Summary and Analysis
Chapter 5 - Solitude
As the chapter opens, we find the narrator has seemingly forgotten the railroad incident and is once again in ecstasy. He feels so much in harmony with nature that he declares that he is "a part of herself." The evening is so "delicious" and his sense of oneness with nature so great, that he can barely express himself:
"Sympathy with the fluttering alder and poplar leaves almost takes my breath." His belief that the melancholy thoughts stirred by the owls' notes would eventually give way to happiness is confirmed. His present bliss proves that "there can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of Nature, and has his senses still." At this moment of spiritual fulfillment, when "every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy, and befriended me," the narrator recalls an ironic statement of his townsmen: "I should think you would feel lonesome down there, and want to be nearer to folks, rainy and snowy days and nights especially."
Having been fulfilled by the "sweet and tender" society of nature, the narrator finds this statement to be almost laughable. Since nature offers a contentment not to be found in the human society which the townsmen think so important, he feels justified in giving a sharp response to this idea. What is the sense in living next to the depot, the barroom, the meeting house, or the grocery? What great value is there in rubbing elbows with other men? He has found that "society is commonly too cheap. We meet at very short intervals, not having had time to acquire any new value for each other. We meet at meals three times a day, and give each other a new taste of that old musty cheese that we are." As the willow sends its roots in the direction of nourishment, so does the spiritually minded narrator; and his spiritual nourishment is not to be found in Concord, but in the "perennial source of life," nature.
In the gentle, benevolent, revitalizing company of nature, loneliness is an irrelevant concern. He feels so much a part of nature that to ask him if he is lonely is like asking the loon in the pond, a January thaw, the north star, or Walden Pond itself if they are lonely.
If the reader wonders how the narrator finds the "company" of nature superior to human company, consider Thoreau's view of nature. Thoreau saw it as both a tremendous source of sensual pleasure, capable of revitalizing the physical man in him, and as the medium through which the spiritual world might be experienced. To him, it was literally a "perennial source of life," physical and spiritual. To be in harmony with nature meant to be physically and spiritually whole. Thoreau seemed to find human company incapable of stimulating him to such a feeling of wholeness; hence, it was judged inferior to nature.
The stimulation received from a solitary relationship with nature is described with metaphors of rebirth and renewal. The narrator claims that he was no more lonely than a loon (he undergoes an annual molting, a sign of renewal) or a January thaw (signifying movement out of a wintry, lifeless spiritual state). We should note the pun when the narrator significantly states, "I find it wholesome to be alone."
When the narrator states that he is no more lonely than Walden Pond, he introduces a new metaphoric sequence of Walden. The pond is later developed as a metaphor for the narrator's purified and perfected soul.