thomas mcgrath | letters to an imaginary friend

1 09 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 250 | September 1, 2008

The Poet Working: Labor Day, 2008

(In Praise of American Poet, Thomas McGrath)

Unions, blue-collar workers, straw bosses, graveyard shifts, punching a time-clock, piece-work, AFL, CIO, Teamsters, IWW, coal miners, time-and-a-half and overtime, sick-pay, work clothes, work boots, work gloves, strikes, scabs, farm workers, supervisors, break-time, Thermos jugs, lunch buckets, walking-the-picket-line…the whole lexicon of the way work once was…was once described in America where ‘labor’ today seems almost undercover. Something whispered, out-of-sight…not to be mentioned (except in terms of migrant workers) in these days of factory closings, outsourcing, unemployment, minimum wages…used-to-be American dreams, dreams deferred.

Readers of this site may recall previous dispatches and high praise of a most neglected American poet, Thomas McGrath, who both worked and stood for that old fashioned American dream machine—in a union-of-humanity sort of way.

I still hold that his book, LETTER TO AN IMAGINARY FRIEND is a literary classic of first rank, as significant a part of our American culture as Thoreau’s WALDEN POND, Whitman’s LEAVES OF GRASS, Sandburg’s, THE PEOPLE YES, Steinbeck’s GRAPES OF WRATH. It has been side-stepped, looked over, lost and kept out of our classrooms far too long—for political reasons.

Here’s an excerpt…a small sense of the grand sweep, beautiful language, of a book that still rings true, captures and holds up to the light the spirit of who we are, or once were.

Take your time. Give every word and line your attention. On this day above all days, listen to what McGrath has to say for himself, for us. – Norbert Blei

from: LETTER TO AN IMAGINARY FRIEND
by Thomas McGrath

5.

That was the year, too, of the labor troubles on the rigs—

The first, or the last maybe. I heard the talk.

It was dull. Then, one day—windy—

We were threshing flax I remember, toward the end of the run-

After quarter-time I think—the slant light falling

Into the blackened stubble that shut like a fan toward the headland—

The strike started then. Why then I don’t know.

Cal spoke for the men and my uncle cursed him.

I remember that ugly sound, like some animal cry touching me

Deep and cold, and I ran toward them.

And the fighting started.

My uncle punched him. I heard the breaking crunch

Of his teeth going and the blood leaped out of his mouth

Over his neck and shirt—I heard their gruntings and strainings

Like love at night or men working hard together,

And heard the meaty thumpings, like beating a grain sack

As my uncle punched his body—I remember the dust

Jumped from his shirt,

He fell in the blackened stubble

Rose

Was smashed in the face

Stumbled up

Fell

Rose

Lay on his side in the harsh long slanting sun

And the blood ran out of his mouth and onto his shoulder.

Then I heard the quiet and that I was crying-

They had shut down the engine.

The last of the bundle-teams

Was coming in at a gallop.

Crying and cursing

Yelled at the crew: “Can’t you jump the son-of-a-bitch!

Cal ! Cal ! get up”

But he didn’t get up.

None of them moved.

Raging at my uncle I ran.

Got slapped,

Ran sobbing straight to the engine.

I don’t know what I intended. To start the thing maybe,

To run her straight down the belt and into the feeder

Like a vast iron bundle.

I jammed the drive-lever over, lashed back on the throttle,

And the drive belt popped and jumped and the thresher groaned,

The beaters clutched at the air, knives flashed,

And I wrestled the clutch.

Far away, I heard them

Yelling my name, but it didn’t sound like my own,

And the clutch stuck. (Did I want it to stick?) I hammered it

And the fireman came on a run and grabbed me and held me

Sobbing and screaming and fighting, my hand clenched

On the whistle rope while it screamed down all of our noises-

Stampeding a couple of empties into the field—

A long, long blast, hoarse, with the falling, brazen

Melancholy of engines when the pressure’s falling.

Quiet then. My uncle was cursing the Reds,

Ordering the rig to start, but no one started.

The men drifted away.

The water monkey

Came in with his load.

Questioned.

He got no answer.

Cal’s buddy and someone else got him up

On an empty rack and they started out for home,

Him lying on the flat rack-bed.

Still crying, I picked up his hat that lay in the churned up dust,

And left my rack and team and my uncle’s threats,

And cut for home across the river quarter.

6.


Green permission

Dusk of the brass whistle . .


Gooseberry dark.

Green moonlight of willow.

Ironwood, basswood and the horny elm. ; :

June berry; box-elder; thick in the thorny brake

The black choke cherry, the high broken ash and the slick

White bark of poplar.

I called the king of the woods,

The wind-sprung oak.

I called the queen of ivy,

Maharani to his rut-barked duchies;

Summoned the foxgrape, the lank woodbine,

And the small flowers: the wood violets, the cold

Spears of the iris, the spikes of the ghostflower

It was before the alphabet of trees

Or later.

Runeless I stood in the green rain

Of the leaves.

Waiting.

Nothing.

Echo of distant horns.

Then

Under the hush and whisper of the wood,

I heard the echoes of the little war.

A fox barked in the hills; and a red hawk boomed

Down on the darkening flats in a feathery splash of hunger.

Silence and waiting.

The rivery rustle

Of a hunting mink.

Upstream in the chuckling shallows

A beaver spanked the water where, in its time,

The dam would be where my brother, now in his diapers,

Would trap for the beaver’s grandsons.

I could not

See in that green dark.

I went downstream

Below the crossing where I’d swum the midnight river

On my way home from a move.

I put my clothes

Stinking with sweat and dusty (I thought:

How the dust had jumped from Cal’s shirt!)

I put them on the broken stump.

I dived from the hummock where the cut-bank crumbled.

Under the river the silence was humming, singing:

Night-song.

In the arrest and glaucous light

Delicate, snake-like, the water-weed waved and retracted.

The water sang. The blood in my ears whistled.

I roared up out of the river into the last of the sunlight.

Then: I heard the green singing of the leaves;

The water-mystery,

The night-deep and teasing terror on the lone river

Sang in my bones,

And under its eves and seas I broke my weeping,

In that deeper grieving,

The long, halting—the halt and the long hurry—

Toward the heaving, harsh, the green blurring of the salt

mysterious sea.

7.

Later, climbing the coulee hills in the sandy dusk,

After sundown in the long northern twilight,

The night hawk circling where the ragamuffin crows

Steered for the cloudy wood;

In that dead calm, in that flat light,

(The water darkening where the cattle stood to their knees)

I heard the singing of the little clan.

Comfort of crickets and a thrum of frogs.

Sleepy rustle of birds.

In the dusk the bats hustled.

The hawk wheeled and whirled on the tall perch of the air;

Whirled, fell

Down a long cliff of light, sliding from day into dusk.

Something squealed in the brake.

The crickets were silent.

The cattle lifted their blank and unregardant

Gaze to the hills.

Then, up the long slope of air on his stony, unwavering wing

The hawk plunged upward into a shower of light.

The crickets sang. The frogs

Were weaving their tweeds in the river shallows.

Hawk swoop.

Silence.

Singing.

The formal calls of a round-dance.

This riddling of the river-mystery I could not read.

Then, climbing the high pass of my loss, I tramped

Up the dark coulee.

The farmyard dark was dappled

With yellowy ponds of light, where the lanterns hung.

It was quiet and empty.

In the hot clutter

Of the kitchen my mother was weeping. “He wouldn’t eat.”

She said, meaning Cal.

She had a womanly notion

(Which she didn’t really believe) that all man’s troubles

Could be ended by eating—it was a gesture she made

To soothe the world.

My father had driven my uncle out of the yard

Because Cal was our man, and not to be mistreated

Any more than horses or dogs. He was also my father’s friend.

I got some supper and took it out to the barn.

In the lemony pale light of a lantern, at the tar end,

He lay in a stall. His partner sat in the straw

Beside him, whittling, not looking at me. I didn’t ask

Where his gun was, that slept in an oily rag

In his suitcase.

I put the food beside him

As I’d done with sick dogs.

He was gone where my love

Nor my partisanship could reach him.

Outside the barn my father knelt in the dust

In the lantern light, fixing a harness. Wanting

Just to be around, I suppose, to try to show Cal

He couldn’t desert him.

He held the tubular punch

With its spur-like rowle, punching a worn hame strap

And shook the bright copper rivets out of a box.

“Hard lines, Tom,” he said. “Hard lines, Old Timer.”

I sat in the lantern’s circle, the world of men,

And heard Gal breathe in his stall.

An army of crickets

Rasped in my ear.

“Don’t hate anybody.”

My father said. `

I went toward the house through the dark.

That night the men all left.

Along toward morning

I heard the rattle of Fords. They had left Cal there

In the bloody dust that day but they wouldn’t work after that.

“The folded arms of the workers” I heard Warren saying,

Sometime in the future where Mister Peets lies dreaming

Of a universal voting-machine.

And Showboat

Quinn goes by (New York, later) “The fuckin’ proletariat

Is in love with its fuckin chains. How do you put this fuckin

Strike on a cost-plus basis?”

There were strikes on other rigs that day, most of them lost,

And, on the second night, a few barns burned.

After that a scattering of flat alky bottles,

Gasoline filled, were found, buried in bundles.

“The folded arms of the workers.”

I see Sodaberg

Organizing the tow boats.

I see him on Brooklyn Bridge,

The fizzing dynamite fuse as it drops on the barges.

Then Mac with his mournful face comes round the corner

(New York) up from the blazing waterfront, preaching

His strikes.

And my neighbors are striking on Marsh Street.

