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About this poet

In 1817, Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts. He was introduced to the countryside at a young age, and this first contact with the natural world sparked a lifelong fascination. Although his family lived in relative poverty, subsisting on the income from their small pencil-making business, Thoreau was able to attend Harvard, where he gained an early reputation as an individualist. After graduating in 1837, he assisted his father with the family business and worked for several years as a schoolteacher.

In 1841, Thoreau was invited to live in the home of his neighbor, Ralph Waldo Emerson. There he began meeting with the group now known as the Transcendentalist Club, which included A. Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, and George Ripley. Thoreau passed his time at the Emerson house writing essays and poems for the transcendentalist journal The Dial and doing odd jobs like gardening and mending fences. In 1845, he began building a small house on Emerson's land on the shore of Walden Pond, where he spent more than two years "living deep and sucking out all the marrow of life." His experiences there formed the basis for two books, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, and his masterpiece, Walden, which advocated a lifestyle of self-sufficiency and simplicity.

Although Thoreau thought of himself primarily as a poet during his early years, he was later discouraged in this pursuit and gradually came to feel that poetry was too confining. It is as a prose writer that Thoreau made his most meaningful contributions, both as a stylist and as a philosopher. A tireless champion of the human spirit against the materialism and conformity that he saw as dominant in American culture, Thoreau's ideas about civil disobedience, as set forth in his 1849 essay, have influenced, among others, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., and his mastery of prose style has been acknowledged by writers as disparate as Robert Louis Stevenson, Marcel Proust, Sinclair Lewis, and Henry Miller. Largely ignored in his own time, the self-styled "inspector of snowstorms and rainstorms" has emerged as one of America's greatest literary figures. Thoreau died of tuberculosis in 1862, in his native Concord.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Poems of Nature (1895)
Collected Poems (1943)

Prose

A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849)
Walden; Or, Life in the Woods (1854)
Excursions (1864)
Cape Cod (1865)
Letters to Various Persons (1865)
A Yankee in Canada, with Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers (1866)
The Correspondance of Henry David Thoreau (1958)
Thoreau's Literary Notebook (1840-1840) (1964)

What's the railroad to me?

Henry David Thoreau, 1817 - 1862

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.

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on July 20, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive. This poem is in the public domain.

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on July 20, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive. This poem is in the public domain.

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

Although he thought of himself as a poet, Henry David Thoreau's most defining work was his book, Walden

by this poet

poem
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
poem
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
poem

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