Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Walden Pond

Radio 4's In Our Time did a programme recently on 'Thoreau and the American Idyll'. At one point (about 13 minutes from the end) they briefly discuss the way Thoreau was influenced by the Romantics, but focused much more on the details of nature and less on the overall landscape than writers like Wordsworth. This is certainly true, although you get a wonderful composite picture of Walden by reading the whole book. There is a moment in Chapter 9 when Thoreau seems on the verge of a wide-angle landscape description, but ends up focusing on the shifting colours of the water:

"The scenery of Walden is on a humble scale, and, though very beautiful, does not approach to grandeur, nor can it much concern one who has not long frequented it or lived by its shore; yet this pond is so remarkable for its depth and purity as to merit a particular description. It is a clear and deep green well, half a mile long and a mile and three quarters in circumference, and contains about sixty-one and a half acres; a perennial spring in the midst of pine and oak woods, without any visible inlet or outlet except by the clouds and evaporation. The surrounding hills rise abruptly from the water to the height of forty to eighty feet, though on the southeast and east they attain to about one hundred and one hundred and fifty feet respectively, within a quarter and a third of a mile. They are exclusively woodland. All our Concord waters have two colors at least; one when viewed at a distance, and another, more proper, close at hand. The first depends more on the light, and follows the sky. In clear weather, in summer, they appear blue at a little distance, especially if agitated, and at a great distance all appear alike. In stormy weather they are sometimes of a dark slate-color... Walden is blue at one time and green at another, even from the same point of view. Lying between the earth and the heavens, it partakes of the color of both. Viewed from a hilltop it reflects the color of the sky; but near at hand it is of a yellowish tint next the shore where you can see the sand, then a light green, which gradually deepens to a uniform dark green in the body of the pond."

3 comments:

peter foolen said...

On my weblog you can see a print I published: Studio Print - Henry David Thoreau: Walden Pond, Massachusetts (by the London-based artist Ian Whittlesea). This print is vaguely visible on the background of a photograph on the post Mountain with boat II

Peter

The English Teacher said...

Thank you for the pointer to In Our Time. I will check it out. I just finished an eight-part series on Walden, and I'll be interested to hear what they have to say.

May I make a recommendation? Have you seen Chris Harris' landscape photos? You can visit his site here.

Plinius said...

Thanks English Teacher. I always enjoy the 'In Our Time' podcast - this one was fairly typical I think.

Thanks for the recommendation - I'd not seen these photos.

I like your Proust blog. I'll be posting about Proust when I have a spare moment as I went to see Vermeer's View of Delft in The Hague earlier this week...