Sometimes it is good to be alone by Harold Blake Walker

solitude, “the harvest of the quiet eye”

I found this article in an old copy of the Chicago Tribune by Dr Harold Blake Walker.

Dr Walker was the Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Evanston and a former columnist for the Chicago Tribune.  His column living faith appeared in the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers from 1954 to 1975.


Sometimes it’s good to be alone

By Dr Harold Blake Walker

IN THE YEAR 1845 Henry Thoreau went to live on a small farm at Walden Pond near Concord Mass.  Having written nothing of significance, he was still unknown outside the circle of his Concord friends.  Two years in the home of Ralph Waldo Emerson and unhappy year of tutoring in New York City had taught him the importance of solitude.  His mind had not matured.  His ideas were Emerson’s and his style was Ellery Channing’s.  Intuitively Thoreau recognised he must find solitude to discover himself.

Living in a one-room cabin by a cove, undisturbed except by the songs of the wood thrush, the pounding of the woodpeckers, and the chattering of squirrels, Thoreau found himself.  His mind flowered and his pen scratched on with creative power.  Thoreau, in his solitude, made Walden Pond famous.

There is gentle irony in the fate of Walden Pond, for that lovely, wood-surrounded lake, by the shores of which Thoreau sought solitude and understanding, became a rail-road amusement park.  In due time it was rescued by the state of Massachusetts as a reservation.  There the memory of the poet-naturalist is hallowed by public baths, water slides, and boats for amorous couples.

What has happened to Walden Pond is but a symbol of what has happened to life as a whole.  Solitude has surrendered to activity and quietness has capitulated to busyness.  We have little enthusiasm for the quietness so eagerly sought after by Emerson and Thoreau, Hawthorne and Channing.  We do not quite understand the retreat of St.Francis to live among the birds, or the retirement of Jesus to the wilderness.

The characteristic vigour and drive of contemporary life have obscured a great truth, namely, that while there are some things we can wring from life by drive, energy, effort, and activity, there are other things life yields only to solitude.

We do not need to be told, for we know only too well, that, modern business awards it prizes to the energetic.  Its laurels are for the “go-getters” who can push and drive without ceasing.  Not quietness but noise sells automobiles and washing machines.

He sells most who shouts the loudest and often over the radio or from the printed page.  Not in solitude but in the turbulent marketplace do we find the treasures of the world.

Even the church has caught the contagion of contemporary spirit.  Within the church, we give ourselves to activity, not to meditation.  More and more we ministers are becoming promotion men, less and less are we mystics.  It takes much energy to organise and promote a church that there isn’t much time left for solitude.

But there are values for life that come only from the solitudes.  Activity and energy never give a man what Wordsworth called,

. . . that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude.

That is what troubled Giovanni Papini, whose energy and drive was notorious.  He commented with regret that his thinking was the thought of other men and his ideas were the ideas of others.  He never succeeded in being himself.  That is the trouble with all of us.  Our minds are crammed into moulds until we are as alike as peas in a pod, for insight and originality are the fruits of solitude.

Our generation is in need of men and women who will seek maturity of mind and serenity of spirit in solitude and bring the rest of us “the harvest of the quiet eye.”


teamSimon is a Sydney based digital designer. He is the Director of a boutique digital design studio, Bailey Street Design located in the vibrant inner west suburb of Newtown. Simon studied graphic design at Shillington College and specialises in web design for small and medium size businesses. Simon and his team (Toby the studio dog) are passionate about visual communication in the digital environment

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