OWL Magazine Korea

Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” 

Henry David Thoreau’s book “Walden,” written by the author Henry David Thoreau, is considered a must-read and is often listed as essential reading, especially for college students.

Personally, I first encountered this book during my college years. There was a course at Sungkyunkwan University’s Department of English Literature called “Understanding Ecological Literature,” and it was through that course that I naturally came across this book.

“Henry David Thoreau, Walden”

The author Henry David Thoreau is known as a genius who graduated from Harvard University. However, he chose to leave conventional life behind and lead a unique lifestyle, and the book that emerged from this experience is “Walden.”

Despite graduating from Harvard University, Thoreau believed that true value in labor came from earning money through pure physical labor. He sustained himself by engaging in surveying, carpentry, and other manual labor activities. However, in 1845, he suddenly entered the woods, built a house by the lake called “Walden Pond,” cultivated the land, and documented his solitary life in the book “Walden.”

“An extraordinary author and his unique life”

Even in South Korea, programs like “This Kind of Life Exists” occasionally feature people living in the mountains. Henry David Thoreau can be considered a pioneer of such a lifestyle.

Professor Kim Won-jung, who taught the course “Understanding Ecological Literature,” introduced Walden with the following brief explanation:

“This book Walden might make you wonder if the original author is not American. The English is quite challenging and not easy to interpret. Even current Americans find it difficult to fully understand this book. Thoreau is said to have written by directly capturing the feeling of nature he observed. Therefore, some sentences are so dense that they extend for more than half a page.”

The author’s unique experiences and life, combined with his attributes, make the book exceptionally special.

“An extensive book of nearly 500 pages”

Thoreau’s distinctive writing style is accompanied by a substantial volume. The Korean translation of Walden reaches about 500 pages. The thick book, densely packed with text as mentioned earlier, made reading it quite time-consuming.

Nevertheless, reading his book brings a sense of tranquility. Although I haven’t visited “Walden” in person, the detailed descriptions of the natural scenery and the events unfolding in the forest make readers feel as if they are experiencing that life together.

The book includes many delicate descriptions of nature. Through these detailed descriptions, readers can visualize the scenery of “Walden Pond” vividly. Various animals and insects, such as woodchucks, are mentioned, and the vivid descriptions bring Thoreau’s life to life.

“Mentions of Eastern philosophy in Walden”

Despite being an American, Thoreau, the author of Walden, had a considerable knowledge of both Eastern and Western cultures. Living in the 1800s, a time without the connectivity we have today through the internet, it was astonishing to discover that he possessed not only Western but also Eastern philosophical insights.

Throughout the book, many figures from Greek and Roman mythology are mentioned. In addition to that, Eastern philosophy, including the thoughts of Confucius and Laozi, is also referenced. It was surprising to see Eastern philosophy mentioned by a Western author who lived in the 1800s.

This aspect of the book both impressed me and led me to wonder how Thoreau, an American, came to know about these philosophies.

“Why live diligently for what?”

There are various reasons why this book is recommended as essential reading. One of them is that readers can indirectly experience the experiences and realizations that Henry David Thoreau gained while living in Walden.

In his attitude of leaving the secular world behind and living with nature, we might find ourselves feeling something once again. It may prompt us to rethink why we live diligently amid society, and to ponder once again, “Why do we strive so hard to live?” In the end, reading the book might lead us to reflect on our lives – what constitutes a true life, what is the right way to live, and why we are so attached to progress.


  • Author: Henry David Thoreau
  • Publication Date: August 22, 2011
  • ISBN-13: 9788956605418
  • Yes24: http://app.ac/MACGbr583