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Henry David Thoreau

Selected Poems

Many of these poems were published in The Dial (1840-1844). They are presented here in order of publication. The definitive edition of Thoreau's poems is Carl Bode's Collected Poems of Henry Thoreau. Enlarged edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1965.

Prayer ***The Moon *** Smoke ***Conscience***Rumors from an Aeolian Harp*** Low-Anchored Cloud *** Let such pure hate still underprop *** The Inward Morning ***The Summer Rain***  Sic Vita ***[My Life Has Been the Poem]***Friendship*** I Knew a Man by Sight ***Epitaph on the World ***Indeed, Indeed, I Cannot Tell***On Fields O'er Which the Reaper's Hand has Passed***Pray to What Earth***They Who Prepare my Evening Meal Below***What's the Railroad to Me?***Within the Circuit of This Plodding Life*** Inspiration


Great God, I ask for no meaner pelf
Than that I may not disappoint myself,
That in my action I may soar as high
As I can now discern with this clear eye.

And next in value, which thy kindness lends,
That I may greatly disappoint my friends,
Howe'er they think or hope that it may be,
They may not dream how thou'st distinguished me.

That my weak hand may equal my firm faith
And my life practice what my tongue saith
That my low conduct may not show
Nor my relenting lines
That I thy purpose did not know
Or overrated thy designs.

The Moon

   Time wears her not; she doth his chariot guide;
       Mortality below her orb is placed.

The full-orbed moon with unchanged ray
   Mounts up the eastern sky,
Not doomed to these short nights for aye,
   But shining steadily.

She does not wane, but my fortune,
   Which her rays do not bless,
My wayward path declineth soon,
   But she shines not the less.

And if she faintly glimmers here,
   And paled is her light,
Yet alway in her proper sphere
   She's mistress of the night.


Light-winged Smoke, Icarian bird,
Melting thy pinions in thy upward flight,
Lark without song, and messenger of dawn,
Circling above the hamlets as thy nest;
Or else, departing dream, and shadowy form
Of midnight vision, gathering up thy skirts;
By night star-veiling, and by day
Darkening the light and blotting out the sun;
Go thou my incense upward from this hearth,
And ask the gods to pardon this clear flame.


Conscience is instinct bred in the house,
Feeling and Thinking propagate the sin
By an unnatural breeding in and in.
I say, Turn it out doors,
Into the moors.
I love a life whose plot is simple,
And does not thicken with every pimple,
A soul so sound no sickly conscience binds it,
That makes the universe no worse than 't finds it.
I love an earnest soul,
Whose mighty joy and sorrow
Are not drowned in a bowl,
And brought to life to-morrow;
That lives one tragedy,
And not seventy;
A conscience worth keeping;
Laughing not weeping;
A conscience wise and steady,
And forever ready;
Not changing with events,
Dealing in compliments;
A conscience exercised about
Large things, where one may doubt.
I love a soul not all of wood,
Predestinated to be good,
But true to the backbone
Unto itself alone,
And false to none;
Born to its own affairs,
Its own joys and own cares;
By whom the work which God begun
Is finished, and not undone;
Taken up where he left off,
Whether to worship or to scoff;
If not good, why then evil,
If not good god, good devil.
Goodness! you hypocrite, come out of that,
Live your life, do your work, then take your hat.
I have no patience towards
Such conscientious cowards.
Give me simple laboring folk,
Who love their work,
Whose virtue is song
To cheer God along.

Rumors from an Aeolian Harp Web Site

There is a vale which none hath seen,
Where foot of man has never been,
Such as here lives with toil and strife,
An anxious and a sinful life.

There every virtue has its birth,
Ere it descends upon the earth,
And thither every deed returns,
Which in the generous bosom burns.

There love is warm, and youth is young,
And poetry is yet unsung.
For Virtue still adventures there,
And freely breathes her native air.

And ever, if you hearken well,
You still may hear its vesper bell,
And tread of high-souled men go by,
Their thoughts conversing with the sky.

Low-Anchored Cloud [Mist]

Low-anchored cloud,
Newfoundland air,
Fountain-head and source of rivers,
Dew-cloth, dream-drapery,
And napkin spread by fays;
Drifting meadow of the air,
Where bloom the daisied banks and violets,
And in whose fenny labyrinth
The bittern booms and heron wades;
Spirit of lakes and seas and rivers,
Bear only perfumes and the scent
Of healing herbs to just men's fields!

Let such pure hate still underprop

"Friends, Romans, Countrymen, and Lovers."

Let such pure hate still underprop
Our love, that we may be
Each other's conscience,
And have our sympathy
Mainly from thence.

We'll one another treat like gods,
And all the faith we have
In virtue and in truth, bestow
On either, and suspicion leave
To gods below.

