Friday, June 08, 2012

`It Has No Duration'

As he was writing in his journal on June 6, 1857, Thoreau, not yet forty, would live to see another four Junes:  

“This is June, the month of grass and leaves. The deciduous trees are investing the evergreens and revealing how dark they are. Already the aspens are trembling again, and a new summer is offered me. I feel a little fluttered in my thoughts, as if I might be too late. Each season is but an infinitesimal point. It no sooner comes than it is gone. It has no duration. It simply gives a tone and hue to my thought.”

At Concord’s latitude, June is the first month in which to reasonably expect sustained greenery. Most years, May starts with buds, brown grass and last winter’s dirty snow. The passage is celebrative but in a minor key: “I might be too late.” One hears a prematurely autumnal tone. Thoreau had contracted tuberculosis, his fatal illness, as early as 1835. The disease had killed Emerson’s father, first wife (at age nineteen) and two of his brothers. It killed Thoreau’s grandfather and probably his father. His brother John had the disease but tetanus claimed him first, and it killed their sister Helen in 1849. In Thoreau's conviction of seasonal fleetingness, with summer passing before it arrives, when even evergreens are “dark,” we hear the voice of a man burdened with undeniable knowledge: “It no sooner comes than it is gone.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love your Thoreau posts. Out of curiosity, what is the source for 1835 as the year Henry may have contracted tuberculosis? - Jill