- Saunter/Sans Terre
How womankind, who are confined to the house still more than men, stand it I do not know; but I have ground to suspect that most of them do not stand it at all.henry david thoreau, from “Walking”
Henry David Thoreau, whose birth name was transposed, David Henry, wrote “Walking,” how to get lost and find yourself awake
on the Earth without borders, for to saunter was to be “sans terre,” an itinerant “without a land or a home, but equally
at home everywhere,” a Holy-Lander emerging from the mist without a map, having forgotten everything learned by rote.
Henry David Thoreau (David Henry) was a narcoleptic and opened readers’ eyes yet couldn’t help closing his, and stepping through the mirror
into the reverse forest of dream: a pair of indigo buntings land iridescent on a deer path unmarked
even by gravel—flashes of indigo, spectral color, appear in the air before a wanderer’s eyes— and their tiny shining [End Page 14]
casts a spell upon attention. Then they land and peck between pebbles and leaves for some seeds to eat.
Henry David wanted men to wake up in “absolute Freedom and Wildness,” “part and parcel of Nature,”
in a landscape not partitioned or owned by gentlemen multiplying fences, keeping their “pleasure-grounds” private.
Thoreau, who might doze off into his soup, berated the State: “half-witted . . . timid as a lone woman with her silver spoons.”
Yet lone women read his essay about a night in jail, “the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor.”
Thoreau fell asleep for good before his “Walking” made it into print, before he could see the counterpart in his dream—”some part of us
awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night”—who, sans terre, by law owned by father and husband, became
a Holy-Lander of the soul: “out of such wildness comes the reformer, eating locusts and honey,”
uncivil, disobedient, strong-boned— a woman sauntering far, far from the confines of the home. [End Page 15]
Aliki Barnstone is a poet, translator, critic, and editor. Among her books are Bright Body (White Pine), Dear God, Dear Dr. Heartbreak: New and Selected Poems (Sheep Meadow), Madly in Love, which was reissued as a Carnegie Mellon Classic Contemporary in 2014, and The Collected Poems of C. P. Cavafy: A New Translation (Norton). She is professor of English at the University of Missouri.