Summary and Analysis
Chapter 17 - Spring
Winter finally passed, and spring came in, dramatically announced by the audible breaking-up of the Walden ice. The narrator felt his own spiritual "thaw" and revitalization coming on, and he further describes the pond's thaw in terms of this feeling — "it stretched itself and yawned like a waking man with a gradually increasing tumult." It was not many days before the thaw was completed in the pond; soon all of nature surrounding the pond began to show signs of its annual rebirth. And as would be expected, the narrator grew ecstatic as he witnessed these signs of nature's new vitality.
One phenomenon of nature's thaw which particularly stimulated the narrator's imagination occurred in the railroad bank that ran along one side of the pond. As he viewed the thawing sand and clay flowing down the bank like lava, running into various forms, it seemed as though nature was visibly expressing its new life, as though organic, living things are being created out of inorganic, dead matter. Thus he came to feel that the world was once again being created, as though for the first time. The narrator keenly feels that he was deeply involved in this rebirth, this re-creation, for what is the truly inspired man "but a mass of thawing clay" flowing out of his wintry state of spiritual frigidity and rigidity into a new form of life?
Turning to other scenes in the revitalized landscape, he tells us that he came upon other poignant signs of nature's rebirth, such as the first sparrow of spring and a slight and graceful hawk and a marsh hawk. As the day moved into evening, the narrator was suddenly startled by the honking of the returning geese that flew low over the woods.
Looking then at the vegetation, he saw that the pitch-pines and shrub-oaks which had drooped through the winter had suddenly become greener, more erect and alive. By May, nature's new, rich fertility fully expressed itself. Even the lowly grasses revealed nature's new vigor. From the image of "springing" grass, the narrator "skims off" another truth about his present feeling of new vitality: "our human life but dies down to its root, and still puts forth its green blade to eternity."
The narrator is once again ecstatic in nature and he concludes the chapter by succinctly summarizing the sense of strong vitality continuously showing forth in nature: "And so the seasons went rolling on into summer, as one rambles into higher and higher grass." As nature grows toward its summer maturation, the narrator will grow toward his spiritual fulfillment.
Two symbolic statements are made by the narrator which seem to be the theme of this chapter: "Walden was dead and is alive again" and "It is glorious to behold this ribbon of water sparkling in the sun, the bare face of the pond full of glee and youth." As we already know, the pond is a symbol for the narrator's self, and these statements — and, indeed, the entire chapter — symbolize the happy rebirth of the narrator's spirit. Like "The Ponds," this chapter is a highly compressed collage of metaphors and symbols that reveals the narrator's glowing feeling of spiritual elevation. It would be difficult to find one sentence in this chapter which does not fulfill this function.
In a final paragraph, the narrator informs us that he left Walden Pond on September 6, 1847. And, although the narrator earlier informed us that he left the pond because he had other lives to lead, it is not inappropriate to wonder why he did leave this marvelous world that he describes in these chapters. Some critics believe that Thoreau's actual experience at the pond was not as successful as the narrator's experience in Walden — a point which serves to emphasize the fact that Walden is an imaginative, artistic creation and not a strict biographical account of life in the woods.