photo of Henry David ThoreauPhoto Credit: WikiMedia Commons

Quotes by Henry David Thoreau

Welcome to our collection of quotes (with shareable picture quotes) by Henry David Thoreau. We hope you enjoy pondering them and that you will share them widely.

Wikipedia Summary for Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau (see name pronunciation; July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862) was an American naturalist, essayist, poet, and philosopher. A leading transcendentalist, he is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay "Civil Disobedience" (originally published as "Resistance to Civil Government"), an argument for disobedience to an unjust state.

Thoreau's books, articles, essays, journals, and poetry amount to more than 20 volumes. Among his lasting contributions are his writings on natural history and philosophy, in which he anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environmental history, two sources of modern-day environmentalism. His literary style interweaves close observation of nature, personal experience, pointed rhetoric, symbolic meanings, and historical lore, while displaying a poetic sensibility, philosophical austerity, and attention to practical detail. He was also deeply interested in the idea of survival in the face of hostile elements, historical change, and natural decay; at the same time he advocated abandoning waste and illusion in order to discover life's true essential needs.

Thoreau was a lifelong abolitionist, delivering lectures that attacked the Fugitive Slave Law while praising the writings of Wendell Phillips and defending the abolitionist John Brown. Thoreau's philosophy of civil disobedience later influenced the political thoughts and actions of such notable figures as Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr.

Thoreau is sometimes referred to as an anarchist. In "Civil Disobedience", Thoreau wrote: "I heartily accept the motto,—'That government is best which governs least;' and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe,—'That government is best which governs not at all;' and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. [...] I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government."

Justice is sweet and musical; but injustice is harsh and discordant.

No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes; yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience.

What I am must make you forget what I wear.

It is the greatest of advantages to enjoy no advantage at all.

Each man can interpret another's experience only by his own.

A man thinks as well through his legs and arms as his brain.

I believe that the mind can be permanently profaned by the habit of attending to trivial things.

All good things are cheap: all bad are very dear.

All good things are wild and free.

The civilized man is a more experienced and wiser savage.

As in geology, so in social institutions, we may discover the causes of all past changes in the present invariable order of society.

Our taste is too delicate and particular. It says nay to the poet's work, but never yea to his hope.

There are two seasons when the leaves are in their glory, their green and perfect youth in June and this their ripe old age.

How did these beautiful rainbow tints get into the shell of the freshwater clam buried in the mud at the bottom of our dark river? Even the sea-bottom tells of the upper skies.

Be yourself -- not your idea of what you think somebody else's idea of yourself should be.

In the wilderness is the salvation of the world.

Be not anxious to avoid poverty. In this way the wealth of the universe may be securely invested.

Hinduism is the soil into which India's roots are stuck and torn out of that she will inevitably wither as a tree torn out from its place.

Make no mistake, without Hinduism, India has no future.

Improve every opportunity to be melancholy.

Youth gets together with their materials to build a bridge to the moon or maybe a palace on earth; then in middle age they decide to build a woodshed with them instead.

One attraction in coming to the woods to live was that I should have leisure and opportunity to see the spring come in.

Nothing makes the earth so spacious as to have friends at a distance.

Longer Version:

Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance, they make the latitudes and longitudes.

Our manners have been corrupted by communication with the saints.

Longer Version:

Our manners have been corrupted by communication with the saints. Our hymn-books resound with a melodious cursing of God and enduring Him forever. One would say that even the prophets and redeemers had rather consoled the fears than confirmed the hopes of man. There is nowhere recorded a simple and irrepressible satisfaction with the gift of life, any memorable praise of God.

The universe constantly and obediently answers to our conceptions; whether we travel fast or slow, the track is laid for us.

Longer Version:

The universe constantly and obediently answers to our conceptions; whether we travel fast or slow, the track is laid for us. Let us spend our lives in conceiving then. The poet or the artist never yet had so fair and noble a design but some of his posterity at least could accomplish it.

