- Written by: Kamran Mofid
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The state of our world today and the prophetic words of John Ruskin
'John Ruskin was the greatest critic of his age: a critic not only of art and architecture but of society and life. But his writings - on beauty and truth, on work and leisure, on commerce and capitalism, on life and how to live it - can teach us more than ever about how to see the world around us clearly and how to live it.'-Suzanne Fagence Cooper, Author, To See Clearly: Why Ruskin Matters
'He believed life should be beautiful, inequality was an outrage and that capitalism leads to aesthetic degradation. No wonder the quintessential Victorian speaks so powerfully to our times.'- Larry Ryan, The Guardian
‘God has lent us the earth for our life; it is a great entail. It belongs as much to those who are to come after us, and whose names are already written in the book of creation, as to us; we have no right, by any thing that we do or neglect, to involve them in unnecessary penalties, or deprive them of benefits which it was in our power to bequeath …’- John Ruskin
Ruskin, another legend who, like Wordsworth, was inspired by the Lake District.
“The first thing that I remember, as an event in life, was being taken by my nurse to the brow of Friar's Crag on Derwent Water; the intense joy, mingled with awe, that I had in looking through the hollows in the mossy roots, over the crag, into the dark lake, has associated itself more or less with all twining roots ever since."- John Ruskin
- Written by: Kamran Mofid
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Photo by Frank Mckenna on Unsplash
‘Henry Thoreau died from tuberculosis at his parent’s home in Concord, Massachusetts, on May 6, 1862. His mother, sister Sophia, and Aunt Louisa were with him at the end. Not long before he passed, Sophia heard Henry mutter the words, “Now comes good sailing”; he was 44-years-old.’
His life journey was a transformative journey of hope, seeking to reconcile his relationship with himself, his faith, the Earth, Mother Nature and with others in order to transform communities.
Nature and simple living were his solace and he has left us with a wonderful and meaningful legacy, a legacy of hope, resilience, inner and outer peace, through a rewardingly deep engagement and dialogue with mother nature, which we, too, have all discovered its benefits and healing powers since the rise of COVID-19 global pandemic. Long may it be so.
Life in the Woods Is a Reflection Upon Simple Living in Natural Surroundings
Thoreau's Journey to Find the Simple Life
Why is it that more than 200 years since his birth Henry David Thoreau remains more relevant than ever?
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
“There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, not even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.”-Henry David Thoreau
‘Henry David Thoreau was a true child of nature. He appreciated the natural environment on a deep level, finding spiritual replenishment and inspiration in his lengthy walks each day. Henry pursued his own ideals in every aspect of his life. He moved to Walden Pond as an experiment in living simply and deliberately, while taking ample time for writing, walking, and observing nature.’
More than 200 years after his death, Henry Thoreau continues to inspire and influence us.
In 1862, Emerson believed that the country was unaware “how great a son it has lost.” Today, we are very much aware of Thoreau’s greatness. Emerson predicted, “Wherever there is knowledge, wherever there is virtue, wherever there is beauty, he will find a home.”
And, in a very real sense, these words have come true. Henry Thoreau has found a home in the hearts and lives of millions of people around the world.**
Here are a few clues to why does Thoreau live on:
‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.’
Photo:Walden Woods Project
‘Walden Pond is the centerpiece of Thoreau’s Walden Woods and is the focus of Thoreau’s most famous piece: Walden.’
‘Thoreau lived on the shore of Walden Pond in order to enjoy a life of “simplicity.” He believed that people often became slaves to the things they own, so he sought to own less and spend more of his time enjoying himself rather than working to pay for material things. He wrote Walden in order to share this experience with others...The work is part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and manual for self-reliance. It describes Thoreau’s experiences over the course of two years in a cabin he built near Walden Pond, amidst woodland in Massachusetts, owned by his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson.’
‘If you spent the day with Thoreau you’d wake up at sunrise and watch the sunrise.
