Saunter/Sans Terre
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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

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.

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