Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Thoreau on Living

The Meaning of Walden

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”  - Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or, Life in the Woods

The author, John Byron Kuhner made the following astute observation about the meaning of Walden and how it influenced his own writing about Staten Island:

"When I was writing the book, I was reading tons of Thoreau. Walden is called Walden, or, Life in the Woods. My book is Staten Island, or Life in the Boroughs. I did this because I found him so relevant. People think that Thoreau wrote a book about how we all should live in the woods and be self-reliant, and then they castigate him for leading a rather normal life, eating his mother’s cookies or something like that. But his book really wasn’t about going to the Frontier—which he could have done. He basically went to the edge of town, someplace where he was a little less in touch, where he was a little more alone and his life was a little simpler—to Staten Island, if you will. And he didn’t say we should all go live in the woods. He said we should go live where we are."

From “Live Where We Are” a conversation with John Byron Kuhner (Interviewed by GERALD J. RUSSELLO). Staten Island was a blank spot, "the undiscover'd country," until he was offered a job teaching Latin at the Staten Island Academy in 2000. An accomplished Latinist who speaks and writes Latin in an extensive circle of slightly odd friends, he now lives in a one-room cabin in the Catskill Mountains, seeking simplicity, self-knowledge, and beauty in nature. His occasional writing can be found online at  

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