Chapters 5–9 Summary

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Chapter 5: Solitude

The chapter opens with Thoreau enjoying his evening walk before finding gifts from visitors outside of his door. In describing feeling distant from civilization, he rejoices in having “my own sun and moon and stars, and a little world all to myself”; despite knowing he is only a mile away from his nearest neighbor, Thoreau affirms that his home on Walden Pond “is as much Asia or Africa as New England.” Thoreau contends that, by living in tune with nature’s cycles, he never feels lonely or melancholy, and this immersion also makes him feel “more favored by the gods” than other men are.

Spending time alone in the woods allows Thoreau to become “suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature.” As such, he prefers to have the trees and animals as neighbors, believing in nature’s superiority to humanity. Thoreau argues that, while humans may prefer to be in the physical company of other humans, they are still separated from one another by their thoughts. This separation even extends to the distance of the self from the self: he “is sensible of a certain doubleness by which I can stand as remote as myself as from another.” Because of this awareness, Thoreau asserts that solitude is his greatest companion.

Consequently, Thoreau suggests that while he is apparently alone in the woods, he is not lonely. He henceforth depicts elements of nature as sympathetic beings, describing how “the clouds rain tears” and the trees mourn their leaves come winter.

Chapter 6: Visitors

Thoreau declares that he has “three chairs of his house . . . one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” Despite the house’s small size, he is still able to entertain dozens of guests without his home feeling crowded. He does, however, mention that there is not sufficient space for his thoughts to move when he has visitors over. As such, he believes that time with others is best spent engaging in meaningful conversation and that one’s reputation should not rest on their ability to entertain guests.

Thoreau mentions that he has more visitors during his time living in the woods than during any other time in his life; luckily, few came to see him “on trivial business.” He describes one such visitor, a Canadian woodchopper and post-maker, who also enjoys Homer; Thoreau praises him as a “simple and natural man.” Thoreau contends that there is artistry to the man’s woodchopping techniques and admires the man for how much he enjoys his work. He does explain, however, that the man lacks “the intellectual and what is called spiritual in a man,” having not received a proper education. As such, Thoreau expresses that he is unsure whether to “suspect him of a fine poetic consciousness or of stupidity.” While this particular visitor does not seem to have any spiritual awareness, Thoreau venerates his self-expression, independence, and ability to think freely, and ultimately contends that “there might be men of genius in the lowest grades of life, however permanently humble or illiterate.”

Thoreau describes another encounter with a visitor—“a simple-minded pauper”—who expresses a desire to live a simple life. Because of the man’s humble admittance of his lack of intellect, Thoreau finds this individual to be a “metaphysical puzzle.” In observing his visitors, he notes that, while children and young women seem to most enjoy spending time in the woods, “restless committed men” did not, and these men would also often question Thoreau on the purpose of his time there. Overall, Thoreau most enjoys visits from those who seek freedom from society’s constraints by...

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going into the woods.

Chapter 7: The Bean-Field

Thoreau ponders what he will learn of the beans he needs to hoe in summer. In explaining his process for tending to the beans, Thoreau asserts that working with one’s hands “has a constant and imperishable moral.” He mentions that passersby often criticize his bean-field, but he believes that his “is the connecting link between wild and cultivated fields.”

Reminiscing on the sounds echoing from parades of “gala days,” Thoreau expresses gratitude that “the liberties of Massachusetts” and the rest of the country “were in such safe keeping,” though he enjoys the distance between himself and the crowds. He is determined to learn how to cultivate a bean field and thus puts tremendous care and effort into tending to his beans. While he does make a small profit from selling them after harvest, the reward for Thoreau is the work itself.

In reflecting upon his experience growing beans, Thoreau states that “husbandry was once a sacred art,” which is no longer the case due to commercial farming. He argues that, in viewing the soil as his property, the farmer degrades the art of husbandry; from the sun’s perspective, after all, “the earth is all equally cultivated like a garden.” Further, Thoreau acknowledges that he is not the sole cultivator of the beans. Rather, he believes that the elements of nature are the primary sources of growth. He thus argues that these fruits of the earth’s harvest should be shared among all living things.

Chapter 8: The Village

While living in the woods, Thoreau continues to regularly visit the village to observe the villagers going about their daily lives. He regards these visits as a form of entertainment but expresses gratitude that he “escaped wonderfully from these dangers” of obligatory social conventions. After these visits, he is able to retreat to his “snug harbor in the woods.”

Thoreau particularly enjoys his nighttime walks from the village to his cabin and uses this time to learn how to navigate the darkness with his senses. He explains how this route has become instinctual to him, as if his body carries him home while his mind is “dreaming and absent-minded all the way.” In comparing his path to that of others who travel from the outskirts of the town, Thoreau argues that being lost in the woods is a “valuable experience,” because it is during these moments that “we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of Nature.”

Moreover, Thoreau details a memory from one of his visits to the village, in which he was arrested for not paying taxes; he henceforth declares his mistrust of “the state” and the laws enforced by these powers. This observation prompts him to conclude that “if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thievery and robbery would be unknown,” because no one would be living below or above their means.

Chapter 9: The Ponds

During his evenings in the woods, Thoreau interacts with fishermen who frequent the pond. He also fondly narrates the late nights he spends fishing from his boat on the water and then paints a picture of Walden Pond’s scenic features. He believes that the pond, “a clear and deep green well,” is “remarkable for its depth and purity,” and he describes how the water’s color shifts with the sky’s light. Accordingly, he distinguishes Walden Pond from other surrounding bodies of water for its celestial allure.

Thoreau continues his illustration of the pond by noting how the water level changes between the seasons and over the years. The shores of the lake, he asserts, are “the lips . . . on which no beard grows,” said to consist of smooth stones because, according to a Native American fable, the lake was formed when the surrounding hills shook. Thoreau also claims that, due to the purity and consistently cold temperature of the water, the fish in Walden Pond are “cleaner, handsomer, and firmer fleshed” than those in other bodies of water.

In illustrating how Walden Pond’s beauty radiates the surrounding forest, Thoreau contends that “a lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature” because it is “the earth’s eye,” with a majestic, invigorating serenity. He highlights the autumn days on the pond as especially gorgeous, with the water “a perfect forest mirror.” Despite the landscape having changed due to human impact, Thoreau affirms that the lake retains its beauty and has remained, for the most part, “unchanged”—particularly compared to nearby Flint Pond and Sandy Pond, which are both shallower and not nearly as pure as Walden Pond. White Pond, on the other hand, is closest in beauty and purity to Walden. Thoreau claims that both are “great crystals on the surface of the earth” and closes the chapter by emphasizing nature’s superiority over the human race.


Chapters 2–4 Summary


Chapters 10–14 Summary