Group Analysis Project of Ponds 5 in Walden

Abigail Axton, Eve Angelo, Madelyn Malgieri, Margaret Tepper, Kaitlynn Schweitzer, Katey DeMaria

It is evident, in much of Thoreau’s work with Walden, that he places great emphasis on revision; whether this be at the discretion of his editors, or simply shifting personal preference and style, it is not necessarily explicit, but our group found some comfort in knowing that established, acclaimed writers like Thoreau find error in their stories close to publishing, that not everything is perfected the first go-around, regardless of experience or prestige. For our project, we endeavored to compare Version D and E of our selected passage: “The Ponds,” paragraph 5. The most jarring discrepancy between the two manuscripts is, evidently, their opening lines—in Version D, it first reads as a simple, brief sentence: “a perennial spring in the midst of pine woods, without any visible inlet or outlet but by the clouds and by evaporations.”

>Version D: “a perennial spring…”

In Version E, however, we see the paragraph flourish, a small portion of Thoreau’s more extensive compositional process, saying instead “The scenery of Walden is on a very humble scale, and, though very beautiful, does not approach to grandeur, nor can it much concern one who has not long frequented it or lived by its shore; yet this pond is so remarkable for its depth and purity as to merit a particular description. It is a clear and deep green well, half a mile long and about a mile and three quarters in circumference, containing and contains sixty-one and a half acres; a perennial spring in the midst of pine woods, without any visible inlet or outlet but by the clouds or by evaporation.”

>Version E: “The scenery of Walden…”

How Thoreau adopts the phrase and expands it into a lengthy, imperative part of the novel is greatly compelling, providing groundwork for deeper inspection by inviting readers to engage with his process of drafting head-on, as the string of words evolves into a much more substantive piece of writing.

Much of Ponds 5 in Version E includes interlined words and sentences, and it is clear that this is the version where Thoreau did a lot of writing and rewriting. Sometime between late 1852 and 1853 Thoreau wrote a brand new paragraph to open Ponds 5, as previously mentioned, which does not change as much as the rest of Ponds over the years of his writing and rewriting. In Version E Thoreau strikes out his past claim that the surrounding hills are “from 50 to a hundred in one place perhaps 200 feet high” and interlines in that they are instead “generally from 50 to 75 feet high though in one place they rise to the height of about 150 feet.”

>Version D: “from 50 to a hundred…

Yet, he then rewrites the scientific claim in Version E again striking out his earlier researching interlining in pencil that the surrounding hills, “rise abruptly from the water & are from 40 to 80 feet high, though on the southwest & east they attain the height of about one hundred & fifty feet respectively within a quarter & ⅓ of a mile.”

>Version E: “from 40 to 80 feet…”

Thoreau seems to be always researching and finding new reliable information, whether that be himself or what he reads in books, to heighten the visual aspect of his writing so the viewer can see exactly what he sees. Thoreau is impeccable in that aspect.

Further into Ponds 5c, in Version D, Thoreau rewords the description of Walden when viewed at the top of a hill. The beginning of the sentence does not change, “viewed from a hill top it,”

>Version D: “viewed from a hill top it”

and then interlined in ink we can see that Thoreau adds, “reflects the color of the sky,” to go along with what he wrote before, “is blue in the depth.” As the sentence progresses Thoreau strikes out his first description saying, “& green in the shallows, or rather close to the shore, for there are no other shallows” and instead wrote, “but a vivid green near the shore.” Towards the end of the sentence, in Version D, Thoreau adds more substance, instead of just writing “but from a boat it is seen to be a uniform dark green,” he adds in ink: “but from a boat when the surface is calm it is seen to be a uniform dark green.” From this, we can conclude that Thoreau is always chasing after bettering his descriptive abilities and often fluffs up sentences in his revisions.

In his later Version E we can see Thoreau changing the opening of his sentences again while also rewriting the sentence format. Thoreau interlined a new sentence before his Version D “viewed from a hill top it” writing, “but near at hand, it is of a yellowish tint next to the shore, where you can see the sand” then changing the location of his “uniformed dark green” to take place in the later of this new sentence which states, “then a light green, gradually deepening to a uniform dark green in the body of the pond.” Then, we see Thoreau’s Version D stay similar when he keeps, “viewed from a hill top it reflects the color of the sky,” yet because he moved some of this sentence from Version D into different places in Version E Thoreau scratches the words, “is blue in the depths in” and changes the end of his sentence in Version E to say, “in some lights even from a hill top a vivid green next the shore”

>Version E: “viewed from a hill top…”

while also scratching his words in Version D, “but from a boat when the surface is calm it is seen to be of a uniform dark green” to not exist in the final version. Along the lines of Thoreau refining his descriptive words we can see in Version D that Thoreau writes, “It is of a vitreous greenish blue, as I remember it, like those patches of the winter sky seen through cloud vistas in the west before sundown”.

