February 16, 1859

in Thoreau’s Journal:

From the entrance to the mill road, I look back through the sunlight, this soft afternoon, to some white pine tops near Jenny Durgan’s. Their flattish boughs rest stratum above stratum like a cloud, a green mackerel sky, hardly reminding me of the concealed earth so far beneath. They are like a flaky crust of the earth, more ethereal, terebinthine, evergreen earth. It occurs to me that my eyes rest on them with the same pleasure as do those of the hen hawk which has been nestled in them.


My eyes nibble the piny sierra which makes the horizon’s edge as a hungry man nibbles a cracker. The hen hawk and the pine are friends. The same thing which keeps the henhawk in the woods, away from cities, keeps me here. That bird settles with confidence on a white pine top, and not upon your weather-cock. That bird will not be poultry of yours, lays no eggs for you, forever hides its nest. Though WILLED or WILD, it is not willful in its wildness. The unsympathizing man regards the wildness of some animals, their strangeness to him, as a sin as if all their virtue consisted in their tamableness. He has always a charge in his gun ready for their extermination. What we call wildness is a civilization other than our own. The henhawk shuns the farmer, but it seeks the friendly shelter and support of the pine. It will not consent to walk in the barnyard, but it loves to soar above the clouds. It has its own way and is beautiful when we would fain subject it to our will. So any surpassing work of art is strange and wild to the mass of men, as is genius itself. No hawk that soars and steals our poultry is wilder than genius, and none is more persecuted or above persecution. It can never be poet laureate, to say, “Pretty Poll,” and “Polly want a cracker.”


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