Birdsong, the Railroad, and Time in Walden
One of the more superficial lessons often gleaned from Thoreau's Walden is the superiority of the "natural" laws of time over those of commercially-motivated, fast-paced humans. This viewpoint has its supports in Thoreau's almost constant juxtaposition of timeless, melodious birdsong to the screeching, interruptive quality of the train whistle in "Sounds." His message, however, contains more complexity than a single condemnation of civilization's rule by the ticking clock; at various moments, he stresses the good qualities of the railroads by comparing their noises more favorably toward natural time, equating the whistle's regularity to the sun. Thoreau utilizes the qualities of sound to demonstrate how various tones found in nature and civilization connote with the pace of living in each place. The relationship of natural versus civilized time is confounded by seemingly contradictory examples of, for instance, a whippoorwill singing "almost with as much precision as a clock," the human construct also governing the railroads' time. By the end of "Sounds," Thoreau somewhat reconciles his love of a natural time with its civilized associations by suggesting a blend of the...
Join Now to View Premium Content
GradeSaver provides access to 747 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 4486 literature essays, 1451 sample college application essays, 183 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.
Already a member? Log in