Tuesday, 17 June 2014
Thoreau on The Greatest Gift of Age
I wish I could say I chose today's quotation on my own, that I am perspicacious enough to have set it aside for special comment. But even though I have undoubtedly read it at least twice in the past, it slipped by me without the notice it deserves.
For that, we can thank Maria Popova who runs the estimable Brain Pickings blog/website. It is from The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1837 to 1861. As she explains in her introduction:
”Writing in the afternoon of October 20 of 1857, shortly after his fortieth birthday, Thoreau does what he does best, drawing from an everyday encounter a profound existential parable.”
Here, then, is Thoreau on The Greatest Gift of Age – re-paragraphed slightly to ease reading in the more modern manner, on a screen:
“I saw Brooks Clark, who is now about eighty and bent like a bow, hastening along the road, barefooted, as usual, with an axe in his hand; was in haste perhaps on account of the cold wind on his bare feet.
“When he got up to me, I saw that besides the axe in one hand, he had his shoes in the other, filled with knurly apples and a dead robin. He stopped and talked with me a few moments; said that we had had a noble autumn and might now expect some cold weather.
“I asked if he had found the robin dead. No, he said, he found it with its wing broken and killed it. He also added that he had found some apples in the woods, and as he hadn’t anything to carry them in, he put ’em in his shoes.
“They were queer-looking trays to carry fruit in. How many he got in along toward the toes, I don’t know. I noticed, too, that his pockets were stuffed with them.
“His old tattered frock coat was hanging in strips about the skirts, as were his pantaloons about his naked feet. He appeared to have been out on a scout this gusty afternoon, to see what he could find, as the youngest boy might.
“It pleased me to see this cheery old man, with such a feeble hold on life, bent almost double, thus enjoying the evening of his days. Far be it from me to call it avarice or penury, this childlike delight in finding something in the woods or fields and carrying it home in the October evening, as a trophy to be added to his winter’s store.
“Oh, no; he was happy to be Nature’s pensioner still, and birdlike to pick up his living. Better his robin than your turkey, his shoes full of apples than your barrels full; they will be sweeter and suggest a better tale.
“This old man’s cheeriness was worth a thousand of the church’s sacraments and memento mori’s. It was better than a prayerful mood. It proves to me old age as tolerable, as happy, as infancy…
“If he had been a young man, he would probably have thrown away his apples and put on his shoes when he saw me coming, for shame. But old age is manlier; it has learned to live, makes fewer apologies, like infancy.”
[If a reader sent me this, I have misplaced the reference. My apologies.]
If you enjoyed this, do try Maria Popova's Brain Pickings. Once a week she supplies a thoughtful and often unique take on writing and its pleasures while pointing us to some of the best there is.
Most of the writings of Henry David Thoreau are available for free online. Here is one source for some of them.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: Take Me Back – Summer 1953