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In "Walden" what does the quote "I went to the woods because I wished to live...

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chelseyfred2010 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 4, 2009 at 12:15 AM via web

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In "Walden" what does the quote "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life" mean?

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mrs-campbell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 4, 2009 at 12:33 AM (Answer #1)

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Henry David Thoreau, a student of Ralph Waldo Emerson's, was a transcendentalist, who believed strongly in the power of nature and living simply.  He believed that our lives were too complicated, too "frettered away in detail," and that simplifying our lives would help us to understand its true meaning, and appreciate life for its value.  So, he devised a plan.  He went out to live on the property of a friend's, by himself in a shack, for two years.  He tried to produce his own crops, to live from the labor of his own hands, and to get rid of all of the complicating, busying factors that distracted him from life's true meaning.

His purpose in doing this was to be able to gain wisdom and knowledge about life.  He wanted to understand the very simplest elements of life.  "To live deliberately" means to take care and thought about everything that you do in life, and not to do anything just for the heck of it.  Everything that you do has purpose and meaning, and isn't a waste of time.  Thoreau wanted to spend his time doing only things that would enrich his life and make him a better person--no silly, time-wasting, frivolous things, but things that mattered and enriched his soul.  He wanted to "front only the essential facts of life," meaning, to excise any unnecessary stuff that clutters our lives.  Get rid of anything that isn't necessary.  And, he did that.  He lived sparesly,  in a shack, instead of a fancy house filled with unnecessary things.  He wanted to "front" or use, or rely on, only the most basic things needed for survival, and through that, learn what is at the core of living.  He would learn what the most basic facts of life and happiness were.

I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

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nikkim5050 | High School Teacher | eNoter

Posted July 8, 2010 at 9:28 AM (Answer #2)

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Thoreau, who wrote Walden, was a transcendentalist.  This quote from Walden which was an experiment had two parts.  Thoreau had a practical concern about a place of residence, but he also had a philosophical concern about the meaning of life.  This quote addresses this.  He combines the practical and the philosophical in his Walden project which is where the phrase "the essential facts of life" can reflect both the material needs of a person like food and shelter and the philosophical needs like the meaning of life.  Thoreau did not think the meaning of life was just the biological functioning but inner fulfillment.  In the phrase "to live deliberately," I think Thoreau is saying that he should be able to choose his own path in life with no one else's input.  At a higher level of thinking, he is also saying that no one chooses to live or deliberately seeks to exist.  We don't ask to be born, but while we are here, we should make the most of our existence.  He wanted to make sure that when it was his time to die, he had lived life to the fullest.  So Thoreau went into the woods on purpose and gave up all material goods and lived from the "fruits" of the land in order to understand what life and nature was really about.  He wanted to live life to the fullest without all the "frills" and by his own means without someone else trying to make decisions about what path he should take and what he should use to get to where he wanted to go.

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