Of Time and the River: Life Lived, Life Dying
To truly sense things of the moment is to sense their eternity. On Friday of A Week, we are given the good news that “We need pray for no higher heaven than the pure senses can furnish . . .” “May we not see God?” Through the senses, past, future and the eternal saturate things of the moment. In “Concord River,” after giving us muskrats swimming for dear life, and noting that “the end of the world is not quite at hand,” Thoreau writes of the divine,
As yesterday and the historical ages are past, as the work of to-day is present, so some flitting perspectives and demi-experiences of the life that is in nature are in time veritably future, or rather outside to time, perennial, young, divine, in the wind and rain which never die.
His prelude to A Week ends with a meditation on the river’s amble through time, carrying in her easy gait life lived and life dying:
I had often stood on the banks of the Concord, watching the lapse of the current, an emblem of all progress, following the same law with the system, with time, and all that is made; the weeds at the bottom gently bending down the stream, shaken by the watery wind, still planted where their seeds had sunk, but ere long to die and go down likewise.
Last words — “ere long to die and go down likewise.” These close out his thoughts on moving forward. But the river in flow, that would-be emblem of progress, slows to a stop well short of tragedy. Paradoxically, speaking of inescapable death occurs in tones that resonate as a ringing affirmation of all life.
There is death. But Thoreau also takes a vantage “outside to time, perennial, young, divine.” Flow is anomalously in ‘the ephemeral here and now’ and also in ‘the lastingly out-of-time.’ In the last words of “Concord River,” Thoreau turns to the singular, the particular, as the portal to meaning in time. He yields himself up to the river, ready to be carried downstream and elsewhere, in serene being with time.
the shining pebbles, not yet anxious to better their condition, the chips and weeds, and occasional logs and stems of trees that floated past, fulfilling their fate, were objects of singular interest to me, and at last I resolved to launch myself on its bosom and float whither it would bear me.