by Helen Breen. Featured image: replica of Thoreau’s cabin, Wikipedia

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” (Walden, Chapter 2, by Henry David Thoreau)

Thousands of Thoreau enthusiasts will gather in Concord this week to celebrate the 200th birthday of Henry David Thoreau born on July 12, 1817. The Thoreau Society, founded in 1941, will host a six day conclave marking the event with speakers, films, walks, dinners, panel discussions, and local excursions examining every aspect of the author’s life and works. Similar events honoring the author will be held around the world. Visit the Thoreau Bicentennial Gathering website.

Thoreau’s writing defies categorization. Known as a transcendentalist (one who believes in the inherent goodness of people and nature), Thoreau has also been described as an “essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, surveyor, and historian.” His most famous work, “Walden, or Life in the Woods,” details his two year hiatus in a cabin of his own devising in Concord on land owned by his mentor, the sage Ralph Waldo Emerson. The writer emphasizes the value of simple living and self-sufficiency, using a single calendar year “with the passage of four seasons to symbolize human development.”

Thoreau’s fan base has continued to grow exponentially though the years. In recent decades, environmentalists claim him as their own. He is also hailed by fitness enthusiasts as “an early advocate of hiking and canoeing.” Even scientists now recognize his prescience in exacting observation. For example, he recognized early “how forests regenerate after fire or human destruction through the dispersal of seeds by winds or animals.”

In his short lifespan of 44 years, Thoreau writings fill some 20 volumes, including Civil Disobedience, a watershed text that influenced Gandhi and the American Civil Rights Movement. Today Thoreau’s words are quoted “with feeling by liberals, socialist, anarchists, libertarians, and conservative alike.”

The interior of Thoreau’s cabin, a replica reconstructed in 1985, is located on 335 acres of protected woodland administered by the Walden Pond State Reservation in Concord. (Wikipedia image)

So now let us ponder a few of his quotations and reflect on the genius of Henry David Thoreau:

“I have traveled extensively in Concord.”

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

“It is not what you look at that matters, it is what you see.”

“I make myself rich by making my wants few.”

“Our life is frittered away with detail. Simplify. Simplify.”

“Friends … They are kind to each other’s hopes. They cherish each other’s dreams.”

“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.”

“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”

“Yes, I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can find his way by moonlight, and see the dawn before the rest of the world.”

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), a Concord native and Harvard graduate, chose a minimalist lifestyle that still has relevance today. (Fine Art America – Jack Skinner)

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