A hypaethral life

Henry David Thoreau keeps a fun and thought-provoking blog, based on his diaries. A recent entry caught my eye with its use of a word that was new to me: hypaethral. This adjective describes something that is open to the air, as a building lacking a roof. Thoreau’s use of it here is amusingly metaphorical:

“I thought that one peculiarity of my ‘Week’ was its hypaethral character, to use an epithet applied to those Egyptian temples which are open to the heavens above, under the ether. I thought that it had little of the atmosphere of the house about it, but might wholly have been written, as in fact it was to a considerable extent, out-of-doors. It was only in a late period in writing it, as it happened, that I used any phrases implying that I lived in a house or lived a domestic life. I trust it does not smell [so much] of the study and library, even of the poet’s attic, as of the fields and woods; that it is a hypaethral or unroofed book, lying open under the ether and permeated by it, open to all weathers, not easy to be kept on a shelf.” — Henry David Thoreau, June 29, 1851

I like the idea of a book without a roof, one that would be hard to keep on a shelf, and one that would bring a taste of all the outdoors to any who passed near it. And many’s the day I’ve wished (though lacking the word) that my own life were more hypaethral — that I might look up from my computer and see the sky arching in dazzling blue above, or, later, feel the flickering chatter of stars rain down on me from the dusky twilight. The reminder to look up, to elevate our attention, to imagine the vastness of what lies outside our 12-foot ceilings and plaster and paint, is always a welcome one. Thank you, Thoreau!

1 Comment
1 of 1 people learned something from this entry.

  1. Scott said,

    July 1, 2010 at 10:21 am

    (Learned something new!)

    Evan used to have a big wall-sized poster of a patch of stars on the second living room at Morada (I can’t remember if it’s still there). You should get a similar giant printout/poster of the Hubble Deep Field and put it on the ceiling over you desk.

Post a Comment

I knew this already. I learned something new!