The Hero (Thoreau)

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For works with similar titles, see The Hero.

THE HERO[1]

What doth he ask?
Some worthy task,
Never to run
Till that be done,
That never done
Under the sun.
Here to begin
All things to win
By his endeavor
Forever and ever.
Happy and well
On this ground to dwell,
This soil subdue,
Plant, and renew.
By might and main
Health and strength gain,
So to give nerve
To his slenderness;
Yet some mighty pain
He would sustain,
So to preserve
His tenderness.
Not be deceived,
Of suff'ring bereaved,
Not lose his life
By living too well,
Nor escape strife
In his lonely cell,
And so find out heaven
By not knowing hell.
Strength like the rock
To withstand any shock,
Yet some Aaron's rod,
Some smiting by God,
Occasion to gain
To shed human tears
And to entertain
Still demonic fears.
Not once for all, forever, blest,
Still to be cheered out of the west;
Not from his heart to banish all sighs;
Still be encouraged by the sunrise;
Forever to love and to love and to love,
Within him, around him, beneath him, above.
To love is to know, is to feel, is to be;
At once 't is his birth and his destiny.
Having sold all,
Something would get,
Furnish his stall
With better yet,—
For earthly pleasures
Celestial pains,
Heavenly losses
For earthly gains.
Still to begin—unheard-of sin
A fallen angel—a risen man
Never returns to where he began.
Some childlike labor
Here to perform,
Some baby-house
To keep out the storm,
And make the sun laugh
While he doth warm,
And the moon cry
To think of her youth,
The months gone by,
And wintering truth.


How long to morning?
Can any tell?
How long since the warning
On our ears fell?
The bridegroom cometh
Know we not well?
Are we not ready,
Our packet made,
Our hearts steady,
Last words said?
Must we still eat
The bread we have spurned?
Must we rekindle
The faggots we've burned?
Must we go out
By the poor man's gate?
Die by degrees,
Not by new fate?
Is there no road
This way, my friend?
Is there no road
Without any end?
Have you not seen
In ancient times
Pilgrims go by here
Toward other climes,
With shining faces
Youthful and strong
Mounting this hill
With speech and with song?
Oh, my good sir,
I know not the ways;
Little my knowledge,
Though many my days.
When I have slumbered,
I have heard sounds
As travellers passing
Over my grounds.
'T was a sweet music
Wafted them by;
I could not tell
If far off or nigh.
Unless I dreamed it,
This was of yore,
But I never told it
To mortal before;
Never remembered
But in my dreams
What to me waking
A miracle seems.
If you will give of your pulse or your grain,
We will rekindle those flames again.
Here will we tarry, still without doubt,
Till a miracle putteth that fire out.

  1. [Twenty-six lines of this, somewhat revised, appear under the title of "Pilgrims" in Excursions, and Poems, p. 413.]