Two solitary stars--
Unmeasured systems far
Between us roll;
But by our conscious light we are
Determined to one pole.

What need confound the sphere?--
Love can afford to wait;
For it no hour's too late
That witnesseth one duty's end,
Or to another doth beginning lend.

It will subserve no use,
More than the tints of flowers;
Only the independent guest
Frequents its bowers,
Inherits its bequest.

No speech, though kind, has it;
But kinder silence doles
Unto its mates;
By night consoles,
By day congratulates.

What saith the tongue to tongue?
What hearest ear of ear?
By the decrees of fate
From year to year,
Does it communicate.

Pathless the gulf of feeling yawns;
No trivial bridge of words,
Or arch of boldest span,
Can leap the moat that girds
The sincere man.

No show of bolts and bars
Can keep the foeman out,
Or 'scape his secret mine,
Who entered with the doubt
That drew the line.

No warder at the gate
Can let the friendly in;
But, like the sun, o'er all
He will the castle win,
And shine along the wall.

There's nothing in the world I know
That can escape from love,
For every depth it goes below,
And every height above.
It waits, as waits the sky,
Until the clouds go by,
Yet shines serenely on
With an eternal day,
Alike when they are gone,
And when they stay.

Implacable is Love--
Foes may be bought or teased
From their hostile intent,
But he goes unappeased
Who is on kindness bent.

The Inward Morning

Packed in my mind lie all the clothes
  Which outward nature wears,
And in its fashion's hourly change
  It all things else repairs.

In vain I look for change abroad,
  And can no difference find,
Till some new ray of peace uncalled
  Illumes my inmost mind.

What is it gilds the trees and clouds,
  And paints the heavens so gay,
But yonder fast-abiding light
  With its unchanging ray?

Lo, when the sun streams through the wood,
  Upon a winter's morn,
Where'er his silent beams intrude,
  The murky night is gone.

How could the patient pine have known
  The morning breeze would come,
Or humble flowers anticipate
  The insect's noonday hum--

Till the new light with morning cheer
  From far streamed through the aisles,
And nimbly told the forest trees
  For many stretching miles?

I've heard within my inmost soul
  Such cheerful morning news,
In the horizon of my mind
  Have seen such orient hues,

As in the twilight of the dawn,
  When the first birds awake,
Are heard within some silent wood,
  Where they the small twigs break,

Or in the eastern skies are seen,
  Before the sun appears,
The harbingers of summer heats
  Which from afar he bears.

The Summer Rain

My books I'd fain cast off, I cannot read,
  'Twixt every page my thoughts go stray at large
Down in the meadow, where is richer feed,
  And will not mind to hit their proper targe.

Plutarch was good, and so was Homer too,
  Our Shakespeare's life were rich to live again,
What Plutarch read, that was not good nor true,
  Nor Shakespeare's books, unless his books were men.

Here while I lie beneath this walnut bough,
  What care I for the Greeks or for Troy town,
If juster battles are enacted now
  Between the ants upon this hummock's crown?

Bid Homer wait till I the issue learn,
  If red or black the gods will favor most,
Or yonder Ajax will the phalanx turn,
  Struggling to heave some rock against the host.

Tell Shakespeare to attend some leisure hour,
  For now I've business with this drop of dew,
And see you not, the clouds prepare a shower--
  I'll meet him shortly when the sky is blue.

This bed of herd's grass and wild oats was spread
  Last year with nicer skill than monarchs use.
A clover tuft is pillow for my head,
  And violets quite overtop my shoes.

And now the cordial clouds have shut all in,
  And gently swells the wind to say all's well;
The scattered drops are falling fast and thin,
  Some in the pool, some in the flower-bell.

I am well drenched upon my bed of oats;
  But see that globe come rolling down its stem,
Now like a lonely planet there it floats,
  And now it sinks into my garment's hem.

Drip drip the trees for all the country round,
  And richness rare distills from every bough;
The wind alone it is makes every sound,
  Shaking down crystals on the leaves below.

For shame the sun will never show himself,
  Who could not with his beams e'er melt me so;
My dripping locks--they would become an elf,
  Who in a beaded coat does gayly go.

Sic Vita

I am a parcel of vain strivings tied
        By a chance bond together,
   Dangling this way and that, their links
        Were made so loose and wide,
            For milder weather.

A bunch of violets without their roots,
        And sorrel intermixed,
   Encircled by a wisp of straw
        Once coiled about their shoots,
                      The law
           By which I'm fixed.

A nosegay which Time clutched from out
        Those fair Elysian fields,
   With weeds and broken stems, in haste,
        Doth make the rabble rout
                     That waste
            The day he yields.

