Pooh of Walden Pond

By Jason Arbaugh-Twitty, 1996

Originally published in The Philomathean, a journal of Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, Virginia, when Mr. Arbaugh-Twitty was an English major.

Thoreau Reader: Home - American Transcendentalism


IT IS DOUBTFUL that A.A. Milne had read the Transcendental writings of Henry David Thoreau or followed them voraciously when he wrote and published Winnie-the-Pooh and subsequently The House at Pooh Corner in Great Britain. It is doubtful that Milne ever planned for Walden Pond's existence within the Hundred Acre Wood. It is doubtful that Milne, in his stories for his son, planned on creating a "how-to" book for living the ideal Transcendental life. In Pooh Milne created an eternal and universal hero that is never exactly right, exactly wrong, or exactly sure of his stance on any level of existence. Pooh simply lives by simple means and simple rules, but Pooh is far from simple. Pooh is complex and often misunderstood, and his naive, simplistic life is not one easily achieved nor easily enjoyed by just any inhabitant of the Hundred Acre Wood. Pooh is in fact a Transcendentalist, and a perfect model for children and adults that want a happy, peaceful life in harmony with both themselves and nature, free of strife and materialistic worries.

[2]    Thoreau, like Pooh, lived alone in the woods with a number of friends near to him but not overwhelmingly close. Thoreau lived frugally: eating what he gained by his own hand, building his own shelter (not elaborate but sufficient), and walking about in nature studying the patterns of life and gaining insight. Pooh never really realizes that he is gaining insight, and perhaps he is not really doing so. Pooh is free from complications. If one looks at him as a person and not a stuffed toy throughout most of the books one sees him as a real character one sees someone who has no concept of an outside, materialistic force that seems to drive creatures like Owl and Rabbit. Pooh is content as long as he visits with his friends regularly and has a "smackeral of something" around eleven o'clock each day, and hums a "new hum" every so often. Pooh's life is without the worry of planting a garden and gaining materialistic success (Rabbit), the endless pursuit of useless knowledge to confuse everyone else (Owl), the constant pessimism and depression that comes from too much interaction with unimportant worldly matters (Eeyore), and the nervous insecurity that is a result of an unsure character without a grasp on his true self (Piglet).

[3]    While Thoreau's vagabond ways are not truly practical, if even possible, in today's society, neither are Pooh's. However, the models and ideals that Pooh and Thoreau represent can be molded and shaped into concrete patterns that individuals can incorporate into their own lives in order to instill a certain amount of tranquility. One must shun every materialistic tie, and follow Pooh into the forest and find him/herself sitting with Pooh thinking "Grand Thoughts about Nothing, until he, too, closes his eyes and nods his head, and follows us on tip-toe into the Forest" (Milne, Corner unnumbered). In this forest, one may find a bit of Truth, a bit of joy, and a bit of one's self once thought lost with the loss of childhood.

[4]    Thoreau quotes Confucius in the opening pages of Walden as saying "To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge" (1122). True knowledge lies in realizing limitations and emphasizing one's strengths. Pooh's knowledge seems little. In fact, he is characterized and referred to as "A Bear of Very Little Brain" (Milne 50). However, Pooh's uncomplicated reasoning and simplified thought processes allow his plans and schemes more success than Rabbit's or the others' more complicated and confusing ones. When Eeyore loses his tail, Pooh goes searching for it. He first goes to Owl, the resident scholar and philosopher, to seek help. Owl starts rambling about "customary procedure" or "Crustimoney Proseedcakell" (Milne 50) and confuses Pooh with his vast knowledge of nothing. Owl thinks Christopher Robin should write the reward signs since he wrote the signs for Owl's door.

