Henry David Thoreau penned the following lines in his journal on July 27, 1840. I just happened to read them last night, while perusing his journal entries for July 27 before going to bed on July 26:
“Language is the most perfect art in the world.
The chisel of a thousand years retouches it.”
I like the concept of the written word lasting perfectly and forever. The immortality of great thoughts expressed. Language as something carved out of time. Our lives may be brief, but perfect art lives for thousands of years.
This was his last entry for five months; there’s no more published Thoreau journal until January 23, 1841. I’m sure much has been written about this Gap — perhaps it resulted from one of his extended illnesses? — but at the moment the Gap just struck me as spooky bedtime reading, so I closed the hardcover tome and retired for the night.
This morning I sat down to go over my notes on Thoreau’s first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, which I recently began reading. At the end of the “Saturday” chapter, I had underlined: “Language is the most perfect art in the world. The chisel of a thousand years retouches it.”
Here were Thoreau’s exact same words, published in A Week in 1849, nine years after he first wrote them! Now it’s July 27 again (2013). I don’t think the chisel of time has yet found any reason for retouching.