How do Thoreau's "Spring" and Darwin's On the Origin of Species overlap or contrast in terms of the visions of change they present?

Thoreau in "Spring" and Darwin in On the Origin of Species share an understanding of how nature is in constant flux and how the environment affects species. Thoreau's approach is more poetic in that he focuses on the spiritual nature of this interconnectedness, while Darwin uses this observation as the basis for his famous theory of evolution.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

On the surface, it would appear that Thoreau and Darwin would have very different views on "change" in nature. Thoreau, as a naturalist, begins his essay with some close observation about the changes spring brings; this includes much about the status of ice on Walden pond and the specific dates...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

On the surface, it would appear that Thoreau and Darwin would have very different views on "change" in nature. Thoreau, as a naturalist, begins his essay with some close observation about the changes spring brings; this includes much about the status of ice on Walden pond and the specific dates on which the lake becomes free of ice.

These observations give way to a larger, more poetic speculation on the interrelated nature of things. His unifying image is the leaf. The sandy soil beside the railroad track anticipates the leaf by supporting the vegetation that springs to life there in a day; the feathers of birds are another kind of leaf, and the human body itself is a kind of "leaf" in that it responds to its environment. Thoreau says, "Who knows what the human body would expand and flow out to under a more genial heaven?"

These speculations, essentially poetic in nature, nevertheless find a rough parallel in Darwin's thinking in On the Origin of Species. Darwin's central idea is that species change depending on their environment. In other words, the nature of plants and animals adapts to the conditions of the world around them. This is essentially the same idea as Thoreau's speculation about the effect of "a more genial heaven." Darwin of course develops this idea into a general theory of evolution, in which species change over time in response to environmental factors and population.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on