Walden, end of Chapter Two: “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one. I know not the first letter of the alphabet.”
Thoreau doesn’t write ordinary sentences or ordinary verse.
Much happens in his word-strings in unexpected ways. Perhaps he’s a realist-surrealist, as in the sequence just cited. We find these odd word-strings, starting not so weird but getting so as they pile up:
Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. [OK]
I drink at it; [has he put his fishing pole aside?]
but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. [OK] Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. [OK, we’re following fine]
I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, [! does he see fish — or does he start fishing? ] whose bottom is pebbly with stars. [When we drink we see fish in the sky (so the sky is reflected at the bottom of the stream)? The pebbles are pebbles and stars, or the bottom and pebbles and stars side by side; and the ‘bottom’ is it pebbles or stars; if the latter, the heavens have a bottom . . . ]
I cannot count one. [To count one at a time would make the stars as an array disappear?]
I know not the first letter of the alphabet. [How did we get from stars to letters?]
— I take it back.
There are one or two ordinary sentences written there. But then there are the curve balls, too. The sky has a bottom. And note the sudden shift from seeing to the attempt to count. And without warning we shift from not being able to count stars to not knowing the first letter of the alphabet.
Do we read patterns in the sky the way we read patterns among an array of letters? [Just as there’s no ‘first star’, so there’s no ‘first letter’ of the alphabet?]
We get the broad hint that nature is legible, readable, like words in the sky or words in the pebbles of the brook. He writes word strings that are simultaneously simple and complex; and it all ‘hangs together’ in an odd open-ended way. Perhaps it’s “open holism.”