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Poetry Classroom: Thoreau Considers a Stone

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Welcome to this month’s poetry classroom, with poet and professor Todd Davis. We invite you to respond to the poems we’ll share here—their forms, images, sounds, meanings, surprises—ask questions of Todd and each other, and write your own poems along the way.



Thoreau Considers a Stone

At the center of the pond an island of ice, circumference
twenty feet smaller than the pond itself. No wind or rain

so water clears, except where the sun pushes the ice’s shadow.
This man, unsure of the pond’s depth, throws a stone,

weight puncturing its plane, the slow drift in sluggish water.
The life of a stone is lost, or, at best, ignored, but this man

returns to his hovel to record the sound a stone makes
when it pierces the frozen mask. That night he considers

how in time all masks disappear, and, with this, how all things
expand or shrink. In his sleep he dreams of light pressing down

to reveal the stone: a turtle, no longer asleep, rising toward
new air, hind claws making use of that very stone.

—Todd Davis

Photo by Bryan Pocius. Creative Commons, via Flickr. Poem by Todd Davis, author of In the Kingdom of the Ditch

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Discussion Questions:

1. Consider a stone.

2. Which lines are your favorites and why?

3. Is there an “aha” moment for you anywhere in the poem? Put your finger on the moment.

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Great Teaching or Learning Resource on How to Read a Poem

How to Read a Poem by Tania Runyan 2

Your Comments

10 Comments so far

  1. So, I like the turtle. I haven’t read enough Thoreau to recognize this stone, but it is interesting to think that whatever he wrote about that stone in Walden or elsewhere is not the whole story–something happens after he drops it into the pond. He dreams the light and the turtle.

    My takeaway: Whatever we’re writing, even when we’re writing true, it’s such a small specific sliver. We’re just considering a stone.

    • Interesting, Megan. It’s your word “just” I might counter. Even the smallest thing matters, we can’t always know what its larger effect might be, and try as we might to be the island that stands out, separate and apart, we each have a place that is but part of something much greater.

      The “life” of that stone is long; until we pick it up and examine it and make it our own, we really know nothing of its story.

    • Todd Davis says:

      Megan,

      You might wish to visit the section on Winter in Walden and Thoreau’s contemplation of the depths of Walden Pond.

      This poem was the first poem I wrote in my series of “Thoreau” poems. It was the intersection of my lived experience echoing what I’d read in Thoreau that led me to think there might be a series I could write.

  2. It’s been years and years since I read “Walden Pond” but the one thing that’s remained with me is that sense of what we can discover in solitude (not aloneness, which is different), as I think L.L. so beautifully revealed in her book “God in the Yard” and that Todd Davis time and again is showing us this month in his beautifully written poems. He invests the most prosaic of objects, as here, a stone, with meaning that ordinarily it would never have for us. Nature becomes our teacher.

    Yes, we can consider the stone just a stone; but then we discover it’s more: it has heft, it makes a sound when it hits ice, it has use; it pierces the ice and the metaphorical mask of its own being is revealed, underscoring its relation to us and vice versa.

    What I especially love about this poem is how, at its conclusion, it leads us back to life.

    • Todd Davis says:

      Maureen,

      What you say here resonates with me. I, too, like to embrace solitude and its gifts. (As you say, very different from loneliness.)

      And I do believe, like William Blake, that everything that lives is holy. So the smallest, the least, is a special sacrament.

  3. Sir Todd – did you have the ending in mind before you finished the poem?

    And for some reason, I read the poem with the imagery of a pebble — until I read miss Maureen’s “heft” description above. Interesting. In my mind, the stone-thrower really only tossed the stone and it scudded across ice, broke a bit of the icy edge off, and then sunk into water.

    Thanks.

    Blessings.

    • Todd Davis says:

      Darlene,

      No, I did not have the ending in mind before the poem was finished. That is usually the case for me. I love that in writing a poem you are often writing toward discovery. This poem was certainly an act of discovery for me.

      The poem began with a literal pond and literal stone, however. And I did heave it to test the strength of the ice. As it fell through the ice shelf and made its way to the bottom, it made me recall Thoreau testing the depth of his pond, as well as a turtle I had observed in my pond the summer before.

  4. I’ll answer the #2. My favorite lines:

    “The life of a stone is lost, or, at best, ignored, but this man

    returns to his hovel to record”

    because of the words “lost…or ignored, but this man…recorded”

    It reminds me of my favorite Emily Dickinson poem:

    “A word is dead
    When it is said,
    Some say.
    I say it just
    Begins to live
    That day.”

    In the act of writing, we can bring to life something that otherwise would have been lost or ignored.

    • Todd Davis says:

      Monica,

      I’m glad you liked these lines. I like to work with interior rhyme in some poems.

      At the moment I’ve just finished teaching some of Dickinson’s poems in an American literature course. Certainly her words echo in my head and perhaps find a way into my poems……


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