Immediately upon seeing Walden in Voyant Tools, the context tool in the bottom right corner caught my eye. The tool is interesting; it allows one to input a certain word and outputs all occurrences of the word in the text, giving the context surrounding the word the as well. By default, the word “like” is used. I thought it would be more intriguing to take a look at one of Thoreau’s dearest words: “deliberately.”
What does it mean to live deliberately? Can men live deliberately? If so, how? These were questions I had even before exploring Voyant Tools. After seeing the context tool, I thought it offered a unique way to (begin to) answer these questions.
As we have discussed before, part of living deliberately means carefully choosing what to observe, what to do, etc. Essentially, it means being conscious about yourself, the things around you, and the intersection between the two; being closer to nature. After seeing “deliberately” in the context tool, I discovered a different, almost paradoxical, meaning of the word. To Thoreau, the deliberation of man and the deliberation of nature- although connected- are different. Thoreau seems to believe that animals and nature are inherently deliberate- they don’t have to deliberately try to be deliberate. Bear with me here.
Thoreau uses “deliberately” nine times in Walden. In seven of these, Thoreau uses the word in the context of the actions of man. For the other two, the context is of nature itself. The fifth occurrence of the word reads: “Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature” (Where I Lived, And What I Lived For, paragraph 22). The seventh occurrence reads: “He uttered a long-drawn unearthly howl, probably more like that of a wolf than any bird; as when a beast puts his muzzle to the ground and deliberately howls” (Brute Neighbors, paragraph 17). Nature in itself is deliberate; and man must therefore learn this deliberation from nature (first quote). The beast’s howl is deliberate merely because the animal is a part of nature- the beast need not to put effort into deliberation (second quote).
For most of the seven other uses of the word (regarding the actions of man), Thoreau suggests that man must act deliberately so as to become closer to nature. For example, the second use of the word reads: “It would be worth the while still to build more deliberately than I did, considering, for instance, what foundation a door, a window, a cellar, a garret, have in the nature of man, and perchance never raising any superstructure until we found a better reason for it than our temporal necessities even” (Economy, paragraph 66). Thoreau says he should have built his house more deliberately. But, this isn’t how we normally think of the word- he doesn’t mean that he should have added more time or detail, he means that he should have put in less time and taken out structures, so that his house was more natural. A very similar quote is the eighth occurrence of the word, which reads: “Indeed, I worked so deliberately, that though I commenced at the ground in the morning, a course of bricks raised a few inches above the floor served for my pillow at night; yet I did not get a stiff neck” (House-Warming, paragraph 5). Here, Thoreau did work deliberately; meaning he was brought closer to nature, sleeping on the ground without luxuries like a pillow. And, finally, our old friend “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life” (Where I Lived, And What I Lived For, paragraph 16). Being deliberate means being close to nature, and vice versa, because nature itself is deliberate.
For man, deliberation is not innate. Man must consciously try be deliberate (a bit redundant, I know) to be closer to nature. Nature is intrinsically deliberate, and therefore to be more like nature man must act closely to nature– act with deliberation. I think this analysis was a combination of distant and close reading, so I’m not sure how much a close reading a Walden will help to further answer these questions. However, comparing Walden to other texts of Thoreau’s where he discusses deliberation could be very useful to see just what Thoreau means when he says “living deliberately.”