Verse in "Civil Disobedience"

George Marinopoulos, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

In "Civil Disobedience" Thoreau makes a strong argument against the existence of a government by pointing out that the government's actions are all in the form of restrictions for people who would probably be better off without them. Both Thoreau's anarchist views as well as his pacifist attitude are obvious in the essay as he entertains the idea of a nation without a government or a standing army. Although the argument follows a very logical sequence through which the makes his points, he also quotes certain verses of poetry at specific points throughout the essay.

A wise man will only be useful as a man, and will not submit to be "clay," and "stop a hole to keep the wind away," but leave that office to his dust at least:

"I am too high born to be propertied,
To be a second at control,
Or useful serving-man and instrument
To any sovereign state throughout the world."

He who gives himself entirely to his fellow men appears to them useless and selfish; but he who gives himself partially to them in pronounced a benefactor and Philanthropist.

Why does he use these verses in his argument? Do they represent a piece of common wisdom and work as a means of furthering his argument? Could they simply be a means by which Thoreau makes his essay more diverse and therefore more interesting to his audience? If so do you think that it is effective?


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Last modified 6 March 2002