“I take down not my Bible but Marcus Aurelius and follow up with Lucretius and Thoreau’s Journal (The Heart of) and why couldn’t somebody like Thoreau—a whole family of him—have ever settled near me?”
More than two years later, on June 1, 1958, she writes again to Zukofsky:
“Cleaning the old cupboard I placed three books together that mean most to me—Marcus Aurelius, Thoreau’s Walden and Japanese Haiku and standing beside that is [Zukofsky’s] Test of Poetry.”Niedecker and Thoreau – American Isolatoes (Melville: “not acknowledging the common continent of men, but each Isolato living on a separate continent of his own”). Both lived by water and wrote about it -- Thoreau on the rivers and Walden Pond, Niedecker on Black Hawk Island (“The Brontes had their moors, I have my marshes.") Both celebrated silence and wrote of neighbors with suspicion, envy and gratitude. Many of Niedecker’s neighbors, as well as relatives, were unaware she wrote poetry. The citizens of Concord knew Thoreau as a surveyor, pencil maker and oddball in a time and place of oddballs. The “Visitors” chapter in Walden begins:
“I think that I love society as much as most, and am ready enough to fasten myself like a bloodsucker for the time to any full-blooded man that comes in my way. I am naturally no hermit, but might possibly sit out the sturdiest frequenter of the bar-room, if my business called me thither.”
Niedecker asks “why couldn’t somebody like Thoreau—a whole family of him—have ever settled near me?” Impossible. Thoreau made his final doomed journey to Minnesota, Wisconsin’s neighbor, but there was never anyone “like” him. Like her he was sui generis, a cast-iron eccentric, for better and worse. He would have wandered off into the marshes after turtles.
In her home library Niedecker owned copies of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers and Walden. The latter is the 1927 Everyman’s edition. On a sheet of paper tucked into the volume is written in Niedecker’s hand:
“Of Thoreau - He chose to be rich by making his wants few. – Emerson”