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Sperber, M. (2004). Thoreau's Hallucinated Mountain. Psychoanal. Rev., 91(5):699-704.

(2004). Psychoanalytic Review, 91(5):699-704

Thoreau's Hallucinated Mountain

Michael Sperber, M.D.

“I do not invent in the least,” Thoreau insisted about his hallucinated mountain, “but state exactly what I see. I can see its general outline as plainly now in my mind as that of Wachusett” (Harding & Bode, 1974, p. 498). Thoreau's hallucination of an enormous mountain (”in the easterly part of our town, where no high hill actually is”) recurred some twenty times over the years, and was often quite vivid; he acknowledged having ascended the mountain once or twice (Torrey & Allen, 1962, vol. 10, p. 141).

An entry made in his journal two days before the hallucination and a poem about it help elucidate the mountain's latent meaning. The hallucination, in turn, casts light on the cryptic parable or allusion: “I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtledove”, as written in Walden.

Thoreau claimed he kept the mountain to ride instead of a horse. Such rides, in the pre-Prozac era, enabled resourceful, innovative Thoreau to use the hallucination, not only for recreation, but also therapeutically.

The Mountain Hallucination

Baffled by his hallucination, Thoreau sought unsuccessfully to comprehend its antecedents: “Whether anything could have reminded me of it in the middle of yesterday… I doubt” (Torrey & Allen, 1962, vol. 10, p 141). He had repressed a curious episode that occurred two days earlier.

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