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第4册 - Unit 5, Section A - Choose to Be Alone on Purpose

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Here we are, all by ourselves, all 22 million of us by recent count, alone in our rooms, some of us liking it that way and some of us not. Some of us divorced, some widowed, some never yet committed.

Loneliness may be a sort of national disease here, and it's more embarrassing for us to admit than any other sin. On the other hand, to be alone on purpose, having rejected company rather than been cast out by it, is one characteristic of an American hero. The solitary hunter or explorer needs no one as they venture out among the deer and wolves to tame the great wild areas. Thoreau, alone in his cabin on the pond, his back deliberately turned to the town. Now, that's character for you.

Inspiration in solitude is a major commodity for poets and philosophers. They're all for it. They all speak highly of themselves for seeking it out, at least for an hour or even two before they hurry home for tea.

Consider Dorothy Wordsworth, for instance, helping her brother William put on his coat, finding his notebook and pencil for him, and waving as he sets forth into the early spring sunlight to look at flowers all by himself. "How graceful, how benign, is solitude," he wrote.

No doubt about it, solitude is improved by being voluntary.

Look at Milton's daughters arranging his cushions and blankets before they silently creep away, so he can create poetry. Then, rather than trouble to put it in his own handwriting, he calls the girls to come back and write it down while he dictates.

You may have noticed that most of these artistic types went outdoors to be alone. The indoors was full of loved ones keeping the kettle warm till they came home.

The American high priest of solitude was Thoreau. We admire him, not for his self-reliance, but because he was all by himself out there at Walden Pond, and he wanted to be. All alone in the woods.

Actually, he lived a mile, or 20 minutes' walk, from his nearest neighbor; half a mile from the railroad; three hundred yards from a busy road. He had company in and out of the hut all day, asking him how he could possibly be so noble. Apparently the main point of his nobility was that he had neither wife nor servants, used his own axe to chop his own wood, and washed his own cups and saucers. I don't know who did his laundry; he doesn't say, but he certainly doesn't mention doing his own, either. Listen to him: "I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude."

Thoreau had his own self-importance for company. Perhaps there's a message here. The larger the ego, the less the need for other egos around. The more modest and humble we feel, the more we suffer from solitude, feeling ourselves inadequate company.

If you live with other people, their temporary absence can be refreshing. Solitude will end on Thursday. If today I use a singular personal pronoun to refer to myself, next week I will use the plural form. While the others are absent you can stretch out your soul until it fills up the whole room, and use your freedom, coming and going as you please without apology, staying up late to read, soaking in the bath, eating a whole pint of ice cream at one sitting, moving at your own pace. Those absent will be back. Their waterproof winter coats are in the closet and the dog keeps watching for them at the window. But when you live alone, the temporary absence of your friends and acquaintances leaves a vacuum; they may never come back.

The condition of loneliness rises and falls, but the need to talk goes on forever. It's more basic than needing to listen. Oh, we all have friends we can tell important things to, people we can call to say we lost our job or fell on a slippery floor and broke our arm. It's the daily succession of small complaints and observations and opinions that backs up and chokes us. We can't really call a friend to say we got a parcel from our sister, or it's getting dark earlier now, or we don't trust that new Supreme Court justice.

Scientific surveys show that we who live alone talk at length to ourselves and our pets and the television. We ask the cat whether we should wear the blue suit or the yellow dress. We ask the parrot if we should prepare steak, or noodles for dinner. We argue with ourselves over who is the greater sportsman: that figure skater or this skier. There's nothing wrong with this. It's good for us, and a lot less embarrassing than the woman in front of us in line at the market who's telling the cashier that her niece Melissa may be coming to visit on Saturday, and Melissa is very fond of hot chocolate, which is why she bought the powdered hot chocolate mix, though she never drinks it herself.

It's important to stay rational.

It's important to stop waiting and settle down and make ourselves comfortable, at least temporarily, and find some grace and pleasure in our condition, not like a self-centered British poet but like a patient princess sealed up in a tower, waiting for the happy ending to our fairy tale.

After all, here we are. It may not be where we expected to be, but for the time being we might as well call it home. Anyway, there is no place like home.