(L.A., and later)

And the hawk falls.

A dream-borne singing troubles my still boy’s sleep

In the high night where Cal had gone:

They came through

The high passes, they crossed the darl mountains

In a month of snow.

Finding the plain, the bitter water, the iron

Rivers of the black north

Hunters

in the high plateaus of that country

Climbing toward sleep

But far

from the laughter.

[excerpt, from Part III, Letter to an Imaginary Friend, Alan Swallow Press, 1962]

Much more on Thomas McGrath can be found here…





john bennett | two for a day

13 08 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 249 | August 12, 2008

Two for a Day

from John Bennett

Note from the Editor:

Put a little John Bennett in your life.
You will be better for it. Live it.

Books at: Hcolompress


Norbert Blei

Hollyhocks
&
High-energy Young Ladies

John Bennett

Make sense of a sunbeam, calculate a wave, calibrate a wolf howl, draw lines in the dust, go grim with a rifle defending the motherland, fatherland, land on your feet and start running, the hounds bay and the fox hunt is on.

Back and forth between the particular and the germane like a praying mantis lost in a butcher shop, cowboys and cowgirls riding side-saddle into the arena, gladiators peering through slits in spiked helmets, who do you love?
Is it me, could it possibly be after all these years of false starts, heaps of gutted crab piled high in the corner?

I’ve got things gone amiss in life, a granddaughter gone astray, a lover with her arms crossed in a pout, a trick knee, heart, pony, imagination off in the ditch, tangled in carnage and confetti.

I wake with a whistle, slap my head and hop to it, I’ve still got a trick up my sleeve. Secrets intact I skip out the door into my rat-trap conveyance and with lights blinking red all around me roar off. “Java, java, java,” I think, my life reduced to a coffee bean. “Plunk your magic twanger,” I think, my vocabulary shrouded in code, ancient kid shows on the radio displacing Nietzsche and Kant.

Hi-ho, hi-ho, off we go with the first cigarette of the day burning bright like a blowtorch between my once kissable lips.

The first rig at the drive-thru, the glass slides back and there they are, three blond, dark and tall beauties, a wild crazy perfection that drops death to its knees.

“Ho!” I sing out and trigger delight in them. They all three dance and glide to the window like goldfish in a pond, as if we’d just met in a dream.

“What’ll it be?” says the tall one, and “Yes indeed!” I say. “What will it be!” Then we’re lost for words as the universe sings all around us.

I drive off with a 20-oz. drip and pass a row of pink, red and white hollyhocks along an old wooden fence just as the sun rises up over the ridge. I burst out in song and for a moment have the world by the tail.

A Day in the Life

John Bennett

Here’s a message from god. A glimpse behind the curtain. A tour guide through the seven dancing veils. An eye opener, a spine tingler, a twist of lemon. This can’t go on forever. The ink runs out, the paper turns brittle and bursts into flame, the alarm malfunctions.

This morning three laughing girls at a coffee-house drive-up set my heart dancing and launched me into the day. Twenty minutes ago and thirteen hours later there was only one girl left at the window, and she’d been there all day. I’d just woken up from a nap full of bad dreams and she was pulling a triple shift. The dance was gone from our eyes. We exchanged courtesies at the end of the transaction and I drove off.

Now I’m sitting in my car on the overlook at the top of this hill, last light in the sky, an entire lifetime lived in a day.





ronald baatz | the elephants and everybody else

9 08 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 248 | August 8, 2008

RONALD BAATZ: The Elephants and Everybody Else

Readers familiar with this website and other writings know of my deep and long admiration for the work of Ronald Baatz. Some of what I have written about him can be found on this site. ( “Select Category”…scroll down to Ronald Baatz.) You will also find a wonderful poet, Mark Weber, and a book they both share.

Baatz and I go back to Marvin Malone’s lively WORMWOOD REVIEW, which began in the 60’s and had almost a 40-year run. What one man alone could do with one little mag in America is still beyond believable. (Check the first ‘Baatz Bibliography’ which I’ve included at the end of this piece.) The quality and diversity of writers Malone gathered together in each issue—truly a PhD thesis waiting to be written, if it hasn’t happened already. Something too for future little mag and small press editors/publishers to study. In the end, of course, it all comes down to a one-man/woman operation and obsession—to print/to share/to distribute what one senses is out there in the culture, the literary firmament… And no one mined that field better than Marvin Malone.

It was my intention with this Poetry Dispatch to write a longer, informative piece on Ronald Baatz and his latest book, THE ELEPHANTS AND EVERYBODY ELSE, which Cross+Roads Press recently published. I wanted to give new and old readers of his something close to a profile, almost as personal, true-to-life, and informative as the one on Curt Johnson, which appears at the end of his book, SALUD, Selected Writings.

Baatz seemed open to my suggestion at first. I followed with preliminary notes outlining specific areas of questioning I wanted him to think about, areas of art and life which might benefit both readers and writers. But I didn’t hear from him as quickly as I usually do. And then I knew, instantly, it wasn’t going to happen.

Baatz has always been a pretty private writer, and I sensed he was uncomfortable with where I wanted to go with the questioning, although I fully understood and avoided anything too personal. It was mainly the writing I wanted to deal with. A little history and insight here and there. I wrote back, gave him a chance to beg off—and he took it. So…we’ll leave it at that. I respect his right to let the work speak for itself. Though I am disappointed…and disappointed for readers and writers as well.

But what we have here in “The Elephants…” is one magnificent book (in my humble estimation and experience as writer, editor, publisher) which could have been, should have been published by one of our larger commercial presses in America, or one of our more distinguished, highly financially backed independent or academic presses…BUT, given the nature of ‘how it is out there,’ given the ‘influential’ games some folks play—it didn’t/wouldn’t happen.

And that’s where the very small, highly under-financed, unpredictable, insecure, over-worked, often unacknowledged, here-today-gone-tomorrow, small press comes in, to play the role it has always played (underground and out of sight) in seeing that these other voices be heard.

When people ask: “What kind of work does Cross+Roads Press publish?” I am more than proud to suggest any book on the backlist, or to turn to the latest: THE ELEPHANTS AND EVERYBODY ELSE by Ronald Baatz.

Just holding a copy in one’s hand…and you know it’s something special, quite out of the ordinary. I don’t have to say: This is what I want. This is what I’m looking for. This is what matters. This is the kind of writer I want to help and the only reason I keep going though, as always, I’m never sure how much longer.

Nor do I care to confess: I printed only 250 copies of it because that’s all I could afford, and I may not recover—again! Even sadder, there’s the possibility that fewer than half that many people will ever find the book. You never really know, the odds are always against you. But, on the other hand, I also know (sense, feel, etc.) “instant classic” about this book. That years from now (perhaps next year, or the year after) people will be looking for a copy of “Elephants” and it will be gone, hard to find, selling for considerably more than the cover price of $13 plus postage.

That’s the only faith the small press writer/publisher keeps.

Here are five poems from the book–of almost fifty poems. I will let them speak for Ron Baatz, everything and everybody else—and leave it at that. —Norbert Blei

THE STORYTELLER

Since the search for a new pen had been repeatedly put off,
he continued writing with the old one, even though it felt
thoroughly used up to him. He was correct in sensing that
as far as telling a story was concerned it had long ago run dry.
Finally, out of a mounting frustration, he grabbed his cane
and went out to buy a new pen, an expensive pen for a change,
a genuine fountain pen, since he had never owned such and
he suspected a wealth of new stories might come from one.
The problem was, he couldn’t go into a store to try one out.
They didn’t have ink in them. He would not be able to sample
the way words flowed from one that might excite his imagination.
The pleasures of even a simple sentence would be denied him.
But after hemming and hawing in front of a store window,
gawking like a child wishing sticky candy, he went in and asked
if he could hold one of the fountain pens. He felt
its well-balanced weight, its lustrous blackness, but also
he was pained at the awareness of the dry and wordless point.
He complained it was no better than holding a knife, an umbrella
or a baseball bat, which were all exquisitely useful when properly
applied to the world, but none was capable of leaving behind
a single utterance once they had accomplished their assigned task.
When it finally came to making a decision,
the bespectacled writer bought one of the pens.
The temptation to intimately know one was
just too much for him to resist. And so with
pen and bottle of ink he walked with anticipation
through the dark streets, in the direction of his house
where his wife stood impatiently at the front door,
worried sick over how late the hour had grown.
To make matters worse, instead of going directly home
he detoured to the outskirts of town, knowing
the earth was scheduled to collide with a meteor shower
the likes of which hadn’t been seen in ages. Beyond
the town’s glow, fields were abundant with wattle bushes
and tall dry weeds, and cicadas were in riot amongst them.
But as long as he stood there, not a single shooting star
was seen to scratch the sky. The ironclad pattern of stars
did absolutely nothing to persuade the writer to be optimistic
that his new pen would offer up even a single unique story.
Wagging his head he spit at the earth the cold spit of despair.
As a last resort, he took the empty fountain pen from the bag
and looking straight up at the brilliant stillness of the heavens
he connected a handful of the dots, creating the figure of a goat,
the very thinnest moon imaginable lodged tightly in its stomach.

