Saturday, 30 April 2011

Walden, or Life in the Woods


My mum gave me a postcard with this painting (Collins St.,5pm by John Brack) on it.  It says on the back of the card "In the winter of 1955 John Brack stood in a doorway in Collins Street on successive nights between 4.45 and 5.30pm and observed and sketched office workers on their way home from work.  He commented "There are so many of us whose lives are encompassed by offices in the day and suburbs in the night, that it seems almost urgent for the painter to say something about it."

This painting fits neatly with the sentiments of Henry David Thoreau, who's book Walden or, Life in the Woods (published in 1854) I am currently reading.  He famously said "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

"Walden emphasizes the importance of solitude, contemplation, and closeness to nature in transcending the "desperate" existence that, he argues, is the lot of most people. Thoreau regarded his sojourn at Walden as an experiment with a threefold purpose. First, he was escaping the dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution  by returning to a simpler, agrarian lifestyle. Second, he was simplifying his life and reducing his expenditures, increasing the amount of leisure time in which he could work on his writings. Much of the book is devoted to stirring up awareness of how one's life is lived, materially and otherwise, and how one might choose to live it more deliberately. Third, he was putting into practice the Transcendentalist belief that one can best "transcend" normality and experience the Ideal, or the Divine, through nature." (from Wikipedia)

It is interesting that all through the ages there are  people who question the life that the masses are living while others are happy to follow the prescribed path. I particularly like these paragraphs toward the end of his conclusion.....

"I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.  He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him......In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness"        and

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

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