One must maintain a little bit of summer even in the middle of winter.

As I go through the woods now, so many oak and other leaves have fallen the rustling noise somewhat disturbs my musing.

You must love the crust of the earth on which you dwell more than the sweet crust of any bread or cake; you must be able to extract nutriment out of a sand heap.

This is the month of nuts and nutty thoughts,--that November whose name sounds so bleak and cheerless. Perhaps its harvest of thought is worth more than all the other crops of the year.

How few are aware that in winter, when the earth is covered with snow and ice...the sunset is double. The winter is coming when I shall walk the sky.

All expression of truth does at length take this deep ethical form.

Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.

One must maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter.

The 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.

The wildness and adventure that are in fishing still recommend it to me.

Be true to your work your word and your friend.

Satan from one of his elevations, showed mankind the kingdom of California, and they entered into a compact with him at once.

Tis healthy to be sick sometimes.

You must not only aim right, but draw the bow with all your might.

Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each. -- .

Cold and hunger seem more friendly to my nature than those methods which men have adopted and advise to ward them off.

There is no treatment for adore, but to love far more.

I have myself to respect, but to myself I am not amiable; but my friend is my amiableness personified.

Nature is an admirable schoolmistress.

On every hand we observe a truly wise practice, in education, in morals, and in the arts of life, the embodied wisdom of many an ancient philosopher.

Unless we do more than simply learn the trade of our time, we are but apprentices, and not yet masters of the art of life.

I begin to see an object when I cease to understand it.

As a true patriot, I should be ashamed to think that Adam in paradise was more favorably situated on the whole than the backwoodsman in this country.

When was it that men agreed to respect the appearance and not the reality?

It enriches us infinitely to recognize greater qualities than we possess in another.

The community has no bribe that will tempt a wise man.

When the far mountains are invisible, the near ones look the higher.

Events, circumstances, etc., have their origin in ourselves. They spring from seeds which we have sown.

Every man is entitled to come to Cattle-Show, even a transcendentalist; and for my part I am more interested in the men than in the cattle.

Friends will be much apart. They will respect more each other's privacy than their communion.

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.

Longer Version:

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. It is not important that he should mature as soon as an apple-tree or oak. Shall he turn his spring into summer? If the condition of things which we were made for is not yet, what were any reality which we can substitute? We will not be shipwrecked on a vain reality.

Every man has to learn the points of the compass again as often as he awakes, whether from sleep or any abstraction.

When a man's conscience and the laws clash, it is his conscience that he must follow.

I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows.

As far as I have heard or observed, the principal object is, not that mankind may be well and honestly clad, but, unquestionably, that corporations may be enriched.

Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.

They take great pride in making their dinner cost much; I take my pride in making my dinner cost so little.

The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us.

Longer Version:

The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.

Wealth cannot purchase any great private solace or convenience. Riches are only the means of sociality.

I am a citizen of the world first, and of this country at a later and more convenient hour.

This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore.

Most people dread finding out when they come to die that they have never really lived.

It is said that some Western steamers can run on a heavy dew, whence we can imagine what a canoe may do.

A journal, is a book that shall contain a record of all your joy, your ecstasy, what you are grateful for.

Every man must walk to the beat of his own drummer.

Where there is not discernment, the behavior even of the purest soul may in effect amount to coarseness.

An efficient and valuable man does what he can, whether the community pay him for it or not.

Longer Version:

An efficient and valuable man does what he can, whether the community pay him for it or not. The inefficient offer their inefficiency to the highest bidder, and are forever expecting to be put into office. One would suppose that they were rarely disappointed.

The broadest and most prevalent error requires the most disinterested virtue to sustain it.

Birds do not sing in caves, nor do doves cherish their innocence in dovecots.

Do not despair of your life. You have force enough to overcome your obstacles.

Longer Version:

Do not despair of life. You have no doubt force enough to overcome your obstacles. Think of the fox prowling through wood and field in a winter night for something to satisfy his hunger. Notwithstanding cold and the hounds and traps, his race survives. I do not believe any of them ever committed suicide.

