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    AC Benus
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

The Great Mirror of Same-Sex Love - Prose - 39. Henry David Thoreau "The Pond in Winter"

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HENRY DAVID THOREAU

 

Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts, on July 12, 1817. He attended the newly established Concord Academy and went on to graduate from Harvard with the class of 1837. His most famous work is Walden (1854), which chronicles the inner history of his revelatory stay at Walden Pond. He also wrote A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers – about a canoe trip he took with his brother John – in addition to journals and essays about nature and science, many of which were published posthumously. He died on May 6, 1862, of tuberculosis.

Thoreau’s journals, poems, and essays, especially his essay “Chastity and Sensuality” and the long discourse on “friendship” in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, all contain naked and vibrant expressions of the beauty, power, and suffering of love between men. In one of his journals Thoreau writes, “I love man with the same distinction that I love woman – as if my friend were of some third sex – some other or some stranger and still my friend” (2:245).

Thoreau is among the most life-affirming and celebratory of mystic writers in any language; the exalted but precise sensuality of his vision of the divine presence in nature – and in the ordinary activities of life – continues to inspire seekers everywhere.

 

On Friendship

What is commonly honored with the name of Friendship is no very profound or powerful instinct. Men do not, after all, love their Friends greatly. I do not often see the farmers made seers and wise to the verge of insanity by their Friendship for one another. They are not often transfigured and translated by love in each other’s presence. I do not observe them purified, refined, and elevated by the love of a man.

But sometimes we are said to love one another, that is, to stand in a true relation to him, so that we give the best to, and receive the best from, him. Between whom there is hearty truth there is love; and in proportion to our truthfulness and confidence in one another, our lives are divine and miraculous, and answer to our ideal. There are passages of affection in Our intercourse with mortal men and women, such as no prophecy has taught us to expect, which transcend our earthly life, and anticipate heaven for us. What is this Love that may come right into the middle of a prosaic Goffstown day, equal to any of the gods? that discovers a new world, fair and fresh and eternal, occupying the place of this old one, when to the common eye a dust has settled on the universe? which world cannot else be reached, and does not exist. What other words, we may also ask, are memorable and worthy to be repeated than those Which love has inspired?

from “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers”

 

Lately, Alas, Knew A Gentle Boy

 

Lately, alas, I knew a gentle boy,

Whose features were all cast in Virtue’s mold,

As one she had designed for Beauty’s toy,

But after manned him for her own stronghold.

 

On every side he open was as day,

That you might see no lack of strength within,

For walls and ports do only serve alway

For pretense to feebleness and sin.

 

Say not that Caesar was victorious,

With toil and strife Who stormed the House of Fame,

In other sense this youth was glorious,

Himself a kingdom wheresoe’er he came.

 

No strength went out to get him victory,

When all was income of its own accord;

For where he went none other was to see,

But all were parcel of their noble lord.

 

He forayed like the subtle haze of summer,

That stilly shows fresh landscapes to our eyes,

And revolutions works without a murmur,

Or rustling of a leaf beneath the skies.

 

So was I taken unawares by this,

I quite forgot my homage to confess;

Yet now am forced to know, though hard it is,

I might have loved him had I loved him less.

 

Each moment as We nearer drew to each,

A stern respect withheld us farther yet,

So that we seemed beyond each other’s reach,

And less acquainted than when first we met.

 

We two were one while we did sympathize,

So could we not the simplest bargain drive;

And what avails it now that we are Wise,

If absence doth this doubleness contrive?

 

Eternity may not the chance repeat,

But I must tread my single way alone,

In sad remembrance that we once did meet.

And know that bliss irrevocably gone.

 

The spheres henceforth my elegy shall sing,

For elegy has other subject none;

Each strain of music in my ears shall ring

Knell of departure from the other one.

 

Make haste and celebrate my tragedy,

With fitting strain resound ye woods and fields;

Sorrow is dearer in such case to me

Than all the joys other occasion yields.

 

Is’t then too late the damage to repair?

