Where I Lived And What I Lived For Summary By Henry David

At a Glance

  • "To experience transcendence and the truth of spirituality, one must live away from the towns, move close to nature, and appreciate the importance of reading to awaken the profound prospects of everyday life by emulating nature."

Where I Lived And What I Lived For Book Summary

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau is an indictment of the modern corporate culture. He tells the contemporary man a secret to a happier and more fulfilling life. Henry shares how he lived some of the best times of his life living at Walden Pond. He concludes that one must distance himself from the hustle of towns and live close to nature to experience transcendence and spirituality. Read through the Where I Lived and What I Lived For Summary to get the book’s main idea.

A Transcendentalist

Henry was a Harvard Graduate. He is an American philosopher, naturalist, essayist, poet, and transcendentalist. He is known for his essay on “Civil Disobedience” and “Walden.” Thoreau recalls the several places where he nearly settled before selecting Walden Pond. All of the estates he considered were around half a mile from Concord, his final abode away from the mundane banalities of civilization. The corporate world stultifies the ultimate pursuit of the eternal truth of nature and the meaning of life.

He found the meaning of his life in the solitude of nature. Henry quotes the Roman philosopher Cato’s warning that it is best to consider buying a farm very carefully before signing the papers.

After the wife of the owner of Hollowell farm refused to sell it, Henry gave up, although he was interested in buying it. Consequently, Thoreau realized that this outcome was in his favour.

Living in Solitude

He believes it is best to simplify life to live free, uncommitted, and as long as possible. So Henry took to the woods to experience an existence free of obligations and a life full of leisure. Thoreau decided to leave behind a lucrative job and a big mortgage. He did not want to live what was not life.

Away from the tyranny of post offices with all the constraining social relationships its mail system represents. Freeing himself of the burden of legal deeds, he finds true ownership and, ironically enough, claims, “I am the Monarch of all I survey.”

Thoreau claims that his new building project at Walden is more than merely a material possession. Instead, he visualizes it as an intellectual achievement.

A God On Mount Olympus

When Henry first moved to his new dwelling on Independence Day, he thought of himself as a god on mount Olympus. However, the house was poorly built. It lacked a chimney and plastering. Nevertheless, he believes that a place fit for gods is everywhere if only we could perceive it.

On his long walks, he visited other farms surrounding Walden pond, conversed with locals on husbandry, and tasted their apples. In his imagination, he bought all the farms without burning his fingers by possessing them. He thinks his place is as far off as many a region viewed nightly by astronomers.

Time Is a River

Henry feels free from time and matter sitting in his humble wooden chair. He says that time is a river like the one where he goes fishing, “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.” Likewise, Thoreau finds himself free from the worldly constraints of time and is not a slave to it. He is like a god living in eternity. He likes to participate in the flow of time whenever and wherever he chooses. Thoreau also urges us to muck through our existence and hit rock bottom. Only then can we gauge truth on our “Realometer,” a self-coined term to measure the reality of things.

Reading Is The Highest Virtue

While living near Walden Pond, Thoreau would indulge himself in reading, among other delightful pursuits. Thoreau emphasizes the virtues of reading. He is all for the sanctity of a printed word. Oratory or demagoguery does not impress him.

He quotes Egyptian and Hindu philosophers “raising the veil from the statue of divinity.” Thoreau worked for five years to support himself through his labour and realized that he needed to work only for six weeks in one year to sustain his simple life at Walden. So he devoted the remaining time to his intellectual pursuits.

Thoreau illustrates that he wishes to live in the far corner of the universe to read ancient classics in the original Greek and Latin and looks down upon the translations by the modern cheap press. He praises the ability to read ancient scriptures in their original languages. Thoreau mocks disdainfully that Homer has never been read in English, which can do justice to that monumental work of great art.

Reading is his chief pastime living in the woods on the far shore of Walden. Thoreau complains the townspeople spend more on any body ailment than they do on mental malnourishment and calls out, like an angry prophet, for more public spending on education.

Critical of The Progress Of Mind And Soul

Thoreau gradually extended his criticism of the cheap reading to a criticism of the dominant culture of Concord, which had deprived even the gifted minds of access to great thought. Finally, he turns into an angry prophet and writes a cutting diatribe against the so-called progress of modern society. He is critical of the development of transportation and technology at the cost of the real progress of mind and soul.

Thoreau implicitly blames the local class system for encouraging fine breeding in noblemen. The grandiosity of oratory does not impress him, and he eulogizes the achievements of a written book. He is all for the mystical significance of a printed word. It is no wonder that one of the greatest conquerors, Alexander the Great, carried a copy of the Iliad during his military campaigns, remarks Henry.

Review And Analysis

Combination of a Learned Philosopher And a Minimalist Agriculturalist

The title of this chapter of Walden combines a practical topic of residence ‘where I lived’ ‘ and the most profound philosophical question about the meaning of life ‘What I lived for.’ Thoreau thus reminds us that he is neither a learned philosopher nor a practical do-it-yourself enthusiast but a combination of both. Just by living a humble life in search of answers to eternal questions of final meaning regarding existence.

This chapter pulls away from the worldly significance of doors and hinges and deals more with philosophical meditation. Here we can see Ralph Waldo Emerson’s reflection on Henry’s work. The self-reliance of Emerson is not just about financial independence but a much deeper doctrine that concerns every soul about the experience of reality. Reality by Emerson is not a collection of objective facts but a creation of our minds and souls that create the reality around them.

Thoreau’s Relation With The Cosmos Has More Diversified Roots

Henry’s building of a home is the enactment of God’s creation of the world in the universe. Thoreau went beyond Emerson, who perceived nature as symbolizing divinity, and claimed instead that we could reach divinity through nature. His references to Hindu, Arab, and Chinese texts provide him with an alternate system of meaning, very different from the Christian tradition. His philosophical point in asserting his divinity is not to make his person the center of the universe, but Thoreau addresses everyone’s divine ability to create their world. The capacity to choose our reality is what Thoreau describes in the metaphor of “Realometer,” through which he dives down the flowing river of time and fishes his reality.

Significance Of The Cosmos

Thoreau urges us to wade through the muck that represents the everyday chores to sustain our earthly existence. We must find a firm place we can call reality, remarks Thoreau. Thoreau expresses that our freedom to name one thing reality and dismiss another is transcendental thought’s central plank. When one has created and claimed his reality guided by his inner self, all the other world news turns insignificant. Thoreau writes at the end of the chapter mocking the newspaper, reporting a cow run over by a Western railway. According to Thoreau, the only important news that came out of England was the revolution of 1649, two centuries earlier. The only current events significant to the transcendent mind are the cosmos and itself.

Last Word

In my opinion, Henry is right on many accounts. His hardcore transcendentalism to the degree that goes too far to an almost renunciation of city life might look strange if taken from his historical background. Henry lived in 19th-century America, still convulsing in its formative years. His abolitionism is proof of his disagreement with the establishment, and his treatise on civil disobedience confirms it. General dissatisfaction with the system of exploitation and slavery of those times propelled him to devote his life to higher pursuits of the elevation of mind and soul.

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