Friday, June 26, 2009

Glenn's Book of Quotes, Number Thirteen

“I rejoice that there are owls. Let them do the idiotic and maniacal hooting for men. It is a sound admirably suited to swamps and twilight woods which no day illustrates, suggesting a vast and undeveloped nature which men have not recognized. They represent the stark twilight and unsatisfied thoughts which all have. All day the sun has shown on the surface of some savage swamp, where the double spruce stands hung with usnea lichens, and small hawks circulate above, and the chickadee lisps amid the evergreens, and the partridge and rabbit skulk beneath; and now a more dismal and fitting day dawns, and a different race of creatures awakes to express the meaning of Nature there.” -- Henry David Thoreau

Well, I kind of had to go with this quote eventually, didn't I?



Anonymous said...

I have no idea what this quote means.

Please explain.

My take on it is that Thoreau is saying that men, like owls, are not developed in the spiritual sense?

Glenn Whidden said...

In this part of Walden, called “Sounds,” Thoreau is contemplating the sights and sounds of the dark and dismal side of nature. He says he is serenaded by a hooting owl. It sounds to him as if Nature is recreating the “dying moans of a human being- some poor weak relic of mortality who has left hope behind, and howls like an animal, yet with human sobs, on entering the dark valley, made more awful by a certain gurgling melodiousness.” It also reminds him of “ghouls and idiots and insane howlings.” But then he chooses to rejoice in the sound. Let the owls do the “idiotic and maniacal hooting.” It suits the dismal swamp and the twilight wood. In his imagination this vast, unexplored nocturnal world is suggestive of the dimly realized and “unsatisfied thoughts which we all have.”

Thoreau, I think, found that nature expressed many different things. I too feel drawn to this aspect of wildness, the gloom of that penumbral world that reflects deep and troubled aspects of our own souls. I've always liked this passage for the beauty of the words and the imagery that it invokes. Beyond that I don't think it has any deeper or symbolic meaning, but it does speak to me.