Distance, forsooth, from my weak grasp hath reft

The empty husk, and clutched the useless tare,

But in my hands the wheat and kernel left.

 

If I but love that virtue which he is,

Though it be scented in the morning air,

Still shall we be truest acquaintances,

Nor mortals know a sympathy more rare.

 

Now and Here

Men esteem truth remote, in the outskirts of a system, behind the farthest star, before Adam and after the last man. In eternity there is indeed something true and sublime. But all these times and places and occasions are now and here. God himself culminates in the present moment, and will never be more divine in the lapse of all the ages. And we are enabled to apprehend at all what is sublime and noble only by the perpetual instilling and drenching of the reality that surrounds us . . . .

Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails. Let us rise early and fast, gently and without perturbation; let company come and let company go, let the bells ring and the children cry—determined to make a day of it. Why should we knock under and go with the stream?

Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and the slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through Church and State. through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, Which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake; and then begin having a point d’appui, below freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall or a state, or set a lamppost safely, or perhaps a gauge, not a Nilometer, but a Realometer, that future ages might know how deep a freshet of shams and appearances had gathered from time to time. If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter, and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and so you Will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life Or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about Our business.

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.

from “Walden”

 

The Pond In Winter

After a still winter night I awoke with the impression that some question had been put to me, which I had been endeavoring in vain to answer in my sleep, as what – how – when – where? But there was dawning Nature, in whom all creatures live, looking in at my broad windows with serene and satisfied face, and no question on her lips. I awoke to an answered question, to Nature and daylight. The snow lying deep on the earth dotted With young pines, and the very slope of the hill on which my house is placed, seemed to say “Forward!” Nature puts no question and answers none which we mortals ask. She has long ago taken her resolution. “O Prince, our eyes contemplate with admiration and transmit to the soul the wonderful and varied spectacle of this universe. The night veils without doubt a part of this glorious creation; but day comes to reveal to us this great work, which extends from earth even into the plains of the ether.”

Then to my morning work. First I take an axe and pail and go in search of water, if that be not a dream. After a cold and snowy night it needed a diving rod to find it. Every winter the liquid and trembling surface of the pond, Which was so sensitive to every breath, and reflected every light and shadow, becomes solid to the depth of a foot or a foot and a half, so that it will support the heaviest teams, and perchance the snow covers it to an equal depth, and it is not to be distinguished from any level field. Like the marmots in the surrounding hills, it closes its eyelid and becomes dormant for three months or more. Standing on the snow-covered plain, as if in the pastures amid the hills, I cut my way first through a foot of snow, and then a foot of ice, and open a window under my feet, where, kneeling to drink, I look down into the quiet parlor of the fishes, pervaded by a soften light as through a window of grounded glass, with its bright sanded floor the same as summer; there a perennial waveless serenity reigns as in the amber twilight sky, corresponding to the cool and even temperament of the inhabitants. Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads . . . .

from “Walden”

—Andrew Harvey,[i]

1996

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[i] “The Pond in Winter” Henry David Thoreau anthologized by Andrew Harvey in “The Gods in the Body,” chapter 7 of The Essential Gay Mystics (Edison, New Jersey, 1997), ps. 126-131

https://archive.org/details/essentialgaymyst00harv/page/126/mode/2up

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Copyright © 2021 AC Benus; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Reading this connects me to a whole generation of writers and thinkers who lived not for what was expected, but for a connection to immanence and grace wherever, and in whomever it might be found. Thank you.

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On 12/23/2021 at 4:50 AM, Parker Owens said:

Reading this connects me to a whole generation of writers and thinkers who lived not for what was expected, but for a connection to immanence and grace wherever, and in whomever it might be found. Thank you.

Thank you, Parker. My recent work with translating August von Platen's Sonnets has put me in contact with the fact that the Transcendental school of thought -- so well represented by Lucy Larcom, Melville and other Americans -- was a German philosophy originating from the end of the 18th century. The school's connection to immanence and grace, as you so eloquently stated it, is why it appeals so much to me personally. What is anything about, if not connection?

Thanks again for reading and commenting, dear friend 

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