subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh

hly2004

Banned
chinese
Hi,everyone:

Could you please tell me the meaning of the following sentences, especially the red part

The portionless, who struggle with no such unnecessary inherited encumbrances, find it labor enough to subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh.

Here's the context
< Link no longer works. >

Best wishes.

< Broken link removed by moderator. >
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • gregitaliano

    Senior Member
    england
    Hi

    People without money (portionless) take their spiritual reward from humble activities like tilling the earth. They do not have the false rewards of money and position to put them out of touch with real life (in the writer's view!) I have read this book!

    Greg
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    find it labor enough to subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh.

    So, what are these few cubic feet of flesh that the portionless labour to subdue?
     

    arietenata

    Senior Member
    italian
    Hi there,

    I have a problem which has been already discussed < ---- > but I still don't understand the same part, I mean the bold part.

    " The portionless, who struggles with no such unnecessary inherited encumbrances, find it labor enough to subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh.
    from Walden

    Could you help me, please?

    < Question added to this discussion by moderator. >
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    The portionless (those who have not inherited wealth and/or land) find that they have enough to do just taking care of their own body and soul, (adding a load of material possessions to our worries only makes life harder for us).

    This is how I see it: The metaphor is of digging, preparing and cultivating the rough soil (taming the human body and cultivating the human mind).
     

    Mahantongo

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    I agree with velisarius (and note with regret that the earlier answers given were mistaken.) In Thoreau's day, the ownership of land was the most common way of calculating wealth. If you have inherited land, that land is your "portion" of your parents' wealth. Thoreau says that those who own much land have the burden of working on that land, and cultivating it to produce a crop (and thus more wealth.) Thoreau believes it is enough trouble just to subdue your own mind and soul (which are housed in your body: the "few cubic feet of flesh"), and to cultivate yourself so that you are a good and wise person. If you also have to spend time taking care of property, however, you are encumbered, or hindered, in that work. Those who are "portionless" -- that is, those who inherit nothing, and have no property -- do not have this trouble; they can spend all of their effort on improving themselves, rather than improving their property.

    Think, for example, of a Franciscan friar who thinks it is better spiritually to have no personal possessions, and you will grasp what Thoreau is saying.
     
    The human is only about 2.5 cubic feet. That's very 'few'.
    I suspect the author is talking about someone, like a farmer, who raises animals,
    such as pigs.
    He speaks of those with great barns and inherited wealth; the other
    end is the poor farmer with a couple pigs.

    It is possible that the flesh is the person's own, but I doubt it;
    speaking of subduing and cultivating it seems odd, and it's not
    a way to earn a living. The chapter is on economics. If monks
    get by on alms, 'suduing their flesh,' I don't think that's relevant.

    The point seems to be that the wealthy guy is impossibly burdened,
    but this issue affect even those lower on the economic scale.

    The original is at
    https://glose.com/book/walden/economy/e6240#31

    I urge posters to read it.
     
    Last edited:

    Mahantongo

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    I definitely see the flesh as the person's own; the "portionless" man owns nothing but himself -- and subduing and cultivating yourself is care enough , according to Thoreau.
     
    One can't survive in life, doing such unless, as nowadays, you're a model or fitness instructor.
    The usual 'subduers' in the author's time might be monks, but they're hardly part of the
    economy if they live on alms. And, there are damn few of them.

    I definitely see the flesh as the person's own; the "portionless" man owns nothing but himself -- and subduing and cultivating yourself is care enough , according to Thoreau.
     

    Mahantongo

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    One can't survive in life, doing such unless, as nowadays, you're a model or fitness instructor.
    The usual 'subduers' in the author's time might be monks, but they're hardly part of the
    economy if they live on alms. And, there are damn few of them.
    But isn't that the whole theme of "Walden"? Thoreau "dropped out" of the economy, living (with Emerson's permission) in his little cabin in a clearing on Emerson's land next to Walden Pond for two years -- and the only thing Thoreau cultivated there besides himself was a bean field, which can't count as "flesh".
     
    Mahan,
    Upon further reflection I partially agree with you; 'own person' is involved, most likely, not pigs.

    But Thoreau is hardly talking about people like himself who can 'self cultivate' and live off
    beans.

    I think Thoreau is talking about the ordinary laborer who has to maintain himself ( the 3 cubic
    feet of flesh. Later on he says,

    Most men, even in this comparatively free country...are so occupied with factitious care and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them. ... The laboring man has not leisure for a true integrity, day by day....He has no time to be anything but a machine.


    This is an almost Marxist theme: the worker struggles to maintain physical existance, and the capitalist pays just enough for such maintenance and for the worker to reproduce himself.


    But isn't that the whole theme of "Walden"? Thoreau "dropped out" of the economy, living (with Emerson's permission) in his little cabin in a clearing on Emerson's land next to Walden Pond for two years -- and the only thing Thoreau cultivated there besides himself was a bean field, which can't count as "flesh".
     

    Austere Agamemnon

    New Member
    English
    Hi,everyone:

    Could you please tell me the meaning of the following sentences, especially the red part

    The portionless, who struggle with no such unnecessary inherited encumbrances, find it labor enough to subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh.

    Here's the context
    < Link no longer works. >

    Best wishes.

    < Broken link removed by moderator. >
    The context of the quote is a joke or jest. The word portionless describes someone with no DOWRY or inheritance. And Thoreau is speaking of the land that farmers' sons inherit prior to this statement, "cubic feet of flesh". He very well could be speaking about finding a female to get as a wife and cultivating the flesh as the act of creating a family.

    In his following pages he speaks of the fruitless endeavors of working that land and working so hard to leave " something to be tucked away in an old chest, or any stocking behind the plastering, or, more safely, in the brick Bank". Thoreau is speaking about leaving a legacy by working. But by subduing and cultivating flesh, or "creating a family after courting a female" aka subduing her, you have done so without devoting your life to working your bones to dust.

    He's playing up the fact that creating a family is the real point to life. And that money possessions and wealth are overrated. Thoreau is austere. Banging a girl is natural.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top