Essay, Research Paper: Art Of Living By Thoreau Walden


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Thoreau’s Art of Living In Thoreau’s Walden, he explores the art of living
by presenting a dichotomy of sojourning in nature. The life of participating
with nature considers living simply and wisely while cooperating with both its
lowest and highest elements. Thoreau calls for a change in life by changing the
conventional ideas of standard societal views and its participation with the
torpor of the material mass. Throughout Walden, Thoreau delves into his
surroundings, the very specifics of nature while trying to live the ideal life.
Perhaps the main theme and overbearing concept that Thoreau wishes to convey to
the reader both in the conclusion and throughout Walden, is that we must
recognize the great power and potential for new discovery and enjoyment in our
minds. Thus, Thoreau calls for an “ideological revolution to simplification”
in our lives and conveys a paradoxical view that the highest point of living is
the leading of a simple life of a balance between change and solitude. This life
is the art of activity within the art of structural living- a non-instrumental
way of enhancing one’s life through spiritual development and the cultivation
of the mind and body. The purpose for this enhancement is fostering the spirit
in its progress and not marred by material products or social structures. The
spirit involves activity with nature and must not be hindered by material
necessities Kim 2 demanded by society. Such progress is change within oneself,
within one’s mind and soul and ultimately achieved through self-recognition.
It is the recognizing of the self that leads to individualized experiences. This
art requires pure devotion of the individual and the divorce from the boundaries
of business and time. In doing so, the individual experiences a transcended
self, a “elevated piety” and “perennial youth ” (211). Thoreau compares
the art of and active life to one of unending youthfulness. He pervades the
importance of the youth as innocent and pure. Such life must not be tainted by
obscurities and the mundane routine of the city life but rather emerged,
submerged in the purest form of existence-nature. Thoreau equates the outdoors
(natural stimuli) with innocence when he states that “every child begins the
world again, to some extent, and loves to stay outdoors” (17). Thoreau mirrors
youthfulness to nature in order to convey a need of constant rebirth into purity
and innocence that leads to a love of the earth. Thoreau provides an example of
a life embracing youthfulness and the active search for change and perfection.
The story of the man from Kouroo is a compelling anecdote for how humans can
transcend time and reduce it to the simple illusion that it is. This passage and
the story of the man as a whole can be taken as a metaphor that Thoreau is
showing us, one which we can apply to our own lives. The art does not
“compromise with time” or with other’s opinions (211). The artist of
Kouroo continuously searches for the perfect stick to make a staff until he
finds that stick. He ignores even his friends’ dissuasions and desertions and
perseveres his pursuit to Kim 3 obtain that which will bring purity. Thoreau
states, “Let us settle ourselves and work and wedge our feet downward through
the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and
appearance” (63). The metaphor that Thoreau gives of the swamp with the hard
bottom serves to show how people can drown and sink in the bog of society.
However, to “settle” is to unsettle oneself from the conventions and ground
feet downward in order to transcend. Although he searches for a simple element
– a stick- the process, the art of living is continual, complex and endearing.
It is his “singleness of purpose” and love for the activity that brings him
a pure art and youthfulness. The active life Associated with the art of living
reveals living one’s life engaging and searching nature without worrying of
limitations. The search of perfection results in a perfect art so unimpeded by
external events. The artist uses pure materials of nature that are not tainted
by the materialistic focus of the world. By employing these pure elements, the
true artist of life brings a new system to take the place of old aged societies
and brings forth a “world with full and fair proportions” (211). This new
world constructed by innocence and purified nature does not age or dies but
rather transcends beyond the torpor and mundane life. Thoreau continues to argue
that living requires loving and meeting life. He calls the reader to change and
cultivate one’s life by turning the old, as one would do with soil. The
constant turning brings forth change of one’s life and mind towards activity.
