Body of Walden (collage painting by Patti Francis)
Henry David Thoreau viewed living and dying as transition, noting that all life forms are constantly dying and being reborn. In this respect, Thoreau’s life was a study of the journey, a study of dying. Through his deep study of nature, he saw the interconnection of life and death. We would do well to study death in the same way.
“How plain that death is only the phenomenon of the individual or class! Nature does not recognize it; she finds her own again under new forms without loss. Yet death is beautiful when seen to be a law, and not an accident. It is as common as life. Men die in Tartary, in Ethiopia, in England, in Wisconsin. And, after all, what portion of this so serene and living nature can be said to be alive? Do this year’s grasses and foliage outnumber all the past? Every blade in the field, every leaf in the forest, lays down its life in its season, as beautifully as it was taken up. It is the pastime of a full quarter of the year. Dead trees, sere leaves, dried grass and herbs—are not these a good part of our life? And what is that pride of our autumnal scenery but the hectic flush, the sallow and cadaverous countenance of vegetation? its painted throes, with the November air for canvas?
When we look over the fields we are not saddened because these particular flowers or grasses will wither; for the law of their death is the law of new life.
Will not the land be in good heart because the crops die down from year to year? The herbage cheerfully consents to bloom, and wither, and give place to a new. So it is with the human plant. We are partial and selfish when we lament the death of the individual, unless our plaint be a pæan to the departed soul, and a sigh, as the wind sighs over the fields, which no shrub interprets into its private grief.
One might as well go into mourning for every sere leaf; but the more innocent and wiser soul will snuff a fragrance in the gale of autumn, and congratulate Nature upon her health.” ~Henry David Thoreau, letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1842 March 11th
Thoreau at Walden Pond (collage painting by Patti Francis)