But Owl went on and on, using longer and longer words, until at last he came back to where he started, and he explained that the person to write out this notice was Christopher Robin. (Milne 51)

For some time now Pooh had been saying "Yes" and "No" in turn, with his eyes shut, to all that Owl was saying, and having said, "Yes, yes," last time, he said "No, not at all," now, without really knowing what Owl was talking about. (Milne 52)

[5]    When Pooh goes outside to view the signs so they can begin to implement Owl's wondrous plan, he notices that the bellrope is Eeyore's tail. Pooh's innocence and ability to remain constantly calm and placid led him straight to the end of his quest without his knowing he had ever begun. His naive brilliance seems always to move him farther than Owl's intelligent ignorance, for in the beginning it was Owl that mistook Eeyore's tail for a bell-rope. Thoreau had a strong distaste for those who pretended great worldly knowledge yet had no practical sense to use it. Pretended knowledge can be viewed as a luxury, a materialistic gem, that has no place in the natural, spiritual, and intelligent world of the forest.
Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only  indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor. (Thoreau 1123)
[6]    Owl lives in great luxury with his material wealth and printed signs on his door, but his spirituality will never lie in the same realm as that of Pooh, who is at home in the wild woods of his home; Pooh has more intelligence than any of his counterparts ever credit him with having. Pooh is poor yet very wise and rich, but Owl will never see that truth. Owl is a member of  "... that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all ..." (Thoreau 1124).

[7]    Eeyore is a strict pessimist. He is the constant dark cloud over everyone else's sunny day. He is always pondering this and contemplating that and the only answers he finds are negative. His constant darkness is a direct result of his constant thinking about everything. The following examples illustrate how different he and Pooh are on the same day and follow the previous comments on materialism, wealth, knowledge, and how the Transcendentalist (the wise man) fits in. To the materialistic man, knowledge, wealth, and the pretensions of both are all the same.

The old gray donkey, Eeyore, stood by himself in a thistly corner of the forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, "Why?" and sometimes he thought, "Wherefore?" and sometimes he thought, "Inasmuch as which?" and sometimes he didn't quite know what he was thinking about. So when Winnie-the-Pooh came stumping along, Eeyore was very glad to be able to stop thinking for a little, in order to say "How do you do?" in a gloomy manner to him. (Milne 45)
[8]    Pooh, being faced with finding Eeyore's tail, starts out on a serious mission, but the pervading details in the narrative are of what Pooh sees despite the gravity of his task.
It was a fine spring morning in the forest as he started out. Little soft clouds played happily in a blue sky, skipping from time to time in front of the sun as if they had come to put it out, and then sliding away suddenly so that the next might have his turn. (Milne 47)
[9]    Perhaps Pooh himself could have hummed this poem to Owl, Eeyore and Rabbit:
Men say they know many things;
But lo! they have taken wings,
The arts and sciences,
And a thousand appliances;
The wind that blows
Is all that anybody knows. (Thoreau 1136)
[10]    "... the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run" (Thoreau 1131). The idea behind this statement is that the simplest structure or way of life is just as effective as the most expensive or elaborate one. A million dollar mansion costs more than a million dollars because one must work one-half to three quarters of one's life to pay for it. The missed experience due to working all the time voids the entire worth of the accomplishment and, therefore, one's life. By building a simple, sufficient shelter in a short amount of time, one is free to take the time to experience life to its fullest extent. This experience and the pleasures derived from it are what makes one's life wealthy.

[11]    No one in the forest knows it is Eeyore's birthday until Eeyore himself tells Pooh. Now Pooh is faced with the dilemma of finding a present for Eeyore. Pooh starts bringing a pot of honey to Eeyore, but, as it is a long trip, gets hungry on the way and stops to eat. When he is finished, he realizes that he has eaten all the honey. But Pooh, the simple genius that he is, decides to give Eeyore a "Useful Pot to Keep Things In" (Milne 81). Necessity, invention, self-preservation, and a thought for others led to Pooh's development of the perfect present. Others try to get Pooh's pot for their own present, but Pooh insists on each doing his share. Pooh's Transcendental nature demands that each care for himself if he is able to do so. Piglet is in a great hurry to be back to Eeyore's before Pooh, and in the process falls and bursts the balloon he is giving Eeyore.