THE INSOMNIAC

There was this elephant, a bull, who suffered from insomnia.
After nights of not sleeping, this elephant would find himself
at the edge of the town and there he would stand, transfixed
by aromas that would activate in him titanic fits of hunger.
Unable to satisfy this hunger, eventually the elephant would
meander over to the cemetery, where, in all likelihood, the
old gravedigger could be found working in the cool of dark
by the wavering light of a single torch. Well aware
of the nearness of his own death, the old man could be heard
mumbling grim sentences into the opening of the earth.
He would swear at himself too, at how foolhardy he had
often been in making his way through this tantalizing world.
He’d bemoan the bitter loss of loved ones; yet at the same time
he wished only to be left alone so that he might embrace
the unceremonious bliss of dying in peace. His death should be
as inconsequential as that of a moth dying in a cold mist.
He was old, and because he was old he was tired of being
invisible to the young, of aching bones, of trimming his
wiry beard, of praying to a deaf god, of getting drunk on
cheap wine, of being incapable of loving yet another woman,
of taking his teeth out, of putting them back in, of fearing
the panther in the garden, of hoping he’d mistake dying
for simply falling asleep. As he labored the gravedigger
would keep an eye on the elephant, trying to understand
what was going on in such an gigantic, gray, slow-moving head.
Did the elephant think that the man was digging his own grave
because he intended to commit suicide, only to back away
from this naked act of despair at the very last moment?
Or maybe the elephant thought the man was stealing soil
to take home to enrich his garden, to encourage new growth
instead of leaving the soil where its only role was to embosom
the dead. Or might the elephant suspect that the man was
digging up money he had hidden when being chased by the law
and now he needed this money in order to run off to America
to finally fulfill his dream of opening a French restaurant?
Having sized up the elephant, the gravedigger was relieved
that he did not have to dig graves for the likes of such a creature.
Although, with careful consideration, he had estimated that
he could get the job done in one night of nonstop digging.
As for the elephant, he could not begin to conceive of
being forced to sleep eternally in the dark of the earth.
Even though he was aware that his flesh would end up
in places like the belly of the vulture, still, he found
comfort in the fact that his bones would be left behind
as monument to the years of struggle he had waged.
Whenever the elephant grew bored with the digging,
he would go off elsewhere in search of distractions.
He would stop at the motel at the edge of town and
drink water from its swimming pool. Many a night
he could be seen spraying water rowdily up at the sky
as though trying to put out the moon and all the stars.

THE DOG KILLER

One elephant, an unusually large domestic bull, suddenly
got it into his head that he didn’t like dogs, and whenever
he came in contact with a dog he’d grab it and curl it up
in his trunk and then barbarically slam it to the ground,
more often than not killing the helpless animal. No one,
not even the owner, could say exactly why the elephant
was behaving as such, since none of the dogs had been
taunting the elephant. It got to the point where the owner,
an old man who made a living with this elephant by
taking tourists for rides, had to chain the elephant to a tree.
The elephant’s only consolation was scratching up
against this tree, predominantly with his forehead.
And when the old man took the elephant down to the river
every day for a washing and some recreation, he
simply made sure that there were no dogs to be encountered.
Naturally he made sure no children were around who
also might fall victim to the elephant’s unpredictable behavior.
While washing the elephant the old man would talk to him,
questioning his sudden dislike for dogs. As always
with the elephant and the old man, the elephant listened
as muscly drops of water fell from his huge eyelashes and
his trunk entered the water like a snake coming down from heaven.
The old man’s voice was the most familiar sound to the elephant;
and without that consoling, loving sound heard daily,
there’s no telling what the elephant might’ve done
in the way of destruction. The old man had been given
the elephant when he was a child by his father, and now
neither the man nor the elephant had long to go on this earth.
It was true that the old man had been bitten twice by stray dogs
and the elephant had been witness to these attacks, and
because of this there was some suspicion that the elephant
was now inflicting punishment on any dog they came across.
At a town hall meeting the people unanimously voted that
the elephant not be allowed to travel in the streets anymore.
What caused the old man many a sleepless night was
the question of how he could make enough in earnings
to feed both himself and the elephant if he could not
continue to cater successfully to the hordes of tourists.
It was a problem he dwelt on day and night. Eventually
he realized that setting the elephant free in the wild
was what he had to do; and as for himself, he would go
and live with his brother’s family in a nearby town.
This he did, to both his own sorrow and the elephant’s.
They did not die on the same day. Unquestionably
it would have made a better story if they had. The elephant died
a year after they had parted, a vicious stab wound
delivered by a young bull having been the cause.
Beyond that, the old man lived a few years of joy
and contentment in the company of loved ones.
Unlike the elephant he had a peaceful death, which
came in his sleep, the sweetness of his daily ration
of vanilla ice cream still lingering in his belly.

THE KITE FLYER

Late afternoon was when he preferred being alone
at the beach to launch a kite. On most days luck
would be with him and he’d locate a fine current of wind
suitable for his mission. Blue cloudless days were his favorite.
Actually, he didn’t like clouds on blue days or any other days.
Clouds proved nothing more than needless distractions.
Turning his hawklike nose and squinting eyes upwards,
he craved the possibilities of incalculable space.
With feet firmly planted in sand, he felt the tension on the string
linked him directly to the endless play of atmospheric forces.
This allowed him to forget, if only momentarily,
his everyday life. Once his kite was safely aloft,
he was able to forget clogged rain gutters, taxes,
his garden choking with weeds, high blood pressure,
stolen chickens, his rusting automobile, the grandchildren,
who, for some reason, didn’t seem to have a home of their own.
On mornings he brought one of his grandsons with him
initially the child would take interest, even joy, in watching
the kite slowly diminish in size as it rose higher and higher;
but before long the child would resort to his shovel and pail.
Thoughtfully, digging in sand, he would start asking questions,
bothersome ones about the sky. The man would end up swearing
to himself never to permit his peaceful kite-flying solitude to be
intruded upon again. The last thing he wanted to deal with
were words and difficult explanations. From being alive
for so many years, he understood words imposed limitations.
Not even from an innocent child could he tolerate words, and
he certainly had no intention of explaining why the sky was blue.
Eventually he would cut the string, permitting the wind
to take the kite wherever it pleased. He’d gaze up at the sky,
life’s frustrations evaporating like mist on green dreamy bananas.
Shielding his eyes from the sun, the grandson would also look up
and he would see his grandfather, a man lost in the desire
to be elsewhere. What else could he do but shovel sand
into his grandfather’s socks?

THE DRIFTER

She wished to show him the damaged cherry blossoms.
Being comfortable on the back porch with newspaper
and coffee, he put up a minor resistance. Not that he was
reading all that much, the last cool breeze of morning
having the desirable effect of helping him doze off.
Once she got him out to the orchard she handed him
some of the hail still remaining in shaded ground.
He rolled the balls around in the palm of his hand,
attempting to make them come to rest on the same line,
wondering what that line might be called. Even though
he knew she would probably know the answer, he did not ask,
aware that this was not where his attention was supposed to be.
He was supposed to be showing concern for how cruel
nature was capable of being to its own fine creations.
When she took him by the arm to return to the house,
he made sure to throw the balls of hail back in the shade.
If she were to ask him why he was showing concern
for the hail, he would not have been able to answer her.
Perhaps it was simply because he himself would have preferred
to remain in the shade, that if his life were to be leaving
his body he’d prefer to have it happen in the cool of the
back porch, newspaper on lap, none of the news being
of any importance anymore. If he were to mention this,
she no doubt would’ve accused him of dwelling
on his own death too much, when he should’ve been
at least mildly shocked at the damaged blossoms still clinging
to the hail-scarred branches. In a white cotton dress
she was without question a remarkably beautiful woman.
As much as this porch of hers was his place of retreat
from the undying annoyances of the world, he hated
being deposited there by her so that she could return
to whatever it was that she had been doing in the kitchen.
He wanted to chase after her and grab her by the arm
to tell her not to worry about the damage done
to the cherry blossoms. Of course he didn’t do this.
It had been her family’s farm before she had been born,
and now she was the only family the farm had left.
He heard her placing a large iron pot on the stove.
He thought about what it would be like to live with her.
The place was so calm and quiet. The time could be
used to think things over. He had no plans, no goals.
He was without ambition. At heart he was a drifter, but
his heart was growing weary of drifting. In the kitchen
he found her washing cabbage in a deep sink, in front of
a window that looked out onto a field that extended to where
a fence had collapsed in tall grass at the edge of the orchard.
He put his arms around her, and without turning she asked him
if he’d ever noticed how consoling the orchard was in
in the dying light of evening, more so than it ever was
in the light of dawn.

A Baatz Bibliography

  • ALL THE DAYS ARE Tideline Press 1974
  • AFTERNOON PLUMS RISING Tideline Press 1982
  • STRANGE BREAKFAST Permanent Press 1987
  • LUCKY SO BEAUTIFUL Wolfscat Press 1989
  • RAVAGED Clark Street Review Press 2000
  • MT TREMPER HAIKU Flypaper Press 2000
  • AT HERRING COVE Lockout Press 2002
  • WHITE TULIPS Tideline Press 2003
  • IN A CLAY PIG’S EYE Seastone Editions 2005
  • ON THE BACK PORCH Concrete Meat Press 2006
  • FISH FORK Seastone Editions 2008
  • BIRD EFFORT Kamini Press 2008
  • OUT OF HIS CHILDHOOD Zerx Press shared chapbook with Mark Weber 2007
  • CEMETERY COUNTRY Zerx Press shared chapbook with Mark Weber 2008
  • NEXT EXIT: SEVEN Kendra Steiner Editions shared chapbook with Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal 2008
  • THE COMPANIONSHIP OF THE PLUM Kendra Steiner Editions shared chapbook with Bill Shute 2008
  • THE WORMWOOD REVIEW three special sections issues: 104, 140, 144
    “Second Hand”, WR #104 1986; “Out in the Late October Garden”, WR #140 1995; “Every Winter”, WR #144, 1997
  • YELLOW SILK anthology of erotic arts and letters Harmony Books 1990
  • THE BOOK OF EROS anthology of arts and letters from Yellow Silk
    Harmony Books 1995
  • SEVEN HUNDRED KISSES anthology of erotic writing from Yellow Silk
    HarperSanFrancisco




brad leithauser | old globe

5 08 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 247 | August 5, 2008

OLD GLOBE

by Brad Leithauser

For her big birthday
we gave her (nothing less would do)
the world, which is to say

a globe copyrighted the very year
she was born—ninety years before.
She held it tenderly, and it was clear
both had come such a long way:
the lovely, dwindled, ever-eager-to-please
woman whose memory had begun to fray

and a planet drawn and redrawn through
endless shifts of aims and loyalties,
and war and war.
*
Her eye fell at random. “Formosa,” she read.
“Now that’s pretty. Is it there today?”
A pause. “It is,” my brother said,
“though now it’s called Taiwan.”
She looked apologetic. “I sometimes forget…”
“Like Sri Lanka,” I added. “Which was Ceylon.”

