Walden | Study Guide

Henry David Thoreau

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Walden | Chapter 5 : Solitude | Summary

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Summary

Thoreau describes a "delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore." He feels at one with nature; he has "a little world all to myself." He reflects that no one who lives in the midst of nature can be truly melancholy or even lonely. As he looks out at the pond, Thoreau says, "I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude." Elaborating, he says that being in constant contact with society cheapens each interaction and makes people get in each other's way, whereas communing with oneself heals. At night, the roaming wild animals are "Nature's watchmen."

In addition to his wild animal companions, Thoreau receives occasional ghostly visitors on winter nights. One is the "original proprietor" who is reported to have dug Walden Pond; another is an invisible elderly woman, an herb gardener whose "memory runs back farther than mythology." The old man entertains Thoreau with stories of the past, the old woman with ancient fables.

What, Thoreau wonders, is the magic pill that will keep us "well, serene, contented?" He finds that tonic in the fresh morning air.

Analysis

In opening with "this is a delicious evening," Thoreau wants to depict not a particular evening but a typical one; he wants to show the characteristic mood—rapturous yet serene—that evening walks at Walden induce in him.

Nevertheless, the reader senses that Thoreau's solitude may sometimes feel like isolation. Notice that he sometimes uses negative statements where positive ones might be clearer:

  • "There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of Nature."
  • "There was never yet such a storm but it was Aeolian music to a healthy and innocent ear."
  • "Nothing can make life a burden to me."
  • "I am no more lonely than the Mill Brook."
  • "The gentle rain which waters my beans and keeps me in the house today is not drear and melancholy."
  • "No place could ever be strange to me again."

The two specific visitors Thoreau mentions—"the original proprietor" and the elderly herb gardener—are clearly not real people. They may embody, respectively, the two most important elements of Thoreau's setting: Walden Pond and the woods. The old man is supposed to have dug the pond and ringed it with ferns; the elderly herbalist knows all about plants. Whatever they may stand for, these ghostly visitors show that, for Thoreau, nature makes as good a companion as any human being.

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