Thoreau’s Extra-vagant Sublime and the Milder Majesty of Nature

In: Thoreau in an Age of Crisis
Ronald Wesley Hoag
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In “Thoreau’s Extra-vagant Sublime and the Milder Majesty of Nature,” Ronald Wesley Hoag revisits Thoreau’s Ktaadn epiphany, which remains a Gordian knot to many scholars and readers. Hoag broadens and deepens insights first presented in his landmark 1982 essay on Thoreau’s peak experience on the high tablelands of Mount Ktaadn, “The Mark on the Wilderness: Thoreau’s Contact with Ktaadn.” Here, Hoag’s intent is to contextualize Thoreau’s understanding of the sublime in wider arcs, to include not only rugged mountain plateaus but also cultural and pastoral landscapes such as those of Thoreau’s native Concord. Marshalling evidence from the full spectrum of Thoreau’s writings, including his correspondence, college essays, and Journal, Hoag argues that Thoreau’s evocations of a harsher and unsettling sublime were always tempered by milder understandings of the concept—that, to Thoreau, not only distant peaks but familiar gardens, when properly perceived, generate awe and astonishment.

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