Conscience Poem by Henry David Thoreau


Rating: 3.2

Conscience is instinct bred in the house,
Feeling and Thinking propagate the sin
By an unnatural breeding in and in.
I say, Turn it out doors,
Into the moors.
I love a life whose plot is simple,
And does not thicken with every pimple,
A soul so sound no sickly conscience binds it,
That makes the universe no worse than 't finds it.
I love an earnest soul,
Whose mighty joy and sorrow
Are not drowned in a bowl,
And brought to life to-morrow;
That lives one tragedy,
And not seventy;
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.
I love a soul not all of wood,
Predestinated to be good,
But true to the backbone
Unto itself alone,
And false to none;
Born to its own affairs,
Its own joys and own cares;
By whom the work which God begun
Is finished, and not undone;
Taken up where he left off,
Whether to worship or to scoff;
If not good, why then evil,
If not good god, good devil.
Goodness! you hypocrite, come out of that,
Live your life, do your work, then take your hat.
I have no patience towards
Such conscientious cowards.
Give me simple laboring folk,
Who love their work,
Whose virtue is song
To cheer God along.

Hsiaoshuang Chin 21 November 2012

A poem of backbone and virtue, without all the incestous breedings of religion. But I don't quite understand the last line.

6 16 Reply
Carlos Echeverria 21 November 2012

How ironic that Thoreau's idealism about the human condition rendered him anti-social.

7 13 Reply
Michael Harmon 21 November 2009

I believe both Kevin Straw and Guybrush Threepwood have valid points. My two cents would be the following. Crudely-done didacticism is, well, crudely-done, and subject to rejection simply on that basis. Didacticism, however, need not, as in the above example, be so blatantly budgeoning, and need not, in itself, be detrimental. Here is some didacticism from the Tao Te Ching (Chapter 61) : A great nation is like a great man: When he makes a mistake, he realizes it. Having realized it, he admits it. Having admitted it, he corrects it. He considers those who point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers. He thinks of his enemy as the shadow that he himself casts. Here is some from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter XIV. The Three Gunas) : Sattwa the shining Can show the Atman By its pure light: Yet sattwa will bind you To search for happiness, Longing for knowledge. Rajas the passionate Will make you thirsty For pleasure and possession: Rajas will bind you To hunger for action. Tamas the ignorant Bewilders all men: Tamas will bind you With bonds of delusion, Sluggishness, stupor. And here from the Bible (Ecclesiastes 3.1-8) : To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. And from The Koran(I believe this is from Verse 1, Surah: 14 –Ibrahim) : A good word is like a good tree whose root is firmly fixed and whose top is in the sky. To my mind, all the above excerpts are poetry, and didacticism done well, in other words, meant to enlighten and not to bludgeon.

4 16 Reply
Kevin Straw 21 November 2009

Hitler would enjoy this poem. Conscience is bred in the house? Of course it is. And which parent would not propagate in his or her offspring a conscience? A conscience - a sense of what we may or may not do - is inevitable in a social animal. I dislike this kind of didactic poetry - poetry should describe humanity, not preach to it. When poetry makes us argue with its propositions it ceases to be the complete thing.

3 13 Reply
Alex Y. 21 November 2005

You are quite the poet. This is really amazing work. A long poem with a deep message. Excellent: D

5 10 Reply
Michael Walker 03 March 2020

I agree with his comment, 'Give me simple laboring folk, 'Who love their work'.

0 0 Reply
Madhabi Banerjee 09 November 2016

good writing.conscience that balanceth both joy and sorrow

1 3 Reply
Aftab Alam Khursheed 21 November 2014

High quality philosophical poem with - Conscience is instinct bred in the house, Feeling and Thinking propagate the sin as we grow we grow with sin we think about right and wrong..evergreen poem ever read and attaractive

5 3 Reply
Marieta Maglas 21 November 2014

Conscience needs awareness..... ''Feeling and Thinking propagate the sin By an unnatural breeding in and in.'''-beautiful lines

3 3 Reply
Gangadharan Nair Pulingat 21 November 2014

Got an opportunity to read such a great poem is a lucky I think always. It is a poem about the life.

4 3 Reply
Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

Concord, Massachusetts
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