On Friday, Sept. 22, UMF celebrated the life and work of author Henry David Thoreau. The event kicked off in the morning with a roundtable discussion, followed by a talk from guest speaker James Finley. Professors Steve Pane and Kristen Case performed a collaborative piece featuring Pane on piano and Case reading poetry. Finally, the symposium ended with a documentary by filmmaker Huey: Henry David Thoreau: Surveyor of the Soul.
James Finley delivered a thoughtful and thorough analysis of Thoreau’s collection, The Maine Woods. In his lecture, Finley offered insight into Thoreau’s appreciation for wilderness.
“I think his book The Maine Woods is fascinating as it is both an environmental book and a political book,” Finley said. “I think he liked how Maine wasn’t as developed as Massachusetts, so he could go canoeing for three weeks and not run into dams.”
“As a thinker, he never lands on one place and stays there,” Finley said in regards to what he found interesting about Thoreau. “He’s always rethinking and revising his thoughts.”
English professor Kristen Case collaborated with music professor Steve Pane on a performance that showcased their connection to Thoreau. Case read poetry inspired by Thoreau’s journal entries, and Pane accompanied her on piano. Pane also performed a solo piece (with a brief flute interlude).
Finally, the symposium ended with the documentary Henry David Thoreau: Surveyor of the Soul, directed by Huey. Surveyor of the Soul featured interviews from Thoreau scholars and a fitting soundtrack comprised of “tunes that Thoreau would have sang around the fire,” discovered when Huey flipped through the Thoreau family songbook.
Huey addressed many issues Thoreau would have with the world today; “There’s the issue of environmental ethics today, people chaining themselves to the White House fence, and also Standing Rock…” he said. “There’s all that, and Native Americans, they’re still struggling to get their rights, so I think that what he was touching upon are issues that we still haven’t fully resolved in our society.”
When an audience member asked Huey for his personal thoughts on Thoreau and if he felt the film rang true to him, Huey posed some questions of his own, including: “Who is Henry David Thoreau?”
The bicentennial symposium delivered multiple answers. Thoreau was an environmentalist, author, philosopher, rebel, and a friend of the finer things in life.
“He’s a special figure in American writing. We have a finite time to be on this planet, and Thoreau really makes you think about that,” Case said. “Are you really spending your days the way you want to? I think that’s a question we need to be asking.”