“I am a parcel of vain strivings tied” by Henry David Thoreau is a shaped-verse poem of forty-two lines consisting of seven six-line stanzas that meditate upon the brevity of life, the delicate and complex forces that bind experience together, and the sources of artistic inspiration or rebirth. The poem begins with a startling, almost paradoxical image that compares the poet to a package that cannot hold its dynamic, struggling contents. The second and third stanzas further develop this theme with the image of a bouquet of flowers held together by a mere “wisp of straw” and of a single flower scooped up in haste. The third stanza also introduces a new conflict, the power of time, which threatens the flowers cut from their native soil.
Stanzas 3 and 4 reflect on the insights gathered in the images—parcel, bouquet, and flower—about the power of time and the source of a second blooming, yet “unseen,” of the artist. This theme is complicated in stanza 5 by the poet’s assertion that “woe” has filled the “tender buds” of life and by the idea in stanza 6 of a purpose provided by a “kind hand” that has brought the flowers, as it were, to a second life in a new place. In the poem’s conclusion, the poet asserts that when thus preserved this “stock” will “soon redeem its hours” and flourish again in new soil.