Thoreau rejects mechanical aids that cloud the consciousness and blinds one of
achieving the purified art of living. He attacks the external stimuli such as
drugs Kim 4 and habits as well as the “gross necessaries of life” that only
temporarily satisfies the body and impurifies rather than purifies (7). Even in
one’s poverty, Thoreau suggests that “you are but confined to the most
significant and vital experience” – a life compelled to deal with nature and
its elements. It is the love to “weigh, to settle, to gravitate” (211) life
that produces a life not the search for “luxury which enervates and destroys
nations” (9). Thoreau prefers a simplistic life resembling poverty and
detachment from the dependency of luxury and the massive aspirations for
particular things. The severance from worldly commodities will bring forth a
“life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust” (9). The simple
and wise life that Thoreau calls upon is complex yet he is convinced by “faith
and experience that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not hardship but a
pastime” (46). The simple and wise life requires one to be alert, awake, and
to be “reawakened and continuously awake” (59). This reveals Thoreau’s
love of American visionary moral aesthetics and the encouraging fact of the need
for man to “elevate h8is life by a conscious endeavor” (59). It is the
independent fervor and active participation of one’s soul to “affect the
quality of the day” which results in the “highest of the arts”(59). The
pursuit for intensity within simplistic ways of life apart from material
stimulants brings forth a natural elevation through a conscious rational effort.
The self is the natural medium requiring the meticulous efforts to increase and
transcend one’s spirit to a pure art form similar to nature. Kim 5 Thoreau
also argues the possibilities of such a life by which we can engage and
“morally we can do” (59). Thoreau adheres to the tradition of a thrift way
of life according to the Puritan work ethic. He embraces certain elements of the
religiosity in doing- the fervency of participating in one’s task. Thoreau
participates in the day and of the day’s natural repetitiveness, different
from the mundane life. It is by our own spirits that we are deified when we
become purified and wedded to the day. Thoreau compares himself to the day when
he states that “morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me” (58).
By describing the nature around him, Thoreau grips the life by living the
deliberate and “fronting only the essential facts” (59). Such facts arise
from nature and living is the experience one has while dealing with the earth
and the atmosphere. The facts are natural truths waiting to be practiced and
searched for. Thus each man is given a task to experience the quality rather
than quantity of the day. “Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its
details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical
hour”(59). Thoreau conveys living as a simple task, although the process and
experience of living is undermined. To live is to “live deep and suck out all
the marrow of life” which is hardly a simple task (59). The essential elements
embedded in life need to be searched and sucked out. Thoreau calls for living
deep, and taking all that life has to bring even sucking all the “marrow of
life” that brings youthfulness. Kim 6 This action must be done individually
and by one’s own efforts and exertions in order to experience the art of
living. Thoreau’s emphasis on solitude and independence conveys the notion
that one should become detached from the worldly unfruitful life for one to
become lost to oneself in order to find his soul. The importance placed on the
individual’s act of living reveals the dependency that one has to nature.
Thoreau suggests a life matching and synergetic with nature while learning to
absolve and bless oneself with nature. By losing oneself to nature and shedding
detail, one’s lenses of perception of life becomes purified and faced with
truth. He also hints at an issue much deeper than just whether what one says is
true or not. Thoreau deals with not only truth or falsity, but with the
dichotomy between real value and superficial pedantry. The art of living is
working the land with one’s hands, to “labor enough to subdue and cultivate
a few cubic feet of flesh” (2). The imagery of land is paralleled to flesh,
thus producing an image of harmony and a natural state. Thoreau mirrors the
natural human to nature herself. By aligning oneself to nature, one can elevate
his soul by “coming face to face with fact” (64) and overcoming the end to a
mortal career with evident truth. When Thoreau states that “the surface of the
earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which
the mind travels,” he reveals a simile between the soft and “impressible”
surface of the earth and the same ability which the mind has to be soft and
receptacle to any new idea. Any new information that it learns is perfect.
Although Thoreau does not directly describe the surface of the earth being Kim 7
in any particular woods, in the line after the semicolon he refers to the
“paths which the mind travels.” He refers this statement to the brain and in
the larger sense the soul with the earlier image of the “soft and impressible
surface.” Likewise, in order for one to practice the art of living one must
have dreams and ultimate goals that are high and lofty as he endeavors to such
great heights. Thoreau continues to bombard the reader with an onslaught of
statements that encourage us to continue our study of the self as if every day
is new day. The art of living comes only to those who are alive and cognizant
enough to receive what change, purity and truth nature offers. The truth stands
prevalent and shining as it purges one’s soul to become pure and cleansed like
nature. Thus Thoreau seduces the reader into the possibility of change within
oneself and a catharsis from one’s dependency on the unnecessary aspects of
life and the limits. The art of living involves living an active, simple and
natural truth, with nature, while absorbing the pragmatic elements of vital
pureness by continuously adhering to one’s simple, wise, and invigorating
rituals of transcendence.
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