Walden: The Heaven Below Essay, Research Paper
The Heaven Below Henry David Thoreau’s time spent at Walden Pond led him to a complex, manifold understanding of nature itself, as well as the nature of man. Thoreau’s time on Walden Pond, however, led him to an equally elaborate and intricate awareness of spiritual truths. As Thoreau writes in “The Pond in Winter” chapter of Walden, “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads” (283). Although seemingly placed quite nonchalantly at the end of the paragraph, this statement is a key into the discernment of Thoreau’s discovery. As a philosophy that asserts the primacy of the subtle and intangible over the material and empirical, the very definition of Transcendentalism implies that one must rise above the muck and mire of the earthly in order to gain true understanding of the spiritual. In fact, the root verb of this genre, which characterizes Thoreau’s writing, is transcend, which means to rise above and go beyond limits. Having understood these basic concepts, it is only logical for one to anticipate Thoreau’s eyes to be cast skyward in his effort to discover some spiritual truth. Of course, at several points during his narration of his sojourn at Walden Pond, Thoreau, whether or not intentionally, obliges the expectant reader. However, in a solitary sentence, Thoreau manages to appeal to the reader’s safe presumptions as well as baffle him or her with a new, critical, unforeseen theory: “Heaven is under our feet as well as above our heads.” This is certainly a startling idea for a reader knowledgeable in logic and spiritual tradition. By the designation of “up” as a positive direction and “down” as a negative direction, the powers that be somewhere along the way also located heaven above the earth and hell below the earth. Thoreau, in one fell swoop, tears this idea to shreds. The placement of heaven below our feet displaces the reader. But his statement is not even a simple repudiation of a cultural phenomenon. For Thoreau, heaven is above, but he asserts that heaven can also be found below our feet. It is important to note here that Thoreau’s heaven is not necessarily the Heaven of Judeo-Christian theology. Simply put, Thoreau’s heaven is a place of intense self-awareness and satisfaction. Still, no matter what Thoreau thinks of heaven, his idea is a radical one. Throughout Walden, the reader takes notice of the places where Thoreau finds peace or understanding. “The Pond in Winter” is such a place. Is the reader to assume that the serenity of “the quiet parlor of the fishes, pervaded by a softened light as through a window of ground glass” (283) is Thoreau’s motivation for concluding that a heaven exists below our feet if we only choose to see it? Somehow, the explanation of his statement seems too simplistic, although this may be due to the reader’s own imaginative shortcomings which hinder his or her vision of Thoreau’s observation.
Then rises the possibility that doubt and bewilderment are part of Thoreau’s plan for the reader. Thoreau’s word choice is noteworthy here. By playing on the phrase “above our heads,” Thoreau implies a double meaning. Yes, heaven is literally above our heads, but heaven is also a mysterious concept and humans are incapable of understanding it. Heaven, like his allegation, is full of hidden meaning.Thoreau’s interplay between surfaces and depths is crucial in attempting to uncover this underlying significance. As he writes in the “Where I Lived and What I Lived For” chapter of Walden, “I perceive that we inhabitants of New England live this mean life because our vision does not penetrate the surface of things. We think that that is what appears to be” (96). Thoreau states in this passage that appearances are deceiving; truth, or at least a path to it, can only be found through active sight, a notion also put forth by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay entitled “Nature.” Emerson uses his idea of a “transparent eyeball” to illustrate and personify the act of dynamic sight and observation. Much like Thoreau, Emerson describes a state of self-awareness so keen that the self blends into the surroundings and leads one into the frame of mind required to indisputably see and take part in his or her surroundings. The metamorphosis would also allow one to witness the forces behind and under nature. Although Emerson did not really refer to this heightened self-awareness as heaven, it is possible to see it in Thoreau’s interpretation, given his own idea of heaven. Emerson’s ideas of nature as the usher, transforming theoretical concepts existent only in the mind into tangible, definite matter come into play here. The heaven below our feet is, indeed, tangible and able to be felt and experienced physically. The joy of the experience is what Thoreau believed to be another heaven.Thus, the spiritual truths gained by Thoreau are not confined to Walden Pond. Thoreau seems to be telling his readers to go out and find places of their own which inspire and propel them to change their lives and to see and experience the joys of nature. The peace and joy found in such a process, Thoreau argues, are as gratifying as being in heaven. So heaven itself is not confined to a place far away, unattainable in life. Living, or truly living is also a heaven, one that can be found throughout nature, above as well as below.