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Battle Essay

1884 words - 8 pages

The iDeal Reader

Henry David Thoreau, ‘‘The
Battle of the Ants’’

© The McGraw−Hill
Companies, 2000

Henry David Thoreau

(1817–1862), transcendentalist essayist, naturalist, editor, and social
critic, was born David Henry Thoreau in Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau graduated from
Harvard University and taught briefly at a school in Concord but resigned rather than be expected
to strike his students. He ran his own school from 1838 to 1841, teaching Latin, Greek, and science.
In 1938 Thoreau also began lecturing, which he continued intermittently, often emphasizing his
strong opposition to slavery, but his message was not always well received. Thoreau began his
lifelong ...view middle of the document...

This experience led
to the lecture written as “Resistance to Civil Government” and published as his best-known essay,
“Civil Disobedience.” In 1857 Thoreau met John Brown and wrote “A Plea for Captain John Brown,”
which became his most widely read piece during his lifetime, although it failed to save Brown.
He even called for Massachusetts to secede from the Union in “Slavery in Massachusetts” (1854).
Other of his well-known works are Cape Cod (1865) and The Maine Woods (1864). According to
his sister Sophia, Thoreau’s last words, as he died of tuberculosis, were, “Now comes good sailing.”

The Battle of the Ants
Henry David Thoreau
One day when I went out to my wood-pile, or rather my pile of stumps, I observed
two large ants, the one red, the other much larger, nearly half an inch long, and black,
fiercely contending with one another. Having once got hold they never let go, but
struggled and wrestled and rolled on the chips incessantly. Looking farther, I was surprised to find that the chips were covered with such combatants, that it was not a
duellum, but a bellum,1 a war between two races of ants, the red always pitted against
the black, and frequently two red ones to one black. The legions of these Myrmidons2
covered all the hills and vales in my woodyard, and the ground was already strewn
with the dead and dying, both red and black. It was the only battle which I have ever
witnessed, the only battle-field I ever trod while the battle was raging; internecine
war; the red republicans on the one hand, the black imperialists on the other. On
every side they were engaged in deadly combat, yet without any noise that I could
hear, and human soldiers never fought so resolutely. I watched a couple that were fast
1 not

a duellum . . . bellum not a duel but a war.
soldiers who followed the Greek warrior Achilles. Myrmes is the Greek word for ant.

2 Myrmidons


The iDeal Reader

Henry David Thoreau, ‘‘The
Battle of the Ants’’

© The McGraw−Hill
Companies, 2000

locked in each other’s embraces, in a little sunny valley amid the chips, now at noonday prepared to fight till the sun went down, or life went out. The smaller red champion had fastened himself like a vise to his adversary’s front, and through all the
tumblings on that field never for an instant ceased to gnaw at one of his feelers
near the root, having already caused the other to go by the board; while the stronger
black one dashed him from side to side, and, as I saw on looking nearer, had already
divested him of several of his members. They fought with more pertinacity than
bulldogs. Neither manifested the least disposition to retreat. It was evident that their
battle-cry was “Conquer or die.” In the meanwhile there came along a single red ant
on the hillside of this valley, evidently full of excitement, who either had dispatched
his foe, or had not yet taken part in the battle; probably the latter, for he had lost
none of his limbs;...

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