I'm trying to understand an excerpt from a poem — "Inspiration", by Henry David Thoreau (see below) — but there are two bits I can't quite get. The first confusing part is the verse "and in my day the sun doth pale his light".

Does "in my day" here roughly mean "now that I am (or when I become) acutely aware of reality", so not even the sun in all its effulgence shines as brightly? The second puzzle is the use of "they" in the line, "Farther behind than they, farther within".

I'm not sure what the pronoun "they" refers to. And the whole line itself seems kind of odd — although there's nothing abstruse about the words, the message is not crystal clear : (

Well, to be honest,there are other lines in the rest of the poem whose exact meanings are beyond me, but that's okay; I know poetry is not like math where everything can be accounted for in a step-by-step logical fashion.

Anyway, should anyone be interested in reading the poem in its entirety, see the link at the end of the post.

The excerpt:

I hearing get, who had but ears,
And sight, who had but eyes before;
I moments live, who lived but years,
And truth discern, who knew but learning's lore.

I hear beyond the range of sound,
I see beyond the range of sight,
New earths and skies and seas around,
And in my day the sun doth pale his light.

A clear and ancient harmony
Pierces my soul through all its din,
As through its utmost melody,—
Farther behind than they, farther within.

The full poem

Inspiration (H.D.Thoreau) http://www.the-poets.org/T/thoreau.htm#INSPIRATION_

  • 1
    It seems to me that they refers to two things: "the din" (that is, the ugly, dissonant, and clashing elements) of Thoreau's soul, and the "utmost melody" (that is, the most beautiful and harmonious elements) of that same soul.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Mar 21, 2015 at 5:35
  • "And in my day the sun doth pale his light" could mean "I am brighter than the sun." Commented Mar 21, 2015 at 12:08
  • Thoreau has presumably experienced some sort of epiphany and all of his perceptions have changed. The sun has turned pale by comparison to the "light" of this experience. ("His light" refers to the sun's light.) (Kinda sounds like the guy was doing drugs, which is not an impossibility -- a number of his contemporaries used opium.)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 21, 2015 at 12:44
  • @SvenYargs Thank you, Sven Yargs. Yes, what you said makes sense, and I believe that's exactly what Thoreau tried to convey. Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 1:00
  • @PeterShor Thank you, Peter Shor. I agree. I think Thoreau is referring to a special moment of intense inner radiance which surpasses the sun's light. Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 1:01

2 Answers 2


"They" seems to me to be a generic or hypothetical crowd from which the poet separates himself in this moment of inspiration. See later the reference to

It doth expand my privacies

To all, and leave me single in the crowd.

"In my day"

is IMO

"In my moments/scenes that are [when compared with the ordinary rest of my [spiritual] existence] suffused/filled with light, so that can be regarded as days."

The light might mean understanding. His inspiration becomes so strong it overcomes even the conceptual sun of such "days," it becomes stronger than plain understanding, carrying him to a higher spiritual plane.

  • Thank you, @MariusHancu. I confess I couldn't quite get what you said and will have to think about it some more. I'll get back to the topic at some point during the week! Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 4:01

I would think that "they" refers to the "divine electuary" mentioned earlier.

  • Did you look up the definition of "electuary" before posting this answer? Commented Mar 29, 2015 at 19:29
  • I read "electuary" as the anglicized spelling of electuarii, the plural of electuraium, a sweet medicine.
    – bobro
    Commented Mar 29, 2015 at 21:26

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