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About Henry David Thoreau



Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862) was an American essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, and historian.  Wikipedia

References:    Encyclopaedia Britannica  |   Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

 

  

Henry David Thoreau (quotes)

Principles to live by

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Living a simple life

  • As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.
  • Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Things do not change, we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.
  • Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself.
  • I also have in mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters.
  • I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit. When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run.
  • I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
  • I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.
  • Money is not required to buy one necessity of the soul.
  • Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.
  • None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty.
  • Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplify, simplify, simplify! … Simplicity of life and elevation of purpose.
  • Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand instead of a million-count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.  
  • That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest.
  • The boy gathers materials for a temple, and then when he is thirty, concludes to build a woodshed.
  • We are happy in proportion to the things we can do without.
  • I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartanlike as to put to rout all that was not life.
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Friendship

  • .. they cherish one another’s hopes. They are kind to one another’s dreams.
  • Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.
  • On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.
  • The language of friendship is not words but meanings.
  • The most I can do for my friends is simply to be their friend. I have no wealth to bestow upon them.  If they know that I am happy in loving them, they will want no other reward.  Is not friendship divine in this?  
  • True friendship can afford true knowledge. It does not depend on darkness and ignorance.
  • There is danger that we lose sight of what our friend is absolutely, while considering what she is to us alone.
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Love

  • Ignorance and bungling with love are better than wisdom and skill without.
  • Love must be as much a light as it is a flame.
  • Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.
  • The only way to speak the truth is to speak lovingly.
  • There is no remedy for love but to love more.
  • Those whom we can love, we can hate; to others we are indifferent.
  • May we so love as never to have occasion to repent of our love!
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Doing what you love

  • Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.
  • Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.
  • Only he is successful in his business who makes that pursuit which affords him the highest pleasure sustain him.
  • Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.
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Listening

  • The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.
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Embracing life

  • How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.
  • However mean your life is, meet it and live it: do not shun it and call it hard names.
  • I cannot make my days longer so I strive to make them better.
  • Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.
  • To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.
  • We live but a fraction of our life.
  • We should come home from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day with new experience and character.
  • Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.
  • You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.
  • What is called genius is the abundance of life and health.
  • Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.
  • How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?
  • There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living.
  • To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.
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Making time to be

  • A broad margin of leisure is as beautiful in a man’s life as in a book. Haste makes waste, no less in life than in housekeeping. Keep the time, observe the hours of the universe, not of the cars.
  • A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.
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Taking one’s time

  • Haste makes waste, no less in life than in housekeeping.
  • I have no time to be in a hurry.
  • It is pleasant to have been to a place the way a river went.
  • Nothing can be more useful to you than a determination not to be hurried.
  • Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
  • If one does not keep pace with one’s companions, perhaps it is because he or she hears a different drummer. Let that person step to the music which he or she hears, however measured or far away.  It is not important that we should mature as soon as an apple-tree or an oak. Shall we turn our spring into summer? 
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Inspiration

  • Our moments of inspiration are not lost though we have no particular poem to show for them; for those experiences have left an indelible impression, and we are ever and anon reminded of them.
  • New ideas come into this world somewhat like falling meteors, with a flash and an explosion.
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Virtue …

  • There are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man.
  • We cannot well do without our sins; they are the highway of our virtue.
  • That virtue we appreciate is as much ours as another’s. We see so much only as we possess.
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… and goodness

  • Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something.
  • Goodness is the only investment that never fails.
  • It is best to avoid the beginnings of evil.
  • There is no odour so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted.
  • There are thousands hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.
  • Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so.
  • If you would convince a man that he does wrong, do right. Men will believe what they see.
  • The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.
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Efficiency

  • It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?
  • The really efficient labourer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure.
  • He is the best sailor who can steer within the fewest points of the wind, and exact a motive power out of the greatest obstacles.
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Understanding

  • When one man has reduced a fact of the imagination to be a fact to his understanding, I foresee that all men will at length establish their lives on that basis.
  • We shall see but little way if we require to understand what we see. How few things can a man measure with the tape of his understanding! How many greater things might he be seeing in the meanwhile!
  • Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.
  • I begin to see an object when I cease to understand it.
  • In human intercourse the tragedy begins, not when there is misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood.
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Success

  • Men are born to succeed.
  • Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.
  • The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of the others?
  • We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.
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Intention

  • In the long run, men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, they had better aim at something high.
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Imagination

