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  • Published: 15 September 1989
  • ISBN: 9780940450271
  • Imprint: Library of America
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 1114
  • RRP: $67.99

Henry David Thoreau

Collected Essays and Poems (LOA #124)




This Library of America edition collects for the first time in one volume the four full-length works in which Henry David Thoreau combined his poetic sensibility, classical learning, philosophical austerity, and Yankee love of practical detail into literary masterpieces on humanity’s communion with nature.

A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers is based on a boat trip Thoreau took with his brother in 1839 from Concord, Massachusetts, to Concord, New Hampshire. Ten years in the writing (it was the book he retired to Walden to work on) and incorporating essays, passages from his journal, and some of his best poems, it is a superbly crafted achievement, its texture enriched by the idealism of the Transcendentalists, the delighted wordplay of an imaginative linguist, the individualism of a young America, and the earthiness of a lover of nature.

Walden is a personal declaration of independence, a social experiment, and a voyage of spiritual discovery, set within the seasonal cycle of a year’s “Life in the Woods.” “Simplify, simplify” is the beat of its “more distant drummer”—to abandon waste and illusion, to get to the bottom of life’s essential needs, and to practice a new economy for humane living. Its witty and pointed rhetoric brings together language and nature, the human and nonhuman in unusual conjunctions that resonate with symbolic meanings. A manual of self-reliance as well as a masterpiece of style, it is one of the most fervently loved classics of American literature.

The Maine Woods is an account of three trips taken by boat and canoe in 1846, 1853, and 1857 through an unexplored interior bypassed by westward expansion. It describes the virgin rivers and forests of Maine, the customs of woodsmen and Indian guides, the hunting of moose, and the effects of the timber industry and encroaching settlement. An early and eloquent plea for conservation by a farsighted naturalist, its close observation of the American wild becomes an examination of “the motives which carry men into the wilderness.”

Cape Cod is the bleakest of Thoreau’s works, resembling Melville’s prose in its vision of the titanic indifference of nature. Cape Cod appears as both ocean and desert, a vast expanse of shipwrecks and barren soil, peopled by hardy, weathered inhabitants who seem survivors from the age of the first Pilgrims. Based upon his own visits and upon accounts from the earliest times, it is an unsentimental study of human endurance in the face of hostile elements, historical change, and natural decay.

LIBRARY OF AMERICA is an independent nonprofit cultural organization founded in 1979 to preserve our nation’s literary heritage by publishing, and keeping permanently in print, America’s best and most significant writing. The Library of America series includes more than 300 volumes to date, authoritative editions that average 1,000 pages in length, feature cloth covers, sewn bindings, and ribbon markers, and are printed on premium acid-free paper that will last for centuries.

  • Published: 15 September 1989
  • ISBN: 9780940450271
  • Imprint: Library of America
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 1114
  • RRP: $67.99

About the author

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau was born in 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts, the town where he would live for most of his life. Along with Ralph Waldo Emerson, he is the most famous of the American Transcendentalists, a group of philosophical thinkers who frequently explored the relationship between human beings and the natural world. He was educated at Harvard, and over the course of his life took on a number of different occupations, including lead-pencil maker, schoolteacher and surveyor.

Thoreau was outspokenly critical of the American government, fervently opposed to slavery, and an advocate of passive resistance. Whilst Walden (1854)is his best-known work, his 1849 essay ‘Civil Disobedience’ has inspired non-violent political activists the world over, including Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr, and his nature writings are considered ground-breaking works in ecology. He died in his hometown of Concord in 1862.

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