I Was Made Erect and Lone

Henry David Thoreau

‘I Was Made Erect and Lone’ by Henry David Thoreau is a poem about trusting in your own individual autonomy.


Henry David Thoreau

Nationality: American

Henry David Thoreau is one of the most important writers of the transcendentalist movement.

He wrote essays, poems, and philosophical works.

Key Poem Information

Central Message: Aspire to self-reliance

Themes: Birth, Identity, Nature

Speaker: A transcendentalist

Emotions Evoked: Bravery, Faith, Resilience

Poetic Form: Couplets

Time Period: 19th Century

A short but powerful poem that offers up compelling images and figurative language to illustrate the importance of the individual.

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‘I Was Made Erect and Lone’ is a somewhat deceptively simple and short poem, one that begins with plenty of clarity but quickly becomes somewhat ambiguous because of its abstract diction and symbolism.

Ultimately the poem is a profession by Thoreau of ideas central to Transcendentalism. From self-reliance to seeing nature as a catalyst for human understanding, the poem both inspires and instills the importance of sustaining such values. Especially when individual morality begins to conflict with an immoral government or society.

I Was Made Erect and Lone
Henry David Thoreau

I was made erect and lone,And within me is the bone;Still my vision will be clear,Still my life will not be drear,To the center all is near.Where I sit there is my throne.If age choose to sit apart,If age choose, give me the start,Take the sap and leave the heart.


‘I Was Made Erect and Lone’ by Henry David Thoreau advocates for Transcendental tenets like self-reliance and developing a moral center.

‘I Was Made Erect and Lone’ is a short poem that rather adequately sums up some of the core beliefs Thoreau had as a Transcendentalist. The poem is mainly about trusting oneself in the face of opposition and finding merit in who you are when others might not.

The speaker of the poem utters these lines like a mantra, making decisive declarations about the solitary nature of human existence and the responsibility it places on the individual to better themselves. Throughout, they give examples of how to both foster and maintain self-reliance in a world that might look to stamp it out. Quietly alluding to a number of Thoreau’s own personal experiences and works — such as his advocation in ‘Civil Disobedience’ to defy immoral laws.

Structure and Form

‘I Was Made Erect and Lone’ is composed of nine lines with a rhyme scheme of ‘AABBBACCC.’ Its end-stopped lines place a lyrical emphasis on the heavy rhyming pattern while also empowering the didactic voice of the speaker.

Literary Devices

‘I Was Made Erect and Lone’ uses quite a few literary devices for such a brief poem. Thoreau uses a number of metaphors to convey Transcendental ideas: self-reliance, “I was made erect and lone” (1); self-respect, “Where I sit there is my throne” (6); and an unshakable will, “Take the sap and leave the heart” (9).

There’s also personification when the speaker refers to the ” age” that chooses “to sit apart” (7). Symbolism as well: “the bone” (2) for nature’s manifestation in human organic matter as well as a source of strength and spirit; and later echoed when the speaker states “to the center all is near” (5). Thoreau also employs a form of repetition in the use of anaphora for the lines that begin with “Still my” (3-4) and “If age” (7-8).

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-2

I was made erect and lone,
And within me is the bone;

In the first two lines of ‘I Was Made Erect and Lone,’ the speaker expresses a couple of central tenets of Transcendentalism. One of the first is an idealistic aspiration to self-reliance: “I was made erect and lone” (1), the speaker declares, emphasizing the thoughtful individualism that was foundational to such independence. But there’s also a poignant tone that hangs on such a statement that focuses on the solitary nature of life’s beginnings — and presumably its end. The speaker seems to imply that how often we stand alone in life is a reflection of the way we are born into it similarly alone.

Another is that such self-actualization is both cultivated and encountered when immersed in nature. At first glance, it might appear this poem lacks any explicit imagery or symbolism related to the environment. But the “bone” (2) that the speaker claims is inside them is exactly that; finding nature in viscera and osseous matter. It’s a word he used more than once in his writings to describe the literal material a person/animal is composed of — as well as a symbolic euphemism for the body and a person’s grit.

