As I approach I’m first struck by the enormous rose quartz rock, a natural monument crag,
that marks Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grave, and I wonder when I see it whose idea it was
to place such a massive marker in memory of him, his or those who loved him?
If ego is indicated by how large a stone bears your name, then Thoreau’s wins the smaller contest.
It is so tiny that if you blink, you may miss it, just as you may miss his writing if you bury yourself
in Emerson’s voluminous output first, unable to surface to peruse Walden or “Civil Disobedience.”
Emerson fretted over Thoreau’s as a father might worry about his own son’s success.
If you read the eulogy he wrote for his misguided boy, you might wonder whether
Thoreau ever accomplished anything at all, for Emerson bemoans the many scattered interests
that distracted the avid naturalist from focusing on some one big purpose and pursuing it.
Personally, I would point to the Thoreaus’ pencil business and Henry David’s innovations there
as proof that he certainly made his mark on the history of writing implements,
even if Walden was barely read, Thoreau’s writing influence growing after him.
And when it comes to influential thought, how could you point to anything other
than that Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. were avid practitioners of non-violent protest,
advocating the Thoreau “Civil Disobedience” that marked demonstrations of the ‘60s and more?
I’m a fan of his work and wouldn’t suggest he’s not significant, but even if
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grave marker is mammoth and Henry David Thoreau’s minuscule,
I wonder whose ideas have been more influential, more historically monumental in the end.