What is the use of going right over the old track again? There is an adder in the path which your own feet have worn. You must make tracks into the Unknown.

Who shall say what prospect life offers to another? Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?

Man emulates earth Earth emulates heaven Heaven emulates the Way The way emulates nature.

Endeavor to live the life you have imagined.

He who rides and keeps the beaten track studies the fences chiefly.

The frontiers are not east or west, north or south, but wherever a man fronts a fact.

Longer Version:

The frontiers are not east or west, north or south; but wherever a man fronts a fact, though that fact be a neighbor, there is an unsettled wilderness between him and Canada, between him and the setting sun, or, farther still, between him and it. Let him build himself a log house with the bark on where he is, fronting it, and wage there an Old French war for seven or seventy years, with Indians and Rangers, or whatever else may come between him and the reality, and save his scalp if he can.

One is wise to cultivate the tree that bears fruit in our soul.

As they say in geology, time never fails, there is always enough of it, so I may say, criticism never fails.

Insane!... Ask the tyrant who is his most dangerous foe, the sane man or the insane?

Yet we must try the harder, the less the prospect of success.

How can we expect a harvest of thought who have not had a seedtime of character?

Commonly men will only be brave as their fathers were brave, or timid.

The greater number of men are merely corporals.

The higher the mountain on which you stand, the less change in the prospect from year to year, from age to age. Above a certain height there is no change.

The highest condition of art is artlessness.

We cannot well do without our sins; they are the highway of our virtue.

I thought, as I have my living to get, and have not eaten today, that I might go a- fishing. That's the true industry for poets. It is the only trade I have learned.

I have learned that even the smallest house can be a home.

Love is no individual's experience; and though we are imperfect mediums, it does not partake of our imperfection; though we are finite, it is infinite and eternal.

When will the world learn that a million men are of no importance compared with one man?

When the true criminals are running around free, the only honorable place for a decent human being is in prisons.

Methinks my own soul must be a bright invisible green.

Every man should stand for a force which is perfectly irresistible.

No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in America. They are rare in the history of the world.

Longer Version:

No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in America. They are rare in the history of the world. There are orators, politicians, and eloquent men, by the thousand; but the speaker has not yet opened his mouth to speak who is capable of settling the much-vexed questions of the day. We love eloquence for its own sake, and not for any truth which it may utter, or any heroism it may inspire. Our legislators have not yet learned the comparative value of free trade and of freedom, of union, and of rectitude, to a nation.

Trade and commerce, if they were not made of Indian rubber, would never manage to bounce over the obstacles which legislators are continually putting in their way.

Pity the man who has a character to support -- it is worse than a large family -- he is silent poor indeed.

We are happy in proportion to the things we can do without.

Economy is a subject which admits of being treated with levity, but it cannot so be disposed of.

With wisdom we shall learn liberality.

The same soil is good for men and for trees. A man's health requires as many acres of meadow to his prospect as his farm does loads of muck.

We must have infinite faith in each other. If we have not, we must never let it leak out that we have not.

Friendship is evanescent in every man's experience, and remembered like heat lightning in past summers.

There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of Nature and has his senses still.

The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual.

Nothing is so much to be feared as fear.

The poet who walks by moonlight is conscious of a tide in his thought which is to be referred to lunar influence.

It is no more dusky in ordinary nights than our mind's habitual atmosphere, and the moonlight is as bright as our most illuminatedmoments are.

How shall we account for our pursuits, if they are original? We get the language with which to describe our various lives out of acommon mint.

Oh, one world at a time!

Man is an animal who more than any other can adapt himself to all climates and circumstances.

I am not responsible for the successful working of the machinery of society.

The language of Friendship is not words, but meanings.

Man cannot afford to be a naturalist, to look at Nature directly, but only with the side of his eye. He must look through and beyond her.

At present our only true names are nicknames.

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