And here I bloom for a short hour unseen,
        Drinking my juices up,
    With no root in the land
        To keep my branches green,
                    But stand
             In a bare cup.

Some tender buds were left upon my stem
        In mimicry of life,
    But ah! the children will not know,
        Till time has withered them,
                    The woe
         With which they're rife.

But now I see I was not plucked for naught,
         And after in life's vase
   Of glass set while I might survive,
         But by a kind hand brought
          To a strange place.

That stock thus thinned will soon redeem its hours,
         And by another year,
   Such as God knows, with freer air,
         More fruits and fairer flowers
                      Will bear,
         While I droop here.

[My Life Has Been the Poem]

My life has been the poem I would have writ,
But I could not both live and utter it.


I think awhile of Love, and while I think,
         Love is to me a world,
         Sole meat and sweetest drink,
         And close connecting link
            Tween heaven and earth.

I only know it is, not how or why,
         My greatest happiness;
         However hard I try,
         Not if I were to die,
            Can I explain.

I fain would ask my friend how it can be,
         But when the time arrives,
         Then Love is more lovely
         Than anything to me,
            And so I'm dumb.

For if the truth were known, Love cannot speak,
         But only thinks and does;
         Though surely out 'twill leak
         Without the help of Greek,
            Or any tongue.

A man may love the truth and practise it,
         Beauty he may admire,
         And goodness not omit,
         As much as may befit
            To reverence.

But only when these three together meet,
         As they always incline,
         And make one soul the seat,
         And favorite retreat,
            Of loveliness;

When under kindred shape, like loves and hates
         And a kindred nature,
         Proclaim us to be mates,
         Exposed to equal fates

And each may other help, and service do,
         Drawing Love's bands more tight,
         Service he ne'er shall rue
         While one and one make two,
            And two are one;

In such case only doth man fully prove
         Fully as man can do,
         What power there is in Love
         His inmost soul to move


Two sturdy oaks I mean, which side by side,
         Withstand the winter's storm,
         And spite of wind and tide,
         Grow up the meadow's pride,
            For both are strong

Above they barely touch, but undermined
         Down to their deepest source,
         Admiring you shall find
         Their roots are intertwined

I Knew A Man By Sight

   I knew a man by sight,
      A blameless wight,
   Who, for a year or more,
   Had daily passed my door,
Yet converse none had had with him.

   I met him in a lane,
      Him and his cane,
   About three miles from home,
   Where I had chanced to roam,
And volumes stared at him, and he at me.

   In a more distant place
      I glimpsed his face,
   And bowed instinctively;
   Starting he bowed to me,
Bowed simultaneously, and passed along.

   Next, in a foreign land
      I grasped his hand,
   And had a social chat,
   About this thing and that,
As I had known him well a thousand years.

   Late in a wilderness
      I shared his mess,
   For he had hardships seen,
   And I a wanderer been;
He was my bosom friend, and I was his.

   And as, methinks, shall all,
      Both great and small,
   That ever lived on earth,
   Early or late their birth,
Stranger and foe, one day each other know.

Epitaph On The World

Here lies the body of this world,
Whose soul alas to hell is hurled.
This golden youth long since was past,
Its silver manhood went as fast,
An iron age drew on at last;
'Tis vain its character to tell,
The several fates which it befell,
What year it died, when 'twill arise,
We only know that here it lies.

Indeed, indeed, I cannot tell

Indeed, indeed, I cannot tell,
Though I ponder on it well,
Which were easier to state,
All my love or all my hate.
Surely, surely, thou wilt trust me
When I say thou dost disgust me.
O, I hate thee with a hate
That would fain annihilate;
Yet sometimes against my will,
My dear friend, I love thee still.
It were treason to our love,
And a sin to God above,
One iota to abate
Of a pure impartial hate.

On Fields O'er Which the Reaper's Hand has Passed

On fields o'er which the reaper's hand has pass'd
Lit by the harvest moon and autumn sun,
My thoughts like stubble floating in the wind
And of such fineness as October airs,
There after harvest could I glean my life
A richer harvest reaping without toil,
And weaving gorgeous fancies at my will
In subtler webs than finest summer haze.

Pray to What Earth

Pray to what earth does this sweet cold belong,
Which asks no duties and no conscience?
The moon goes up by leaps, her cheerful path
In some far summer stratum of the sky,
While stars with their cold shine bedot her way.
The fields gleam mildly back upon the sky,
And far and near upon the leafless shrubs
The snow dust still emits a silver light.
Under the hedge, where drift banks are their screen,
The titmice now pursue their downy dreams,
As often in the sweltering summer nights
The bee doth drop asleep in the flower cup,
When evening overtakes him with his load.
By the brooksides, in the still, genial night,
The more adventurous wanderer may hear
The crystals shoot and form, and winter slow
Increase his rule by gentlest summer means.

