Thoreau : Walden Quotes

I am currently reading Henry David Thoreau's Walden. It's been a tough book to read and understand. Hopefully this time around I should be able to complete it. I would be giving my summary on it later, but for now reflect on some of the best quotes from the initial chapters in the book. Read more posts on Thoreau's Walden.

"As I have said, I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up." 

"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 practise 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."

"What should we think of the shepherd’s life if his flocks always wandered to higher pastures than his thoughts?"

"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone."

"I love a broad margin to my life."

"With a little more deliberation in the choice of their pursuits, all men would perhaps become essentially students and observers, for certainly their nature and destiny are interesting to all alike. In accumulating property for ourselves or our posterity, in founding a family or a state, or acquiring fame even, we are mortal; but in dealing with truth we are immortal, and need fear no change nor accident. The oldest Egyptian or Hindoo philosopher raised a corner of the veil from the statue of the divinity; and still the trembling robe remains raised, and I gaze upon as fresh a glory as he did, since it was I in him that was then so bold, and it is he in me that now reviews the vision. No dust has settled on that robe; no time has elapsed since that divinity was revealed. That time which we really improve, or which is improvable, is neither past, present, nor future."

"Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and 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 lamp-post 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. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one. I know not the first letter of the alphabet. I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born. The intellect is a cleaver; it discerns and rifts its way into the secret of things. I do not wish to be any more busy with my hands than is necessary. My head is hands and feet. I feel all my best faculties concentrated in it. My instinct tells me that my head is an organ for burrowing, as some creatures use their snout and fore paws, and with it I would mine and burrow my way through these hills. I think that the richest vein is somewhere hereabouts; so by the divining-rod and thin rising vapors I judge; and here I will begin to mine."

Borges : The Circular Ruins (Summary)

I read another fantastic piece of Borges called as "The Circular Ruins". It's a small 3-4 page short story that I read on my train ride to home and multiple times over subsequent days, each time reading ever less and thinking ever more.

In the story, we are told a man arrives on a shore from the south. On this shore lay the ruins of a magical circular temple that served the abode for our man. The man had a mission that drove him here, He wanted to dream a man; he wanted to dream him in minute entirety and impose him on reality. It was the sole purpose of his life and which had come to fill his whole heart. Initially he dreams of being a teacher in a circular amphitheatre where student's faces hung in cosmological distances and yet still clearly visible. He choose one student from the class that showed potential and attempted to dream him in ever greater detail. But after some days of dreaming, he fails. He starts again after a gap and this time start to dream a complete man, piece by piece. He dreams a heart. Each passing day he dreams it with ever more clarity. After 14 nights he touches the heart and marvels at his creation. He now starts on other organs. Feature by feature, in an year he completes (dreams) most of the Man, but he can not make him open his eyes.

To realise his task, he invokes the Gods of the Circular Ruins who agree to animate the dreamed phantom in such a way that all creatures, except Gods and the dreamer would believe him to be a man of flesh and blood. The Gods further instruct to send him to the other ruined temple down shore to glorify God's name there. In the dream of the man that dreamed, the dreamed one awoke. The dreamer starts teaching the now real phantom (he calls him Son for he is his creation) with the mysteries of the universe. Slowly he began accustoming him to reality and the world around him. Then one day, he orders him to go to the other temple as the Gods said. Before he left, he destroyed in him all memory of his years of apprenticeship.

He is a happy man now for he has realised his purpose in life and spends time wasting away on the banks. Years passed. One day, two faceless oarsmen tell him about a mystic in the temple in North who could walk on fire and not get burned. The dreamer satisfied initially dreaded if his creation would reason on why he is blessed and may figure out that he is just an imagination. He is just another man's dream. The dreamer's worries ended suddenly one day, when in midst of great tumult the Circular Ruins are destroyed in fire. The dreamer thought initially of taking refuge in water, but realising that his life's goal was complete and he can joyfully embrace death as a crowning jewel and rewards of his laboured existence. He walked into the fire, but it does not burn him. In this moment, the terror, the awareness, the humiliation that he also was an illusion, that someone else was dreaming him came across him. End.