Take a sunrise walk and watch the world wake-up.
What do you see?
What can you hear?
What’s the temperature like?
Does it get warmer as the sun comes up?
How does the world wake up where you live?
If you walked with Thoreau you would tend his beans in his bean patch. Plant some green beans of your own and watch them grow. If you’re reading this post in a non-growing season, take some Lima beans and place them in a wet towel in a glass jar and watch them sprout and come alive.
Take a walk in the woods together.
Listen to the birds. What are they saying ? How many different sorts of birds can you hear?
Pick huckleberries, blueberries, or blackberries. Then make a yummy cobbler.
Lie on your back and watch the clouds. Thoreau called this “Dreaming Awake” time.
Lie on your stomach on the ground and watch the ants.’-A Day with Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond
"I learned this, at least, by my experiment, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."- Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Henry Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond.-Photo:4peaks.com
Why Does Thoreau Live On? A Few Famous Writers Offer Answers.
NOW COMES GOOD SAILING
Writers Reflect on Henry David Thoreau
Edited by Andrew Blauner
A reflection by John Kaag* Via The New York Times
‘Our 4-year-old son, Henry, calls it “my rock.” It’s right near our house in Concord, Mass., and we visit it often at the burial ground at Author’s Ridge, the final resting place of Hawthorne and Emerson. It is the plainest yet most impressive of headstones, a small marble slab bearing a single word: HENRY.
Photo: The Boston Globe
“Now comes good sailing.”
Before Henry David Thoreau died on May 6, 1862, he whispered four words to his sister that have always puzzled me, at least until now — “Now comes good sailing.” It’s a strange suggestion that the journey of life might only truly begin after death.
Thoreau never understood, and could never have guessed, how popular he would become. When he fell ill with his final bout of tuberculosis, his masterpiece, “Walden,” was out of print. Today, millions of readers cherish it and its call to “live deliberately.” “Walden” will probably never go out of print again, and the first edition, the one Thoreau struggled to sell for a dollar, fetches thousands at auction today.
‘The main literary product of Thoreau’s time living in the woods was a book called Walden, a dense, unclassifiable text that is part autobiography, part nature writing, and part ‘simple living’ manifesto, but which is now widely regarded as one of the true classics of American literature. Not only that, Walden offers a penetrating critique of materialistic culture, one all the more piercing due to the fact that Thoreau was both a ruthless social critic and a literary genius. It makes for engaging and challenging reading, especially at those times when we see ourselves in the object of Thoreau’s often scathing cultural critique.
In today’s era of overlapping ecological, economic, and cultural crises, Walden is a text that is more relevant than ever before. As well as providing early insight into the destructive and oppressive nature of many processes of industrialisation, it also warns people of the self-imposed slavery that can flow from mindlessly dedicating one’s life to the never-ending pursuit of ‘nice things’. If nothing else, Thoreau’s life and work serve as a fiery, poetic reminder that there are alternative, simpler ways to live – ways which are far freer and indeed more fulfilling than those governed by consumerist values and practices. Thoreau’s message, in short, is that a simple life is a good life, and in our age of ecological overshoot, this is a message deserving of our closest attention.’-The Simple Life of Henry David Thoreau
Why does Thoreau live on? This is the central question answered by a remarkable anthology gathered by Andrew Blauner, entitled “Now Comes Good Sailing.” Anthologies are rarely remarkable. It is extremely unusual for any number of iconic writers (much less 27 of them) to team up in defense of their literary hero, but Blauner’s table of contents reads like a “Who’s Who of Intelligent Modern Prose”: Megan Marshall, Lauren Groff, Celeste Headlee, Pico Iyer, Amor Towles, Alan Lightman and Adam Gopnik, among 20 others.
