and Robots No unread replies. No replies. 1. Read SCAS Chapter 4. 2. Watch Robots on YouTube or elsewhere (use the link I provided on Ca
what is the context of "He poked about with a bit of stick that itself was wave-worn and whitened and a vagrant, and tried to control the motions of the scavengers. he made little runnels that the tid
I need answer on this. Responding to SCAS Chapter 5 and Robots No unread replies.1 1 reply. 1. Read SCAS Chapter 4 by Matthew crawford 2. Watch Robots on YouTube or elsewhere (use the link I provided
I need answer on to this Responding to SCAS Chapter 5 and Robots No unread replies.1 1 reply. 1. Read SCAS Chapter 4 by Matthew crawford 2. Watch Robots on YouTube or elsewhere (use the link I provide
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