Thoreau Journal: December 30, 1851

[The Death of a Tree]
 Hypertext Edition Notes
[page 162]
    This afternoon, being on Fair Haven Hill,
I heard the sound of a saw,
and soon after from the Cliff saw two men
sawing down a noble pine beneath,
about forty rods off.

I resolved to watch it till it fell,
the last of a dozen or more
which were left when the forest was cut
and for fifteen years have waved
in solitary majesty over the sprout-land.

I saw them like beavers or insects
gnawing at the trunk of this noble tree,
the diminutive manikins with their
cross-cut saw
which could scarcely span it.

It towered up a hundred feet
as I afterward found by measurement,
one of the tallest
in the township
and straight
as an arrow,
but slanting a little toward the hillside,
its top seen against the frozen river
and the hills of Conantum.

I watched closely to see
when it begins to move.

Now the sawers stop,
and with an axe
open it a little
on the side toward which it leans,
that it may break the faster.

And now their saw goes again.

Now surely it is going;
it is inclined one quarter of the quadrant,
and, breathless,
I expect this crashing fall.

But no, I was mistaken;
it has not moved an inch;
it stands at the same angle as at first.

It is fifteen minutes yet to its fall.

Still its branches wave in the wind,
as if it were destined to stand
for a century,
and the wind soughs through
its needles as of yore;
it is still a forest tree,
the most majestic tree
that waves over Musketaquid.

The silvery sheen of the sunlight
is reflected from its needles;
it still affords
an inaccessible crotch for the squirrel's nest;
not a lichen
has forsaken its mast-like stem,
its raking mast, -- the hill is the hulk.

Now, now's the moment!

The manikins at is base
are fleeing from their crime.

They have [page 163] dropped
the guilty saw and axe.

How slowly and majestically it starts!
as if it were only swayed by a summer breeze,
and would return without a sigh
to its location in the air.

And now it fans the hillside with its fall,
and it lies down
to its bed
in the valley,
from which
it is never to rise,
as softly
as a feather,
folding its green mantle
about it like a warrior,
as if, tired of standing,
it embraced the earth
with silent joy,
returning its elements
to the dust again.

But hark!
there you only saw,
but did not hear.

There now comes up a deafening
to these rocks,
advertising you that even trees
do not die
without a groan.

It rushes to embrace the earth,
and mingle its elements
with the dust.

And now all is still once more
and forever,
both to eye and ear.

    I went down
and measured it.

It was about four feet
in diameter where it was sawed,
about one hundred feet long.

Before I had reached it
the axemen
had already
half divested it
of its branches.

Its gracefully spreading top
was a perfect wreck on  the hillside
as if it had been made of glass,
and the tender cones
of one year's growth upon its summit
appealed in vain
and too late
to the mercy
of the chopper.

Already he has measured it
with his axe, and
marked off
the mill-logs
it will make.

And the space it occupied
in the upper air
is vacant
for the next
two centuries.

It is lumber.

He has laid waste the air.

When the fish hawk in the spring
revisits the banks of the Musketaquid,
he will circle in vain
to find his accustomed perch,
and the hen-hawk
will mourn
for the pines
lofty enough
to protect her brood.

A plant which it has taken
two centuries
to [page 164] perfect,
rising by slow stages
into the heavens,
has this afternoon

Its sapling top had expanded to this
January thaw as the
forerunner of summers to come.

Why does not the
village bell
sound a knell?

I hear no knell

I see no procession
of mourners in the streets,
or the woodland aisles.

The squirrel has leaped to another tree;
the hawk has circled further off,
and has now settled upon a new
eyrie, but the woodman
is preparing [to] lay his axe
at the root
of that

. . . . . . .
[page 169]

    The pine I saw fall
yesterday measured
one hundred and five feet,
and was about ninety four years old.

There was one still larger lying beside it,
one hundred and fifteen feet long,
ninety-six years old,
four feet diameter
the longest way.

The tears were streaming
from the sap-wood
-- about twenty circles -- of each,
pure amber

    Through the drizzling fog,
now just before nightfall,
I see from the Cliffs the
dark cones
of pine trees
that rise above the level of the tree-tops,
and can trace a few elm tree tops where
a farmhouse hides beneath.

    Denuded pines stand in the clearings with
no old [page 170] cloak
to wrap
about them,
only the apexes
of their cones entire,
telling a pathetic story
of the companions that
clothed them.

So stands a man.

It is clearing around him.

He has no companions
on the hills.

The lonely traveller,
looking up,
wonders why he
was left
when his companions
were taken.

Hypertext Edition Notes:
Transcribed and prepared in hypertext markup language by Joanne E. Gates. Pagination from the 1906 edition of Thoureau's Writings.  Hypertext editing included lining the passages, adding the bracketed title, and connecting the first paragraphs to last with a deletion represented by the ellipsis. Each sentence is its own stanza.  No punctuation is altered. Indented lines here reproduce the paragraphs of the original.

MLA Citation:

Throeau, Henry David.  "Thoreau Journal: December 30, 1851 [The Death of a Tree]." Excerpt from The Writings of Henry David Thoureau. Vol. 3.  Journal. September 16, 1851-April 30, 1852. Ed. Bradford Torrey. 1906. Hypertext ed. Joanne E. Gates.  Pagination and punctuation conforms to this edition. Available on the Internet from March 2000. [date of access]. On-line at <>.

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