Say to yourself, Coenobite: Cee-no-bite. Now you’re ready to read.
This chapter is a tribute to the ponds where Thoreau paddled, fished, swam, played his flute, explored, measured, and walked. They contained a curriculum he attentively studied. We are the recipients here of a portion; there is much more to be found in the Journals.
Walden is a glaciated pond, the ‘paver’ to which Thoreau alludes. His colleague at Harvard Louis Agassiz had published the first book on glaciers and geology in 1840. The pond is sort of a natural well, its fluctuations corresponding to the surrounding water table.
The name Walden is not unusual—it is a common English place name. Thoreau did find an unusual spelling of Wallden in local land records.
His journals are full of fishing stories, including how he would go out at night and light a fire over the bow of his boat to see under the water. A fishhawk is an osprey.
Structurally, the pond chapter lies in the center of the book. The pond Walden is a spiritual center for the mythos of our experience being in Walden.
It was very queer, especially in dark nights, when your thoughts had wandered to vast and cosmogonal themes in other spheres, to feel this faint jerk, which came to interrupt your dreams and link you to Nature again. It seemed as if I might next cast my line upward into the air, as well as downward into this element, which was scarcely more dense. Thus I caught two fishes as it were with one hook.
So the pond is a sphere in the cosmos. “It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.” It is pure—“Sky water” and from Emerson, “God’s Drop.” And finally, “White Pond and Walden are great crystals on the surface of the earth, Lakes of Light.” The purity and luminescence of the ponds are greater than even the Kohinoor diamond, a 186-carat stone from India given to Queen Victoria.
As the center of the narrative and the mythology of Walden, the pond represents a “wild luxuriant beauty of Nature.” See if you can relax into this experience, and allow yourself to simply bathe in the mythos of the pond.
Cramer, Jeffery. Walden, A Fully Annotated Edition. New Haven: Yale University Press. 2004.
Harding, Walter. Walden, an Annotated Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 1995.
Van Doren Stern, Philip. The Annotated Walden. New York: Bramhall House. 1970.