Why does Thoreau live on? Because we need him to. Thoreau suggested that the busyness of life — the frenetic pace of our jobs, the demands of our bank accounts, the status that we seek and never find — should never be the exclusive focus of living. Can we, as Lightman puts it in his essay, free ourselves from the “rush and the heave of the external world”? This is the lesson of Walden Pond: that our immediate concerns usually obscure the important ones, and almost always distract us from what is ultimate, the chance to live and die with the knowledge that we have tried to “truly live.” This collection amplifies the wisdom of Thoreau for an age that is frequently hard of hearing.
Groff echoes Thoreau’s instruction from Walden: “Look at a pond no more miraculous than any other pond in the world, which is to say infinitely miraculous, look at your own ponds whatever shape they take … look deeply.” This isn’t Narcissus at the pool, but rather the attempt to see your true self, and to reckon with what you might become. Iyer is particularly good on this point, writing, “Thoreau stepped away from the world only so that he would have more to give back.” Thoreau’s single task was to “improve the nick of time.” This is easier said than done. As Blauner’s collection demonstrates, the task continues for readers who negotiate our world of existential anxiety, gross injustice, mass conformity and environmental degradation. Thoreau speaks clearly, urgently, for our time, but only if we are willing to listen and live accordingly.
The most beautiful essay here is also the most bittersweet: a Thoreauvian elegy written by Megan Marshall entitled “Without.” Marshall is now without her husband and nothing will bring him back to life. This is, however, precisely what her words accomplish, expressing the underlying hope of “Good Sailing,” namely that the most meaningful moments, the most meaningful lives and writers, are never fully lost. This is true in the case of Henry David Thoreau.
I hope our son Henry continues to return to the simple headstone on Author’s Ridge, to find meaning and to find himself, to add yet another pencil or pen to the pile that slowly accumulates at Thoreau’s grave. As Amor Towles explains, his “meditations lead us always toward a better understanding of ourselves.” Just as for an untold number of readers, Thoreau’s writings will remain “my rock.”
*John Kaag is a professor and chair of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Read the original article HERE
** Richard Smith, ‘Now Comes Good Sailing’
NOW COMES GOOD SAILING
Writers Reflect on Henry David Thoreau
Edited by Andrew Blauner
348 pp. Princeton University Press.
Purchase it HERE
Nature and simple living were his solace
A pick from our archive
- Written by: Kamran Mofid
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Wordsworth famously described the Lake District as “a sort of national property”
which he believed every person “had a right to enjoy”.
Sheer poetry, heavenly beauty, and the celebration of Mother Nature in the lakes:
Grasmere really is ‘the loveliest spot man hath ever found’
‘In 1799, after years of restless wandering and uncertainty, Wordsworth returned to his native Lake District to make a home with his sister Dorothy.
The Wordsworths chose a humble cottage in Town End, with whitewashed walls and Lakeland slate floors, in a hamlet on the edge of Grasmere village.
Wordsworth described his new home and the garden surrounding it as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”
We know it today as Dove Cottage, the place where poetry changed forever.’
Grasmere and Grasmere Village from Loughrigg. Picture by Tony Richards.
"Embrace me then, ye Hills, and close me in;
Now in the clear and open day I feel
Your guardianship; I take it to my heart;
‘Tis like the solemn shelter of the night.
But I would call thee beautiful, for mild,
And soft, and gay, and beautiful thou art
Dear Valley, having in thy face a smile
Though peaceful, full of gladness. Thou art pleased,
Pleased with thy crags and woody steeps, thy Lake,
Its one green island and its winding shores;
The multitude of little rocky hills,
Thy Church and cottages of mountain stone
Clustered like stars some few, but single most,
And lurking dimly in their shy retreats,
Or glancing at each other cheerful looks
Like separated stars with clouds between."- William Wordsworth, Home at Grasmere
Those of you familiar with my writings know well of my love, respect and admiration for my spiritual teacher, William Wordsworth. Thus, no wonder how blissful and grateful I was when my wife, Annie and I, travelled to the Lake District, went to Grasmere and visited Dove Cottage.
