Thoreau packs in a rich deck of similes and metaphors in this short description of the shrub oak.  For the image, I looked for something that conveyed ‘clean as the atmosphere’, but I also like ‘hardy as virtue’ and the idea of being as ‘natural and sound as a partridge’.

Note, in the full quotation below, his life-affirming statement that ‘a sense of want is a prayer, and all prayers are answered’.  This from someone who, in the conventional sense, wasn’t particularly religious.  As one of his aunts shouted to another who was deaf, their nephew would rather listen to frogs for half an hour than read the life of this or that saint which she had recommended to him.

And may you be ‘as natural and sound as a partridge’.

‘How can any man suffer long?  For a sense of want is a prayer, and all prayers are answered. Rigid as iron, clean as the atmosphere, hardy as virtue, innocent and sweet as a maiden is the shrub oak. In proportion as I know and love it, I am natural and sound as a partridge.’  1 Dec 1856

Source: Henry David Thoreau, The Journal 1837-1861, Damion Searls (ed.), preface by John R. Stilgoe (New York: New York Review Books, 2009), p. 417

Photo credit: Fitze at


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