The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Henry David Thoreau’s “Inspiration” consists of twenty-one four-line stanzas that declare that only through a humility of spirit can one find communion with the godlike “ancient harmony” that is the basis of truth and that lies at the heart of human experience. This humility of spirit is necessary to purge the mind from the artificial distractions of what the poet calls “the general show of things.” The poem signals this humility in the second stanza, when the poet declares that if he sings with a “light head erect” his verse will remain “weak and shallow” despite even the efforts of the “muses.” The muses here are not the true sources of inspiration, as they may have been to traditional, classical poets, but merely conduits through which the poet’s verse may take shape. The “light head erect” refers to the presumptuous, unthinking attitudes and conventions that make the poet complacent and thus unable to receive the truth.

To receive such truth the poet must make his soul an “accomplice” to his heart’s yearnings. He must grope “with bended neck” and listen—as in an act of faith—to the timeless “line” that God has written. This act of faith is superior to the intellect—Thoreau calls it “wit”—and the hope that naturally springs from it. The poet must learn to surrender to the prompting of his heart and realize first that his “love and reverence” for the external beauty of things has blinded him...

(The entire section is 471 words.)