Poetry on Thoreau

Poems about or inspired by Henry Thoreau

Looking for Henry's poetry? - see Ann Woodlief 's page of  Poems by Thoreau

Also: Walking with Thoreau by Leigh Kirkland

Thoreau Reader:  Home


More Thoughts on Beans

by Amy Belding Brown

When he mentioned that he was resolved to know beans,
Henry knew it would get a good laugh,
for one thing New Englanders do with their speech
is to sort out the wheat from the chaff.
And so, as he tended bean plants by the pond,
and studied their habits and style,
it never occurred to his dexterous mind
that folks might not notice his smile.
If, when reading Thoreau, you encounter a phrase
that tempts you to find hairs to split,
just remember what Henry himself knew so well:
great philosophy favors great wit.

(poem refers to chapter seven of Walden: The Bean-Field)

Thoreau's Flute

by Louisa May Alcott  (written after Thoreau's death)

We sighing said, "Our Pan is dead;
His pipe hangs mute beside the river
Around it wistful sunbeams quiver,
But Music's airy voice is fled.
Spring mourns as for untimely frost;
The bluebird chants a requiem;
The willow-blossom waits for him;
The Genius of the wood is lost."

Then from the flute, untouched by hands,
There came a low, harmonious breath:
"For such as he there is no death;
His life the eternal life commands;
Above man's aims his nature rose.
The wisdom of a just content
Made one small spot a continent
And tuned to poetry life's prose.

"Haunting the hills, the stream, the wild,
Swallow and aster, lake and pine,
To him grew human or divine,
Fit mates for this large-hearted child.
Such homage Nature ne'er forgets,
And yearly on the coverlid
'Neath which her darling lieth hid
Will write his name in violets.

"To him no vain regrets belong
Whose soul, that finer instrument,
Gave to the world no poor lament,
But wood-notes ever sweet and strong.
O lonely friend! he still will be
A potent presence, though unseen,
Steadfast, sagacious, and serene;
Seek not for him -- he is with thee."

(Henry's flute is on display in the Concord Museum. It's made of
fruitwood, a warm reddish-brown wood. It has metal stops on it, and
Henry's and his father's names carved into it - Amy Belding Brown)


by Amos Bronson Alcott

WHO nearer Nature’s life would truly come
Must nearest come to him of whom I speak;
He all kinds knew,—the vocal and the dumb;
Masterful in genius was he, and unique,
Patient, sagacious, tender, frolicsome.
This Concord Pan would oft his whistle take,
And forth from wood and fen, field, hill, and lake,
Trooping around him in their several guise,
The shy inhabitants their haunts forsake:
Then he, like Æsop, man would satirize,
Hold up the image wild to clearest view
Of undiscerning manhood’s puzzled eyes,
And mocking say, “Lo! mirrors here for you:
Be true as these, if ye would be more wise.


by Amy Belding Brown

When I met Henry's spirit at old Walden Pond
on a sunny day late in September,
he stood for a moment in silence, then said,
"This isn't the place I remember.

I know I've been gone for a stretch, but it's plain
that there's been certain moral attrition,
for I swear that I left my small cabin right here
and they've moved it without my permission!

It's sitting back there, looking better than new,"
he said with a wink and a grin.
"I had no idea that I'd built it so well.
Why it's probably older than sin!"

"It's not the original cabin," I said,
glancing back at the full parking lot,
"It's a replica, based on your book, don't you know -
placed in an accessible spot."

"Accessible?" Henry then said with a scowl.
"But accessible wasn't the plan!
I went for the purpose of reading Nature,
and found useful perspective on Man."

And those huts," Henry said, glancing back at the cars,
"the ones made of metal and glass.
I'm wondering just who would live in those things.
Must be some sort of grandiose ass."

I tried to explain, but my voice wouldn't work -
from the shock of encounter, I guess -
so I gestured in sign in attempt to make clear,
but it didn't translate, I confess.

He seemed not to notice my utter dismay,
but started downhill to the shore.
And I wasn't surprised when he sucked in his breath
at the sight of the tourists galore.

They were walking in tandem along the pond's path
and sunning themselves on the beach.
While autumn leaves fell in bright burnished piles,
their radios blared with a screech.

The paths were marked off with a fencing of sorts
and I saw Henry's shoulders contract.
"This is disgraceful," he said with a snarl.
Then someone bumped into his back.

He was jostled and bounced as he sauntered along
but at last he came up to the place
where his cabin had stood, on a low sloping ridge
and I saw the alarm on his face.

"What is this?" he cried, staring hard at the stones
which were piled in a cairn by a tree.
"It looks like some children have played a cruel trick -
mounding rocks where my bean field should be."

"Read the sign," I said softly.  "You'll see it's no joke."
And I think that he wiped back a tear
as he quietly read the small plaque by the cairn
which explained the memorial here.

"All these people?" he said, looking swiftly around,
"have come to pay tribute to me?"
"To the ideas you gave to the world," I replied,
"through your writings so generously."

Henry left shortly after, refusing to stay.
But that day changed my outlook for good.
I no longer resent the tourists who come
and walk in the pond's neighborhood.

For they're there for the same exact reason as I -
to pay homage to one man's clear sight.
Though I've left one thing out of my small ghostly tale -
it's that Walden Pond closes at night.

And I'm sure that the reason for closing the pond
is to give Henry's spirit a chance
to once again ferry his boat on the lake,
where his flute plays the moon's midnight dance.

Woodnotes  (excerpt used in "Thoreau")

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

It seemed as if the breezes brought him,
It seemed as if the sparrows taught him,
As if by secret sign he knew
Where in far fields the orchis grew.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

by William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made,
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
   And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all aglimmer, and noon a purple glow,
   And evening full of linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day,
I hear lake and water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
   I hear it in the deep heart's core.

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