They Who Prepare my Evening Meal Below

They who prepare my evening meal below
Carelessly hit the kettle as they go
With tongs or shovel,
And ringing round and round,
Out of this hovel
It makes an eastern temple by the sound.
At first I thought a cow bell right at hand
Mid birches sounded o'er the open land,
Where I plucked flowers
Many years ago,
Spending midsummer hours
With such secure delight they hardly seemed to flow.

What's the Railroad to Me?

What's the railroad to me?
I never go to see
Where it ends.
It fills a few hollows,
And makes banks for the swallows,
It sets the sand a-blowing,
And the blackberries a-growing.

Within the Circuit of This Plodding Life

in "Natural History of Massachusetts"

Within the circuit of this plodding life
There enter moments of an azure hue,
Untarnished fair as is the violet
Or anemone, when the spring strews them
By some meandering rivulet, which make
The best philosophy untrue that aims
But to console man for his grievances
I have remembered when the winter came,
High in my chamber in the frosty nights,
When in the still light of the cheerful moon,
On every twig and rail and jutting spout,
The icy spears were adding to their length
Against the arrows of the coming sun,
How in the shimmering noon of summer past
Some unrecorded beam slanted across
The upland pastures where the Johnswort grew;
Or heard, amid the verdure of my mind,
The bee's long smothered hum, on the blue flag
Loitering amidst the mead; or busy rill,
Which now through all its course stands still and dumb
Its own memorial,—purling at its play
Along the slopes, and through the meadows next,
Until its youthful sound was hushed at last
In the staid current of the lowland stream;
Or seen the furrows shine but late upturned,
And where the fieldfare followed in the rear,
When all the fields around lay bound and hoar
Beneath a thick integument of snow.
So by God's cheap economy made rich
To go upon my winter's task again.


Whate'er we leave to God, God does,
  And blesses us;
The work we choose should be our own,
  God leaves alone.

If with light head erect I sing,
  Though all the Muses lend their force,
From my poor love of anything,
  The verse is weak and shallow as its source.

But if with bended neck I grope
  Listening behind me for my wit,
With faith superior to hope,
  More anxious to keep back than forward it;

Making my soul accomplice there
  Unto the flame my heart hath lit,
Then will the verse forever wear--
  Time cannot bend the line which God hath writ.

Always the general show of things
  Floats in review before my mind,
And such true love and reverence brings,
  That sometimes I forget that I am blind.

But now there comes unsought, unseen,
  Some clear divine electuary,
And I, who had but sensual been,
  Grow sensible, and as God is, am wary.

I hearing get, who had but ears,
  And sight, who had but eyes before,
I moments live, who lived but years,
  And truth discern, who knew but learning's lore.

I hear beyond the range of sound,
  I see beyond the range of sight,
New earths and skies and seas around,
  And in my day the sun doth pale his light.

A clear and ancient harmony
  Pierces my soul through all its din,
As through its utmost melody--
  Farther behind than they, farther within.

More swift its bolt than lightning is,
  Its voice than thunder is more loud,
It doth expand my privacies
  To all, and leave me single in the crowd.

It speaks with such authority,
  With so serene and lofty tone,
That idle Time runs gadding by,
  And leaves me with Eternity alone.

Now chiefly is my natal hour,
  And only now my prime of life;
Of manhood's strength it is the flower,
  'Tis peace's end and war's beginning strife.

It comes in summer's broadest noon,
  By a grey wall or some chance place,
Unseasoning Time, insulting June,
  And vexing day with its presuming face.

Such fragrance round my couch it makes,
  More rich than are Arabian drugs,
That my soul scents its life and wakes
  The body up beneath its perfumed rugs.

Such is the Muse, the heavenly maid,
  The star that guides our mortal course,
Which shows where life's true kernel's laid,
  Its wheat's fine flour, and its undying force.

She with one breath attunes the spheres,
  And also my poor human heart,
With one impulse propels the years
  Around, and gives my throbbing pulse its start.

I will not doubt for evermore,
  Nor falter from a steadfast faith,
For thought the system be turned o'er,
  God takes not back the word which once He saith.

I will not doubt the love untold
  Which not my worth nor want has bought,
Which wooed me young, and woos me old,
  And to this evening hath me brought.

My memory I'll educate
  To know the one historic truth,
Remembering to the latest date
  The only true and sole immortal youth.

Be but thy inspiration given,
  No matter through what danger sought,
I'll fathom hell or climb to heaven,
  And yet esteem that cheap which love has bought.

     Fame cannot tempt the bard
        Who's famous with his God,
     Nor laurel him reward
        Who has his Maker's nod.

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