Henry David Thoreau : Mind and Nature

Extract from :

Henry David Thoreau

Journal / Letters

"There is, no doubt, a perfect analogy between the life of the human and that of the vegetable, both of the body and the mind.

The botanist Gray says:

The organs of plants are of two sorts: — 1. Those of Vegetation,

which are concerned in growth — by which the plant takes in the

aërial and earthy matters on which it lives, and elaborates them

into the materials of its own organized substance; 2. Those of

Fructification or Reproduction, which are concerned with the

propagation of the species.

So it is with the human being. I am concerned first to come to my Growth, intellectually and morally (and physically, of course, as a means to this, for the body is the symbol of the soul), and then to bear my Fruit, do my Work, propagate, not only physically but morally, not only in body but in mind.

The organs of vegetation are the Root, Stem, and Leaves. The Stem

is the axis and original basis of the plant. The first point of the stem

preëxists in the embryo (i.e. in the rudimentary plantlet contained

within the seed): it is here called the radicle.

Such is the rudiment of mind, already partially developed, more than a bud, but pale, never having been exposed to the light, and slumbering coiled up, packed away in the seed, unfolded.

Consider the still pale, rudimentary, infantine, radicle-like thoughts of some students, which who knows what they might expand to, if they should ever come to the light and air, if they do not become rancid and perish in the seed. It is not every seed that will survive a thousand years. Other thoughts, further developed, but yet pale and languid, like shoots grown in a cellar.

The plant . . . develops from the first in two opposite directions,

viz. upwards [to expand in the light and air] to produce and

continue the stem (or ascending axis), and downwards [avoiding

the light] to form the root (or descending axis). The former is

ordinarily or in great part aërial, the latter subterranean.

So the mind develops from the first in two opposite directions: upwards to expand in the light and air; and downwards avoiding the light to form the root. One half is aërial, the other subterranean. The mind is not well balanced and firmly planted, like the oak, which has not as much root as branch, whose roots like those of the white pine are slight and near the surface. One half of the mind's development must still be root — in the embryonic

state, in the womb of nature, more unborn than at first. For each successive new idea or bud, a new rootlet in the earth. The growing man penetrates yet deeper by his roots into the womb of things. The infant is comparatively near the surface, just covered from the light; but the man sends down a tap-root to the centre of things.

The mere logician, the mere reasoner, who weaves his arguments as a tree its branches in the sky — nothing equally developed in the roots — is overthrown by the first wind.


The thought that comes to light, that pierces the empyrean on the other side, is wombed and rooted in darkness, a moist and fertile darkness — its roots in Hades like the tree of life. No idea is so soaring but it will readily put forth roots. Wherever there is an air-and-light-seeking bud about to expand, it may become in the earth a darkness-seeking root. Even swallows and birds-of-paradise can walk on the ground.

To quote the sentence from Gray entire:

"Roots not only spring from the root-end of the primary stem in

germination, but also from any subsequent part of the stem under

favorable circumstances, that is to say, in darkness and moisture,

as when covered by the soil or resting on its surface."

No thought but is connected as strictly as a flower, with the earth. The mind flashes not so far on one side but its rootlets, its spongelets, find their way instantly on the other side into a moist darkness, uterine — a low bottom in the heavens, even miasma-exhaling to such immigrants as are not acclimated. A cloud is uplifted to sustain its roots. Imbosomed in clouds as in a chariot, the mind drives through the boundless fields of space. Even there is the dwelling of Indra.

I might here quote the following, with the l