Compare "Civil Disobedience" to Herbet's "Last Message of Mr. Cogito."

Henry David Thoreau's “Civil Disobedience” and Zbigniew Herbert's “The Last Message of Mr. Cogito” both encourage readers to embrace truth, to follow their consciences, and to remain true to themselves and to what they know is right even in the face of resistance from others.

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At first glance, there seems to be very little to compare between Henry David Thoreau's “Civil Disobedience” and Zbigniew Herbert's “The Last Message of Mr. Cogito.” The former is a complex essay, the latter is a modern poem. But let's look a bit more deeply.

Thoreau argues for decisive resistance to a corrupt government. He refuses to pay taxes to an unjust State. Rather, he follows his own conscience and does what he feels is right. This takes significant courage, for he is going against the grain, bucking the system, irritating his neighbors (who do not understand what difference a few coins will make). But Thoreau would rather be among the resistant minority than allow an unjust majority to control his life. He would rather break the law than support injustice. He knows that he is not always correct in his thinking (which shows humility), but he must be true to himself.

Herbert's poem also advocates for courage that resists oppression and injustice. The speaker commands, “go upright among those who are on their knees.” He tells us to “be courageous” and not to fall for deception and to maintain a righteous anger toward those cowards who would harass and suppress. The speaker also warns his audience about “unnecessary pride” and advocates both necessary humility and a strong sense of purpose. One must remain vigilant and committed to what one knows to be truth. One must rely on one's self, for “no one will console you” when one goes against the crowd. They would rather laugh. Yet one must remain faithful and true to one's self and cling to the truth.

We can see now the similarities between these two works, for both present an individual who dares to go against the crowd and suffers for it even as he remains true to himself and clings to what his conscience tells him is right.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 14, 2021
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