And so my brothers and I, globe at hand, began:
which places had seen a change of name
in the last ninety years? Burma, Baluchistan,

Czechoslovakia, Abyssinia, Transjordan, Tibet.
Because she laughed, we extended our game
into history, mist: Vineland, Persia, Cathay…
*
She was in a middle place—
her fifties—when photos were first transmitted,
miraculously, from outer space.
Who could believe those men—in their black noon–
got up like robots, wandering the wild
wastelands of the moon,

and overheard a wholly naked sun
and an Earth so far away
it was less real than this one,
the gift received today—
the globe she’d so tenderly fitted
under her arm, like a child.
*
Finally, there’s cake: nine candles in a ring
. .. .Just so, the past turns distant past,
each rich decade diminishing
to a little stick of wax, rapidly
expiring. I say, “Now make a wish before
you blow them out.” She says, “I don’t see—”

stops. Then mildly protests: “But they look so nice.”
We laugh at her—and wince when a look of doubt
or fear clouds her face; she needs advice.
Well—what should anyone wish for
in blowing candles out
but that the light might last?

[from The New York Review of Books, May 29, 2008]





norbert blei | a meditation on ‘getting it out there’

28 07 2008

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND… No. 147 | July 27, 2008

A MEDITATION ON

“Getting It Out There”

by
Norbert Blei

MEDITATIONS ON A SMALL LAKE, Requiem for a Diminishing Landscape by Norbert Blei. Published by  Ellis Press, David Pichaske, editor. 2008, $15, PO Box 6, Granite Falls, MN 56241Meditations on a Small Lake copyright 2008 by Norbert Blei. Originally published in 1987 by Ellis Press, Peoria, Illinois. Front Cover and page 71 art by Charles Peterson, Ephraim, Wisconsin. Back/inside covers, text page drawings by Emmett Johns, Fish Creek, Wisconson. ISBN: 978-0-944024-45-4

The easy part is writing a book. The hard parts include: finding a publisher; finding a newspaper, magazine, editor/reviewer/critic, somebody in the media to take note of your book; and (over the long haul) developing an audience of readers who will buy your book and look forward to purchasing your next one. They may not like everything you publish, but if you have touched them in any way with your words, if you have gotten hold of anything (in story, essay, poem) the way others see it, or may want to see it—you are on your way to establishing an audience.

The problem remains: the chasm between writer and reader. How do you find each other? Touch him/her? Cultivate them?

There’s always an outside chance every dream about your book comes true: agent, publisher, contract, advanced money, publication …book tours, bestseller list/sizzle, speaking engagements, movie options, prizes, university invitations/appointments, enough money to get you out of hock and almost make you comfortable for years to come. It happens.

But don’t count on it. There are some dreams that are best small…or forgotten. Most serious writers learn to live with these.

Let’s say the easy part is done. You have a first book (or another new one). And let’s say you’re holding the first copy in your hands .Finally. Now comes that hard part: getting it out there. PR, marketing, advertising, mail orders, readings, book signings, word-of-mouth… None of this a given by any publisher, large or small. None of it easy.

Friends and family can buy only so many books. The aura and excitement of publication fades quickly. Here’s your book. Here you are now, a published “author”… But nothing’s happening. Your parents smile and wish you had a real job. Your friends say, “Hey, nice! Congratulations,” may or may not buy copy—they have their own bills and busted dreams to deal with. Your spouse is thinking So what now? It’s still not bringing food to the table…contemplating greener pastures. Your Significant Other is feeling Insignificant. The attention you think your book deserves… that circle is smaller than you ever imagined…and grows smaller. You’re entering (or re-entering) the danger zone of no-man’s-land.

How to reach out? For writers who become disillusioned by the whole process, the question is not how? But why?

I would hate to estimate how many potential and practicing writers walk partway down “the road not taken”—turn back and take the other one which is more crowded and less unpredictable. How many of them give up, fail to develop, lose faith, see nothing but futility in attempting to live by one’s words alone. Years ago a friend of mine created this timetable: “If I don’t publish a book in the next few years…first I’m going to sell insurance. Then I’m going to shoot myself.” (He’s still alive. With a shelf of books to his credit.)

Shall we do the dance of promotion? Most writers and artists are notoriously bad at it. And even for those who are reasonably good at doing the hustle, find it more difficult these days as newspapers grow thinner, book sections disappear, advertisements are ineffective, and nobody knows your name. Everybody has more important things to do than pick up a book, and what readership remains often dwindles to “books-everybody-else-is-reading”—those books and non-books usually featured on major network-TV talk shows, often owned or in bed with the larger publishers whose books are being flogged…often by authors who lost their soul to the very nature of the corporate process of manufacturing books that sell. Not always true of course. But true enough.

Now I’m into ethics. This is all too large a problem to consider in so small a space.

Does the internet sell books? Well, yes. And no. Amazon.com sure does. But that’s another dance. So too bookstore signings, readings from every venue imaginable—living room book clubs, cofeeshops, bars, libraries, various speaking engagements–townhalls, beaches, parks, street corners… Most “underground writers,” have done them all, or will. And continue to do the dance to the end. Or walk off the floor.

Can you survive as a writer in America? Well, not really. Not anymore—if ever. It’s always THIS, and ‘that’—whatever else a writer has to do to make his life work. Too often ‘that’ destroys him. It all goes back to selling insurance and self-destruction. Or to mix some more metaphors, it’s a high-wire act. It was high-wire walker Karl Wallenda who said, “To be on the wire is life; all the rest is waiting,” shortly before he fell to his death.

But to return to the dance. In THE SECOND NOVEL (Becoming a Writer), December Press, 1978, (o.p.), I quoted Henry Miller for my forward:

You want to communicate. All right, communicate! Use any and every means…
At a certain point in my life I decided that henceforth I would write about myself, my friends, my experiences, what I knew and what I had seen with my own eyes. Anything else, in my opinion, is literature, and I am not interested in literature. I realized also that I should have to learn to content myself with what was within my grasp, my scope, my personal ken. I learned not to be ashamed of myself, to talk freely about myself, to advertise myself, to elbow my way in here and there when necessary…
You will have to do it yourself, dear man. Or do it as Homer did: travel the highways and byways with a white cane, singing your songs as you go. You may have to pay people to listen to you, but that isn’t an insuperable feat either. Carry a little “tea” with you and you’ll soon have an audience.
—Henry Miller

To repeat: Can you survive as a writer in America? I can give you some references off the top of my head, writers of considerable record, history, persistency: Ask Todd Moore (New Mexico); John Bennett (Washington state); Ron Baatz (New York state); A.D. Winans (California); Grace Butcher (Ohio/Alaska); t.k. splake (upper Michigan); Dave Etter (Illinois); Ron Whitehead (Kentucky); Alan Caitlin (New York); Jack Saunders (Florida); Bob Arnold (Vermont); Larry Smith (Ohio); Tom Montag (Wisconsin); David Kherdian (California/New York); Bill Kloefkorn (Nebraska); Eric Chaet (Wisconsin); Ron Offen (Illinois); Gerald Locklin (California); Leo Dangel (South Dakota); Antler (Wisconsin); Lyn Lifshin (New York/Virginia); John Brandi (New Mexico); Kenneth Gangemi (New York); Don Skiles, (California); David Clewell (Missouri): …for openers, I could easily add a hundred more, not to mention the ghosts of Frances May, Cid Corman, and Curt Johnson…reading their works, knowing their lives, how and in what shape they made it to the finish line.

You can persist—though that doesn’t guarantee survival unless you define survival on your own terms. Some years ago in Bisbee, Arizona, I walked past what looked like a deserted storefront window, but seated only a short distance behind the window at a table was a writer with a stack of books. BUY MY BOOK his sign said. Which was unbelievable, funny, desperate, and almost scary. I’ve never forgotten that. Nor the fact I never went into the abandoned store to engage him in conversation. I was married at the time, living in a desperate emptiness of my own. I feared that’s what could become of me if I continued to believe I could write and survive.

If somebody, anybody, gives you the smallest break by way of encouragement or exposure…you gotta give thanks. Which was my intention when I began writing this—only to see the piece swerve into whatever the hell I have here so far. You have to thank anyone who in any way responds to your work, even negatively. Any attention at all is important to a writer’s survival., from a professional critic, to a writer whose work and judgment you value highly, to a friend who speaks from both heart and mind, to a stranger you meet on the street who simply tells you: “I really like your book.”

“Thank you.”

