After being rather lectured on chastity and carnivores in the last chapter, it’s time for some humor.
We begin with a satirical and self-effacing mock dialogue between the Hermit and the Poet. These voices are commonly understood as Thoreau and Ellery Channing, or they can be seen as two aspects of Thoreau.
By now, you realize how thoroughly he observed the natural world, which would include animals. Aunt Maria provides one of the best quips, “Think of it, he stood half an hour today to hear the frogs croak, and he wouldn’t read the life of Chalmer!”
Thoreau’s Journals are full of detailed observations about every kind of animal in Concord’s meadows, woods, streams, ponds, and airways. He collected specimens for Agassiz at Harvard and for himself, once even a flying squirrel for his attic bedroom (it performed better when he returned it to the woods the next day). He studied tracks, scat, burrows, and bird nests—he knew all the birdcalls. There are vivid accounts of foxes, mice, turtles, fish, and birds. Neighbors brought him unusual specimens, and he wasn’t above performing dissections and stealing eggs to study.
In this chapter, he honors his fellow animal neighbors at Walden, even the resident house mice. One of Walden’s most cherished passages is in this chapter—the ant mock-epic, laced with allusions to give it weight. The Myrmidons fought in the Trojan War, and Patroclus was Achilles’ best friend. Thoreau weaves in local Concord legends from the Revolutionary War, and the authority of Entomology experts Kirby and Spence.
He closes out with more accounts— a winged cat and the antics of a loon, who now appears to be the one mocking. Bose is a common name for a dog.
Cramer, Jeffery. Walden, A Fully Annotated Edition. New Haven: Yale University Press. 2004.
Sullivan, Robert. The Thoreau You Don’t Know. Harper Collins. 2009. p. 330.
Thoreau, Henry David. Thoreau’s Journals. U.K. Delphi Classics. 2017.