A Reductionist’s Walden

Walden By Haiku


“You only need sit still long enough in some attractive spot in the woods that all its inhabitants may exhibit themselves to you by turns.” I took this quote from Walden to heart in 2004, the year I met a copperhead, red fox, a pair of great blue herons, an extended family of ebony terrapins, and a playful river otter who chewed freshwater crustaceans with her mouth wide open.

Ecocritical author Ian Marshall distills Henry David Thoreau’s famous musings and animal encounters, chapter by chapter, down to 293 “haiku moments.”

the loon looning
a long-drawn unearthly howl
the woods ring far and wide

a borrowed axe

Marshall states that “Thoreau’s senses and intuition become his primary means of engaging with the world around Walden Pond,” much like renowned Japanese haiku poet Matsuo Basho’s experience at “The Old Pond.”

Walden by Haiku includes extensive commentary on Marshall’s process, as well as haiku’s history and aesthetics, “a learning tool for anyone who might be interested in the principles of haiku.” Each chapter ends with an explanation of the specific principles that fit the theme, such as juxtaposition, resonance, and impermanence.

I still visit that wooded spot on the other side of town, and reading Walden by Haiku on the banks of the river gives me a chance to reconnect with all the non-human neighbors I first met years ago. Walden inspires me as a writer seeking to document my floral/faunal affairs, and Ian Marshall’s haiku brings me a step closer to experiencing those visceral moments in time made famous by Thoreau.

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