All of this by way of acknowledging Joe Knappen of the Door County Advocate, and Doug Moe of The Wisconsin State Journal for their reviews of MEDITATIONS ON A SMALL LAKE. Hopefully other reviews will follow, though I wouldn’t bet on it, given the writer’s situation discussed so far. Trust me, these two reviews alone are more than many serious writers in the Midwest (especially with smaller, regional presses) could ever hope for.

In addition to the newspaper reviews, I’ve decided to include/print the “unsolicited testimonials” I have received thus far. (Forgive me, I didn’t ask anyone’s permission and only used his or her initial and will gladly remove it if your are uncomfortable seeing your words in print.) What my friends, readers, fellow writers say and think, matters too–and plays a huge part in my own history of survival.

TREAT YOURSELF TO THE RE-RELEASE OF ‘MEDITATIONS’
by Joe Knappen

Door County Advocate,
May 24, 2008

Readers who know only the bluster of Norbert Blei might have missed the point.

To get a better grip on the writer and his favorite theme, readers might want to treat themselves to the re-release of “Meditations on a Small Lake,” an expanded version and third edition of his 1987 best selling book.

“Meditations” is a far from the powerful invective of Blei’s “Chronicles of a Rural Journalist in America”—compendium of columns published in the Door Reminder —or his sesquicentennial blistering of aspects of Peninsula life.

“Meditations” is more in keeping with Blei’s signature work, “Door Way, Door Steps and Door to Door.”

The three works went a long way to define and/or explain Door County, its characters and its special nature.

Indeed, “Meditations” is , all the word implies: Quiet, reverential, a devotional to the start beauty of his adopted landscape, a love letter to the fragile Peninsula.

In the 40 years since Blei escaped Chicago to settle into an old farmhouse in northern Door County, he has done nothing but write and help other writers write.

In that time, Blei has built a considerable body of work: stories, poems, public and commercial radio commentaries, public television programs, newspaper columns, magazine articles, online writing and books. Nearly all focus on Door County

The loss of the rural character and community of Door County continue to be recurrent themes in Blei’s print work and online writing (www.blei doorcountytimes.com) and books.

In April, Blei released the third reprinting of the 1987 book, and the “Meditations” continue to be a testament to changing times.

He remains staunch in his defense of preservation of the natural landscape — in Door County or any rural landscape threatened by over-development and crass commercialism.

Blei muses to pin down and define the quintessential elements that make Door County the place it is and explain why its people are the way they are.

The new edition contains three new essays, and the whole takes on a more mellow aspect, like exchanging an electric hard body for a mellow acoustic guitar.

Reenforcing the natural mode is the substitution of the original photographs of the first two editions with drawings by artist Emmett Johns.

The quiet cover drawn by Charles Peterson of Ephraim continues to retain its force in drawing the reader into the book.

Emmett Johns’ portrait of the author on the back cover is real enough to convince the readers they can hear the howl of the Coyote.

“Meditations on a Small Lake,” 122 pages in the il¬lustrated 2008 edition, can be obtained from Ellis Press, P.O. Box 6, Granite Falls, Minn., 56241 for $15 plus $2 for shipping and handling. The book can be | obtained from the author) at Norbert Blei, PO. Box 33, Ellison Bay, Wis. 54210.

[Joe Knaapen is the assistant editor of the Door County Advocate. Contact him at joeATdoorcountyadvocateDOTcom or at (920) 743-3321]

Emment Johns Illustration taken from Meditations on a small lake by Norbert Blei

BLEI’S WORDS STILL RESONATE IN REPRINT
by Doug Moe

Wisconsin State Journal
June 6, 2008

Norbert Blei doesn’t get angry so much anymore but when he does, he knows what to do. As one of Wisconsin’s foremost men of letters, Blei recalls Mark Twain, who said, “When angry, count four; when very angry, swear.”

In other words, we all must suffer fools and foolishness in this world, but there comes a time when enough is enough.

Now, thanks to Blei and Minnesota’s Ellis Press, discerning readers angered by the noise and mushrooming commercialism in everyday life have an option apart from swearing a blue streak in a primal scream room.

They might instead get themselves a copy of Blei’s “Meditations on a Small Lake,” a cult classic when first issued in 1987 and now reprinted in a fine new edition that includes three new essays and beautiful illustrations, including one of the author, by the artist Emmett Johns.

“It’s a hodgepodge of a book,” Blei said Wednesday, when I tracked him down at home in Door County. “But sometimes that can click.”

This one clicks. Blei offers a mix of his essays — alternately evocative and angry — on his beloved Door County with a selection of magazine and newspaper interviews in which Blei is the subject. Inevitably, the changing face of Door, where Blei moved from Chicago four decades ago, is the subject, too.

Madison-area readers will smile to see included in “Meditations” a piece on Blei written by the late Madison author and radio raconteur George Vukelich. Twin sons of different mothers, those two, sharing a love of literature, the land, and a bedrock belief that humor trumps pomposity every time.

In his piece, originally published in Milwaukee Magazine, Vukelich notes that a mutual acquaintance had warned him about Blei: “He’s different. It’s like a mixture of Studs Terkel and Henry David Thoreau.”

Vukelich could relate because George, who suffered a fatal heart attack in 1995, was himself a man of many parts, a political activist, environmentalist, writer and broadcaster. I remember him captaining a stool at the old Fess bar, telling stories. Norb Blei heard many of those same stories when Vukelich took his WIBA radio program “Pages from North Country Notebook” to a statewide audience on Wisconsin Public Radio.

“I miss him so much on the Wisconsin scene,” Blei said of Vukelich.

Vukelich’s use of the description of Blei as part Terkel, part Thoreau was particularly apt because Blei’s life and writing has frequently shifted between Chicago and Door County.

I met Blei for the first time in 2003 when he was in Madison to read at Canterbury from “Chi Town,” his collection of pieces on his native Chicago that remains my favorite of all his works. It had just been reissued by the Northwestern University Press so a new generation of readers could get Norb’s inimitable take on Chicago institutions like Nelson Algren, Mike Royko and the hot dog.

Blei’s favorite Madison place is Nick’s on State Street, but that first time we met at the Laurel Tavern on Monroe, because Norb had been meeting down the street with the University of Wisconsin Press about the possibility of their reissuing his Door County trilogy that began with “Door Way.” (That collaboration, alas, failed to come to pass.)

He drank Scotch at the Laurel and proved as provocative in person as he is on the page. He signed my copy of “Chi Town.” He promised to stay in touch, and he has.

This week, Blei said he is happy to see “Meditations” back in print. It has given him a chance to re-examine his complicated relationship with Door County, which he loves for its beauty and quiet spaces and hates because that same allure may be responsible for its ruin in the form of condos and commercial development. In the book, Blei notes ruefully that a condo developer once called to cheerfully tell the author he’d put a copy of one of Blei’s books in all his condos.

Still, there remain places in Door where Blei can find the quiet he seeks. He quotes Melville: “Silence is the only voice of our God.” He told me that a former Door resident, returning from Maine for the first time in two decades, recently offered this assessment: “It’s not that bad.”

The first reading for the new edition of “Meditations on a Small Lake” came about when Blei was talking with a friend of his who is minister of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Juddville, in Door County.
“The proper place to launch this book is a church,” Blei said.

“Use mine,” the minister said.

The reading is Monday evening. “It’s perfect,” said Blei, Wisconsin’s amiable contrarian. “Nobody knows where Juddville is.”

[Contact Doug Moe at 608-252-6446 or dmoeATmadisondotcom.]

Charles Peterson Illustration taken from Meditations on a small lake by  Norbert Blei

UNSOLICITED TESTIMONIALS MEDITATIONS ON A SMALL LAKE

Just wanted to say what a GEM the revised edition of “Meditations” is! Pure Zen–in the feel of it in your hand; the black and white, spare drawings of Emmett’s; and, of course, in the words. The prologue and epilogue nearly made me cry, and the new color is perfect–the blue of the ever present, surrounding waters.

Comforting, but disturbing, to know that, though I’ve been coming here for 25 years now, you’ve been here over 40, and still don’t know what it is about this place…but maybe it’s that Ultimate Question–we finally have to accept that we don’t KNOW the answer, never will and that is the peace and purpose of all…
S.

I have read the prologue, the foreword, the epilogue. You know I don’t always agree with what you say, I don’t think you can “keep time in a bottle”, I think we are destined to evolve, to always be seeking and finding more. I wouldn’t want to live in Buckingham palace but I’m glad it exists. But even if I don’t always agree with what you say I always, always am awestruck and overcome with the way you say it. It is incredible how deeply you can embody each moment, feel every nuance, and then put it on paper in a way that enables, even forces, less perceptive people to enlarge their senses and experience it too. The epilogue especially. Oh, my God–catching a slap of wind in his eyes–hands curled warmly in black mittens—the wind in the tips of pine trees, –opens his mouth childlike, in communion, tasting the sacred quiet.

Maybe you do put time in a bottle. Charlie and Chester [from DOOR WAY] are caught in agate for the rest of us to see and remember the quiet beauty of their lives, for people long after we have “walked into our own shadows” as you put it. Maybe the exact circumstances will never be the same again, but you have caught them for others to remember and revere. probably for generations.

There is one place where you say it is not just the light, or the water or the light combining with the water that creates the mystique of Door county, that you are still searching for it and it is something spiritual, and that is so beautiful and so right. Everyone feels it. And that is what you are trying to save, to preserve. I understand that feeling and share it, and share wanting it to be saved. It is both tangible and intangible, and I think in a greater sense it is something within your own self Norbert, something that can’t be destroyed.

