Published on Academy of American Poets (

from "Thoreau"


In the essay “A Winter Walk,” which predated the more famous essay “Walking”
by a few years, Thoreau paid particular attention to the astonishing array of whites

from fog to snow to frost to the crystals growing outward on threads of light. The
fact that white is separately known. That it is its own wildness, entirely exterior,

like all weather you notice is a version of an open room coming through
the wind in prisms. White holds light in a suspended state, unleashing it later

across a field of snow or a sheet of water at just the right angle to make the surface
a solid, and on we go walking. Goethe’s Theory of Colors depicted each one

as an intense zone of human activity overflowing its object into feeling there is
a forest through which something white is flying through a wash of white, which is

the presence of all colors until red, for instance, is needed for a bird or green
for a world.


Copyright @ 2014 by Cole Swensen. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 2, 2014.

About this Poem

“Thoreau was, among so many other things, a marvelous walker; he used walking not only as a mode of transportation but also as mode of observation—it allowed him to see his world, not just with his eyes, but with his entire body. This piece is from a series that tries to capture the rhythm of that intimate engagement.”

—Cole Swensen


Cole Swensen

Born in 1955, Cole Swensen is the author of more than ten poetry collections, including Landscapes on a Train (Nightboat Books, 2015). She is coeditor with David St. John of the anthology American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry (W. W. Norton, 2009).

Date Published: 2014-07-02

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