He [Piglet] held it [the balloon] very tightly against himself, so that it shouldn't blow away, and he ran as fast as he could so as to get to Eeyore's before Pooh did; for he thought that he would like to be the first one to give a present, just as if he had thought of it without being told by anybody. And running along, and thinking how pleased Eeyore would be, he didn't look where he was going . . . and suddenly he put his foot in a rabbit hole, and fell down flat on his face. BANG!!!???""!!! (Milne 83)
[12]    Greed, deception, and pride destroyed even the best of Piglet's intentions. "But Eeyore wasn't listening. He was taking the [busted] balloon out, and putting it back again, as happy as could be ..." (Milne 89). Simple, caring gifts are enough to please a friend. The love between friends makes the difference in Eeyore's birthday, not who was first with the present. There is no need for expensive gifts or huge parties. Pooh and Piglet give Eeyore gifts that they had and that are not really that nice, but the sentiment given along with the gift makes Eeyore very happy. This idea fits superbly with Thoreau's ideology.

[13]    Thoreau states "... I mean that they should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end" (1140). This means, easily enough, that one should do something and experience life instead of talking about it or doing it halfheartedly while pretending to grasp the same experience as those who are in the midst of life's parlor. Pooh is one to do something without a lot of pontification. Rabbit or Owl will plot and plan themselves into complacency and inactivity, but Pooh is always the one who seems to be first when doing or seeing something is involved. In The House at Pooh Corner, Rabbit's cousin Small is lost, and Rabbit concocts a grand scheme to find him.

"Now," said Rabbit, "this is a Search, and I've Organized it "

"Done what to it?" said Pooh.

"Organized it. Which means well, it's what you do to a Search, when you don't all look in the same place at once. So I want you, Pooh, to search by the Six Pine Trees first, and then work your way towards Owl's House, and look out for me there. Do you see?"

"No," said Pooh. "What ,"

"Then I'll see you at Owl's House in about an hour's time."

"Is Piglet organized too?"

"We all are," said Rabbit, and off he went. As soon as Rabbit was out of sight, Pooh remembered that he had forgotten to ask who Small was, and whether he was the sort of friend-and-relation who settled on one's nose, or the sort who got trodden on by mistake, and as it was Too Late Now, he thought he would begin the Hunt by looking for Piglet, and asking him what they were looking for before he looked for it. (Milne 40)

[14]    Pooh first makes a simpler list of priorities to begin his search, but while daydreaming on his way to find Piglet, he falls into a hole, a Heffalump trap as it is, and unknowingly lands on and "finds" Piglet. He has completed part of his task already through doing without extensive, mind-boggling Organization. He and Piglet sit in the hole for some time discussing Heffalumps and traps until Christopher Robin comes and rescues them. When Pooh is out of the hole, Piglet discovers Small crawling on Pooh's back. Pooh has found Small as well and with no help from Rabbit's extravagant Organization. Pooh walked out to search without thinking, which seems to be how Pooh does a lot of things, and came upon the answer to his problem without ever once going into one of Rabbit's thinking frenzies. Had their search been left up to Rabbit and his Organization, it is unclear whether or not Small would ever have been found.

[15]    Thoreau believes that nature is universal and unowned. He feels that no man has domain over nature, and one should sit surrounded by nature and the truths of life will be exposed to the one who takes the time to notice them. Pooh has his own Thoughtful Spot that he and Piglet share and he makes up a "hum" about it:

This warm and sunny Spot
Belongs to Pooh.
And here he wonders
what He's going to do.
Oh, bother, I forgot
It's Piglet's too. (Milne, Corner 128)
[16]    Pooh and Piglet decide to celebrate the beauty of living and of friendship and go to wish Rabbit, "whose life was made up of Important Things" (Milne Corner 30), a happy Thursday, but Rabbit is disappointed because he feels that they have come with no other reason than just wanting to visit with him. The triviality of Rabbit's constantly purposeful nature is pointedly expressed in the following conversation between Pooh and Piglet.
"Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully.

