Summary – Chapter Four ‘Sounds’
He explains that in his first summer at Walden he did not read books. He hoed beans and also took time to listen to the birds as well as observing what was around him. Time was spent differently and sometimes he would clean his floor and put his furniture outside before the villagers had even had breakfast.
The railroad is described as being about ‘a hundred rods’ south of where he lived and the sound of it links him to society. Thoreau uses hyperbole in his descriptions of the locomotive comparing it to a winged horse. He calls the train an ‘iron horse’ and discusses how commerce is conducted by this machine.
The passing of rural life is mourned and he compares the distant mooing of a cow with the sound of minstrels. The sounds of different birds are described, such as ‘screech owls’ and he says that this is similar to the sound of mourning women and ‘suicidal lovers’: ‘They represent the stark twilight and unsatisfied thoughts which all have.’ He moves on to mention the sound of frogs and a cockerel, and ends this chapter by saying how he kept no animals but had ‘unfenced nature’ around him and ‘no path to the civilized world’
Analysis – Chapter Four
Contrary to Chapter Three, where Thoreau asks that books and reading be treasured, Chapter Four shifts to discuss the pleasure he took in listening to the various sounds around him. This has the effect of inviting us to imagine the simple pleasures it is possible to take in slowing down and appreciating our environment.
This enjoyment of ‘unfenced nature’ also demonstrates his decision to not try to intervene in his surroundings. Instead, he describes how he became a spectator of the world and refused to disrupt the surroundings he chose to live in. Because of this, it is apparent that he refused to repeat the mistakes of earlier settlers and colonizers, as he stood by rather than took over the land.