Felicitous discovery while working an extra shift at the Bookery: The Heart of Thoreau's Journals, edited by Odell Shephard (a bargain at $8.95 in the Dover edition). Just the entries from his very early twenties impress me greatly with not only the precision of observation he is celebrated for, but his critical spirit, his irony. Many of these remarks and aphorisms have two edges and demand to be read dialectically:
July 13, 1838
What a hero one can be without moving a finger!
Feb. 9, 1839
It takes a man to make a room silent.
The words of some men are thrown forcibly against you and adhere like burrs.
There is no remedy for love but to love more.
All the past is here present to be trid; let it approve itself if it can.
My friend will be as much better than myself as my aspiration is above my performance.
Jan. 26, 1840
The poet does not need to see how meadows are something else than earth, grass, and water, but how they are thus much. He does not need disocver that potato blows are as beautiful as violets, as the farmer thinks, but only how good potato blows are.
I learned today that my ornithology has done me no service. The birds I heard, which fortunately did not come within the scope of my science, sung as freshly as if it had been the first morning of creation, and had for background to their song an untrodden wilderness, stretching through many a Carolina and Mexico of the soul.
The pigeon carries an acorn in his crop from the King of Holland's to Mason and Dixon's line. Yet we think if rail fences are pulled down and stone walls set up on our farms, bounds are henceforth set to our lives and our fates decided. If you are chosen town clerk, forsooth, you can't go to Tierra del Fuego this summer.
But what of all this? A man may gather his limbs snugly within the shell of a mammoth squash, with his back to the northeastern boundary, and not be unusually straitened after all. Our limbs, indeed, have room enough, but it is our souls that trust in a corner. Let us migrate interiorly without intermission, and pitch our tent each day nearer the western horizon. The really fertile soils and luxuriant prairies lie on this side of the Alleghenies. There has been no Hanno of the affections. Their domain is untravelled ground, to the Mogul's dominions.
We look to windward for fair weather.
Praise begins when things are seen partially. We begin to praise when we begin to see that a thing needs our assistance.
When a dog runs at you, whistle for him.
I have a deep sympathy with war, it so apes the gait and bearing of the soul.
It is the man determines what is said, not the words. If a mean person use a wise maxim, I bethink me how it can be interpreted so as to commend itself to his meanness; but if a wise man makes a commonplace remark, I consider what wider construction it will admit.
Jan. 24, 1841
It is more proper for a spiritual fact to have suggested an analogous natural one, than for the natural fact to have preceded the spiritual in our minds.
Of all strange and unaccountable things this journalizing is the strangest. It will allow nothing to be predicated of it; its good is not good, nor its bad bad.