I am a parcel of vain strivings tied

by Henry David Thoreau

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The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 232

“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

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 526

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. Stanza 3 focuses on a single flower, “A nosegay which Time clutched” from out of “weeds and broken stems.” This stanza is directed at misspent life by focusing on a single flower chosen from less desirable plants.

Stanzas 4 and 5 introduce the conflict in the poem’s central metaphor and increase the drama of the metaphor. Stanza 4, for example, focuses on the rootlessness of the blooms that “stand/ In a bare cup.” The fifth stanza allows that some “tender buds” of vitality remain only in “mimicry of life.” These buds are “rife” with “woe.” The central image of the poem, then, is problematic, and the bulk of the poem focuses on the paradox of life “in a bare cup.” The final stanzas develop each of these problems from stanzas 3, 4, and 5.

After the poet has established the metaphor and explored it, the final two stanzas are used to discuss the philosophical meaning of the metaphor. Stanza 6 begins with a shift in direction. “But now I see,” the poet writes. The poem’s tone shifts to focus on survival and what life might be possible when flowers are set in “a strange place” by a “kind hand.” In the final stanza, the meaning of the poem becomes more problematic and unclear because as the poet asserts that hope exists—the “stock” of flowers will “soon redeem its hours”—the poem ends with a reassertion of his own hopelessness. “I droop here” are the final words, which bring back to view the earlier, pessimistic of a life “in a bare cup.” Whatever transcendence had come through the agency of the “kind hand” has been limited by the image of the final line.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 202

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