  • The imagination, give it the least license, dives deeper and soars higher than Nature goes.
  • The world is but a canvas to the imagination.
  • It is usually the imagination that is wounded first, rather than the heart; it being much more sensitive.
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Trust

  • I think we may safely trust a good deal more than we do.
  • We are always paid for our suspicion by finding what we suspect.
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Respect

  • It is worth the while to live respectably unto ourselves. We can possibly get along with a neighbour, even with a bedfellow, whom we respect but very little; but as soon as it comes to this, that we do not respect ourselves, then we do not get along at all. Henry David Thoreau
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Non-conformity

  • The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of people; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! 
  • As for conforming outwardly, and living your own life inwardly, I do not think much of that.
  • Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.
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Work

  • Good for the body is the work of the body, good for the soul is the work of the soul, and good for either is the work of the other.
  • If it is surely the means to the highest end we know, can any work be humble or disgusting? Will it not rather be elevating as a ladder, the means by which we are translated?
  • Live your life, do your work, then take your hat.
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Wisdom

  • Wisdom does not inspect, but behold. We must look a long time before we can see.
  • Ignorance and bungling with love are better than wisdom and skill without.
  • To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live, according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.
  • All this worldly wisdom was once the unamiable heresy of some wise man.
  • I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.
  • It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.
  • It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know.
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Knowledge and ignorance

  • A man’s ignorance sometimes is not only useful, but beautiful-while his knowledge, so called, is oftentimes worse than useless, besides being ugly. Henry David Thoreau
  • Ignorance and bungling with love are better than wisdom and skill without.
  • To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.
  • True friendship can afford true knowledge. It does not depend on darkness and ignorance.
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Doubt

  • Faith keeps many doubts in her pay. If I could not doubt, I should not believe.
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Truth

  • In all perception of the truth there is a divine ecstasy, an inexpressible delirium of joy, as when a youth embraces his betrothed virgin.
  • It takes two to speak the truth — one to speak, and another to hear.
  • Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.
  • The only way to speak the truth is to speak lovingly.
  • I am sorry to think that you do not get a man’s most effective criticism until you provoke him. Severe truth is expressed with some bitterness.
  • How sweet is the perception of a new natural fact!
  • No face which we can give to a matter will stead us so well at last as the truth. This alone wears well.
  • The lawyer’s truth is not Truth, but consistency or a consistent expediency.
  • The rarest quality in an epitaph is truth.
  • Truth is always in harmony with herself, and is not concerned chiefly to reveal the justice that may consist with wrong-doing.
  • Truths and roses have thorns about them.
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Dreams …

  • Dreams are the touchstones of our character.
  • Go confidently in the direction of your Dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined!
  • If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary: new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or old laws will be expanded and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with license of a higher order of beings. Henry David Thoreau
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… and executing them

  • If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost, that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.
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Excellence

  • Since most of us spend our lives doing ordinary tasks, the most important thing is to carry them out extraordinarily well.
  • Shall a man go and hang himself because he belongs to the race of pygmies, and not be the biggest pygmy that he can.
  • What is once well done is done forever.
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Potential

  • We are not what we are, nor do we treat or esteem each other for such, but for what we are capable of being.
  • I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate himself by conscious endeavour.
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Exploration

  • Explore thyself. Herein are demanded the eye and the nerve.
  • Where is the “unexplored land” but in our own untried enterprises? To an adventurous spirit any place–London, New York, Worcester, or his own yard–is “unexplored land,” to seek which Frémont and Kane travel so far. To a sluggish and defeated spirit even the Great Basin and the Polaris are trivial places.
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Purpose

  • Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplify, simplify, simplify! … Simplicity of life and elevation of purpose.
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Talent

  • Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.
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Justice

  • Justice is sweet and musical; but injustice is harsh and discordant.
  • If the machine of government … is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.
  • Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.
  • Truth is always in harmony with herself, and is not concerned chiefly to reveal the justice that may consist with wrong-doing.
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Philosophy

  • To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live, according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.
  • To be a philosopher… is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.
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Empathy

  • Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eye for an instant?
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Beauty

  • The perception of beauty is a moral test.
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Greatness

  • Great men, unknown to their generation, have their fame among the great who have preceded them, and all true worldly fame subsides from their high estimate beyond the stars.
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Enthusiasm

  • None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.
  • Enthusiasm is a supernatural serenity.
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Happiness

