An Analysis of Henry David Thoreau's' Life and Views as a Transcendentalist

Categories: Henry David Thoreau
About this essay

Fuller, Randall, “Natural History: Thoreau’s Debt to Darwin”

Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817, in Concord, Massachusetts. He was an American poet, essayist, philosopher, naturalist, and transcendentalist. As a transcendentalist, he thought that reality existed only in the spiritual world, and the solution to people’s problems was the free development of emotion (Fuller). The article 1 starts by telling the reader about a dream that Thoreau was having about two ungovernable horses. Fuller uses the dream about the horses to introduce the theme.

The young naturalist is conflicted between his belief in Transcendentalism and science that he had recently discovered while living in the woods of Walden. Fuller goes into great detail about Thoreau living a self-reliant, and simple way of living while at Walden Pond. It was at Walden Pond, that the 34-year old naturalist became conflicted.

Thoreau began to study nature more intensely and found himself looking at nature as a botanist. (Fuller). His sudden interest in studying nature, as a botanist, would subtly change the final form of “Walden, or Life in the Woods.

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” Thoreau had always been captivated by the world of nature, but he began to study its physical processes. Each day, no matter the weather, Thoreau could be found rambling through the woods, fields, and other landscapes that surrounded his native Concord. He would be busy collecting specimens, studying them, measuring and weighing them, and recording this information in a set of small notebooks just like any other scientist.

There were times that Thoreau would worry and said, “that the character of my knowledge is from year to year becoming more distinct and scientific… that, in exchange for views as heaven’s cope”, and “I am narrowed down to the field of the microscope.

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”(Thoreau) He tried to fit his data into a larger transcendentalist vision of the cosmos, but Thoreau was not able to do this because his focus was on the material things and not nature. In 1860, at a party, Thoreau heard about a man named Charles Darwin and desired to know more about this man, and soon purchased and read his book entitled, “Origin of Species”. When he finished reading this book, he began to copy extracts, and insert them into his natural history notebooks.

As Fuller showed, no one knows what Thoreau was looking to accomplished. His painstaking work enabled him to capture and quantify the process of growth in nature and Thoreau would verify Darwin’s theories as they applied to natural environs. He would write a new essay called, “The Succession of Forest Trees.” This writing was one of the most popular essays, and he used this essay to explain some of Darwin’s statements about the American forest. Thoreau began to understand the meaning of his dream and explained it by the examples of the oak and pine trees. He marveled that Darwin’s theory implies a greater vital force in nature because it is more flexible, accommodating, and equivalent to a sort of constant “new creation.” Izaguirre, Frank, “American Subversive Sensory Balance in Walden” In the writing entitled “American Subversive Sensory Balance in Walden”, Frank Izaguirre continues the theme of the conflict between Transcendentalism and science by comparing Thoreau’s writing with and other American nature writers.

Most of the early American nature writers were explorers seeking to understand a new land. It was probably the best to describe the “new nature” by using just the sense of sight. They recorded information about the number and types of trees that they saw in this new land. They would tell about all the flowers they saw and visually describe the landscapes of the new world.

A good example of an explorer using the sense of sight over the other senses was Jean Ribault, a navigator, who recorded the sights of coastal South Carolina in 1562. Ribault said, “The sight of the Faire meadows is a pleasure not to be expressed with tongue, full of herons, mallards, egrets, woodcocks, and kinds of another wild beast.”(Izaguirre) For many centuries, nature writers always used the sense of sight because they said, “The eye was singled out as the most beautiful, powerful, truthful, and godly than the other senses.” (Smith) Thoreau changed the emphasis from the sense of sight to a more balanced approach in his writing Walden.

He mentioned a wood thrust that could have been seen all around Walden, but it was not a beautiful bird. It did not have any vivid colors on their feathers that would stand out to the eye. The essence of the bird is its song and Thoreau described the song a great deal in his writings. It was not Thoreau’s intent to rearrange Western Culture’s sensory order, but he wanted to use all the senses to interact with nature. Birds, other wildlife, and even the sounds of non-living nature like the wind were used by Thoreau. He would use the sense of taste and touch when he describes the berries that he found at Walden. He would go into great detail about how the berry felt and tasted.