Wordsworth was there with his sister Dorothy from 1799 to 1808 and penned the line "I wandered lonely as a cloud" after being inspired by flowers the pair had seen on the shores of Ullswater.
It was at Dove Cottage that he also wrote most of his best known verses, including his Ode: Intimations of Immortality, Ode to Duty, and My Heart Leaps Up, together with parts of his autobiographical epic The Prelude.
Photo: Kamran Mofid
To prepare an article in celebration of Wordsworth's 250th birthday anniversary which was in 2020, we went to the lakes and Grasmere in November 2019. However, due to construction works and improvements to Dove Cottage the Cottage was closed to the public. Then, due to COVID-19 lockdowns, we were unable to visit the Lake District in 2020, so you can imagine how delighted and happy we were this time around in November 2021, when we made our long awaited pilgramge to Dove Cottage on November 11th.
Photo: Anne Mofid
Photo: Kamran Mofid
‘As a poet of Nature, Wordsworth stands supreme. He is a worshipper of Nature, Nature’s devotee or high-priest. His love of Nature was probably truer, and more tender, than that of any other English poet, before or since. Nature comes to occupy in his poem a separate or independent status and is not treated in a casual or passing manner as by poets before him. Wordsworth had a full-fledged philosophy, a new and original view of Nature. Three points in his creed of Nature may be noted:
(a) He conceived of Nature as a living Personality. He believed that there is a divine spirit pervading all the objects of Nature. This belief in a divine spirit pervading all the objects of Nature may be termed as mystical Pantheism and is fully expressed in Tintern Abbey and in several passages in Book II of The Prelude.
(b) Wordsworth believed that the company of Nature gives joy to the human heart and he looked upon Nature as exercising a healing influence on sorrow-stricken hearts.
(c) Above all, Wordsworth emphasized the moral influence of Nature. He spiritualised Nature and regarded her as a great moral teacher, as the best mother, guardian and nurse of man, and as an elevating influence. He believed that between man and Nature there is mutual consciousness, spiritual communion or ‘mystic intercourse’. He initiates his readers into the secret of the soul’s communion with Nature. According to him, human beings who grow up in the lap of Nature are perfect in every respect…’- Continue to read
Thank you William Wordsworth for your teachings and inspiration
Photo: Anne Mofid
Photo: Kamran Mofid
The sitting room, Dove Cottage. Photo: Kamran Mofid
The Main bedroom, Dove Cottage. Photo: Kamran Mofid
The 2nd bedroom, Dove Cottage. Photo: Kamran Mofid
The lounge, Dove Cottage. Photo: Kamran Mofid
Learn more about William Wordswoth's life and Dove Cottage HERE
To honour wordsworth and show our appreciation we must honour, protect, nurture and nourish what he valued most, namely, Mother Nature.
Please see the two links below and join me in our collective campaign to save our Mother Nature and Earth:
Daffodils At Wordsworth Point, Ullswater.-Picture by Martin Lawrence
'When William and Dorothy Wordsworth visited Glencoyne Bay on their way back to Grasmere after an overnight stay, it gave William the inspiration to write his most famous poem, - Daffodils. The daffodils are a wild variety and very dainty and neat. The sight of them on a carpet alongside the lake edge is quite spectacular.'
Here is one of my favourite poems I would like to share with you: Of all the famous poems of Wordsworth, none is more famous than "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud".
In this poem, Wordsworth says that, wandering like a cloud floating above hills and valleys, he encountered a field of daffodils beside a lake. The dancing, fluttering flowers stretched endlessly along the shore, and though the waves of the lake danced beside the flowers, the daffodils outdid the water in glee. He says that a poet could not help but be happy in such a joyful company of flowers. He says that he stared and stared, but did not realize what wealth the scene would bring him. For now, whenever he feels “vacant” or “pensive,” the memory flashes upon “that inward eye / That is the bliss of solitude,” and his heart fills with pleasure, “and dances with the daffodils.”
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.