  • Happiness is like a butterfly. The more you chase it, the more it eludes you. But if you turn your attention to other things, It comes and sits softly on your shoulder.
  • There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself.
  • This life is not for complaint, but for satisfaction.
  • The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
  • We are happy in proportion to the things we can do without.
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Joy

  • Surely joy is the condition of life.
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The power of thought

  • Be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.
  • Each thought that is welcomed and recorded is a nest egg, by the side of which more will be laid.
  • As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.
  • Thought is the sculptor who can create the person you want to be.
  • To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning.
  • It is what a man thinks of himself that really determines his fate.
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Action

  • A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.
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Faith

  • The smallest seed of faith is better than the largest fruit of happiness.
  • Faith keeps many doubts in her pay. If I could not doubt, I should not believe.  
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Savouring

  • He who distinguishes the true savour of his food can never be a glutton; he who does not cannot be otherwise.
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Serenity

  • You cannot perceive beauty, but with a serene mind.
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Wakefulness

  • Only that day dawns to which we are awake.
  • Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.
  • To be awake is to be alive.
  • We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake.
  • We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aid, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.
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Giving

  • If you give money, spend yourself with it.
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Vegetarianism

  • I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as savage tribes have left off eating each other when they came in contact with the more civilized.
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Silence

  • Silence is the universal refuge, the sequel to all dull discourses and all foolish acts, a balm to our every chagrin, as welcome after satiety as after disappointment.
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Gentleness

  • Thaw with her gentle persuasion is more powerful than Thor with his hammer. The one melts, the other breaks into pieces.
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Care for the planet

  • What good is a house, if you haven’t got a decent planet to put it on?
  • Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.
  • Shall I not have intelligence with the earth? Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself.  
  • All good things are wild, and free.
  • Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.
  • If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.
  • In wilderness is the preservation of the world.
  • It appears to be a law that you cannot have a deep sympathy with both man and nature.
  • The squirrel that you kill in jest, dies in earnest.
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Gratitude

  • I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.
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Things that Thoreau loved

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Nature …  

  • Nature is full of genius, full of divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand.
  • I am struck by the simplicity of light in the atmosphere in the autumn, as if the earth absorbed none, and out of this profusion of dazzling light came the autumnal tints.
  • I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.
  • In wilderness is the preservation of the world.
  • It is the marriage of the soul with nature that makes the intellect fruitful, and gives birth to imagination.
  • My profession is to be always on the alert to find God in nature, to know his lurking- places, to attend all the oratorios, the operas in nature.
  • Nature has many scenes to exhibit, and constantly draws a curtain over this part or that. She is constantly repainting the landscape and all surfaces, dressing up some scene for our entertainment. Lately we had a leafy wilderness; now bare twigs begin to prevail, and soon she will surprise us with a mantle of snow. Some green she thinks so good for our eyes that, like blue, she never banishes it entirely from our eyes, but has created evergreens.
  • Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain. 
  • One of the most attractive things about the flowers is their beautiful reserve.
  • Only nature has a right to grieve perpetually, for she only is innocent. Soon the ice will melt, and the blackbirds sing along the river which he frequented, as pleasantly as ever. The same everlasting serenity will appear in this face of God, and we will not be sorrowful, if he is not.
  • Shall I not rejoice also at the abundance of the weeds whose seeds are the granary of the birds?
  • The indescribable innocence of and beneficence of Nature, –of sun and wind and rain, of summer and winter,–such health, such cheer, they afford forever!
  • We can never have enough of Nature.
  • I often visited a particular plant four or five miles distant, half a dozen times within a fortnight, that I might know exactly when it opened.
  • The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time.
  • There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature.
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… including lakes and rivers …

  • A lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.
  • The lakes are something which you are unprepared for; they lie up so high, exposed to the light, and the forest is diminished to a fine fringe on their edges, with here and there a blue mountain, like amethyst jewels set around some jewel of the first water, – so anterior, so superior, to all the changes that are to take place on their shores, even now civil and refined, and fair as they can ever be.
  • Who hears the rippling of rivers will not utterly despair of anything.
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… and the woods …

  • You only need sit still long enough in some attractive spot in the woods that all its inhabitants may exhibit themselves to you by turns.
  • I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.
  • I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least – and it is commonly more than that – sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.
  • I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
  • If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.
  • Take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snow in the field and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature.  Be cold and hungry and weary.
  • I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live and could not spare any more time for that one.
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… and the stars