事实如此,我们孤独无依地生活着。据最近的统计,共有2,200万人独自生活在自己的住所里。其中有些人喜欢这种生活,有些却不喜欢。

有些离了婚,有些鳏寡无伴,也有些从未结过婚。

孤独或许是这里的一种民族弊病,我们羞于承认它,甚于其他任何罪恶。

而另一方面,故意选择独处,拒绝别人的陪伴而非为同伴所弃,却是美国式英雄的一个特点。

孤独的猎人或探险者去鹿群和狼群中冒险,征服广袤的荒野时,并不需要有人陪伴。

梭罗独居在湖畔的小屋,有意疏离了城市生活。现在,这成了你的个性。

独处的灵感是诗人和哲学家最有用的东西。

他们都赞成独处,

都因能够独处而自视甚高,至少在他们匆忙赶回家喝茶之前的一两个小时之内是这样。

就拿多萝西·华兹华斯来说吧,她帮哥哥威廉穿上外衣,为他找到笔记本和铅笔,向他挥手告别,目送他走进早春的阳光去独自对花沉思。

他写道:"独处多么优雅,惬意。"

毫无疑问,如果自愿独处,感觉要好得多。

看看弥尔顿的女儿们:她们为他准备好垫子和毯子,然后蹑手蹑脚地走开,以便他能创作诗歌。

然而他并不自己费神将诗歌写下来,而是唤回女儿们,向她们口述,由她们记下来。

也许你已经注意到,这些艺术家类型的人,大多是到户外独处,

而家里则自有亲人备好了热茶,等着他们回家。

美国的独处代表人物是梭罗。

我们钦佩他,并非因为他能自力更生,而是因为他孤身一人在瓦尔登湖畔生活,他喜欢这样──独居在湖畔的树林中。

实际上,他最近的邻居离他只有一英里,走路也就20分钟;铁路离他半英里;交通繁忙的大路距他300码。

整天都有人进出他的小屋,请教他何以能够如此高洁。

显然,他的高洁之处主要在于:他既没有妻子也没有仆人,自己动手用斧头砍柴,自己洗杯洗碟。

我不知道谁为他洗衣服,他没说,但他也肯定没提是他自己洗。

听听他是怎么说的:"我从未发现比独处更好的伙伴。"

梭罗以自尊自重为伴。

也许这里的启示是:自我意识越强,就越不需要其他的人在周围。

我们越是感觉谦卑,就越受孤独的折磨,感到仅与自己相处远远不够。

若与别人同住,他们的小别会使你感到耳目一新。

孤独将会于星期四结束。

如果今天我提到自己时使用的是单数人称代词,那么下星期我就会使用复数形式。

其他人不在的时候,你可以放飞自己的灵魂,让它充满整个房间。你可以充分享受自由,随意来去而无需道歉。你可以熬夜读书、大泡浴缸、一口气吃掉整整一品脱的冰淇淋。你可以按自己的节奏行动。

暂别的人会回来。

他们的冬季防水大衣还放在衣橱里,狗也在窗边密切留意他们归来的身影。

但如果你单独居住,那么朋友或熟人的暂时离别会使你感到空虚,也许他们永远也不会回来了。

孤独的感觉时起时落,但我们却永远需要与人交谈。

这比需要倾听更重要。

噢,我们都有朋友,可以把大事要事向他们倾诉。我们可以打电话对朋友说我们丢了工作,或者说我们在湿滑的地板上摔倒了,跌断了胳膊。

每日不断的琐碎抱怨,对各种事情的看法和意见,积在那儿,塞满了我们的心。

我们不会真打电话给一位朋友,说我们收到了姐姐的一个包裹,或者说现在天黑得比较早,或者说我们不信任最高法院新来的法官。

科学调查表明,独居的人会对着自己、对着宠物、对着电视机唠叨不休。

我们问猫儿今天该穿蓝色套装还是黄色裙装,

问鹦鹉今天晚餐该做牛排还是面条。

我们跟自己争论那个花样滑冰选手和这个滑雪运动员到底谁更了不起。

这没什么不妥,

也对我们有好处,而且不像有些人那么令人尴尬:在超市付款处,排在前面的女人告诉收银员,她的侄女梅利莎星期六可能会来看她。梅莉莎非常喜欢热巧克力,所以她买了速溶热巧克力粉,虽然她自己从来不喝这东西。

重要的是保持理性。

重要的是不再等待,而是安顿下来,使自己过得舒服,至少暂时要这样。要在我们自身的条件下发现一些优雅和乐趣,不要做一个以自我为中心的英国诗人,而要像一个被关在塔楼里的公主,耐心地等待着我们的童话故事迎来快乐的结局。

毕竟,事已至此,

这或许不是我们所期望的局面,但眼下我们不妨称之为家吧。

不管怎么说,没有什么地方比家更好。

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