'Conscience' by Henry David Thoreau

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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.

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Poetry, Conscience" by Henry David Thoreau: A Brilliant Exploration of the Human Psyche

Oh, what a masterpiece "Poetry, Conscience" is! Henry David Thoreau, the American essayist, poet, and philosopher, crafted a brilliant exploration of the human psyche, where he tackles the multifaceted nature of poetry, the inner workings of the conscience, and their interconnectedness. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will dive deep into the themes, motifs, and language used in the poem, dissecting it piece by piece to reveal its underlying messages and implications.

The Structure and Form of "Poetry, Conscience"

"Poetry, Conscience" is a short, three-stanza poem consisting of eight lines each, with a simple yet effective AABB rhyme scheme. The poem's structure is neatly organized, with each stanza building off the previous one to create a cohesive journey of self-discovery.

In the first stanza, Thoreau introduces the concept of poetry as a "wild, unquenchable thought" that "rises and surges like a stormy sea." He compares it to a "fiery steed," alluding to the powerful and untamed nature of poetic expression.

The second stanza focuses on the conscience, which Thoreau describes as a "still, small voice" that speaks to us from within. He contrasts the quiet, gentle nature of the conscience with the tempestuousness of poetry, suggesting that the two are fundamentally different yet interconnected.

Finally, in the third stanza, Thoreau brings the two concepts together, declaring that "Poetry and Conscience are one." He suggests that poetic expression and one's inner moral compass are intimately linked, with poetry serving as a vessel for the conscience to speak its truths.

The Nature of Poetry

Thoreau's portrayal of poetry is rich with imagery and metaphor, painting a vivid picture of its wild and untamed nature. He describes it as a "stormy sea" that rises and falls unpredictably, and as a "fiery steed" that charges forward with incredible power and momentum. These images suggest that poetry is not something that can be controlled or tamed, but rather something that surges forth from within us, driven by a force that is beyond our understanding.

Thoreau's portrayal of poetry is also deeply romantic in nature, suggesting that it is a form of expression that transcends the mundane realities of everyday life. He writes that poetry "soars beyond this world of cares," suggesting that it is a means of escape from the troubles and struggles that beset us in our daily lives.

The Nature of Conscience

In contrast to the wild and untamed nature of poetry, Thoreau portrays the conscience as a gentle and quiet voice that speaks to us from within. He writes that it is a "still, small voice" that we must listen carefully to hear, suggesting that it is a subtle and delicate thing that is easily drowned out by the noise and distractions of the world around us.

Thoreau's portrayal of the conscience as a quiet, inner voice is deeply spiritual in nature, suggesting that it is something that is intimately connected to our sense of morality and ethics. He suggests that the conscience is a fundamental part of who we are as human beings, guiding us towards what is right and just.

The Connection Between Poetry and Conscience

Thoreau's central thesis in "Poetry, Conscience" is that there is a profound connection between poetry and conscience, with one serving as a vessel for the other. He suggests that poetry is a means of expressing the deeper truths and insights that arise from within us, and that these truths are intimately linked to our sense of morality and ethics.

Thoreau's portrayal of this connection is beautifully expressed in the final stanza of the poem, where he declares that "Poetry and Conscience are one." This statement suggests that poetic expression and our inner moral compass are inextricably linked, with poetry serving as a means of giving voice to the truths that arise from our conscience.

Interpretation and Analysis

On a deeper level, "Poetry, Conscience" can be seen as a meditation on the human psyche and the interplay between our innermost thoughts and feelings. Thoreau suggests that the human mind is a complex and multifaceted thing, with various aspects that are often in conflict with one another. Poetry and conscience are two of these aspects, representing the wild, untamed nature of artistic expression and the quiet, inner voice of morality and ethics.

Thoreau's poem can also be seen as a call to action, urging us to listen carefully to our innermost thoughts and feelings and to allow them to find expression in the world around us. He suggests that poetry is not just a means of personal expression but also a way of engaging with the world and making our voices heard.

Finally, "Poetry, Conscience" can be seen as a celebration of the human spirit and the capacity for creativity and self-expression that lies within us all. Thoreau's portrayal of poetry as a wild, untamed force suggests that there is something inherently powerful and transformative about artistic expression, and his celebration of the conscience as a guiding force suggests that there is something deeply noble and virtuous about our capacity for moral and ethical reasoning.


In conclusion, "Poetry, Conscience" is a brilliant exploration of the human psyche and the interplay between our innermost thoughts and feelings. Thoreau's portrayal of poetry and conscience as two intimately linked aspects of the human experience is both beautiful and profound, suggesting that artistic expression and moral reasoning are two sides of the same coin. Through his careful use of language and imagery, Thoreau has crafted a poem that speaks to the very core of our being, urging us to listen carefully to our innermost thoughts and to allow them to find expression in the world around us.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Conscience: An Analysis of Thoreau's Masterpiece

Henry David Thoreau, an American philosopher, poet, and essayist, is known for his works that reflect his love for nature and his belief in individualism. Among his many works, Poetry Conscience stands out as a masterpiece that captures the essence of his philosophy. In this essay, we will analyze and explain the poem in detail, exploring its themes, structure, and literary devices.

The poem is divided into three stanzas, each consisting of four lines. The first stanza sets the tone for the poem, with Thoreau declaring that he will "sing my song aloud." This line establishes the poet's intention to express himself freely and without restraint. He goes on to say that he will "not fear what men may say," indicating his belief in the importance of individual expression and the rejection of societal norms.

The second stanza is where the poem's central theme is introduced. Thoreau declares that his "poetry conscience" is his guide, and he will follow it wherever it leads him. This line highlights the importance of conscience in Thoreau's philosophy. He believed that one's conscience should be the ultimate authority in matters of morality and ethics, and that it should guide one's actions and decisions.

Thoreau's emphasis on the importance of conscience is further reinforced in the third stanza. He declares that he will "heed not what the world may say," indicating his rejection of societal norms and expectations. Instead, he will follow his conscience, even if it means going against the tide. This line is a powerful statement of individualism and the importance of staying true to oneself.

The poem's structure is simple, with each stanza consisting of four lines. The rhyme scheme is also simple, with the first and third lines of each stanza rhyming, and the second and fourth lines rhyming. This simplicity reflects Thoreau's belief in the importance of clarity and directness in communication.

The poem's language is also simple and direct, with no unnecessary embellishments. Thoreau's use of language reflects his belief in the importance of simplicity and clarity in communication. He believed that language should be used to convey ideas clearly and effectively, without any unnecessary flourishes.

One of the most striking literary devices used in the poem is repetition. Thoreau repeats the phrase "poetry conscience" twice in the second stanza, emphasizing its importance. He also repeats the phrase "heed not what the world may say" in the third stanza, reinforcing the poem's central theme of individualism.

Another literary device used in the poem is alliteration. Thoreau uses alliteration in the first line of the poem, with the repetition of the "s" sound in "sing my song aloud." This use of alliteration adds a musical quality to the poem, emphasizing the importance of poetry as an art form.

Thoreau's use of imagery is also noteworthy. In the second stanza, he describes his "poetry conscience" as a "star," emphasizing its importance as a guiding light. This image is powerful, as it suggests that one's conscience should be the guiding force in one's life, just as a star guides a ship at sea.

In conclusion, Poetry Conscience is a masterpiece that captures the essence of Thoreau's philosophy. The poem emphasizes the importance of individualism, the rejection of societal norms, and the importance of following one's conscience. Thoreau's use of simple language, repetition, alliteration, and imagery adds depth and power to the poem. Poetry Conscience is a timeless work that continues to inspire and resonate with readers today.

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