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Henry David Thoreau

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 06 May 2012

Mark Tully assesses Henry David Thoreau's influence, 150 years after his death. Advocate of the simple life, champion of emancipation, and fervent opponent of government interference in the lives of citizens, Thoreau's 19th century ideals have inspired civil rights leaders from Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King.

Mark Tully looks not just at Thoreau's famous writings expressing his remarkable affinity with the American outdoors, but at his political activism too, and the legacy it has left around the world. From tax avoidance, to his opposition to slavery, Thoreau was an ardent supporter of the ordinary person. His passionate ideas inspired thinkers and humanitarians, as well as generations of writers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman and WB Yeats.

Musicians and composers too, were moved to pay tribute to Thoreau and the programme includes works by such diverse fans as Charles Ives and Pink Floyd.

In asking what we can learn today from the writer of the American classic Walden, Mark Tully reassesses Thoreau's message for the 21st century.

Producer: Adam Fowler
A Unique production for BBC Radio 4.

Music Played

5 items
  • Image for Charles Ives

    Charles Ives Concord Sonata

    Performer: Marc-André Hamelin

    Ives Concord Sonata, Barber Piano Sonata: Marc-André Hamelin, Hyperion, CDA67469

  • Image for Pink Floyd

    Pink Floyd Time

    Performer: Pink Floyd

    Dark Side of the Moon, EMI, 29876

  • Image for Terry Gilkyson

    Terry Gilkyson Bare Necessities

    Performer: Phil Harris and Bruce Reitherman

    The Jungle Book Original Soundtrack, Disney Records, 860704

  • Image for Ludwig van Beethoven

    Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony No.6, Pastoral

    Performer: Berliner Philharmoniker directed by Herbert von Karajan

    Beethoven: Symphonien Nr.5&6, Deutsche Grammophon, 413932-2

  • Image for Thomas Banks

    Thomas Banks Long Walk to D.C.

    Performer: The Staple Singers

    The Very Best of the Staple Singers, UMC, 30295

  • Readings and Music

    Title: Walden
    Author: Henry David Thoreau
    Publisher: Oxford World’s Classics
    ISBN-10: 0199538069

    Title: ‘Piute Creek’ from Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems
    Author: Gary Snyder
    Publisher: North Point Press
    ISBN-10: 0865474567

    Title: ‘Life Without Principles’ from Civil Disobedience: Solitude and Life Without Principles
    Author: Henry David Thoreau
    Publisher: Prometheus Books
    ISBN-10: 1573922021

    Title: ‘In Paths Untrodden’ from The Complete Poems of Walt Whitman
    Author: Walt Whitman
    Publisher: Wordsworth
    ISBN-10: 1853264334

    Title: ‘Higher Law’ from Resistance to Civil Government
    Author: Henry David Thoreau
    Publisher: Warfield Press
    ISBN-10: 0984155972

    Title: ‘Woodnotes’ from English Poetry from Tennyson to Waltman
    Author: Ralph Waldo Emerson
    Publisher: Kessinger Publishing
    ISBN-10: 0766181952

    Title: ‘Thoreau’s Flute’ from The Poems of Louisa May Alcott
    Author: Louisa May Alcott
    Publisher: Ironweed Press Inc
    ISBN-10: 0965530957

    Something Understood is a Unique production for BBC Radio 4.


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