From Walden. At the age of twenty-seven in 1845, the poet and essayist left his family’s pencil business and built a cabin on the shores of Walden Pond. A year later Thoreau refused to pay his poll tax and willingly went to prison for a night. He explained his actions in a two-part lecture delivered at the Concord Lyceum in 1848, posthumously published under the title “Civil Disobedience.”
As I sit at my window this summer afternoon, hawks are circling about my clearing; the tantivy of wild pigeons, flying by twos and threes athwart my view, or perching restless on the white-pine boughs behind my house, gives a voice to the air; a fish hawk dimples the glassy surface of the pond and brings up a fish; a mink steals out of the marsh before my door and seizes a frog by the shore; the sedge is bending under the weight of the reed birds flitting hither and thither—and for the last half hour I have heard the rattle of railroad cars, now dying away and then reviving like the beat of a partridge, conveying travelers from Boston to the country.
The whistle of the locomotive penetrates my woods summer and winter, sounding like the scream of a hawk sailing over some farmer’s yard, informing me that many restless city merchants are arriving within the circle of the town, or adventurous country traders from the other side. As they come under one horizon, they shout their warning to get off the track to the other, heard sometimes through the circles of two towns. Here come your groceries, country; your rations, countrymen! Nor is there any man so independent on his farm that he can say them nay. And here’s your pay for them! screams the countryman’s whistle; timber like long battering rams going twenty miles an hour against the city’s walls, and chairs enough to seat all the weary and heavy laden that dwell within them. With such huge and lumbering civility, the country hands a chair to the city. All the Indian huckleberry hills are stripped; all the cranberry meadows are raked into the city. Up comes the cotton, down goes the woven cloth; up comes the silk, down goes the woollen; up come the books, but down goes the wit that writes them.