Thoreau’s Flute by Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott, best known for her novel Little Women, admired her Transcendentalist neighbors, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Louisa May Alcott, author of Thoreau's Flute, Little Women, and others.

Louisa May Alcott at about age 20. Photographer Unknown, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

During Louisa’s elementary school years, Thoreau was her teacher, and in Moods, one of her early works of fiction, she records many happy memories of nature and history-centered field trips. When Thoreau died several years later, Louisa wrote Thoreau’s Flute, a short elegy, in his honor.

Thoreau’s Flute

By Louisa May Alcott

We, sighing, said, “Our Pan is dead;
His pipe hangs mute beside the river;—
Around it wistful sunbeams quiver,
But Music’s airy voice is fled.
Spring mourns as for untimely frost;
The bluebird chants a requiem;
The willow-blossom waits for him;—
The Genius of the wood is lost.”

Then from the flute, untouched by hands,
There came a low, harmonious breath:
“For such as he there is no death;—
His life the eternal life commands;
Above man’s aims his nature rose:
The wisdom of a just content
Made one small spot a continent,
And tuned to poetry life’s prose.

“Haunting the hills, the stream, the wild,
Swallow and aster, lake and pine,
To him grew human or divine,—
Fit mates for this large-hearted child
Such homage Nature ne’er forgets,
And yearly on the coverlid
‘Neath which her darling lieth hid
Will write his name in violets.

“To him no vain regrets belong,
Whose soul, that finer instrument,
Gave to the world no poor lament,
But wood-notes ever sweet and strong.
O lonely friend! he still will be
A potent presence, though unseen,—
Steadfast, sagacious, and serene:
Seek not for him,—he is with thee.”

First published in the “Atlantic Monthly,” September, 1863.

“Thoreau’s Flute” has been set to music along with Samuel Stennett’s “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand”  in the New England Concordance, a pair of original choral pieces by composer Lewis Spratlan. This composition was intended as a tribute to American culture and music.You may hear this piece and others on the Boston Saengerfest Men’s Chorus website.

Henry David Thoreau Biography

You can read more about Louisa May Alcott’s admiration for Thoreau and Emerson at the New England Historical Society website.