Herbert Wendell Gleason.  Walden from Emerson’s Cliff. 49.   Herbert Wendell Gleason.  Walden from Emerson’s Cliff.  From hand-colored glass lantern slide, from the slide lecture “Thoreau’s Country,” purchased from H.W. Gleason, 1936. 

On October 4, 1844, Emerson wrote his brother William about his recent purchase of land at Walden Pond: “I have lately added an absurdity or two to my usual ones, which I am impatient to tell you of.  In one of my solitary wood-walks by Walden Pond, I met two or three men who told me they had come thither to sell & to buy a field, on which they wished me to bid as a purchaser.  As it was on the shore of the pond, & now for years I had a sort of daily occupancy in it, I bid on it, & bought it, eleven acres for $8.10 per acre.  The next day I carried some of my well-beloved gossips to the same place & they deciding that the field was not good for anything, if Heartwell Bigelow should cut down his pine-grove, I bought, for 125 dollars more, his pretty wood lot of 3 or 4 acres, and so am landlord & waterlord of 14 acres, more or less, on the shore of Walden … ”

   Emerson’s purchase of land at Walden provided Henry Thoreau with the opportunity he had been looking for to live simply and self-sufficiently in nature and to devote himself to writing.  Thoreau built a cabin on and moved to Emerson’s Walden property in 1845.

   Emerson himself took great pleasure in the peace and beauty of Walden Pond and the Walden Woods.  Edward Emerson wrote of his father’s enjoyment of the place: “The garden at home was often a hindrance and care, but he soon bought an estate which brought him unmingled pleasure, first the grove of white pines on the shore of Walden, and later the large tract on the farther shore running up to a rocky pinnacle from which he could look down on the Pond itself, and on the other side to the Lincoln woods and farms, Nobscot blue in the South away beyond Fairhaven and the river gleaming in the afternoon sun.”  Emerson often walked to Walden with his children on Sunday afternoons.

   In 1866 (a mere four years after Thoreau’s death), the Fitchburg Railroad built an amusement park at Walden, on the side of the pond nearest the railroad track.  It featured picnic, swimming, and athletic areas, boathouses, footpaths, swings, see-saws, merry-go-rounds, and pavilions for speakers.  The construction of this complex distressed local people, Emerson included, who had enjoyed Walden in its undeveloped state.

   Emerson’s poem “My Garden,” written about Walden and the surrounding area, appeared in the Atlantic Monthly for December, 1866 (Myerson E169).  It was collected in May-Day and Other Pieces (1867; Myerson A28).


If I could put my woods in song
And tell what’s there enjoyed,
All men would to my gardens throng,
And leave the cities void.

    In my plot no tulips blow,—
Snow-loving pines and oaks instead;
And rank the savage maples grow
From Spring’s faint flush to Autumn red.

My garden is a forest ledge
Which older forests bound;
The banks slope down to the blue lake-edge,
Then plunge to depths profound.

Here once the Deluge ploughed,
Laid the terraces, one by one;
Ebbing later whence it flowed,
They bleach and dry in the sun.

The sowers made haste to depart,—
The wind and the birds which sowed it;
Not for fame, nor by rules of art,
Planted these, and tempests flowed it.

Waters that wash my garden side
Play not in Nature’s lawful web,
They heed not moon or solar tide,—
Five years elapse from flood to ebb.

Hither hasted, in old time, Jove,
And every god,—none did refuse;
And be sure at last came Love,
And after Love, the Muse.

Keen ears can catch a syllable,
As if one spake to another,
In the hemlocks tall, untamable,
And what the whispering grasses smother.

Aeolian harps in the pine
Ring with the song of the Fates;
Infant Bacchus in the vine,—
Far distant yet his chorus waits.

Canst thou copy in verse one chime
Of the wood-bell’s peal and cry,
Write in a book the morning’s prime,
Or match with words that tender sky?

Wonderful verse of the gods,
Of one import, of varied tone;
They chant the bliss of their abodes
To man imprisoned in his own.

Ever the words of the gods resound;
But the porches of man’s ear
Seldom in this low life’s round
Are unsealed, that he may hear.

Wandering voices in the air
And murmurs in the wold
Speak what I cannot declare,
Yet cannot all withhold.

When the shadow fell on the lake,
The whirlwind in ripples wrote
Air-bells of fortune that shine and break,
And omens above thought.

But the meanings cleave to the lake,
Cannot be carried in book or urn;
Go thy ways now, come later back,
On ways and hedges still they burn.

These the fates of men forecast,
Of better men than live to-day;
If who can read them comes at last
He will spell in the sculpture, ‘Stay.’

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