The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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.

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

This poem foregrounds the poet through the use of first person and is developed around an extended metaphor. The poet’s life is considered using an analogy with nature. This vision begins with the startling first line, “I am a parcel of vain strivings tied,” which creates a contradictory image—that of a package that might have been neatly tied, but which actually is full of disunity. It is composed of “strivings” that are the more contradictory because the poem knows that they are “vain.” The force of unity is a mere “chance bond.” As a result, the nature of humanity is captured in an image of struggles and “dangling” parts. This plain image describes the poet’s person, which is, at the final line of the first stanza, a vulnerable thing made “For milder weather.”

In the second stanza, the image of a parcel is modified. The reader learns that the parcel is a bundle of flowers. Through combination of line lengths and rhyme scheme, this poem then takes the shape of a carefully structured bouquet. Each line length contributes to this visual effect. The informing metaphor gives each stanza its shape on the printed page. Each stanza repeats this form while also using a consistent rhyme scheme. By the end of the second stanza the poem has unified both form and content.

The remaining stanzas discuss the flowers and their relationship to the poet’s concerns for time, the vitality of life, and the difficulties of life....

(The entire section is 526 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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