Not every man should be cultivated, nor every part of one man. Henry David Thoreau writes that “the greater part will be meadow and forest, not only serving an immediate use, but preparing a mould against a distant future, by the annual decay of the vegetation which it supports.” Man needs “wild and dusky knowledge” more than lettered learning. Thoreau undercuts the notion of “Useful Knowledge,” which may preclude higher understanding, preferring instead “Useful Ignorance” or “Beautiful Knowledge.” His own desire for knowledge is intermittent, but his “desire to bathe my head in atmospheres unknown to my feet is perennial and constant.” He encourages not the seeking of knowledge per se but rather of “Sympathy with Intellect.” Our understanding cannot encompass the magnitude of nature and the universal.
Thoreau writes that in his own relationship with nature he lives “a sort of border life, on the confines of a world into which I make occasional and transient forays only.” Even Thoreau — a man who has devoted his life to higher pursuit — cannot grasp the full meaning of nature. When we are successful in beginning to approach the universal through our experience of nature, our glimpses of understanding are fleeting and evanescent. Imperfect though our comprehension is, however, we must elevate, must seek those places that offer broader perspective. Thoreau employs the image of the rooster — crowing confidently to inspire others to alertness and awareness, expressing the “health and soundness of Nature” — used in Walden.
“Walking” ends with Thoreau rhapsodically recalling a moving sunset he had earlier seen, conveying a powerful and optimistic longing for inspired understanding. In the last paragraph of the essay, Thoreau refers again to sauntering toward the Holy Land, until “one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.”
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