Summary and Analysis
Chapter 16 - The Pond in Winter
One winter morning the narrator woke somewhat confused from a restless and troubled sleep: "I awoke with the impression that some question had been put to me, which I had been endeavouring in vain to answer in my sleep, as what — how — when — where?" It has been a long winter; he has been anxious and disturbed about his spiritual life. That morning he looked out of his window and rediscovered the answer to all of his worries and questions: "There was dawning Nature, in whom all creatures live, looking in at my broad windows with serene and satisfied face, and no question on her lips. I awoke to an answered question, to Nature and daylight." He obeyed nature's unspoken command, "Forward!" and began to move out of his wintry spiritual state of despondency. Imbued with a new sense of vitality, he energetically began his morning work by taking his pail to the pond and searching for water beneath the ice and snow.
He cut a hole in the ice and, while drawing water, enjoyed looking through this "window" into the depths below. Soon he caught a glimpse of the life moving below the ice. He was overjoyed with the sight and exclaimed, "Ah, the pickerel of Walden! . . . I am always surprised by their rare beauty, as if they were fabulous fishes. . . . They possess a quite dazzling and transcendent beauty."
The narrator then tells us that in the late winter of 1846, before the ice broke up, he measured the depth and charted the topography of the pond's bottom. He found that Walden, which was previously thought to be "bottomless," was one hundred and seven feet deep. Relating this fact to his own spiritual interests, he declares, "This is a remarkable depth for so small an area; yet not an inch of it can be spared by the imagination. What if all ponds were shallow? Would it not react on the minds of men? I am thankful that this pond was made deep and pure for a symbol."
One January day, the narrator looked out at the pond and saw a crew of a hundred Irish laborers and Yankee foremen cutting out the Walden ice for sale in warmer weather and in southern climates. At first, he was upset at the thought of their stealing Walden's "skin"; but, upon reflection, he gladdened at the thought of the sweltering inhabitants of Charleston, New Orleans, Bombay, and Calcutta drinking at his Walden "well." The moral is obvious; he hopes that they can derive the great value from Walden that he has.
In concluding the chapter, the narrator tells us that in the mornings he would "bathe" his intellect "in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagvat Geeta." This would send him into an imaginative reverence and he would feel as though he had integrated Oriental and Western thought and culture on the shores of Walden. Thus the "pure Walden water [was] mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges."
When reading this chapter, one immediately notes how much more vigorous the narrator has become. In "Former Inhabitants; and Winter Visitors" and in "Winter Animals," we saw him straining to find sources of spiritual stimulation; with the beginning of this chapter, his quest seems to be over. He is inspired once again by the "serene and satisfied face of Nature." Upon receiving new inspiration, his first actions are symbolically revealing. He goes to the pond (the symbol for his self) and cuts away the ice ("cuts through" his wintry psychological state). Looking into the depths of the pond, thus metaphorically looking within his soul, he rejoices over a world of incomparable beauty. What he sees in the literal pond is pickerel possessing "transcendent beauty." These pickerel signify the narrator's own thoughts which he finds to be transcendently beautiful.
In discussing the depth of Walden and how Walden is like a "deep" symbol, the narrator again indicates that his imagination was "thawing" and was now active. His concluding statements about Walden ice being shipped to southern climates and about mixing Ganges water with Walden water indicate that his imagination is stimulated. Metaphorically, he depicts a feeling of oneness with the people of different countries, with the thought of different cultures and philosophies, and with the people and thought of past centuries; He is depicting a feeling of integration with all things on earth — in the past and present.
Yet winter is still upon the narrator; he is not totally "awake." He tells us that Walden still has its "eyelids" closed; accordingly, his soul has still not regained its full spiritual vision. Spring, in the literal and the symbolic sense, has not yet come. And the narrator looks forward to and longs for its arrival: "In thirty days more, probably, I shall look from the same window on the pure sea-green Walden water."