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Kit Stolz

At a poetry festival out here in California recently, renowned New England poet Galway Kinnell was asked about Thoreau. He said he greatly admired Thoreau as a young man, but as he grew older and read more about him, some doubts crept in.

"I don't think he had a good sex life," Kinnell pointed out, and added that he wasn't sure that Thoreau had a sex life at all. He pointed out that Thoreau often came in from his cabin in the woods to have dinner with his mother, and suggested that Thoreau's stiff-backed resistance to conformity was in part a resistance a people generally.

Personally, I think all that may be true...but that in a world that values human life so highly and sees the natural world as mere fodder for our own desires, he remains as useful -- perhaps more useful -- than ever. "In wilderness is the preservation of the world" may turn out to be the literal truth. Where else can we hope to recycle our carbon and store our excess heat heat but in great forests and vast oceans?



Interesting comment. Thanks.

I think Thoreau exaggerated his lack of sociability sometimes. In the Maine Woods he is travelling in the company of a group and seems quite happy about it. In fact he didn't travel much on his own. And when he shows up in the biographies of the other Concord writers he comes across as quite companionable. Hawthorne didn't much care for Emerson, but he seems to have tolerated Thoreau.

Nobody made money in America by being a writer back then---Emerson and Hawthorne had family fortunes to help keep roofs over their heads and put food on the table. Thoreau didn't have any money. He figured out a way to live as a professional writer in a world that had no place or use for them. I think it was easier for him to get by as a crank and a "character" than to try to explain himself as a writer.

But Kinnell---who is one of my favorite poets---is right. Thoreau was a lonely man. I don't know if he was asexual, homosexual, or heterosexual and frustrated. But he knew there was no way he could live the life of a writer and support a family and so I think it's likely he decided that he would have to live as a celibate. He didn't avoid the company of women. He loved Emerson's wife. But he couldn't afford to let himself get close to any young single women.

And he was apparently socially inept. He irritated people. Everybody except children. He may have had Asperger's syndrome. So his anti-social pose may have been a defense. He rejected people before they could reject him.

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