  • The stars are the apexes of what wonderful triangles! What distant and different beings in the various mansions of the universe are contemplating the same one at the same moment!
  • The stars are the jewels of the night, and perchance surpass anything which day has to show. A companion with whom I was sailing one very windy but bright moonlight night, when the stars were few and faint, thought that a man could get along with them, —though he was considerably reduced in his circumstances, —that they were a kind of bread and cheese that never failed.
  • When I consider how, after sunset, the stars come out gradually in troops from behind the hills and woods, I confess that I could not have contrived a more curious and inspiring sight.
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The tonic of wildness

  • We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.
  • We now no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven.
  • In wilderness is the preservation of the world.
  • All good things are wild, and free.
  • It is not part of a true culture to tame tigers, any more than it is to make sheep ferocious.
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Walking

  • An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.
  • I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.
  • I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least – and it is commonly more than that – sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.
  • Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.
  • Take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snow in the field and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature.  Be cold and hungry and weary.
  • In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to society.
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Gardening

  • Gardening is civil and social, but it wants the vigour and freedom of the forest and the outlaw.
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Home

  • But the place which you have selected for your camp, though never so rough and grim, begins at once to have its attractions, and becomes a very centre of civilization to you: “Home is home, be it never so homely.”
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Music

  • When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.
  • In a world of peace and love, music would be the universal language.
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Words

  • A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips; — not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself.  
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Reading

  • How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!
  • Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.
  • Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.
  • Books are to be distinguished by the grandeur of their topics even more than by the manner in which they are treated.
  • Books can only reveal us to ourselves, and as often as they do us this service we lay them aside.
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Bee keeping

  • There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance.
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Things that can limit us

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Fear

  • Nothing is so much to be feared as fear.
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Misfortune

  • All misfortune is but a stepping stone to fortune.
  • If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.
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Stupidity

  • Always you have to contend with the stupidity of men.
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Prejudice

  • It is never too late to give up your prejudices.
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Regret

  • Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it come to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.
  • Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.
  • One cannot too soon forget his errors and misdemeanours; for to dwell upon them is to add to the offense.
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Gossip

  • To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.
  • Every day or two, I strolled to the village to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly going on there, circulating either from mouth to mouth, or from newspaper to newspaper, and which, taken in homeopathic doses, was really as refreshing in its way as the rustle of leaves and the peeping of frogs.
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Perfectionism

  • It’s not worth our while to let our imperfections disturb us always.
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Fault-finding

  • The faultfinder will find faults even in paradise.
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Thoreau’s thoughts on …

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Perception

  • It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.
  • The universe is wider than our views of it.
  • Things do not change, we change.
  • We shall see but little way if we require to understand what we see. How few things can a man measure with the tape of his understanding! How many greater things might he be seeing in the meanwhile!
  • Wisdom does not inspect, but behold. We must look a long time before we can see.
  • I begin to see an object when I cease to understand it.
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Self-opinion

  • Public opinion is a weak tyrant, compared with our private opinion – what a man thinks of himself, that is which determines, or rather indicates his fate.
  • What a man thinks of himself, it is that which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.
  • The man who is dissatisfied with himself, what can he do?
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The true cost of something

  • The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.
  • The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.
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Money and property

  • Money is not required to buy one necessity of the soul.
  • If you give money, spend yourself with it.
  • Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.
  • Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only.
  • To have done anything just for money is to have been truly idle.
  • Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed by them.
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Morality

  • Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so.  Aim above morality.  Be not simply good; be good for something.   
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Laws and rules

  • A saner man would have found himself, often enough “in formal opposition” to what are deemed “the most sacred laws of society,” through obedience to yet more sacred laws, and so have tested his resolution without going out of his way. It is not for a man to put himself in such an attitude to society, but to maintain himself in whatever attitude he finds himself through obedience to the laws of his being, which will never be one of opposition to a just government, if he should chance to meet with such.
  • Any fool can make a rule and any fool will mind it.
  • Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.
  • If the machine of government … is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.  
  • It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.
  • The law will never make a man free; it is men who have got to make the law free.
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Education

  • What does education often do? It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook.  
  • Men have a respect for scholarship and learning greatly out of proportion to the use they commonly serve.
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Technology

  • Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.  
  • Lo! Men have become the tools of their tools.
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Time

  • Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.
  • As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.  
  • Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.  
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The human body

  • Every man is the builder of a temple, called his body, to the god he worships, after a style purely his own, nor can he get off by hammering marble instead. We are all sculptors and painters, and our material is our own flesh and blood and bones.
  • I stand in awe of my body.
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Morality