"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever."

"And he has Brain."

"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brain."

There was a long silence.

"I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything "
(Milne, Corner 131)

[17]    Pooh's attitude toward life, as does Thoreau's, seems trivial, immature, and unrealistic at times. But however childlike and simplistic they are, they are both immensely successful. Both Thoreau and Pooh lived lives of contentment and free of want while in the woods. They lived simple lives full of joys, Grand Thoughts, and with lots of friends surrounding them. Actually some of Thoreau's friends are even represented by Pooh's. Owl is the great ponderer and genius yet never fully expresses himself so everyone can understand him and resembles Ralph Emerson. Eeyore, the dark cloud of the peaceful forest, who is constantly pessimistic and has given up on the world reminds one of Hawthorne and/or Melville. Rabbit is reminiscent of the busy, industrious, materialistic society that has no time to visit without purpose or cannot understand simply doing nothing. Piglet is yet another side of society. He is trapped between the worlds of Pooh and Rabbit. He represents that facet of society that is not quite sure where its ideals lie. He is drawn to the natural world of Pooh, yet feels like he should be busy like Rabbit. Mixed in with Owl's Brain and Eeyore's negativity, Piglet is lost and confused and forced to teeter unsurely back and forth between each world until one day when he finally decides which path is the correct one for him. Ideally, Piglet's life, minus the anxiety, could be the perfect mixture of the materialistic practicality that is necessary to survive in the mechanized world and the soft spirituality that nourishes and enriches one's life when it is realized that nature is a part of every person.

[18]    Pooh and Thoreau are both very calm and very in love with nature and the nature of the things and people around them. Pooh never condemns anyone or anything, and neither, really, does Thoreau. This is the beauty of Thoreau's philosophy. It is not forceful or vengeful, or even remotely domineering. Thoreau points out the faults in society, says why he has a distaste for them, and offers alternative solutions. He teaches a grand lesson in moderation, tolerance, and acceptance. In fact, all of Walden is not a handbook to better living or the perfect Transcendental life as it has been seen in modern times. It is no more than a suggestion, an alternative. Thoreau has too much respect for mankind to try to force his way of life upon the masses. After all, this lifestyle is not for every person. The forest needs Rabbits and Owls and Eeyores just as much as it needs Poohs. Thoreau believes that if one wants this way of life, it is there and not impossible to obtain. If one does not want it, then he/she does not have to live it. It is all very respectful of others' opinions. Likewise Pooh is respectful and observant of the people and events about him. He never condemns Rabbit or Owl or Eeyore, he merely ponders why they are like they are. He accepts them as they come to him, and then he goes on living his life the way he wants to.

[19]    Piglet often makes astute observations about the characters of the forest. These different characters can be seen also as representations of the different types of people one encounters in everyday life. Milne probably realized this connection, but never fully realized, if at all, its Transcendental ramifications. Every character has his/her own purpose for existence and assets. Each way of life is solely beneficial to a certain extent. However, when all of the ways of life are combined and polished into one person, Pooh or Thoreau, then the final ideal personality and ensuing way of life is formed.

"There's Pooh," he thought to himself, "Pooh hasn't much Brain, but he never comes to any harm. He does silly things and they turn out right. There's Owl. Owl hasn't exactly got Brain, but he Knows Things. He would know the Right Thing to Do when Surrounded by Water. There's Rabbit. He hasn't Learnt in Books, but he can always Think of a Clever Plan. There's Kanga. She isn't Clever, Kanga isn't, but she would be so anxious about Roo that she would do a Good Thing to Do without thinking about it. And then there's Eeyore. And Eeyore is so miserable anyhow that he wouldn't mind about this. But I wonder what Christopher Robin would do?" (Milne 131-133)
[20]    The above passage leads one to think that Christopher Robin must be the culmination of the ideal Transcendental person, at least in Piglet's view. If he is, why then does he not live in the forest with Pooh? All that is necessary to live the Transcendental lifestyle is love, a pure heart, and imagination. Christopher Robin possesses all of these, but he does not possess the will or the power to hold on to his innocence and gets trapped in modern society and is lost to the forest, one might conclude, forever. According to Thoreau,
We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. (1159)
[21]    Christopher Robin, however, recognizes that he is growing older and that, by doing so, he must give up Pooh and the forest lifestyle. Must he? Is it not possible to retain the innocence, love, and pureness of heart that created the forest upon entering the "real" world? Is it not possible to carry Pooh with him forever? In The House at Pooh Corner, Christopher Robin bids farewell to Pooh who has suddenly ceased existing as a real character and becomes a toy once again only living in memories.
Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hands, called out "Pooh!"