Thoreau said, “We need the tonic of wildness… At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and inexplicable, that the land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable”. Izaguirre wrote that botany was a perfect vehicle for Thoreau to use his sensory balance model. He can touch, taste, smell, see, and in certain cases hear the plants, as when the winds move through the grass. An excellent example of Thoreau’s botanizing sensuous “Sounds” Thoreau said, “In my front yard grew the strawberry, blackberry… I heard a fresh and tender bough suddenly fall as a fan to the ground.”(Walden p 1029,1030) Thoreau’s use of all the senses which exists in part to give us language to express ourselves, and forever we should be grateful to him. Thoreau inspired many other nature writers including, Rachel Carson, probably the most influential nature writer and activist of the Twentieth century. She wrote, “senses other than sight can prove avenues of delight and discovery.” (Carson) Izaguirre, concludes his writing that young nature writers have been inspired to use the sensory balance model, even in the complex world of nature.

Malachuk, Daniel, “The Sun is but a Morning Star: Thoreau’s Future”

Malachuk in his writing “The sun is but a Morning Star” continues to give more information about Thoreau’s conflict between Transcendentalism and science, and how he senses the throb of universal life, spiritual upheaval, and meditates that death in this environment can not have any sting. Thoreau is going to leave Walden Pond because his mission is complete. This feisty author rejected the normal way of writing but created his style (Buell). Inspired by the surrounding at Walden, Thoreau begins to use a balanced approach to using all the senses. Thoreau remarks that his reasons for leaving Walden Pond are as good as his reason for coming. He states “I have other lives to live, and changes to experience.”(Thoreau) Walls, Laura, “The Samarae of Thought: Thoreau’s Gathered Timescapes.”

When Walls wrote “The Sumarae of Thoughts: Thoreau’s Gathered Timescapes”, she begins with the sad news about Thoreau dying at the age of 44. At his death, he had two unfinished book manuscripts about nature. One of those manuscripts was entitled, “The Dispersion of Seeds”. Thoreau had always loved nature, but during his stay at Walden Pond, he begins to intensify his study, and thus the conflict between Transcendentalism and science had begun. He is now looking at nature the same way as a Botanist would look at nature. In “The Dispersion of Seeds”, he describes the seeds found in a pinecone. These seeds are like wings and they catch a ride on the wind. The wind will catch the seed, lift, and carry the seed like a bird.

These seeds could be destined to fall on the grass and fail to catch hold of the soil, but others will fall to the soil, germinate, and grow. Thoreau believed that all humans were part of nature, and they should live in nature, and Thoreau looks to nature. In nature, “we must seize the movement and act upon it if the future is to be realized.” (Thoreau). Thoreau began drafting the writing Walden the day after he moved to the pond. In talking about the pine seeds, “The pine cone makes one final point, said Walls.” The wind has already penetrated the closed-cell of the winged seed is an early figuration of what Thoreau will come to call anticipation, as when he writes in Walden, “To anticipate not the sunrise and the dawn merely, but, if possible, Nature herself!”(Walls)

Finally, Walls said, “Thoreau in Walden looks to a certain time, the pregnant moment when the future awakes”. It must be seized and acted upon or a person will never realized-if the seed awakened, is to fly, find its ground take root, and grow. Thoreau’s life was like the pine seed. The pine seed found good soil, germinate, grew, but just into a seeding because his life was too short. Time allows a seedling to grow and time allows us to understand that Thoreau’s literary works have inspired so many people, that his seedling grew into a straight and powerful tree.

In conclusion, Thoreau battled with his conflict of Transcendentalism and the rigors of science. Thoreau suggested how a transcendentalist might begin to appreciate a natural world that did not rely on God to function.

Work Cited

  1. Fuller, Randall. “Natural history: Thoreau’s debt to Darwin.” Nature, vol. 546, no. 7658, 2017, p. 349+.
  2. Gale OneFile: Nursing and Allied Health, u=nclivececc&sid=PPNU&xid=d5b70a9b. Accessed 20 Nov. 2020.
  3. Izaguirre, Frank. “Henry David Thoreau, American subversive: Sensory balance in Walden.” Nineteenth-Century Prose, vol. 44, no. 2, 2017, p. 115+.
  4. Gale Academic OneFile, Accessed 21 Nov. 2020.
  5. Malachuk, Daniel S. “The sun is but a morning star’: Thoreau ‘s future.” Nineteenth-Century Prose, vol. 44, no. 2, 2017, p. 13+.
  6. Gale Academic OneFile, Accessed 21 Nov. 2020.
  7. Walls, Laura Dassow. “The Samarae of thought: Thoreau’s gathered timescapes.” Nineteenth-Century Prose, vol. 44, no. 2, 2017, p. 37+.
  8. Gale Literature Resource Center, Accessed 21 Nov. 2020.
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An Analysis of Henry David Thoreau's' Life and Views as a Transcendentalist. (2021, Sep 21). Retrieved from

An Analysis of Henry David Thoreau's' Life and Views as a Transcendentalist
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