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Thursday, May 08, 2014

Contemplation of Thoreau's Ktaadn


Recently I've been re-reading Henry Thoreau's book, Ktaadn, which relates the account of his travels to Mount Katahdin in the summer of 1846. A few passages caught my imagination particularly. Perhaps you will enjoy them too. Here is one:
Towards Katahdin. by Michelle Y. Souliere, 2006
It was like sitting in a chimney and waiting for the smoke to blow away. It was, in fact, a cloud-factory, -- these were the cloudworks, and the wind turned them off done from the cool, bare rocks. Occasionally, when the windy columns broke in to me, I caught sight of a dark, damp crag to the right or left; the mist driving ceaselessly between it and me.

It reminded me of the creations of the old epic and dramatic poets, of Atlas, Vulcan, the Cyclops, and Prometheus. Such a was Caucasus and the rock where Prometheus was bound. Aeschylus has no doubt visited such scenery as this. It was vast, Titanic, and such as man never inhabits. Some part of the beholder, even some vital part, seems to escape through the loose grating of his ribs as he ascends. He is more lone than you can imagine.

There is less of substantial thought and fair understanding in him, than in the plains where men inhabit. His reason is dispersed and shadowy, more thin and subtile, like the air. Vast, Titanic, inhuman Nature has got him at disadvantage, caught him alone, and pilfers him of some of his divine faculty. She does not smile on him as in the plains. She seems to say sternly, why came ye here before your time? This ground is not prepared for you. Is it not enough that I smile in the valleys? I have never made this soil for thy feet, this air for thy breathing, these rocks for thy neighbors. I cannot pity nor fondle thee here, but forever relentlessly drive thee hence to where I am kind.

Why seek me where I have not called thee, and then complain because you find me but a stepmother? Shouldst though freeze or starve, or shudder they life away, here is no shrine, no altar, or any access to my ear.
"Chaos and ancient Night, I come no spy
With purpose to explore or to disturb
The secrets of your realm, but...
...as my way
Lies through your spacious empire up to light."
The tops of mountains are among the unfinished parts of the globe, whither it is a slight insult to the gods to climb and pry into their secrets, and try their effect on our humanity. Only daring and insolent men, perchance, go there. ... Pomola is always angry with those who climb to the summit of Ktaadn.

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