“Men labor under a mistake. The better part of the man is soon ploughed into the soil for compost.”
- Henry David Thoreau
A fellow who writes such words or thinks such thoughts is half-way to absurdity.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) likely needs no introduction. He is one of the greats of American letters. One of our absurd inspirations, Henry Miller, wrote that he had “unbounded respect and admiration” for Thoreau. “By living life his own ‘eccentric’ way,” Miller added, “Thoreau demonstrated the futility and absurdity of the life of the (so-called) masses. It was a deep, rich life which yielded him the maximum contentment. In the bare necessities he found adequate means for the enjoyment of life.”
Walden, the book he is most famous for, was a book we used to re-read every other year in our youth, it seemed. It was an important book in shaping our early life philosophy. In those formative years, Walden was an inspiration.
We still have the old copy which stirred us so long ago. Its margins well marked, highlighting favorite passages. We were pleased to find much absurdity in it.
Some random selections pulled from a recent browsing of Walden…
“We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do.”
“I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely.”
“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.”
“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names… Love your life, poor as it is.”
Ah, the absurd. It is like holding a hot cup of joe between your cold hands on a frosty winter morning. Reading Thoreau you come to appreciate again how life is right here in front of you. It’s not hard to live a contented life. We make it hard because we are unwilling to release the baggage that makes things difficult, or that make contentedness elusive.
We’ll cite Henry Miller again, who writes so well of Thoreau. “'Life is bountiful’ he seems to be saying all the time. ‘Relax! Life is here, all about you, not there, not over the hill.’”
Self-emancipation from the chains of anti-absurd society is really at the heart of Thoreau’s message and is the example he set in his own life.