Poems of Nature

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It must be granted, then, that Thoreau, whatever his{xviii} limitations, had the poet's vision, and sometimes the poet's divine faculty; and if this was manifested more frequently in his masterly prose, it was neither absent from his verse nor from the whole tenor of his character. It was his destiny to be one of the greatest prose writers whom America has produced, and he had a strong, perhaps an exaggerated, sense of the dignity of this calling. 'Great prose,' he thinks, 'of equal elevation, commands our respect more than great verse, since it implies a more permanent and level height, a life more pervaded with the grandeur of the thought. The poet only makes an irruption, like a Parthian, and is off again, shooting while he retreats; but the prose writer has conquered, like a Roman, and settled colonies.'

If, therefore, we cannot unreservedly place Thoreau among the poetical brotherhood, we may at least recognise that he was a poet in the larger sense in which his friends so regarded him—he felt, thought, acted, and lived as a poet, though he did not always write as one. In his own words{xix}

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

Such qualities dignify life and make the expression of it memorable, not perhaps immediately, to the multitude of readers, but at first to an appreciative few, and eventually to a wide circle of mankind.{1}{xx}


O Nature! I do not aspire
To be the highest in thy quire,—
To be a meteor in the sky,
Or comet that may range on high;
Only a zephyr that may blow
Among the reeds by the river low;
Give me thy most privy place
Where to run my airy race.
In some withdrawn, unpublic mead
Let me sigh upon a reed,
Or in the woods, with leafy din,
Whisper the still evening in:{2}
Some still work give me to do,—
Only—be it near to you!
For I'd rather be thy child
And pupil, in the forest wild,
Than be the king of men elsewhere,
And most sovereign slave of care:
To have one moment of thy dawn,
Than share the city's year forlorn.


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;{4}
Making my soul accomplice there
Unto the flame my heart hath lit,
Then will the verse for ever 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,{5}
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.{6}
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,{7}
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,{8}
For though 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 wooes 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,{9}
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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