Murmurings in the Pre-Dawn

Early Sunday Morning in the Studio

Every spirit builds itself a house. And beyond its house a world. And beyond its world a heaven. Know then that the world exists for you. Build therefore your own world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I awoke to my world much earlier than planned this morning–4:45. By 5:30 I realized I was not getting back to sleep. The machine of the mind and imagination was in overdrive, as always seems to happen soon after waking. So I rose, postponed the coffee till later (in case I get sleepy and return to bed), but then things began to happen as I read from Thoreau’s journal, November 16, 1850. What an amazing movement of the mind he experienced on that day. I’m choosing to share the best of it with my readers:

In literature it is only the wild that attracts us. Dullness is only another name for tameness. It is the untamed, uncivilized, free, and wild thinking in Hamlet, in the Iliad, and in all the scriptures and mythologies that delights us,–not learned in the schools, not refined and polished by art.

What an insight by a young man of only thirty-three years of age! I am embarrassed to admit that the Iliad did not come to mean anything to me till I was nearly forty, and that was only because I repeatedly read Thoreau’s comments about the epic in the pages of Walden. Because I can read Greek as he did, I was astonished when I purchased the volume from the Loeb Classical Library and began translating. It was only then that I found abiding treasures in those pages.

And Hamlet–it was not until three years ago that I finally read the text with profound enrichment. It was my third time to read the text, but the testimonies of Harold Bloom (I miss him so much!) turned me to the work and I am ever so grateful now for that experience. But wow, Thoreau, at thirty-three. already knew the richness of those “wild” works of literature.

Several paragraphs later, on the same day, after rhapsodizing over the sounds of birds, and musing about setting a compass for life’s journey, Thoreau then wrote something that made me laugh out loud:

Somebody shut the cat’s tail in the door just now, and she made such a caterwaul as has driven two whole worlds out of my thoughts. I saw unspeakable things in the sky and looming in the horizon of my mind, and now they are all reduced to a cat’s tail. Vast films of thought floated through my brain, like clouds pregnant with rain enough to fertilize and restore a world, and now they are all dissipated.

How many times has that happened to me? When I was at my teacher’s desk, reading something profound from a literary muse, and trying to record the floating fragments of related thought in my journal, when suddenly two students shouted, arguing over who was the better contestant on American Idol. Or the summer’s day I sat on my parents’ carport reading a passage from Emerson and suddenly tried to record a transient idea of my own in my journal. And my brother at that moment burst out of the house to tell me something “profound” he had just heard Rush Limbaugh say on the radio. I recall a professor once telling me how he looked out the window of a plane at the mountain ranges below and felt a wave of transcendent gratitude. Then the passenger next to him said, “You know, if we could open that window, I could piss on the world right now.” We could write entire books on just that subject of how an inane act or word dynamited a moment of splendor for us.

And then finally, this:

My Journal should be the record of my love. I would write in it only of the things I love, my affection for any aspect of the world, what I love to think of. I have no more distinctness or pointedness in my yearnings than an expanding bud, which does indeed point to flower and fruit, to summer and autumn, but is aware of the warm sun and springs influence only. I feel ripe for something, yet do nothing, can’t discover what that thing is. I feel fertile merely. It is seedtime with me. I have lain fallow long enough.

Notwithstanding a sense of unworthiness which possesses me, not without reason, notwithstanding that I regard myself as a good deal of a scamp, yet for the most part the spirit of the universe is unnaccountably kind to me, and I enjoy perhaps an unusual share of happiness. Yet I question sometimes if there is not some settlement to come.

This last segment truly made me shudder. A part of me wishes I could have lived in Concord in the nineteenth century and known Thoreau personally. But I am enough of a realist by experience, and know from my reading that Thoreau did not bond easily with others. So, knowing that, I am so unceasingly grateful that he loved us enough to leave behind over four million words of publishable print, obviously believing his ideas were important enough to share with others. My heart sinks with his final word, that he questioned whether or not “some settlement’ would come, since he had received “perhaps an unusual share of happiness.” He would die eleven years later, at age forty-four. I myself have reached the age of sixty-six, and it took nearly fifty years for me to reach the point of loving my life and feeling genuine gratitude for this gift. Why have I been blessed to outlive such a gentle spirit as Henry David Thoreau, who died at an age earlier than I myself was able to find genuine life?

I have journaled since 1985 because I wished to “overhear myself” (Harold Bloom’s words) in times of being alone. I still continue that practice. But in this blog, I occasionally share my ideas gleaned daily with anyone out there who is interested in reading. So I thank you for reading.

Today is my fourth consecutive day of heavy-duty house cleaning and organizing. There remains much to do, and I suppose I have spent enough time at my desk. The light outside has come up, and I believe I am now ready for coffee. And then I shall return my attention to some househould tasks. As Emerson wrote, “Every spirit builds itself a house . . . Build therefore your own world.”

Another attempt to “brand” Hank

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.


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5 Responses to “Murmurings in the Pre-Dawn”

  1. gaiainaction Says:

    Likewise here too David, life is good.


  2. gaiainaction Says:

    I so enjoyed your beautiful written blog post David, I too am fond of Thoreau, I find him very inspiring especially his love of nature. He once inspired me to move to another town, hire one room in a quiet house and just brought a few reading and writing items with me, it was my cabin in the woods so to say though it was in a little town and close to my job in the library. The main book I brought with me was ‘Walden’
    I believe that I benefited from that short period in my life.


    • davidtripp Says:

      Thank you for responding. As a school teacher, I was blessed to be selected to take part in a National Endowment of the Humanities Summer Institute featuring Thoreau. I was 34 then, and he has been very close to my throbbing heart since that day. I take Walden with me wherever I go. Now I am driven to read all 14 volumes of his journals. I am constantly amazed at how carefully he edited his journal writings. Mine comparatively are very sketchy and rough drafty! It is always wonderful to meet someone else who loves Thoreau, thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

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