I think if you had never come to Door you would have found it in a Cathedral in the city when all the votive lights were lit, or in the glow of a woman’s cigarette beckoning from a dark door, or from the wild luridly colored lights on a wet city pavement. This “holy” thing is everywhere and everything. It is the presence of God, and you found it as much in Nik Klein who made rocking horses and the newsie and the hot dog seller as you did in James Farrell, or Charlie and Chester. And that is your great gift to witness and see it.

You are as the Gypsy said, “A seer.” and beyond that “a feeler.” You are able to see deeper and feel more and then give that gift to others, to open eyes and hearts.
B.

Emmett Johns Illustration taken from Meditations on a small lake by Norbert Blei

It is truly wonderful, lyrical, poetic, you at your writerly best. We never had a copy, for some reason, maybe just didn’t run across it when we came here in 1989.
G.

I don’t know if I’ve ever told you but it was “Meditations” (I picked it up at Passtimes Books, I think in 1994 or 95) that moved me to write to you about your other books and whether you did workshops. And I never never write those kinds of fan letters. You responded very graciously with plenty of info and a Clearing brochure. It took me another two years to get to the Clearing… When I got home…that year…after years of
floundering…I was committed and reaffirmed as a poet. It was at that point that I decided to make something out of my art.

So the long and short of it is that I can say absolutely that where I am as a poet today is a direct effect of having read “Meditations” back in 1994.
A

Part Terkel, part Thoreau, huh? And the soul and conscience of Door County, as well. I am glad you are reissuing “Meditations . . .” It really is time to reissue the trilogy too, isn’t it? Thanks,
N

Something in the Bible says a man cannot be a hero in his home town. You may be such in Door County and Chicago, but the commies in Mad-Town seem to appreciate your jaded view…
J

read it. great job. i am in fact reading the first edition. it’s great.
S

……as you know still my favorite [book] and I think one of Emmett’s best sketch’s……..you look like a “Goat” I have named “Hairy” that is too stubborn to go up on the roof!!
L

congrats…that’s a really good review–hope you sell a ton of copies.

If you ever want to come read at the coffeehouse I have a couple months open for the 08-09 season, including Dec 20 (reconnect w/yr Chicago-area friends/students and sell books for folks to give as xmas presents)
C

Emmett Johns Illustration taken from Meditations on a small lake by Norbert Blei

Thanks for sending the new edition of Meditations… It is vastly improved in visual appeal and readability. The livelier blue cover with white title and illustration, the great Emmett Johns sketches (including portrait of NB), and the improved type font of the text — all make for a sweet little volume! And the added essays are great! Especially liked the quote from Everyday Suchness…
C

I realized as you read tonight…You articulated my feeling about the spirit of the county and that led me to become involved… Great to see you and I thank you for responding to my letters—nearly fifteen years ago. It meant and means much to me. (gotta see if they’re worth anything on e-bay ..)
N

your book of lake meditations is keeping me company late at night. it has a warmth, beauty and wisdom that is downright soulful.
R

Charles Peterson’s cover drawing of a lone man in a boat captures the essence of everything in the book. I can’t keep my eyes off it. I can’t keep from opening the book again to any page, entering the beauty and silence you capture in words.
H.

The epilogue to the new edition of MEDITATIONS is so beautiful…
K

I wanted to write you a note and tell you how much I have enjoyed Meditations on a Small Lake…
It was wonderful!!!!!! I find it hard to believe that I had never read it before…
As I was reading it I was thinking…YES YES….as I feel many of the things you describe…so beautifully (“it’s the light … Moisture and light etc etc….)…….but could never express as you do…I enjoyed the story In defense of Abandoned Farms as I have always wondered about these places when walking or riding past them…

Emmett Johns drawings are so beautiful and such a gift to have in your book ~to think a person can create such lovely drawings with just pencil and paper…

I really thank you for making this lovely book is available again to us all….
L





henry david thoreau | happy birthday, henry!

12 07 2008

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND… No. 146 | July 12, 2008

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HENRY!

It’s the birthday of Henry David Thoreau, born David Henry Thoreau in Concord, Massachusetts (1817). He’s the author of Walden; or, Life in the Woods(1854) and the essay “Civil Disobedience” (1849). He went off to Harvard when he was just 16. He was 27 when he built a small cabin on the edge of Walden Pond, a small lake near Concord, and wrote about his time there. Thoreau said, “Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.” [Source: Writer’s Almanac]

Walking

(excerpt) by Henry David Thoreau

I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and
wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil — to
regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather
than a member of society. I wish to make an extreme statement, if
so I may make an emphatic one, for there are enough champions of
civilization: the minister and the school committee and every one of
you will take care of that.
I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who
understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks — who had a
genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully
derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the
Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte
Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a
Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to
the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere
idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in
the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the
word from sans terre without land or a home, which, therefore, in
the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally
at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering.
He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant
of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than
the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the
shortest course to the sea. But I prefer the first, which, indeed, is
the most probable derivation. For every walk is a sort of crusade,
preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer
this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels.
It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers,
nowadays, who undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises.
Our expeditions are but tours, and come round again at evening to
the old hearthside from which we set out. Half the walk is but
retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walk,
perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return,
prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our
desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and
brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see
them again — if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and
settled all your affairs, and are a free man — then you are ready for
a walk.

We have felt that we almost alone hereabouts practiced this noble
art; though, to tell the truth, at least if their own assertions are to
be received, most of my townsmen would fain walk sometimes, as I
do, but they cannot. No wealth can buy the requisite leisure,
freedom, and independence which are the capital in this profession.
It comes only by the grace of God. It requires a direct dispensation
from Heaven to become a walker. You must be born into the family
of the Walkers. Ambulator nascitur, non fit. Some of my
townsmen, it is true, can remember and have described to me some
walks which they took ten years ago, in which they were so blessed
as to lose themselves for half an hour in the woods; but I know
very well that they have confined themselves to the highway ever
since, whatever pretensions they may make to belong to this select
class. No doubt they were elevated for a moment as by the
reminiscence of a previous state of existence, when even they were
foresters and outlaws.

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend
four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than
that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields,
absolutely free from all worldly engagements. You may safely say,
A penny for your thoughts, or a thousand pounds. When sometimes
I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their
shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting
with crossed legs, so many of them — as if the legs were made to
sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon — I think that they deserve
some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.

I, who cannot stay in my chamber for a single day without
acquiring some rust, and when sometimes I have stolen forth for a
walk at the eleventh hour, or four o’clock in the afternoon, too late
to redeem the day, when the shades of night were already beginning
to be mingled with the daylight, have felt as if I had committed
some sin to be atoned for — I confess that I am astonished at the
power of endurance, to say nothing of the moral insensibility, of
my neighbors who confine themselves to shops and offices the
whole day for weeks and months, aye, and years almost together. I
know not what manner of stuff they are of, sitting there now at
three o’clock in the afternoon, as if it were three o’clock in the
morning. Bonaparte may talk of the three-o’clock- in-the-morning
courage, but it is nothing to the courage which can sit down
cheerfully at this hour in the afternoon over against one’s self
whom you have known all the morning, to starve out a garrison to
whom you are bound by such strong ties of sympathy. I wonder
that about this time, or say between four and five o’clock in the
afternoon, too late for the morning papers and too early for the
evening ones, there is not a general explosion heard up and down
the street, scattering a legion of antiquated and house-bred notions
and whims to the four winds for an airing — and so the evil cure
itself.


But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking
exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated
hours — as the Swinging of dumb- bells or chairs; but is itself the
enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise, go
in search of the springs of life. Think of a man’s swinging
dumbbells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in
far-off pastures unsought by him!

Moreover, you must walk like a camel, which is said to be the only
beast which ruminates when walking. When a traveler asked
Wordsworth’s servant to show him her master’s study, she
answered, “Here is his library, but his study is out of doors.”

Henry David Thoreau (born David Henry Thoreau; July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862) was an American author, naturalist, transcendentalist, tax resister, development critic, sage writer and philosopher. He is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay, Civil Disobedience, an argument for individual resistance to civil government in moral opposition to an unjust state.

Thoreau’s books, articles, essays, journals, and poetry total over 20 volumes. Among his lasting contributions were his writings on natural history and philosophy, where he anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environmental history, two sources of modern day environmentalism.

He was a lifelong abolitionist, delivering lectures that attacked the Fugitive Slave Law while praising the writings of Wendell Phillips and defending abolitionist John Brown. Thoreau’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance influenced the political thoughts and actions of such later figures as Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thoreau is sometimes cited as an individualist anarchist as well as an inspiration to anarchists. Though Civil Disobedience calls for improving rather than abolishing government — “I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government” — the direction of this improvement aims at anarchism: “‘That government is best which governs not at all;’ and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.”

He was born David Henry Thoreauin Concord, Massachusetts to John Thoreau (a pencil maker) and Cynthia Dunbar. His paternal grandfather was of French origin and was born in Jersey. His maternal grandfather, Asa Dunbar, was known for leading Harvard’s 1766 student “Butter Rebellion”the first recorded student protest in the United States. David Henry was named after a recently deceased paternal uncle, David Thoreau. He did not become “Henry David” until after college, although he never petitioned to make a legal name change. He had two older siblings, Helen and John Jr., and a younger sister, Sophia. Thoreau’s birthplace still exists on Virginia Road in Concord and is currently the focus of preservation efforts. The house is original, but it now stands about 100 yards away from its first site.

