Summary and Analysis Chapter 10



As the chapter opens, we again see the narrator freely roaming the countryside, enraptured with the beauty of the landscape. It is like a dreamland: pine groves stand "like temples" and a hemlock tree seems "like a pagoda in the midst of the woods." He sees other trees that are vitally alive, "spiring higher and higher . . . fit to stand before Valhalla." Nature is expressing herself everywhere with signs of lush ripeness. The narrator is overwhelmed by such splendor and declares that these sights "make the beholder forget his home with their beauty, and he is dazzled and tempted by nameless other wild forbidden fruits, too fair for mortal taste."

From this ecstatic experience of natural beauty, the narrator travels to the drab, dismal hut of John Field, an Irish immigrant and common laborer. John is a bogger who works from sunrise to sunset. He is an "honest, hard-working" man, and his wife is "thinking to improve her condition one day," but at present they lead a tired and dreary life, trying to make ends meet. The narrator attempts to help John by telling him about his own schemes of "economy" and how they can make life more enjoyable. But "John heaved a sigh at this, and his wife stared with arms akimbo." John came to America because of the luxuries he could not get in Ireland, and the narrator realizes the vicious circle in which John will probably remain: "As he began with tea, and coffee, and butter, and milk, and beef, he had to work hard to pay for them, and when he worked hard he had to eat hard again to repair the waste of his system. John thought that luxuries are worth his backbreaking labors, but the narrator sadly observes that "he was discontented and wasted his life into the bargain."

The narrator gave up trying to convince John of his self-destructive folly and returned to the concerns of his own happy life. He immediately became exuberant as he "ran down the hill toward the reddening west . . . determined to enjoy the land, but own it not." The narrator will not be like the many John Fields of the world who "come tamely home at night only from the next field or street." For him, life is — and will be — an adventure; he refuses to be penned into the dull round of conventional living.


This chapter constitutes an ecstatic celebration of what the narrator has discovered by looking into the "pond": he rejoices over his own perfection. Thus at the beginning of this chapter, we are presented with a portrait of a vibrant and vital natural scene which reflects the narrator's powerful sense of spiritual vitality. He again records his happiness, telling us: "Once it chanced that I stood in the very abutment of a rainbow's arch, which filled the lower stratum of the atmosphere, tinging the grass and leaves around, and dazzling me as if I looked through coloured crystal. It was a lake of rainbow light, in which, for a short while, I lived like a dolphin." Within this statement, the narrator informs us of his sublime contentment in three ways: first, he stood at the rainbow's end and was thus the lucky mortal who found the "pot of gold"; second, being flooded in resplendent light symbolizes an experience of spiritual illumination; and third, he compares himself to a dolphin, which is a traditional symbol of immortality. Thoreau makes sure that he has made his point about the narrator's spiritual state with one last touch. He has his narrator declare: "As I walked on the railroad causeway, I used to wonder at the halo of light around my shadow, and would fain fancy myself one of the elect." It is a whimsical, witty statement by the narrator, but it reinforces the claim for spiritual perfection made through the pond symbol of the previous chapter.