Borges comes up with such thought provoking story that questions the very basis of existence, perception, reality and self-awareness. One person's existence can be extension of another person's thought. In same way, one person existence can be extension of another person's existence. The dream can not exist outside the dreamer. The dreamt does not have a life outsider the act of dreaming. Where does the boundary lie between real and dream? In in the story, the whole universe is a dream dreamt up by someone who in turn is being dreamt. The dreamer is as unreal as the dream. Were the space time real in the absolute sense of word Real? Did the dreamer had control over what he dreamt for he himself he is creation of someone else. Could he had done something else? Could he have envision something else for his dreamt Son than what the one who is dreaming the dreamer provisions it? Could he have lived forever as a life in a dream? He played God and creating a complete Man, organ by organ but in fact he is just a conduit for someone else's control. The setting of the story (the circular ruins) and circular dreams and the supposed circular reality adds strangeness to this work. The dreamer comes from the south and sends his dreamt son to the north and his circular dreaming continues upstream until say maybe the ingress falls into singularity or maybe they never reach singularity for they each live in their individual universe. This infinite regress is like holding the mirror to the mirror and seeing a candle light in it. Everything in this universe (or set of universe) is illusionary, the Self is illusionary, even the realisation about self is illusionary for someone else dreamt it. This loss of Self at the same time as the realization of being Creator produces such paradox that to define an order or semblance of order to this universe, to define the Creator and Created, the dreamer and the dreamt, being dreamt and of dreaming, of cause and causality will just ultimately fail. But it in a sense that is what the Universe is. It is infinitesimally complex. The center is everywhere and everything is the center. Reality in this universe is created and viewed by each center (dreamer). Remove the center and this reality is meaningless. It's like when one looks for into the mirror. The image has no self and no existence outside when one looking into the mirror. Similarly, what is in this universe is meaningless and does not exist independent of the observer. The dreamer ("I") has to be there to dream it ("Universe") and outside it none exists. The sole purpose of dreamer is to dream and of Universe is to exist both in concurrence and both aware.

As James Jean truly said, "The Universe is a Giant Thought instead of a Giant Machine."

James Joyce : Dubliners (Summary)

I last week completed James Joyce's short stories collection called "Dubliners". This is the second of Joyce's work and much simpler in prose and interpretation than what I read in his earlier "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man". The collection (of around 15 stories) revolves around what the writer does best. Capturing the moods, the frustration and the anxieties and the small escapes of ordinary Dublin folk. The collection follows a particular pattern wherein the initial stories main protagonists are children and later stories delve more into adolescent and then maturity. Each story is a portrait about the character the story is based on. It is at the same time a caricature of the life of those times in Ireland. The characters in the skin of Ireland and Ireland being viewed from the experiences of the character. In a sense, the overall Irish setting is never far from the storyline even though the view is far from healthy. In fact it is of city in near paralysis.

The stories are fleshed in great detail and the context is simple and mundane. It is not the stories that are being told, instead it is the lives of those characters that are being lived and it’s not filled with some crazy idea or fancy plot. It is just plain living. Stories of failed businessman, of dreamy college student, of clever boarding house lady owner, of drunkards and small time thieves. One gets the glimpse of overall early nineteenth century Ireland in these stories and its despondent take on the city. The struggles of the land, the rising Irish nationalism versus Unionist status-quo, the large scale migration, the religious fervour/piety, the Christian divide, the overbearing influence of church, the cold and ever-raining weather, the stillness of the place are very much part of each story's fabric. And in this stillness, the ordinary folk seem content (not necessarily happy) with the isolated Dublin, while the rest of the continent (Europe) has raced past them. It is where all the opportunities lie now. The city as if decaying at its margins with escape (either from the city or from the drudgery or despair of their circumstances) one of the recurring themes of many stories. The stories describe people of all walks of society in near realistic details, in all their shortcomings and emotions, in all their sagging faces and grimaces with Dublin and its streets and its landmarks in the backdrop. In most of the stories the characters comes with a sudden realisation (as Joyce calls as "epiphanies") wherein the sudden revelation shows them the hopelessness of their situation or smallness of their lives. It's not that their conditions have changed, it’s just they became self-aware of their situation with these experiences. In some they face moral choices/conflict, in others a life defining moment. Whether they are changed or not by their experiences is something that the author has left to the reader to decipher. Below is the last stanza from the final story in the collection called "The Dead"
His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling... His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Photo Of The Day

