Thoreau’s message

All about three words simplify, simplify and simplify

CLASSICS REVISITED

RAVI VYAS

Gandhiji clearly shared with Thoreau that each generation must discover the world through its own eyes rather than through the eyes of previous generations. But in rejecting the “dead hand of the past” Thoreau had warned that every indivi dual “be very careful to find out and pursue (Truth and self realisation) his own way”, that could only come through solitude, away from the madding crowd. If the narrator of Walden stands for anything, it is as an example of “the practicality of virtue” which had the power to awaken people from the torpid lives of expediency and slavish materialism. Thoreau’s impact on Gandhiji’s life and philosophy was profound and much of it came from his reading of Walden, as also the New Testament, Tolstoy and, of course, the Gita.

Reflections on life
Walden is a small book of 17 essays with a Conclusion, some of which are reflections on Economy, Readings, Sounds, Solitude, Visitors, Higher Laws, Winter Animals, The Pond in Winter, and Spring. These essays are filled with quotations and a steady stream of discussions on literature, philosophy, religion, history and other topics. But the essays were more a product of his readings and reflections rather than his experiences which were limited because he confined himself between July 1845 to September 1847 to the Walden Pond.
But Walden’s relevance today is much more than an account of a life in the woods; it is appealing and convincing because the vivid details of the woods, the pond, and the seasons are used as a metaphor of his vision of a good life. Also, although Thoreau drew heavily from the ideas of his contemporary Ralph Emerson’s essay on Society and Solitude, he adapted it to his own ways of thinking and feeling. Thoreau insisted that you “figure it out” yourself and this could only be done in solitude, by being alone with yourself.
Perhaps the great relevance of Walden lies in the distinction that Thoreau makes between “solitude” and “loneliness”. Many of us confuse that the two are one and the same, that “solitude” is the flip side of “loneliness”. Thoreau says they are not, though not in so many words. What he says is this: “In solitude, I am by myself together with my inner Self and therefore two-in-one; in loneliness, I am actually one, deserted by all others.” In solitude therefore a dialogue is possible between me and myself, as it were, as is the dialogue between quotation marks in all Walden’s essays. True understanding (call it the kingdom of God, if you like) will come from within and for this you need to be left alone.

Simple truths
Simplicity; Purity; Clarity of line is what has attracted thousands of readers to Walden. Or to put it in the words of Hamlet’s advice to the players: hold the mirror up to nature, don’t saw your hand or tear a passion to tatters but even more importantly, “Be not too tame either.” Just be true to yourself. It is in the opening essays, “Economy and Where I Lived”, and “What I Lived For” that the tone is set for all the subsequent chapters. For Thoreau, the cost of a thing was to be measured by how much life he had to give for it, which is a sensible rate of exchange by any standard. Consequently, he was content to live simply and modestly because he believed that freedom meant learning to do without the trappings of a more complicated life. Hence, his exhortation, “simplify, simplify, simplify.”
Thoreau’s concluding essay, “Civil Disobedience”, in which he expressed his antislavery and antiwar sentiments and his insistence on living a life of principle has influenced nonviolent resistance movements worldwide. Here he asks the basic question whether we should be content to obey unjust laws or whether we should endeavour to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or we should transgress them at once? Gandhiji riposte was simple: “An unjust law itself was a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so.”

(The Literary Review)

Lastupdate on : Sun, 18 Nov 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sun, 18 Nov 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Mon, 19 Nov 2012 00:00:00 IST




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