February 19th, 2009

But One Book of Poetry to Contain Them All

Longtime readers know I’m quite the devotee of those dear local philosophs / civic superheroes / transcendentalist romantics, Emerson and Thoreau. I’ve quoted them at length and composed songs inspired by their fiery oratory.

So I was excited to stumble upon (hat tip forgotten) a blog dedicated to posting Thoreau’s journal entries, pegged to the corresponding day of the year (“THIS DATE“). Living quite near where Thoreau would have wandered, I enjoy the shared sense of place that emerges, as when he observes a balmy day in February and we experience the same.

In this bit from yesterday, one of the more striking I’ve read, Thoreau really hits a writerly stride, so disarmingly plainspoken, so alarmingly insightful. Indeed, this short reflection seems to encapsulate his very approach to writing —

I have a commonplace-book for facts and another for poetry, but I find it difficult always to preserve the vague distinction which I had in my mind, for the most interesting and beautiful facts are so much the more poetry and that is their success. They are translated from earth to heaven. I see that if my facts were sufficiently vital and significant, – perhaps transmuted more into the substance of the human mind, – I should need but one book of poetry to contain them all.

Passages like that set a high bar, and we’ve been finding — myself and Rebecca, my better half, who’s begun a similar blog from Emerson’s diaries — that Thoreau is, to this date, the more engaging of the two. Pearls of wisdom aplenty, though. Or should I say barberries?


  • 1. vida  |  February 19th, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    thoreaux is undoubtedly the man, but i don’t think i can agree with your conclusion that he is more engaging than emerson. that passage about poetry sounds a whole lot like emerson. didn’t he also–that is, first–fail to see any sort of distinction between the poetry of poetry and the poetry of simple truths? wasn’t it all poetry to him? didn’t he frequently refer to himself as a “poet in prose?” i think you gotta give emerson credit for that intellectual property. and besides. . .

    what’s this mother@$&%in rap game without emerson?
    yo, that’s like jewels without ice
    that’s like china without rice
    or the holy bible without christ
    or the bulls without mike
    or crackheads without pipes
    or hockey games without fights

    big L rest in peace

  • 2. wayneandwax  |  February 20th, 2009 at 10:39 am

    no doubt, nick. but i was actually making the more modest claim that, so far, comparing the two as diarists — rather than comparing each’s overall oeuvre — we find thoreau the more inspired. in the main, i should say — not to put too fine a point on it.


I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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