>Version D: “vitreous greenish blue…”

It is apparent to readers that, throughout versions, there is special care taken to detail specifically the different shades of green and blue the lake captures, whether it has a “green tint” or “yellowish tinge,” it is “dark green” or has a “cerulean” hue.

It is interesting to note, despite version variations, Thoreau’s continued repetition of “body” at the end of our selected paragraph; in both manuscripts, there is an overabundance of the word—firstly, he refers to the lake as a “body,” and goes on to say “How large a body of Walden”

>Version D: “body…”

then “the body of one bathing in,” and “the body of the pond”

>Version E: “body…”

and lastly, again, “the body of the bather.” The continued use of the word is interesting, in that it seems, in previous instances, Thoreau is intent on removing moments of reiteration—so why he continues to use a word countless times in the span of a few expressions appears enough cause for questioning; we presume that any other word wouldn’t provoke, with enough gravity, the picture he was attempting to produce—Thoreau likes to refer to Walden as a being, as a figure, so whether he means a body of water, or more generally, a body, as in an organism which houses other organisms, or a system of many living things, both images are easily fabricated and give space for a reader’s preference and imagination. His using “body” allows a certain involvement from the reader, to declare what Walden being a body means to them—and then the mentions of the body of the bather suggests a certain kind-of “meta-ness,” where there is a body in a body, two animate beings—the lake and a person—coinciding. Thoreau also adds, in version D, the line: “Such is the color of its iris,” implying that Walden’s color is, in a way, analogous to a human’s eye; his repeated personification of Walden creates an air of reality and physicality—we imagine the lake as an entity.

The process of comparing manuscripts D and E has not so much been labor-intensive as it has been a demanding process of trial-and-error. It can be confidently said that none of us have experienced a final exam like this before, and have never so closely examined the handwriting of a famed author, nor have we so precisely and deliberately read drafts of an excerpt of their text. As for the analysis portion of the assignment, we found great difficulty in deciphering Thoreau’s handwriting and working out which versions of the manuscript we wanted to center in our evaluation; there was some confusion over how exactly the project would operate—we weren’t certain whether or not we could inspect segments of Thoreau’s writing that did not have representation in any of the scanned documents. We knew we wanted to discuss paragraph 5, but first thought we could study Version E and G, until, after some clarification in our second week of composing the analysis, only then discovered that no digitized Version G represented our chosen passage. Having spent some time already studying Version G, it was disheartening to abandon some of our preexisting labor—that was until it was realized that much discussed with Version G could be applied to our newly improved project; we knew we still wanted to talk about Thoreau’s overarching “body” theme, and the color and size of Walden.

Speaking specifically to the process of finding pertinent portions of Walden in the digital library, there was some trouble in raking through the text and troubleshooting how to use the websites (such as the Digital Thoreau fluid text version of Walden and Digital Thoreau’s Walden manuscript project page) productively. For those of us who were designated to work on the slideshow, screenshotting the sections of the manuscript that were noted in the analysis was somewhat tedious—and the same for those of us who were dedicated to composing the IIIF URLs. Many natural hiccups accompanied the process of composing a valid TEI file; troubleshooting the presentation of the relevant parts of the manuscript and better understanding how to format and organize the coding were large, significant parts of the assignment—thus proving lengthy and rigorous. Though all tasks were divided equally between students—Kate and Maddy: the blog post and IIIF URLs—Margaret, Abigail, and Katey: the slideshow and manuscript—and Eve: all things TEI, there was much interchange between roles and individual contributions; tasks were not limited to peoples’ assigned groups. For instance, when needed, those working on the analysis aided those working on composing the slideshow by finding the excerpts of Walden that were discussed in the close reading, and too, those working on the slideshow aided those working on the analysis by bringing up previously neglected segments of the texts that might be worthwhile to consider in our examination. Ultimately, we fostered an environment of equality, and fulfilled our responsibilities wholeheartedly, prioritizing quality and communication as we aspired to produce the best project possible.

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