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Thoreau’s Ecstatic Witness

Thoreau’s Ecstatic Witness

Alan D. Hodder
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npvbs
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  • Book Info
    Thoreau’s Ecstatic Witness
    Book Description:

    When Henry David Thoreau died in 1862, friends and admirers remembered him as an eccentric man whose outer life was continuously fed by deeper spiritual currents. But scholars have since focused almost exclusively on Thoreau's literary, political, and scientific contributions. This book offers the first in-depth study of Thoreau's religious thought and experience. In it Alan D. Hodder recovers the lost spiritual dimension of the writer's life, revealing a deeply religious man who, despite his rejection of organized religion, possessed a rich inner life, characterized by a sort of personal, experiential, nature-centered, and eclectic spirituality that finds wider expression in America today.At the heart of Thoreau's life were episodes of exhilaration in nature that he commonly referred to as his ecstasies. Hodder explores these representations of ecstasy throughout Thoreau's writings-from the riverside reflections of his first book throughWaldenand the later journals, when he conceived his journal writing as a spiritual discipline in itself and a kind of forum in which to cultivate experiences of contemplative non-attachment. In doing so, Hodder restores to our understanding the deeper spiritual dimension of Thoreau's life to which his writings everywhere bear witness.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12975-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. Introduction: A Simple and Hidden Life
    (pp. 1-26)

    Over the past century and a half, Thoreau has been many things to many people. In the lengthening record of reviews and scholarly criticism, we read variously of Thoreau the eccentric hermit, the Yankee stoic, the poet-naturalist, the angry abolitionist, the philosophical anarchist and political critic, the transcendental economist, the consummate literary craftsman and philosopher of language, the proto-environmentalist and modern hero of the Wilderness Society and Sierra Club, and even Thoreau the postmodern philosopher. The stunning diversity of these portraits surely tells us something about the multifaceted career of this remarkable writer and his complexity and as a man....

  6. One My Life Was Ecstasy
    (pp. 27-69)

    On the night of June 12, 1851, Henry Thoreau modified his usual routine and went for a long walk to Walden Pond under the light of the advancing full moon. The next day he recorded in his journal a long account of his moonlight adventure, beginning with the following evocative entry:

    Walked to Walden last night (moon not quite full) by rail-road & upland wood path, returning by Wayland Road. Last full moon the elms had not leaved out, cast no heavy shadows & their outlines were less striking & rich in the streets at night. (I noticed a night...

  7. Two A Clear and Ancient Harmony
    (pp. 70-101)

    The remarkable epiphany of consciousness Thoreau recorded in the summer of 1838 offers a dramatic touchstone of the condition of egoless self-transparency that was to become an essential feature of his subsequent spiritual aspirations and religious imagination, but it is important to recognize how uncharacteristic it is of his later religious reflections. The kind of overt transcendentalism exemplified by this charged representation of oceanic consciousness is certainly reminiscent of early Emerson and Carlyle, but it had little to do with Thoreau’s own mature evocations. By the early 1840s, as we have seen, Thoreau had all but eschewed such representations of...

  8. Three To Redeem This Wasted Time
    (pp. 102-130)

    During the 1840s, Thoreau’s main showcase for the experiences and evolving imaginative formation of music, heroism, and ecstasy was his first book,A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers,published in 1849. This book took the form of a reflective travel narrative about a boat trip he had taken with his brother, John, in 1839, and it epitomizes his considered efforts to resolve the claims made upon him in early middle life by his youthful fits of euphoria and his foreboding sense of spiritual recession. The book’s competing dialectical themes of Indian versus white man, East versus West, contemplation...

  9. Four Born to Be a Pantheist
    (pp. 131-173)

    The voyage upriver to the White Mountains and back provided Thoreau with the basic structure around which to weaveA Week’scomplex and curiously invested narrative. The familiar form of the romantic excursion narrative suited his designs particularly well, since it offered him the kind of inclusive structure he needed to accommodate his other literary and philosophical objectives: he exploits its encyclopedic possibilities in order to incorporate poems, historical accounts, scientific observations, and other miscellaneous material. But ifA Weekprovides the best formal reenactment of Thoreau’s early religious experience, it also offers the fullest expression we have of his...

  10. Five The Artist of Kouroo
    (pp. 174-217)

    From the standpoint of marketing and sales,A Weekturned out to be something of a fiasco, a fact hardly mitigated by Thoreau’s famously stoic, as well as humorous, avowals of failure. When, four years after its first appearance, he finally acquiesced to his publisher’s petitions that he accept the 706 unsold copies piled in the warehouse, he noted wryly in his journal, “I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself” (J.5.459). In addition to the commercial disappointment, Thoreau must have found the book’s critical reception somewhat disheartening also. Though...

  11. Six To Speak Somewhere Without Bounds
    (pp. 218-249)

    Its calculated obscurity notwithstanding, the story of the artist of Kouroo provides us with some important clues for understandingWaldenas a whole. Reading the Kouroo story as a parable of spiritual awakening helps us first of all to clarify the nature of Thoreau’s curious mode of self-representation in this his masterwork. Newcomers toWaldenoften find it tempting to read this famous book as the “simple and sincere account of his own life,” which the author himself appears to recommend in his opening paragraphs. It takes some further reading and study to realize that such an implied autobiographical claim...

  12. Seven A Meteorological Journal of the Mind
    (pp. 250-300)

    If we look back over the previous hundred years of critical writing on Thoreau from the vantage point of the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is hard to deny that the single most decisive event in the modern development of Thoreau studies was the publication in 1906 of the first nearly complete edition of his journal. Stretching to some fourteen volumes, this printing of journal entries made up the bulk of the twenty-volume set of Thoreau’s writings known as the Walden Edition. While this first comprehensive printing of the journal was not complete by contemporary standards—missing from it...

  13. Afterword: One World at a Time
    (pp. 301-306)

    In the biographies of saints and other such charismatic figures, it is customary to point to death, and the circumstances surrounding it, for a final testament to the character and meaning of a subject’s life. And so it has been among many of Thoreau’s biographers, early and late.¹ The story, reduced to bare essentials, may be summarized as follows. Thoreau began his slow consumptive decline in December of 1860, when he developed a severe cold while working outside one afternoon in freezing weather. In the weeks following, the cold turned into a bronchial condition, accompanied by a chronic, nagging cough....

  14. Notes
    (pp. 307-336)
  15. Index
    (pp. 337-346)