Transcendentalism is a social and philosophical movement that developed around 1826 in New England. The movement was in reaction to rationalism and increasing industrialization. The founders, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and David Henry Thoreau, were influenced by Romanticism, Kantian philosophy, and more. Transcendentalism taught that divinity, or God is a part of all nature and all humanity. The movement broadly progressed in regard to equal rights. The movement valued intuition and a deep, harmonious connection to the natural world that was fostered through spending time outside.
This particular poem taps into many of these features, exploring the powers of intuition and celebrating the interconnectivity of the natural world.
Explore The Inward Morning
In the first part of the poem, the speaker acknowledges and celebrates a connection between what goes on in his mind and what occurs outside in nature. There is a unity between the two that’s at the heart of this poem and is tied into the broader belief system of the transcendentalist movement. He explains that this connection is one that allows him to know that morning is coming before any “change” is visible on the horizon. It’s the same knowledge that flowers and trees have.
These living things know what’s happening even when there is no visible sign of it. The sun rises, and the wintery gloom is pushed away in favour of warm light. This is a wonderful process, one that’s repeated over and over again. It alludes to the cycle of life and death that’s obviously an integral part of the same systems of nature the speaker feels connected to.
Thoreau engages with the theme of nature in ‘The Inward Morning.’ It fills the poem, seeing as the main focus and the main characters. The various natural phenomenon that he mentions is all connected, just as he is connected to them. Through the lines of the poem, the poet is promoting a vision of the natural world as knowledgeable, filled with intuition, and connected on all levels. Readers are meant to leave this piece with a new consideration of what the world is like and how one fits into it.
Structure and Form
‘The Inward Morning’ by Henry David Thoreau is a nine-stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These lines follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABCB, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. There are also a few examples of half-rhyme that can increase the overall feeling of rhyme and rhythm in a piece. For example, “abroad” and “uncalled” in lines one and three of the second stanza.
Readers should also take note of the alternating pattern of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, creating something known as a ballad stanza. The odd-numbered lines, mostly, contain four sets of two beats, the first of which is usually unstressed and the second of which is unstressed. The same pattern of stresses appears in the even-numbered lines, except there are three sets of two beats per line.
Thoreau makes use of several literary devices in ‘The Inward Morning.’ For example, enjambment, personification, and alliteration. The latter is a type of repetition that’s concerned with the use and reuse of the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, “my mind” in line one of the first stanza and “patient pine” in stanza five.
A personification is a form of figurative language that imbues human characteristics on non-human animals, forces, or objects. In this case, the poet describes the light of morning communicating with trees and animals.
Enjambment is a common formal device that occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines three and four of the first stanza as well as lines three and four of stanza three. Readers should also take note of the use of imagery in ‘The Inward Morning.’ It can be seen throughout the poem, created by Thoreau, in an effort to make every scene and sensation seem real.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
Packed in my mind lie all the clothes
Which outward nature wears,
And in its fashion’s hourly change
It all things else repairs.
In the first stanza of ‘The Inward Morning,’ the speaker taps into a traditional idea of transcendentalism, that nature reflects humanity and humanity reflects nature. It is “Packed in [his] mind” in the same way that nature depicts it outwardly. There is a connection that is beneficial and healing. It’s something that the speaker believes is at the heart of human existence, and that informs the rest of the poem. Readers should also take note of the metaphor that Thoreau uses in these lines when he describes nature’s clothes.
In vain I look for change abroad,
And can no difference find,
Till some new ray of peace uncalled
Illumes my inmost mind.
In the second stanza of ‘The Inward Morning,’ the speaker describes how he seeks out, without result, “change abroad” but can find no difference. That is, until the “ray of peace…Illumes” his mind. This “ray” is human intuition that tells him that the “change,” or the sunrise, is coming. Intuition was another important part of the transcendentalist philosophy. The image of “change” comes to him mysteriously, out of nowhere. There is no rational explanation for it. Readers should also note the use of the word “peace” in these lines. This is the overall feeling that Thoreau is hoping to achieve with these lines. He’d like the reader to feel this same peace as they consider the natural world and their place/role within it.