Floriade festival, Canberra

Floriade festival, Canberra

Translation - Layi Hayaat Aaye Qaaza (Zauq)

This work though not of Ghalib was included in the "Mirza Ghalib" TV serial. This is by Zauq, another notable Urdu poet of that time. He was the tutor of the Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. Ghalib was part of Zafar's court and though there was no love lost between Zauq and Ghalib, there was mutual respect of each other. The below work of Zauq is probably his best work.

layi hayaat aaye qaaza le chali chale
na apni khushi aaye na apni khushi chale

Line 1/2 - The poet says that the existence brought me and I came and when death took me away, I went away with it. Neither did I came on my own will, nor will I go off on my own accord. In such two simple lines the poet has summed up the tragic essence of life i.e. The lack of control over it. We just arrive because we are born and we just leave when dead and in both, we have no control over the events. No one asked if we wanted to be part of this life, part of this existence.

behatar to hai yahi ke na duniya se dil lage
par kya karen jo kam na bedillagi chale

Line 3/4 - It is better of course not to involve your heart in the matters of this world. But what can one do in this world without getting involved. The poet says that it is best not to get attached to the joys and sorrows of this material world, but then, what can one achieve/accomplish without getting mired in the hustle-bustle of life. Being indifferent does not accomplish anything. Again a masterpiece that touches on the inability of a human to remain untouched from the joys and sorrows of earthly existence.

ho umr-e-khizr bhi to kahenge bavaqt-e-marg
hum kya rahe yahan abhi aaye abhi chale

Line 5/6 - Even if one lived the life span of the Khizar (Khizar/khidr is a revered figure in Muslim faith who is said to be contemporary of Moses and is still said to be alive). Even then at the time of dying, one says.. we lived a small life here, we had just arrived and it's already time to leave. Zauq touches on another of human trait - the unsatisfied appetite of mind where one does not want to let go of life even after living it full. This greed, this insatiable hunger to live forever.

duniya ne kis ka rah-e-fana mein diya hai sath
tum bhi chale chalo yun hi jab tak chali chale

Line 7/8 - The poet says that who in this world has accompanied someone who is on his way to annihilation. You too continue walking (alone) on the path as long as the path goes. Zauq says that each one to his own. Do not look for companion in this journey of life for there will be none. And those who claim to be, will not stay beside when the real test arises. Instead take the road alone and walk along it as long as it goes.

nazan na ho khirad pe jo hona hai wo hi ho
danish teri na kuch meri danishvari chale

Line 9/10 - Zauq says do not be proud/arrogant of your intelligence, for whatever has to happen will still happen. Neither will your wisdom, not my knowledge would work or make any difference. The poet says that no one has eyes into the future. Even with all the wisdom and learning, life will continue to come up with new situations and it could be that you are not prepared for it. Hence do not be arrogant of your wisdom.

kam honge is bisat pe hum jaise badqimar
jo chal hum chale wo nihayat buri chale

Line 11/12 - On this chessboard, there are only few gamblers like me who are so bad in playing it. Whatever move I play on this chessboard, it turns out it was an extremely badly played move. The poet in the moment of failure and disappointment, laments that whatever he does, it turns out to be more worse. For a person like me who has already lost so much, there is more to lose with everything I do.

ja ki hava-e-shauq mein hain is chaman se ‘zauq’
apni bala se bad-e-saba kaheen chale

Line 13/14 - The poet says 0 Zauq!, I leave this garden amid the inner winds of desire. Why should I care if the pleasant morning breeze blows somewhere. The poet says who cares about the gentle morning breeze and where it blows when the currents (thoughts) of passion and longing can enliven him!

Meaning of difficult words -
hayaat - existence
qaaza - death
bedillagi - dis-interested
khizar/khidr - a revered figure who is said to be immortal.
bavaqt-e-marg - at the time of death
rah-e-fanaa - path to annihilation.
naazan - proud of
khirad - wisdom, intelligence
danish/danishvari - knowledge/learning
bisat - chessboard
bad-qimaar - bad gambler
hava-e-shauq - winds of desire
chaman - garden
bad-e-saba - pleasant morning breeze  

Read more posts on Ghalib.