Metaphorical Autobiography

Whenever I go into the woods, or escape the borders of the city for that matter, I tend to pay much more attention to nature. During one of my freshman English classes at a small university in New Hampshire, my professor walked the students to a nearby pond to read Walden by Henry David Thoreau. In an attempt to instill some sort of natural reverence amongst his students, the professor instructed us to consider our surrounding as Thoreau might have done. As we read aloud, it wasn’t hard to become lost in the words, as they seemed to narrate and give life to the water, trees, and birds around us. Though this was a great experience, my linguistic skills lack the merit to remember my time there as prolifically as Thoreau, or perhaps I am unable to recall miniscule the details that he so eloquently expressed. Either way, it makes for an interesting analysis regarding Thoreau’s work in autobiographical terms.

Thoreau’s memory of detail is astounding: “For the first week, whenever I looked out on the pond it impressed me like a tarn high up on the side of a mountain, its bottom far above the surface of other lakes, and, as the sun arose, I saw it throwing off its nightly clothing of mist, and here and there, by degrees, its soft ripples or its smooth reflecting surface was revealed, while the mists, like ghosts, were stealthily withdrawing in every direction into the woods, as at the breaking up of some nocturnal conventicle” (391).

Not only does Thoreau paint a vivid picture of the landscape and scenery that surrounded him, he brings them to life with metaphorical interpretations of his memory. I’ve looked through Smith and Watson’s Reading Autobiography and failed to find anything mentioning the use of metaphors in self-narratives. This may be a bit of a stretch, but I find that Thoreau’s metaphorical language constitutes for a category in autobiography. The images he paints with words highly depend on the comparisons to grandness in order to give his memory reassurance of the power that nature had on him in that moment. Thus, Thoreau’s memory becomes a metaphor to bring his memories to life, which would otherwise be mere descriptions of his surroundings.

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