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Anderson

Emily Anderson

Scott Harris, M.A.

UNIV 392

June 20, 2018

Prompt 1

In both Thoreau and Coleridge, nature and the wilderness play an important role in

reflection as well as action. In Thoreau’s “Walking”, Thoreau claims that a “Walker” exists

outside of societal institutions- “He is a sort of fourth estate, outside of Church and State and

People” (Thoreau 261). For one to reflect most fully in Thoreau’s experience, they must detach

themselves fully from the world around them. Coleridge, while similar, approaches reflection in

the wild in a slightly different way. In his poem, he also maintains that one must move

throughout nature in order to fully reflect and see the world for its true self. However, Coleridge

has this aspect in his writing of returning to the world once it has been reflected on, whereas

Thoreau pushes staying in the wild.

In Thoreau’s “Walking”, the natural and wild are depicted as superior to the civilized and

domestic. He maintains the belief that all good and great things draw themselves from nature, as

with the tale of Remus and Romulus. Thoreau says of all great civilizations that “[t]he founders

of every State which has risen to eminence have drawn their nourishment and vigor from a

similar wild source” (Thoreau 273). To Thoreau, in order for great civilization to occur and for

individuals to grow, one must go out into nature and truly reflect on what it means to exist in this

world. One cannot know all simply by remaining in place- it is required that one moves and

explores.
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It is also important to note that Thoreau speaks only on the “Holy Land” on which he is

walking errant and exploring as heading West. In “Walking”, it is the West that is lauded as

being filled hope, success, and fruit. While Thoreau utilizes the Latin phrase meaning “from the

East, light; from the West, fruit,” he seems to dismiss a lot of growth and civilization that existed

in the East. He also refuses to recognize different philosophies and cultures from other parts of

the world- though it is worth mentioning he would have less access to those sorts of perspectives

at the time he is writing this. It is also important to recognize the privilege that Thoreau has in

society as a well to do, land-owning man. He suggests in “Walking” that people must leave idle

lifestyles in favor of the wilderness, yet recognizes that this is not possible for all people. It is

really only possible for people of similar lifestyles to his own- meaning that true enlightenment

and reflection are restricted to people like him. Because of this, there are multiple factors at play.

Coleridge, on the other hand, outlines how the beauty and wildness of nature helps us to

reflect but also to return to society. Whereas Thoreau encourages people to abandon the

“civilized” world, Coleridge encourages people to utilize the natural to give perspective to the

way in which people live. Coleridge pushes the idea of moving around like Thoreau does,

exploring nature so that people might see with greater context the world in which they exist.

However, Coleridge pushes that reflection leads to action. After climbing to a mount in which he

could overlook his brethren at work, he feels a guilt at retiring away. He says in his poem that, “I

therefore go, and join head, heart, and hand/ Active and firm, to fight the bloodless fight/ Of

Science, Freedom, and the Truth in Christ” (Coleridge 2). It was necessary for him to be away

from others, at peace in the wilderness and amongst nature, so that he could see the suffering

below and reflect on what he might do. That is one of the fundamental differences between

himself and Thoreau. Thoreau praises the wildness of nature and man’s place solely within
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nature, whereas Coleridge acknowledges the beauty and truth that lies within nature and how it

helps in a true, robust reflection. To this end, it is Coleridge who takes a more pragmatic and

ethical approach to nature and its impact on reflection.

Reflection, while introspective, is not necessarily individualistic. It is required in order to

take better, more appropriate action to ensure that humanity is functioning in a way that benefits

all people. Coleridge’s “Reflections on Having Left a Place of Retirement” acknowledges this,

that it is the responsibility of people to take action after reflecting, or use reflection in a way that

is helpful to others. Thoreau’s “Walking”, on the other hand, while it might be introspective,

lacks the action that reflection requires one to take. The use of nature in both varies, though they

both find peace and serenity within the wilderness- something that seems at both times

contradictory and sensible. To this end, it is less an issue of how to reflect but rather what to use

reflection for- namely, action.