Cape Cod

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T. Y. Crowell & Company, 1908 - Cape Cod (Mass.) - 319 pages
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Cape Cod is the account of Henry David Thoreau’s experiences in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Through three visits to the cape, around 1850, Thoreau describes lands which “may seem strange and remote to my townsmen” (Chapter X). Starting at the beginning of his adventures, Thoreau conveys his impressions of the cape by describing its inhabitants and its natural surroundings and by using quotations.
In describing the inhabitants of Cape Cod, Thoreau explains how they acted around and towards him. One man asked him and his companion “at first, suspiciously, where we were from, and what our business was,” but let them spend the night and learn that the man “was an old Wellfleet oysterman who had acquired a competency in that business, and had sons still engaged in it” (Chapter V). In fact, the chapter entitled “The Wellfleet Oysterman” is about this man. Thoreau also quotes other authors to generalize about towns and their populations. His incorporation of this subject matter enriches the story and helps depict the times.
Thoreau uses numerous details about the landscape of Cape Cod to illustrate it for his readers. Combining his knowledge of English, Latin, and other languages, he describes the wildlife by their scientific names. When on a walk on the beach, Thoreau “found one stone on the top the bank, of a dark gray color, shaped exactly like a giant clam (Mactra solidissima), and of the same size,” and “on the shore, a small clam (Mesodesma arctata)” (Chapter VI). His extensive vocabulary when depicting the cape brings the narrative to a new level. This part of the book is vital to its being the classic it is.
To enlarge the story of the cape, Thoreau inserts many quotations from other authors. He feels that “there was no better way to make the reader realize how wide and peculiar that plain [the plain of Nauset] was, and how long it took to traverse it, than by inserting these extracts in the midst of my narrative” (Chapter IV). These quotations range from information about population of towns to comments about ministers and their reputations. Thoreau writes, “In an account of Eastham, in the ‘Historical Collections,’ it is said that, ‘more corn is produced than the inhabitants consume, and about a thousand bushels are annually sent to market’” (Chapter VI). He later comments, “The next minister settled here was the ‘Rev. Samuel Osborn, who was born in Ireland, and educated at the University of Dublin.’ He is said to be ‘A man of wisdom and virtue’” (Chapter III). Quotations like these also give the reader a glimpse into the times.
Henry David Thoreau gives us the experience of three trips woven into one through his book, Cape Cod, describing its inhabitants and its natural surroundings and including apt quotations. This narrative is pleasureful and captivating. Having vacationed in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, I found the book to be like a visit there and a trip back in time. I will end as Thoreau does so well in Chapter X: “A man may stand there and put all America behind him.”
 

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Page 218 - ... and whatever the sea casts up, — a vast morgue, where famished dogs may range in packs, and crows come daily to glean the pittance which the tide leaves them. The carcasses of men and beasts together lie stately up upon its shelf, rotting and bleaching in the sun and waves, and each tide turns them in their beds, and tucks fresh sand under them. There is naked Nature, — inhumanly sincere, wasting no thought on man, nibbling at the cliffy shore where gulls wheel amid the spray.
Page 220 - The ocean is a wilderness reaching round the globe, wilder than a Bengal jungle, and fuller of monsters, washing the very wharves of our cities and the gardens of our seaside residences. Serpents, bears, hyenas, tigers rapidly vanish as civilization advances, but the most populous and civilized city cannot scare a shark far from its wharves.
Page 134 - O what are all my sufferings here, If, Lord, thou count me meet With that enraptured host to appear, And worship at thy feet ! Give joy or grief, give ease or pain, Take life or friends away, But let me find them all again In that eternal day.
Page 216 - Merchants, never to be wrought out of that Trade, and fit for any other. I will not deny but others may gaine as well as they that will use it, though not so certainly, nor so much in...
Page 72 - A Description of the Eastern Coast of the County of Barustable, from Cape Cod, or Race Point, in Latitude 42 5'. to Cape Malebarre, or the Sandy Point of Chatham, in Latitude 41 33'.
Page 79 - Bahama, and the dashing, Silver-flashing Surges of San Salvador; From the tumbling surf, that buries The Orkneyan skerries, Answering the hoarse Hebrides; And from wrecks of ships, and drifting Spars, uplifting On the desolate, rainy seas, — Ever drifting, drifting, drifting On the shifting Currents of the restless main; Till in sheltered coves, and reaches Of sandy beaches, All have found repose again.
Page 7 - I saw many marble feet and matted heads as the cloths were raised, and one livid, swollen, and mangled body of a drowned girl,— who probably had intended to go out to service in some American family...
Page 82 - ... of the lyre, which ever lies on the shore; a ragged shred of ocean music tossed aloft on the spray. But if I were required to name a sound, the remembrance of which most perfectly revives the impression which the beach has made, it would be the dreary peep of the piping plover (Charadrius melodus) which haunts there. Their voices, too, are heard as a fugacious part in the dirge which is ever played along the shore for those mariners who have been lost in the deep since first it was created.
Page 79 - Seaweed WHEN descends on the Atlantic The gigantic Storm-wind of the equinox, Landward in his wrath he scourges The toiling surges, Laden with seaweed from the rocks: From Bermuda's reefs; from edges Of sunken ledges, In some far-off, bright Azore; From Bahama, and the dashing, Silver-flashing Surges of San Salvador; From the tumbling surf, that buries The Orkneyan skerries, Answering the hoarse Hebrides; And from wrecks of ships, and drifting Spars, uplifting On the desolate, rainy seas; — Ever...
Page 291 - November we came to an anchor in the bay, which is a good harbor and pleasant bay, circled round, except in the entrance which is about four miles over from land to land, compassed about to the very sea with oaks, pines, juniper, sassafras, and other sweet wood...

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