According to Thoreau’s transcendentalist philosophy, nature, humanity, and God are unified. His transcendent God is also immanent—present in every raindrop, blade of grass, and animal as well as in every human being. Further, one of the best ways for human beings to experience their own unity with God is to observe nature. In the woods one day, he writes:
I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me.
Explaining why he loves the company of nature, Thoreau writes, ‘‘Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself?’’ This theme of unity occurs throughout the book, often through metaphors, similes, and personifications that equate nature, humans and the divine. ‘‘I may be either the driftwood in the stream or Indra [a Hindu deity] in the sky looking down on it,’’ he declares. Watching hawks circle above him, he sees them as ‘‘the embodiment of my own thoughts.’’ Hearing bullfrogs, he thinks of them as ‘‘the sturdy spirits of ancient wine-bibbers and wassailers, still unrepentant, trying to sing a catch in their Stygian lake.’’ (In Greek myth, the River Styx is in Hades; the souls of the dead are rowed across it.) When whippoorwills sing, he writes that they ‘‘chanted their vespers,’’ attributing to them a knowledge of and reverence for God.
The goal of the...
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