  • The perception of beauty is a moral test.
  • Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so. Aim above morality.  Be not simply good; be good for something.   
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Belief

  • Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around.
  • Faith keeps many doubts in her pay. If I could not doubt, I should not believe.
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Death

  • Why should we be startled by death? Life is a constant putting off of the mortal coil – coat, cuticle, flesh and bones, all old clothes.
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God

  • It’s only by forgetting yourself that you draw near to God.  
  • Man flows at once to God when the channel of purity is open.
  • My profession is to be always on the alert to find God in nature, to know his lurking- places, to attend all the oratorios, the operas in nature.
  • We are surrounded by a rich and fertile mystery.
  • Every people have gods to suit their circumstances.
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More thoughts

  • I lose my respect for the man who can make the mystery of sex the subject of a coarse jest, yet when you speak earnestly and seriously on the subject, is silent.
  • I was born upon thy bank, river, my blood flows in thy stream, and thou meanderest forever, at the bottom of my dream.
  • I would not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.
  • It is better to have your head in the clouds, and know where you are… than to breathe the clearer atmosphere below them, and think that you are in paradise.
  • Life in us is like the water in a river.
  • Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.
  • My facts shall be falsehoods to the common sense. I would so state facts that they shall be significant, shall be myths or mythologies. Facts which the mind perceived, thoughts which the body thought — with these I deal.
  • One must maintain a little bittle of summer, even in the middle of winter.
  • The animal merely makes a bed, which he warms with his body in a sheltered place; but man, having discovered fire, boxes up some air in a spacious apartment, and warms that, instead of robbing himself, makes that his bed, in which he can move about divested of more cumbrous clothing, maintain a kind of summer in the midst of winter, and by means of windows even admit the light and with a lamp lengthen out the day.
  • The Artist is he who detects and applies the law from observation of the works of Genius, whether of man or Nature. The Artisan is he who merely applies the rules which others have detected.
  • The bluebird carries the sky on his back.
  • The fire is the main comfort of the camp, whether in summer or winter, and is about as ample at one season as at another. It is as well for cheerfulness as for warmth and dryness.
  • The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.
  • The Slothful do not have the time to become virtuous or despicable. Thoreau
  • The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.
  • The true harvest of my life is intangible – a little star dust caught, a portion of the rainbow I have clutched.
  • Water is the only drink for a wise man.
  • It often happens that a man is more humanely related to a cat or dog than to any human being.
  • God reigns when we take a liberal view, when a liberal view is presented to us.
  • I have found that hollow, which even I had relied on for solid.
  • I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another.
  • I have seen how the foundations of the world are laid, and I have not the least doubt that it will stand a good while.
  • I have thought there was some advantage even in death, by which we mingle with the herd of common men.
  • I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.
  • I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself than this incessant business.
  • If misery loves company, misery has company enough.
  • If you can speak what you will never hear, if you can write what you will never read, you have done rare things.
  • Instead of noblemen, let us have noble villages of men.
  • Is the babe young? When I behold it, it seems more venerable than the oldest man.
  • It is the greatest of all advantages to enjoy no advantage at all.
  • Night is certainly more novel and less profane than day.
  • Nothing goes by luck in composition. It allows of no tricks. The best you can write will be the best you are.
  • Old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new.
  • Some are reputed sick and some are not. It often happens that the sicker man is the nurse to the sounder.
  • That government is best which governs least.
  • The fibres of all things have their tension and are strained like the strings of an instrument.
  • There are old heads in the world who cannot help me by their example or advice to live worthily and satisfactorily to myself; but I believe that it is in my power to elevate myself this very hour above the common level of my life.
  • There is more of good nature than of good sense at the bottom of most marriages.
  • There is one consolation in being sick; and that is the possibility that you may recover to a better state than you were ever in before.
  • Through our own recovered innocence, we discern the innocence of our neighbours.
  • What is human warfare but just this; an effort to make the laws of God and nature take sides with one party.
  • While civilization has been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to inhabit them. It has created palaces, but it was not so easy to create noblemen and kings.
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On a lighter note

  • Be wary of any enterprise that requires new clothes.  
  • If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life.
  • You must not blame me if I do talk to the clouds.
  • Generally speaking, a howling wilderness does not howl: it is the imagination of the traveller that does the howling.
  • I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.
  • I have a great deal of company in the house, especially in the morning when nobody calls.
  • It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes.
  • We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New, but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.
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