First, the unusual simile, I never thought of a lamb’s bleat as free or lawless.  Then the idea that a true poetic sentence is free and lawless.  I found several similar comments in Thoreau, and something about them gave me a sense of liberty.

I was once criticized by a professor for being ‘far too inventive in your use of English’.  I took the criticism as an accolade and have been trying to live up to it ever since.

‘Essentially your truest poetic sentence is as free and lawless as a lamb’s bleat.’   2 January 1859

Source: Henry David Thoreau, The Journal 1837-1861, Damion Searls (ed.), preface by John R. Stilgoe (New York: New York Review Books, 2009), p. 534

Photo credit: SonnyLeroy at

1 Comment

  1. Uden

    “When I hear the hypercritical quarreling about grammar and style, the position of the particles, etc., etc., stretching or contracting every speaker to certain rules of theirs. I see that they forget that the first requisite and rule is that expression shall be vital and natural, as much as the voice of a brute or an interjection: first of all, mother tongue; and last of all, artificial or father tongue. Essentially your truest poetic sentence is as free and lawless as a lamb’s bleat.”

    ~ Henry David Thoreau

    One of my favorites. Good stuff.


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