Hidden Poems of Thoreau


By Thad Gullman

May 14th 1991, the day of the hoe.  The Thoreau hoe.  The hoe my grandmother had treasured for so many years. She had been given it to treasure by Henry C. Wheeler and treasure it she did. It was a hoe with a history, it’s true, but it was also a hoe with a secret.  “why is this circle on the top of the handle a different tone than the rest of the handle Grannie May, I asked. “Why I have no idea Thad,” she replied. It took me a year of wheedling to get her to agree to let me test the hunch, the odd certainty that had taken hold of me the moment I had seen the slightly deeper hue of the handle top.  It was only when I tapped the die with a 2 inch thick block of slate and Grannie could hear the extra resonance that she accepted my belief, that a hole had been bored in the handle.  May 14th1992. I sanded away the top of the handle until the bored hole was revealed, Thoreau’s secret brought to light. And inside the hole? Inside the hole of the hoe was a thin scroll in Thoreau’s unmistakable hand.

The scroll in the hoe was entitled My Poem Finder, and contained an intricate 19th century algorithm which provided a key for locating lines in Thoreau’s essays which taken sequentially formed  poems which Henry David had hidden in his essays. These poems, which I have laboriously reconstituted over the last two decades, are of a substantially greater quality than the “overt” poems with which you are familiar. The purpose of this essay is to present examples of Thoreau’s hidden poems, analyze them, consider whether Thoreau anticipated the development of contemporary poetry, and finally to determine whether his relatively insipid overt poems were a deliberate ruse.

Let us begin by examining a typical example of one of Thoreau’s hidden poems.

The Pond Was My Well Ready Dug

We might try our minds by a thousand simple tests

The violence of love is as much to be dreaded as that of hate

The north wind has already begun to cool the pond

But all this is very selfish


Friendship is not so kind as is imagined

Squirrels and wild mice disputed for my store of nuts

Why level downward to our dullest perception always

I do not suppose that I have attained to obscurity[1]

At first blush the reader will note two things without effort. First, that the poem is clearly organic and pre-conceived.  Second, that it is far, far superior to Thoreau’s extant poetry.

Consider this section of “To The Maiden of the East”

Believe I knew thy thought,

And that the zephys brought

Thy kindest wishes through,

As mine they bear to you;

That some attentive cloud

Did pause amid the crowd

                Over my head,

While gentle things were said.[2]

This is clearly just an outpouring of insipid drivel, whilst The Pond That Was My Well Ready Dug, is stately and evocative of Thoreau’s deeper wellsprings, and is every sense, a measured cascade of foxy thoughts. The effect of Thoreau’s hidden poems accentuates the observations of the Thoreau Scholar[3] Indeed the hidden poem firmly establishes that Thoreau should be considered a real philosopher. Which according to Gullman’s essay, The Realness of Thoreau’s Philosophy, is well on the way to objective establishment to begin with. [4]

As we look deeper the reader will note that each line is the opening line of a prose paragraph, and in this the reader may easily guess the firm mechanism of Thoreau’s hidden poem algorithm.  For, as he wrote within the hoe, “let the first line be carried out into the poem.”[5] In that manuscript our philosopher poet further opined that “this boxed in rhyming wherein we imprison our poesy must perforce expire, and against that day I weave in these unrhymed poems.  By this key.”[6] Here we find the clearest exposition of Thoreau as a real philosopher, not merely, a natural philosopher but a philosopher of the human intellectual and evolutional spirit. His grounded understanding of the human condition well understood that the days of formal poetry would one day expire.  In this sense we may well believe that his intent in writing such obviously torpid traditional verse was to hurry that day along.  Consider what he said himself in the following hidden poem.


Most People With Whom I Talk

Sometimes I rambled to pine groves

Sometimes, after staying in the village parlor

It was like traveling into a far country

It was vain for me to endeavor to interrupt the Silence


One Old hunter who has a dry tongue

A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener

For a long time I was a reporter to a journal

I have a great deal of company in my house[7]

He does indeed. And who wouldn’t gather to hear the true poems of our philosopher. As the Thoreau scholar has said, “Henry David Thoreau was an American author, philosopher, and naturalist who was part of the Transcendentalist movement. “[8] That he was. But he was also a poet whose time had not yet come during that movement, but which has now arrived. Let us then gather!





[1] Hidden Poems, ed. Gullman 47-48

[2] Henry David Thoreau, The Portable Thoreau, 184

[3] Richard J. Schneider – See http://www.thoreausociety.org/_news_abouthdt.htm et al.

[4] Thad Gullman, The Realness of Thoreau’s Philosophy. 16-17

[5] Henry David Thoreau, The Thoreau Hoe Manuscript.

[6] Henry David Thoreau, The Thoreau Hoe Manuscript.

[7] Henry David Thoreau, Hidden Poems, ed. Gullman - 97