Henry David Thoreau’s “Within the Circuit of This Plodding Life” is a one-stanza meditation of thirty lines in which the poet recalls specific moments in his life when natural phenomena—the icicles of winter, the “shimmering noon” of summer, the recently plowed fields covered in a blanket of snow—renewed his spirit. Such a renewal offers him the courage to move on with the business of living.
The speaker fortifies the idea by establishing a contrast between the “circuit” of his ordinary, “plodding life” and the cycle of nature represented by the round of the seasons. Such a progression, beginning in winter, moving through summer and coming around again to winter, convinces the poet of the shallowness of “the best philosophy,” which seeks only to console humanity rather than enlighten it with the “azure hue” of “untarnished” insight. The poet, in other words, finds peace not in a formal philosophical system of objective truths, but in an intuitive grasp of reality as afforded through an observation of and communion with nature.
His observations, as he recalls them, are both poetic and startling in their accuracy. His description of icicles, elongating as they melt against the sun’s heat, is a reminder of Thoreau’s ability as a keen, accurate naturalist, as his later prose writings, particularly Walden: Or, Life in the Woods (1854), published more than a decade later, attest. He remembers observing...
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