Lines 3-6

Still my vision will be clear,
Still my life will not be drear,
To the center all is near.
Where I sit there is my throne.

The next three lines of ‘I Was Made Erect and Lone’ underscores the bleak double-edged nature of the poem’s first. The repetition of “still” (3-4) indicates that it’s despite being “erect and lone” (1) that the speaker will achieve these things. Both of these affirmations also highlight important transcendental sentiments: “vision will be clear” (3) goes hand-in-hand with maintaining one’s spiritual and moral autonomy, while “life will not be drear” (4) alludes to the belief that life was best spent testing oneself (be it through casting off material comforts or attempting to live away from the comforts of civilization).

What keeps the speaker firmly anchored is their own self — illustrated in the compelling image expressed in the last line of this section: “To the center all is near / Where I sit there is my throne” (5-6). It’s a succinct aphorism that communicates the importance of the self to Transcendentalism, not as an ego to be protected or appeased, but as a starting point for introspection and personal growth. It also stresses the importance of finding value in yourself before seeking it out elsewhere; self-respect for life is essential.

Lines 7-9

If age choose to sit apart,
If age choose, give me the start,
Take the sap and leave the heart.

The last three lines of ‘I Was Made Erect and Lone’ is perhaps the most difficult in the poem to decipher due to their diction and ambiguous symbolism. The first is “age,” which could refer to one’s particular era in human history, a kind of abstract zeitgeist that the speaker personifies as choosing “to sit apart” from them (7).

This, of course, fits neatly into the ideas Thoreau espoused in ‘Civil Disobedience,’ which advocated the moral obligation of the individual against an immoral government — and by extension — society. Which, in turn, might lead to, at best, being ostracized and, at worst, imprisoned or killed.

Continuing this interpretation of “age” into the next line, Thoreau’s use of anaphora reinforces the speaker’s defiance. But then the speaker makes an ambiguous statement: “Give me the start” (8). Now, the handle of a plough is also known as a “start,” so the line could be read as an acceptance by the speaker to take whatever consequence comes from living their philosophy. Or it could reference a desire to work and fulfill one’s essential goal of cultivating the self and those around you (and, by extension, the “age” you live in) as a means of finding the truth.

Finally, there’s the poem’s final line. The sap refers to the nutritional liquid that’s used by plants and is a symbol of vitality, serving as the lifeblood of flora. The heart, though, is a human image, one that also alludes symbolically to idealism and the poem’s motif of a center — what organ is more central to our existence than our hearts?

Thoreau uses this juxtaposition of images in the last line to further intertwine the reader in the organic overlap between humanity and the vegetation that surrounds us. The metaphor “take the sap” (9) can be reworded to effectively mean “take my blood,” a sign that the speaker would rather suffer possibly physical retribution than give up their very liberty.


What is the theme of ‘I Was Made Erect and Lone?

The theme of the poem — although given clarity and weight through all nine lines — is best surmised from its first line and title. It’s a powerful image that reveals the strength of one’s own embraced individuality and echoes the call for self-reliance that is central to Transcendentalism. In a sentence, the poem’s theme is that a morally guided individual is something one should aspire to.

Why did Henry David Thoreau write ‘I Was Made Erect and Lone?

The poem voices many Transcendental beliefs and almost sounds like a guide on how and why one should follow them. These affirmations come from the speaker as metaphorical images and symbols, which support everything from self-reliance to civil disobedience. Both of these were important to Thoreau, who was an abolitionist that encouraged people to disobey immoral laws like slavery, even if it was as simple as not paying taxes and going briefly to jail over it (as he did).

What is the meaning of ‘I Was Made Erect and Lone?

The poem advocates for the beliefs of Transcendentalism. Presenting its various tenets and giving reasons why they are a preferred way to both perceive and live one’s life. Namely, it hones in on the importance of the individual as a moral (as opposed to egotistical) agent that similarly advocates for morality where there is none.

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Steven Ward Poetry Expert
Steven Ward is a passionate writer, having studied for a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and being a poetry editor for the 'West Wind' publication. He brings this experience to his poetry analysis on Poem Analysis.

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