What is it gilds the trees and clouds,
And paints the heavens so gay,
But yonder fast-abiding light
With its unchanging ray?
Their stanza contains a question, one that’s not supposed to be answered except through allusion in the following stanzas. It’s only the “unchanging ray” of “younger fast-abiding light” that’s painted the “trees and clouds…so gay.” The brightness is coming strong and fast. It’s covering the trees and clouds with a warmth and harmony that he feels inside himself. It beats back the darkness temporarily, alluding to the cycle of life and death.
Lo, when the sun streams through the wood,
Upon a winter’s morn,
Where’er his silent beams intrude
The murky night is gone.
In these stanzas, the light is winning. It’s coming through the wood and warming the “winter’s morn.” The contrast between this light and the obvious coolness of the night is a great example of juxtaposition. It should also be noted that the poet refers to the sun’s streams as “his silent beams.” This is a brief example of personification that is continued in the following lines.
The “murky night” disappears as soon as the sun starts shining through. This is likely meant as a metaphor for clearing one’s mind and seeing the truth of one’s connection to the natural world. Just as the night is cleared, so too is one’s mind. It is that same connection that was alluded to with the clothing metaphor in the first stanza.
How could the patient pine have known
The morning breeze would come,
Or humble flowers anticipate
The insect’s noonday hum,—
The poet’s speaker asks another question that extends through the fifth and sixth stanzas. He asks how it’s possible that the pine trees that have waited so patiently could’ve known that the “morning breeze would come.” The same question is posed in regard to the “humble flowers” and the “noonday hum” of the insects. The world knows intuitively that the “change” in lightness and dark is approaching. There is no rational explanation for it. It’s just the way it is.
Till the new light with morning cheer
From far streamed through the aisles,
And nimbly told the forest trees
For many stretching miles?
In the sixth stanza, the speaker adds to his question, concluding by asking how these flowers and trees could’ve known the sun was coming till it appeared “with morning cheer” and stretched down the aisles of the forest. It goes on and on, he says, for “miles,” covering everything. As before, this question is answered through allusion in the following stanzas.
I’ve heard within my inmost soul
Such cheerful morning news,
In the horizon of my mind
Have seen such orient hues,
The speaker knows in his soul that the “cheerful morning news” is relayed clearly and powerfully. He doesn’t need someone to walk up and tell him. He simply knows. He is comparing this knowledge or intuition about morning to the same experience plants and animals have. He’s seen it all “In the horizons of [his] mind.”
Stanzas Eight and Nine
As in the twilight of the dawn,
When the first birds awake,
Are heard within some silent wood,
Where they the small twigs break,
Or in the eastern skies are seen,
Before the sun appears,
The harbingers of summer heats
Which from afar he bears.
Just as it happens in his mind, so, too, does it happen when the “first birds awake.” The facts of the morning are communicated without words or sounds. They simply occur. The wood is “silent,” and the summer heat sends out its message to all living beings. The poem concludes on this peaceful note, alluding to many more mornings and evenings where living things know what’s happening around them intuitively.
Readers who enjoyed ‘The Inward Morning’ should also consider reading some of Thoreau’s other best-known poems. For example:
- ‘Indeed, Indeed I Cannot Tell’ – is a universal poem that seeks to relate to every type of reader. The speaker expresses confusion over an emotion he’s experiencing. He doesn’t know if it’s love or hate. Perhaps it is connected to the end of a relationship.
- ‘My Prayer’ – includes the transcendental belief that God is a part of everything, rather than a separate entity.
- ‘My life has been the poem I would have writ’ – is a two-line poem. In the two lines, the poet expresses the fact that it is between to have lived than to sit around writing about living.
- ‘The Thaw’ – describes a speaker’s desire to be and remain an integral part of an ecosystem. He knows he has to remain silent and find his place. He’d like to meltdown and flow through the “pores of nature.”
- ‘Tall Ambrosia’ – describes a speaker’s experiences in a field of ambrosia and the joy he takes from spending time in nature.