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PinkMonkey.com Digital Library - PinkMonkey.com-Walden by Henry David Thoreau


in me. Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep. Why is it that
men give so poor an account of their day if they have not been
slumbering? They are not such poor calculators. If they had not been
overcome with drowsiness, they would have performed something.
The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a
million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one
in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be
alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I
have looked him in the face?

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by
mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which
does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more
encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate
his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a
particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects
beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very
atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we
can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.
Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of
the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. If we
refused, or rather used up, such paltry information as we get, the
oracles would distinctly inform us how this might be done.

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, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole
and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world;
or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a
true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to
me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or
of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end
of man here to "glorify God and enjoy him forever."

Still we live meanly, like ants; though the fable tells us that we were
long ago changed into men; like pygmies we fight with cranes; it is
error upon error, and clout upon clout, and our best virtue has for its
occasion a superfluous and evi-table wretchedness. Our life is
frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count
more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten
toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let
your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand;
instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on
your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life,
such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-
one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not
founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead
reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds.
Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat
but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in
proportion. Our life is like a German Confederacy, made up of petty
states, with its boundary forever fluctuating, so that even a German
cannot tell you how it is bounded at any moment. The nation itself,
with all its socalled internal improvements, which, by the way are all
external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown
establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own
traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation
and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only
cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy, a stern and more than
Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast.
Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and
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PinkMonkey.com Digital Library - PinkMonkey.com-Walden by Henry David Thoreau



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