Looking at Thoreau’s “Solitude” Chapter Through a Metaphorical Lens

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“To read [Walden] as a poem,” writes Anderson (1968), “is to assume that its meaning resides not in its logic but in its language, its structure of images, its symbolism—and is inseparable from them” (p. 18). In this way in general, as Anderson concludes, can we as students of literature “discover the true poetic subjects” (p. 18); and in this way in particular can we here read, investigate, and parse the meaning of such subjects as “solitude”, to which Thoreau devoted an entire chapter—the eponymous Chapter 5, “Solitude”. Thoreau delivers this his poetic sensibility by way of what Golemba (1988) discerns are two “clash[ing]…rhetorical modes” (p. 385)—more succinctly, what Anderson (1968) determines are wit and metaphor. It is of contention here that metaphor impels the poetry of “Solitude” and thus is that which, upon close reading expresses not the logic but the language of what solitude truly means.

Thoreau’s metaphor for solitude implicitly defined is one in comparison with and contrast to loneliness also implicitly defined. For to the author (or poet), what solitude is is what loneliness is not. In a lyrical litany of comparisons, Thoreau as intentionally solitary is, he writes,

“…no more lonely than the loon in the pond that laughs so loud, or than Walden Pond itself…; no more lonely than a single mullein or dandelion in a pasture, or a bean leaf, or sorrel, or a horse-fly, or a bumblebee…; no more lonely than the Mill Brook, or a weathercock, or the north star, or the south wind, or an April shower, or a January thaw, or the first spider in a new house”

(p. 107).

First, each entity, creature, or event is literally one among many: the dandelion has thousands of other dandelions among which to exist; the horse-f...

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...sitively insists, that being alone is indeed more superlative. Or, as the self-at-home-in-nature Thoreau lyrically, figuratively reinforces in natural and other personification and emblematization, opening with his awe at the “delicious” evening (p. 101) and closing with the categorical, definitive, and implied comparative conclusion, “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude” (p. 106).


Anderson, C. R. (1968). The Web. In Gerald R. Barterian and Denise Evans (Eds.), The Magic Circle of Walden (pp. 13-92). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Dougherty, J. (2008). House-building and house-holding at Walden. Christianity and Literature, 57 (2), 224-233.

Golemba, H. (1988). Unreading Thoreau. American Literature, 60 (3), 385-401.

Lopez, R. O. Thoreau, Homer, and community. Nineteenth-Century Prose, 31 (2), 122-133.
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