"Yes?" said Pooh.

"When I'm when Pooh!"

"Yes, Christopher Robin?"

"I'm not going to do Nothing any more."

"Never again?"

"Well not so much. They don't let you." (Milne 178)

[22]    Christopher Robin knows the end is imminent and his anguish is obvious. He does not want to lose the part of him that so loves the forest not the forest of childhood, but the forest of peace and joy that he found within himself to create. It is not a forest of pure imagination and stuffed animals that walk and talk. It is a forest where a boy becomes a man in his own right. It is a forest where people and friends come before business and progress. Doing Nothing is suddenly important, but not as important as a smackerel of something in the morning. Pooh, although he does not understand why one would give up the forest lifestyle (Transcendentalism), also feels their time's end coming. However, they both remain steadfast in their love for one another and their fight to stay alive. It leaves one with a small glimmer of hope for salvation, but the answer is still unclear.
Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again.

"Yes, Christopher Robin?" said Pooh helpfully.

"Pooh, when I'm you know when I'm not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?"

"Just me?"

"Yes, Pooh."

"Will you be here too?"

"Yes, Pooh, I will be, really. I promise I will be, Pooh."

"That's good," said Pooh.

"Pooh, promise you won't forget about me, ever. Not even when I'm a hundred."

Pooh thought for a little.

"How old shall I be then?"

"Ninety-nine."

Pooh nodded.

"I promise," he said.

Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh's paw.

"Pooh," said Christopher Robin earnestly, "if I if I'm not quite " he stopped and tried again "Pooh whatever happens, you will understand, won't you?"

"Understand what?"

"Oh, nothing." He laughed and jumped to his feet. "Come on!"

"Where?" said Pooh.

"Anywhere," said Christopher Robin. (Milne, Corner, 179)

[23]    Christopher Robin attempts one final time to stay with Pooh in the forest, but he knows he must one day leave Pooh behind. Pooh, however, the great Transcendentalist that he is, will live forever in the forest and in Christopher Robin's mind. Pooh's influence will always color Christopher Robin's perspectives, and hopefully one day soon he will realize that fact and return to Pooh and the forest.

[24]    The connections between Pooh and Thoreau are shadowy at times, but still somehow strong. Milne created a miracle of enlightenment in these books, and hopefully his son captured some of Pooh in his soul. Walden is timeless, still read avidly now one hundred years later, and so is Winnie-the-Pooh.

[25]    Transcendentalism is built upon nature, honesty, simplicity, and love for one's self and one's friends. No one is more representative of the Transcendental ideal than Pooh. Pooh a fat, lovable, honey-eating, fictional character lives inside of everyone who enjoys a "smackerel of something" special, "Grand Thoughts About Nothing" in a "Thoughtful Spot," or a "Happy Thursday" visit to friends. Pooh and the Transcendentalists could change the world if only Owl and Rabbit would stop learning and working long enough to listen to the forest. The bear knows many secrets and Truths that will never come from Owl's or Rabbit's Brain.
 

Works Cited

  • Milne, A.A. The House at Pooh Corner. New York: Puffin Books, 1992.
  • Milne, A.A. Winnie-the-Pooh. New York: Puffin Books, 1992.
  • Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. Heritage of American Literature Volume II, James E. Miller, Jr, ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991. 1117-1271

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