What do you think Thoreau means by "conscience"?

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Henry David Thoreau's "Conscience," published in 1849, presents Thoreau's view of the concept of human conscience in his typical Transcendental way. The poem is rough; clearly, the great saunterer was known for his prose for a reason. However, it does offer a shorthand version of his life perspective. In the poem, Thoreau calls conscience "instinct bred in the house" by "Feeling and Thinking." (1–2) He considers it "unnatural breeding in and in." (3) By this he means that the typical human idea of conscience is formed when people are idle instead of actively exploring and learning of the natural world around them. Rather than foster a conscience in this way, he presents his trademark perspective by saying that people should "[t]urn it out doors," loving "a life whose plot is simple" and thus better cultivating "[a] soul so sound no sickly conscience binds it." (4–8) As the poem progresses, he uses refrain to call for:

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. (16–23)

He establishes a true conscience as a positive, focused component of humanity, the seed of which exists before human development. It is "true to the backbone/ Unto itself alone,/ And false to none [...] By whom the work which God begun/ Is finished, and not undone." (26-28, 31-32) To Thoreau, the conscience is a component of our true essence, and therefore part and parcel of the Oversoul as well. Finally, Thoreau presents a rallying cry for the worker, ending by saying he has "no patience towards/ Such conscientious cowards" and prefers "simple laboring folk,/ Who love their work,/ Whose virtue is song/ To cheer God along." (39-44) For Thoreau, the most pure way to foster the seed of one's true conscience is via good, honest, hard work and pure living.

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