Bronson Alcott and Thoreau’s aunt both wrote that “Thoreau” is pronounced like the word “thorough”, whose standard American pronunciation rhymes with “furrow”. In appearance he was homely, with a nose that he called “my most prominent feature.” Of his face, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: “[Thoreau] is as ugly as sin, long-nosed, queer-mouthed, and with uncouth and rustic, though courteous manners, corresponding very well with such an exterior. But his ugliness is of an honest and agreeable fashion, and becomes him much better than beauty.” Thoreau also wore a neck-beard for many years, which he insisted many women found attractive. However, Louisa May Alcott reportedly mentioned to Ralph Waldo Emerson that Thoreau’s facial hair “will most assuredly deflect amorous advances and preserve the man’s virtue in perpetuity.”

Thoreau studied at Harvard University between 1833 and 1837. He lived in Hollis Hall and took courses in rhetoric, classics, philosophy, mathematics, and science. Legend states that Thoreau refused to pay the five-dollar fee for a Harvard diploma. In fact, the master’s degree he declined to purchase had no academic merit: Harvard College offered it to graduates “who proved their physical worth by being alive three years after graduating, and their saving, earning, or inheriting quality or condition by having Five Dollars to give the college.”  His comment was: “Let every sheep keep its own skin”, presumably a reference to the tradition of diplomas being written on vellum, a paper made from sheepskin.

During a leave of absence from Harvard in 1835, Thoreau taught school in Canton, Massachusetts. After graduating in 1837, he joined the faculty of Concord Academy, but he refused to administer corporal punishment, and the school board soon dismissed him. He and his brother John then opened a grammar school in Concord in 1838. They introduced several progressive concepts, including nature walks and visits to local shops and businesses. The school ended when John became fatally ill from tetanus in 1842.

Upon graduation Thoreau returned home to Concord, where he befriended Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson took a paternal and at times patronizing interest in Thoreau, advising the young man and introducing him to a circle of local writers and thinkers, including Ellery Channing, Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his son Julian Hawthorne, who was a boy at the time.

Emerson constantly urged Thoreau to contribute essays and poems to a quarterly periodical, The Dial, and Emerson lobbied with editor Margaret Fuller to publish those writings. Thoreau’s first essay published there was Natural History of Massachusetts; half book review, half natural history essay, it appeared in 1842. It consisted of revised passages from his journal, which he had begun keeping at Emerson’s suggestion. The first entry on October 22, 1837, reads, “‘What are you doing now?’ he asked. ‘Do you keep a journal?’ So I make my first entry today.”

Thoreau was a philosopher of nature and its relation to the human condition. In his early years he followed Transcendentalism, a loose and eclectic idealist philosophy advocated by Emerson, Fuller, and Alcott. They held that an ideal spiritual state transcends, or goes beyond, the physical and empirical, and that one achieves that insight via personal intuition rather than religious doctrine. In their view, Nature is the outward sign of inward spirit, expressing the “radical correspondence of visible things and human thoughts,” as Emerson wrote in Nature (1836).

On April 18, 1841, Thoreau moved into the Emerson house. There, from 1841-1844, he served as the children’s tutor, editorial assistant, and repair man/gardener. For a few months in 1843, he moved to the home of William Emerson on Staten Island, tutoring the family sons while writing for New York periodicals, aided in part by his future literary representative Horace Greeley.

Thoreau returned to Concord and worked in his family’s pencil factory, which he continued to do for most of his adult life. He rediscovered the process to make a good pencil out of inferior graphite by using clay as the binder; this invention improved upon graphite found in New Hampshire in 1821 by Charles Dunbar. (The process of mixing graphite and clay, known as the Conté process, was patented by Nicolas-Jacques Conté in 1795.) Later, Thoreau converted the factory to produce plumbago (graphite), used to ink typesetting machines.

Once back in Concord, Thoreau went through a restless period. In April 1844 he and his friend Edward Hoar accidentally set a fire that consumed 300 acres (1.2 km²) of Walden Woods. He spoke often of finding a farm to buy or lease, which he felt would give him a means to support himself while also providing enough solitude to write his first book[citation needed].

Thoreau embarked on a two-year experiment in simple living on July 4, 1845, when he moved to a small self-built house on land owned by Emerson in a second-growth forest around the shores of Walden Pond. The house was not in wilderness but at the edge of town, 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from his family home.

On July 24 or July 25, 1846, Thoreau ran into the local tax collector, Sam Staples, who asked him to pay six years of delinquent poll taxes. Thoreau refused because of his opposition to the Mexican-American War and slavery, and he spent a night in jail because of this refusal. (The next day Thoreau was freed, over his protests, when his aunt paid his taxes.) The experience had a strong impact on Thoreau. In January and February 1848, he delivered lectures on “The Rights and Duties of the Individual in relation to Government” explaining his tax resistance at the Concord Lyceum. Bronson Alcott attended the lecture; who wrote in his journal on January 26,

Heard Thoreau’s lecture before the Lyceum on the relation of the individual to the State — an admirable statement of the rights of the individual to self-government, and an attentive audience. His allusions to the Mexican War, to Mr. Hoar’s expulsion from Carolina, his own imprisonment in Concord Jail for refusal to pay his tax, Mr. Hoar’s payment of mine when taken to prison for a similar refusal, were all pertinent, well considered, and reasoned. I took great pleasure in this deed of Thoreau’s.

Thoreau revised the lecture into an essay entitled Resistance to Civil Government (also known as Civil Disobedience). In May 1849 it was published by Elizabeth Peabody in the Aesthetic Papers.

Thoreau is frequently quoted as espousing that the true place for a just man is in prison. He in fact actually writes in Civil Disobedience, “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”

At Walden Pond, he completed a first draft of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, an elegy to his brother, John, that described their 1839 trip to the White Mountains. Thoreau did not find a publisher for this book and instead printed 1,000 copies at his own expense, though less than 300 sold. Thoreau self-published on the advice of Emerson, using Emerson’s own publisher Munroe, who did little to publicize the book. Its failure put Thoreau into debt that took years to pay off, and Emerson’s flawed advice caused a schism between the friends that never entirely healed.

In August 1846, Thoreau briefly left Walden to make a trip to Mount Katahdin in Maine, a journey later recorded in “Ktaadn,” the first part of The Maine Woods.

Thoreau left Walden Pond on September 6, 1847. Over several years, he worked to pay off his debts and also continuously revised his manuscript. In 1854, he published Walden, or Life in the Woods, recounting the two years, two months, and two days he had spent at Walden Pond. The book compresses that time into a single calendar year, using the passage of four seasons to symbolize human development. Part memoir and part spiritual quest, Walden at first won few admirers, but today critics regard it as a classic American book that explores natural simplicity, harmony, and beauty as models for just social and cultural conditions.

In 1851, Thoreau became increasingly fascinated with natural history and travel/expedition narratives. He read avidly on botany and often wrote observations on this topic into his journal. He greatly admired William Bartram and Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle. He kept detailed observations on Concord’s nature lore, recording everything from how the fruit ripened over time to the fluctuating depths of Walden Pond and the days certain birds migrated. The point of this task was to “anticipate” the seasons of nature, in his words.

He became a land surveyor and continued to write increasingly detailed natural history observations about the 26 square mile (67 km²) township in his journal, a two-million word document he kept for 24 years. He also kept a series of separate notebooks, and these observations became the source for Thoreau’s late natural history writings, such as Autumnal Tints, The Succession of Trees, and Wild Apples, an essay bemoaning the destruction of indigenous and wild apple species.

Until the 1970s, Thoreau’s late pursuits were dismissed by literary critics as amateur science and philosophy. With the rise of environmental history and ecocriticism, several new readings of this matter began to emerge, showing Thoreau to be both a philosopher and an analyst of ecological patterns in fields and woodlots. For instance, his late essay, “The Succession of Forest Trees,” shows that he used experimentation and analysis to explain how forests regenerate after fire or human destruction, through dispersal by seed-bearing winds or animals.

He traveled to Quebec once, Cape Cod four times, and Maine three times; these landscapes inspired his “excursion” books, A Yankee in Canada, Cape Cod, and The Maine Woods, in which travel itineraries frame his thoughts about geography, history and philosophy. Other travels took him southwest to Philadelphia and New York City in 1854, and west across the Great Lakes region in 1861, visiting Niagara Falls, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Mackinac Island.

After John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry, many prominent voices in the abolitionist movement distanced themselves from Brown, or damned him with faint praise. Thoreau was disgusted by this, and he composed a speech — A Plea for Captain John Brown — which was uncompromising in its defense of Brown and his actions. Thoreau’s speech proved persuasive: first the abolitionist movement began to accept Brown as a martyr, and by the time of the American Civil War entire armies of the North were literally singing Brown’s praises. As a contemporary biographer of John Brown put it: “If, as Alfred Kazin suggests, without John Brown there would have been no Civil War, we would add that without the Concord Transcendentalists, John Brown would have had little cultural impact.”

Thoreau first contracted tuberculosis in 1835 and suffered from it sporadically over his life. In 1859, following a late night excursion to count the rings of tree stumps during a rain storm, he became ill with bronchitis. His health declined over three years with brief periods of remission, until he eventually became bedridden. Recognizing the terminal nature of his disease, Thoreau spent his last years revising and editing his unpublished works, particularly The Maine Woods and Excursions, and petitioning publishers to print revised editions of A Week and Walden. He also wrote letters and journal entries until he became too weak to continue. His friends were alarmed at his diminished appearance and were fascinated by his tranquil acceptance of death. When his aunt Louisa asked him in his last weeks if he had made his peace with God, Thoreau responded quite simply: “I did not know we had ever quarreled.” Aware he was dying, Thoreau’s last words were “Now comes good sailing,” followed by two lone words, “moose” and “Indian.” He died on 6 May 1862 at age 44.

