Tag Archives: symbolism

Thoreau the philosopher: The hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove

The following quote of Henry David Thoreau reflects a symbolism, rather deep I suspect, of three sentient beings: dog, horse and dove (bird).  Historians and literary scholars speculate these lost animals never existed.  Like so many queries, further research is necessary.  My quick and dirty (fast, not slow or deep) study assumes that they did exist AND they represent Thoreau’s tangential thinking.  In part, the dog is companionship, friendship, association; the horse is the passion and energy of men and women; and the dove is the transcendental quality, possessed by all men, to break the bonds of family, religion, nation and materialism.

I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove, and am still on their trail. Many are the travelers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I have met one or two who have heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.

~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854).

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And, in association with such tracking and calling, I submit my own experiences with hound, horse and bird:

Come here, boy, come here. I hear the rustle of grass and juniper brush before I see my hound.

One long high whistle, followed by three low-toned whistles. The gallop towards me grows louder, the ground shakes and earth is a-flying.

The dove comes back to be with its own kind, a cooing ensues and a dance. I reach inside their loft — they are accustomed to me — and pick one gently up and as I stroke its breast, it sleeps, head tucked under its wing. I lay it gently down and in the morning’s light it disappears behind the clouds.

* * *

Not trying to be didactic or professorial (I hate that, even in my own classroom), what do you think about Thoreau’s quote?  Should this quote be taken literally?  Symbolically?  Or both?  I’ll expect your comments by September 1, or I will have to check the non-compliance box next to your name.  So, let’s get on with the punishment, shall we?

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Notes, corrections and additions:

The original post contained only Thoreau’s quote and my three extrapolations about hound, horse and dove.  I added the first paragraph before the quote and added the questions at the end of the post.  The photographs have also been added — all additions occurred August 27, 2011.

I originally started re-reading Thoreau for a variety of reasons, especially searching for irony and wit in his writing, but I got side-tracked with this quote.

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Filed under Life in Balance, Nature Quote of the Day, Quote of the Day