The Cimeter's 'sweet' edge: Thoreau, contemplation, and violence
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This essay explores the tension between contemplation and heroic action that disquieted Thoreau throughout his career, especially when the slavery controversy intruded upon his thought. The Bhagavad Gita, because it focuses upon the dilemma of whether it is morally proper to kill as the agent of divine principle, affected Thoreau's philosophy of life in multiple ways, encouraging him to arrive at the conclusion that violence could be a means of purification and enlightenment, contributing to an ongoing and deathless process. In Walden, as well as his Reform Papers, one can discern his Eastern belief that the forces of destruction are inseparable from the forces of creation and that violence is not a matter of good or evil, but rather, one of several ways to advance toward spiritual Reality. His preferred approach to this Reality was to repress his passions in favor of contemplation, yet, as his friend Hawthorne imagined, Thoreau could fall under the sway of savage impulses, if only rhetorically. The result was not a burden of sin, however, but greater resolve to deepen his study of Nature and approach nearer to the divine.
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