Originally buried in the Dunbar family plot, he and members of his immediate family were eventually moved to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts. Emerson wrote the eulogy spoken at his funeral. Thoreau’s friend Ellery Channing published his first biography, Thoreau the Poet-Naturalist, in 1873, and Channing and another friend Harrison Blake edited some poems, essays, and journal entries for posthumous publication in the 1890s. Thoreau’s Journal, often mined but largely unpublished at his death, first appeared in 1906 and helped to build his modern reputation. A new and greatly expanded edition of the Journal is underway, published by Princeton University Press. Today, Thoreau is regarded as one of the foremost American writers, both for the modern clarity of his prose style and the prescience of his views on nature and politics. His memory is honored by the international Thoreau Society.

Thoreau was an early advocate of recreational hiking and canoeing, of conserving natural resources on private land, and of preserving wilderness as public land. Thoreau was also one of the first American supporters of Darwin’s theory of evolution. He was not a strict vegetarian, though he said he preferred that diet and advocated it as a means of self-improvement. He wrote in Walden: “The practical objection to animal food in my case was its uncleanness; and besides, when I had caught and cleaned and cooked and eaten my fish, they seemed not to have fed me essentially. It was insignificant and unnecessary, and cost more than it came to. A little bread or a few potatoes would have done as well, with less trouble and filth.”

Thoreau neither rejected civilization nor fully embraced wilderness. Instead he sought a middle ground, the pastoral realm that integrates both nature and culture. The wildness he enjoyed was the nearby swamp or forest, and he preferred “partially cultivated country.” His idea of being “far in the recesses of the wilderness” of Maine was to “travel the logger’s path and the Indian trail,” but he also hiked on pristine untouched land. In the essay “Henry David Thoreau, Philosopher” Roderick Nash writes: “Thoreau left Concord in 1846 for the first of three trips to northern Maine. His expectations were high because he hoped to find genuine, primeval America. But contact with real wilderness in Maine affected him far differently than had the idea of wilderness in Concord. Instead of coming out of the woods with a deepened appreciation of the wilds, Thoreau felt a greater respect for civilization and realized the necessity of balance.”

On alcohol, Thoreau wrote: “I would fain keep sober always… I believe that water is the only drink for a wise man; wine is not so noble a liquor… Of all ebriosity, who does not prefer to be intoxicated by the air he breathes?”

Thoreau’s writings had far reaching influences on many public figures. Political leaders and reformers like Mahatma Gandhi, President John F. Kennedy, civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, and Russian author Leo Tolstoy all spoke of being strongly affected by Thoreau’s work, particularly Civil Disobedience. So did many artists and authors including Edward Abbey, Willa Cather, Marcel Proust, William Butler Yeats, Sinclair Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, E. B. White, and Frank Lloyd Wright and naturalists like John Burroughs, John Muir, E. O. Wilson, Edwin Way Teale, Joseph Wood Krutch , B. F. Skinner, and David Brower. Anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman also appreciated Thoreau and referred to him as “the greatest American anarchist.”

Mahatma Gandhi first read Walden in 1906 while working as a civil rights activist in Johannesburg, South Africa. He told American reporter Webb Miller, “[Thoreau’s] ideas influenced me greatly. I adopted some of them and recommended the study of Thoreau to all of my friends who were helping me in the cause of Indian Independence. Why I actually took the name of my movement from Thoreau’s essay ‘On the Duty of Civil Disobedience,’ written about 80 years ago.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. noted in his autobiography that his first encounter with the idea of non-violent resistance was reading “On Civil Disobedience” in 1944 while attending Morehouse College. He wrote in his autobiography that it was

Here, in this courageous New Englander’s refusal to pay his taxes and his choice of jail rather than support a war that would spread slavery’s territory into Mexico, I made my first contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance. Fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system, I was so deeply moved that I reread the work several times.

I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest. The teachings of Thoreau came alive in our civil rights movement; indeed, they are more alive than ever before. Whether expressed in a sit-in at lunch counters, a freedom ride into Mississippi, a peaceful protest in Albany, Georgia, a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, these are outgrowths of Thoreau’s insistence that evil must be resisted and that no moral man can patiently adjust to injustice.

The University of Michigan’s New England Literature Program is an experiential literature and writing program run through the university’s Department of English Language and Literature which was started in the 1970s by professors Alan Howes and Walter Clark. Howes and Clark called upon Thoreauvian ideals of nature, independence and community to create an academic program modeled after Thoreau’s experiment at Walden Pond. Today, students at NELP study Thoreau’s work — as well as that of several other New England writers from the 19th and 20th centuries — in relative isolation on Sebago Lake in Raymond, Maine.

American psychologist B. F. Skinner wrote that he carried a copy of Thoreau’s Walden with him in his youth and, in 1945, wrote Walden Two, a fictional utopia about 1,000 members of a community living together inspired by the life of Thoreau.

Thoreau inspired children’s book author and illustrator D.B. Johnson to create a series of picture books based on Thoreau. The first book Henry Hikes to Fitchburg has become a bestseller.

Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson judged Thoreau’s endorsement of living alone in natural simplicity, apart from modern society, to be a mark of effeminacy:

…Thoreau’s content and ecstasy in living was, we may say, like a plant that he had watered and tended with womanish solicitude; for there is apt to be something unmanly, something almost dastardly, in a life that does not move with dash and freedom, and that fears the bracing contact of the world. In one word, Thoreau was a skulker. He did not wish virtue to go out of him among his fellow-men, but slunk into a corner to hoard it for himself. He left all for the sake of certain virtuous self-indulgences.

Richard Zacks pokes fun at Thoreau in An Underground Education : The Unauthorized and Outrageous Supplement to Everything You Thought You Knew About Art, Sex, Business, Crime, Science, Medicine, and Other Fields of Human Knowledge saying:

Thoreau’s ‘Walden, or Life in the Woods’ deserves its status as a great American book but let it be known that Nature Boy went home on weekends to raid the family cookie jar. While living the simple life in the woods, Thoreau walked into nearby Concord, Mass., almost every day. And his mom, who lived less than two miles away, delivered goodie baskets filled with meals, pies and doughnuts every Saturday. The more one reads in Thoreau’s unpolished journal of his stay in the woods, the more his sojourn resembles suburban boys going to their tree-house in the backyard and pretending they’re camping in the heart of the jungle.

However, English novelist George Eliot, writing in the Westminster Review, characterized such critics as uninspired and narrow-minded:

People — very wise in their own eyes — who would have every man’s life ordered according to a particular pattern, and who are intolerant of every existence the utility of which is not palpable to them, may pooh-pooh Mr. Thoreau and this episode in his history, as unpractical and dreamy.

Poet John Greenleaf Whittier had a conflicting reaction, saying that the message in Walden was that man should lower himself to the level of a woodchuck and walk on four legs. He said: “Thoreau’s Walden is a capital reading, but very wicked and heathenish… After all, for me, I prefer walking on two legs”.

Works -Henry David Thoreau

  • Civil Disobedience
  • Herald of Freedom
  • Life Without Principle
  • The Last Days of John Brown
  • Paradise (to be) Regained
  • A Plea for Captain John Brown
  • Reform and the Reformers
  • Remarks After the Hanging of John Brown
  • The Service
  • Sir Walter Raleigh
  • Slavery in Massachusetts
  • Thomas Carlyle and His Works
  • Walden
  • A Walk to Wachusett
  • Wendell Phillips Before the Concord Lyceum
  • The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau
  • Thoreau Society
  • Abolitionism · Anarchism
  • Anarchism in the United States
  • Civil disobedience
  • Concord, Massachusetts
  • Conscientious objection
  • Direct action · Ecology
  • Environmentalism
  • History of tax resistance
  • Individualist anarchism
  • John Brown · Lyceum movement
  • Nonviolent resistance
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Simple living · Tax resistance
  • Tax resisters · Transcendentalism
  • The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail
  • Walden Pond
  • * The Service (1840)
  • * A Walk to Wachusett (1842)
  • * Paradise (to be) Regained (1843)
  • * The Landlord (1843)
  • * Sir Walter Raleigh (1844)
  • * Herald of Freedom (1844)
  • * Wendell Phillips Before the Concord Lyceum (1845)
  • * Reform and the Reformers (1846-8)
  • * Thomas Carlyle and His Works (1847)
  • * A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)
  • * Resistance to Civil Government, or Civil Disobedience (1849)
  • * An Excursion to Canada (1853)
  • * Slavery in Massachusetts (1854)
  • * Walden (1854)
  • * A Plea for Captain John Brown (1859)
  • * Remarks After the Hanging of John Brown (1859)
  • * The Last Days of John Brown (1860)
  • * Walking (1861)
  • * Autumnal Tints (1862)
  • * Wild Apples: The History of the Apple Tree (1862)
  • * Excursions (1863)
  • * Life Without Principle (1863)
  • * Night and Moonlight (1863)
  • * The Highland Light (1864)
  • * The Maine Woods (1864)
  • * Cape Cod (1865)
  • * Letters to Various Persons (1865)
  • * A Yankee in Canada, with Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers (1866)
  • * Early Spring in Massachusetts (1881)
  • * Summer (1884)
  • * Winter (1888)
  • * Autumn (1892)
  • * Misellanies (1894)
  • * Familiar Letters of Henry David Thoreau (1894)
  • * Poems of Nature (1895)
  • * Some Unpublished Letters of Henry D. and Sophia E. Thoreau (1898)
  • * The First and Last Journeys of Thoreau (1905)
  • * Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1906)

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