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Wisdom of Walden Pond: 115 Henry David Thoreau Quotes

Wisdom of Walden Pond: 115 Henry David Thoreau Quotes

Are you a black sheep, an independent rebel who does not believe in society’s rules but rather builds your own independent life away from norms and taxes? 

In that case, you will definitely love these 115 Henry David Thoreau quotes and his most influential book “Walden.” 

Thoreau was one of the most prominent American writers and philosophers, as well as an essayist. 

He was a supporter of Transcendentalism (a philosophical current that emphasizes living in nature) and an abolitionist (a movement meant to end slavery). 

Also, through his writing and his actions, Thoreau criticized society as it is, its’ progress, and the tax system. 

He believed that society is built upon a maleficent system meant to take people’s money and enslave them, robbing their happiness away. 

He insisted that human beings are better off living independently in nature, making their own shelters and food, and not taking part in society as it was in the 19th Century (or as it is today). 

He was a University teacher, but because he refused to give physical punishments to students, he lost his job. 

He refused to pay taxes oftentimes, like that one time when he refused to pay $5 for his Harvard degree. 

After a long time of not paying taxes and delivering a few public speeches in which he condemned the government’s actions, he even went to jail for tax delinquency. 

Luckily, not long after, his aunt bailed him out – and he even protested that, as he would have preferred to live in jail than to be forced to submit to the system. 

As you can see, Thoreau was definitely a black sheep of his time, as he tried to pass on some very controversial ideas. 

He could not change the course of things, and society, in general, was overall built; 

However, he did leave a strong legacy behind, and many people still share his ideas and defy the system, trying to be as independent as possible. 

Curiously enough, another one of his well-known writings is an essay called “Civil disobedience,” in which Thoreau talks about his ideas of boycotting the system.

If you resonate with Thoreau’s belief system or if I’ve just made you curious about it, have a look at the following 115 Henry David Thoreau Quotes listed below. 

The Best of Henry David Thoreau's Quotes

Image of Henry David Thoreau Quote

1. “I learned this, at least, by my experiment, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpectedly.”

2. “Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.”

3. “Our whole life is startlingly moral. There is never an instant truce between virtue and vice. Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”

4. “All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be.”

5. “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

6. “I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite – only a sense of existence. 

7. “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”

8. “Society is commonly too cheap. We meet at very short intervals, not having had time to acquire new value for each other. We meet at meals three times a day and give each other a new taste of that old musty cheese that we are.”

9. “However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not as bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest.”

10. “Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will evade you, but if you notice the other things around you, it will gently come and sit on your shoulder.”

11. “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.”

12. “In the long run, men only hit what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.”

13. “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, and find 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.”

14. “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a 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.”

15. “Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”

16. “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 he hears, however, measured or far away.”

17. “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.”

18. “Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron that has cooled to burn a hole with. He cannot inflame the minds of his audience.”

19. “The man who goes alone can start today, but he who travels with another must wait until that other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.”

20. “If we are quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.”

21. ”The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse.” 

22. “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.”

23. “Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.”

24. “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”

25. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city, you go into the desperate country and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats.”

Image of one of Henry David Thoreau's Quotes

26. “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.”

27. “Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

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

29. “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.”

30. “The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality. Perhaps the facts most astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man.” 

31. “Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.”

32. “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.”

33. “If you would convince a man that he does wrong, do right. But do not care to convince him. Men will believe what they see. Let them see.”

34. “I should not like to think that some demigod had come before me and picked out some of the best of the stars. I wish to know an entire heaven and an entire earth.”

35. “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.”

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36. “A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts.”

37. “In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time and notch it on my stick too, to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line.”

38. “The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in us, and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night… All memorable events, I should say, transpire in the morning time and in a morning atmosphere.”

39. “It is desirable that a man live in all respects so simply and preparedly that if an enemy takes the town… he can walk out the gate empty-handed and without anxiety.”

40. “We should be blessed if we lived in the present always and took advantage of every accident that befell us.”

41. “I do not know how to distinguish between waking life and a dream. Are we not always living the life that we imagine we are?”

Henry David Thoreau Quotes and Insights on the Beauty of Nature

Image of Henry David Thoreau's Quote on the beauty of nature

42. “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

43. “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drinks the drink, tastes the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”

44. “The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man's abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see, but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there and have cheering thoughts as in a palace.”

45. “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”

46. “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 more time for that one.”

47. “Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself.”

48. “Take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary.”

49. “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.” 

50. “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.”

51. “If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal- that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself.”

52. “One farmer says to me, ‘You cannot live on vegetable food solely, for it furnishes nothing to make bones with,' and so he religiously devotes a part of his day to supplying his system with the raw material of bones, walking all the while, he talks behind his oxen, which, with vegetable-made bones, jerk him and his lumbering plow along in spite of every obstacle.”

Henry David Thoreau's Most Memorable Short Quotes

Image of a short quote by Henry David Thoreau

53. “Dreams are the touchstones of our characters.”

54. “The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought and attended to my answer.”

55. “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.”

56. “The most I can do for my friend is simply to be his friend.”

57. “Friends… they cherish one another's hopes. They are kind to one another's dreams.”

58. “The path of least resistance leads to crooked rivers and crooked men.”

59. “Simplify, simplify.”

60. “Enthusiasm is a supernatural serenity.”

61. “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”

62. “Every path but your own is the path of fate. Keep on your own track, then.”

63. “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”

64. “Night is certainly more novel and less profane than day.”

65. “Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.”

66. “The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams.”

67. “To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake.”

68. “Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”

69. “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me the truth.”

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

71. “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”

72. “It is never too late to give up your prejudices.”

73. “In the long run, we only hit what we aim at.”

74. “Amid a world of noisy, shallow actors, it is noble to stand aside and say, ‘I will simply be.”

75. “Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.”

76. “I was not born to be forced. I will breathe in my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.”

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77. “All good things are wild and free.”

78. “The only remedy for love is to love more.”

79. “Life in us is like the water in a river.”

80. “Live your beliefs, and you can turn the world around.”

81. “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”

82. “While civilization has been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to inhabit them.”

83. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

84. “Say what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better than make-believe.”

85. “How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.”

86. “He who hears the rippling of rivers in these degenerate days will not utterly despair.”

87. “Be resolutely and faithfully what you are; be humbly what you aspire to be.”

88. “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”

89. “If I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?”

90. “This world is but a canvas to our imaginations.”

91. “It is not worth the while to let our imperfections disturb us always.”

92. “Things do not change; we change.”

93. “The language of Friendship is not words, but meanings.”

94. “It takes two to speak the truth – one to speak and another to hear.”

95. “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

96. “…for my greatest skill has been to want but little.”

97. “The universe is wider than our views of it.”

98. “There is no remedy for love but to love more.”

99. “Men have become the tools of their tools.”

100. “The greatest art is to shape the quality of the day. ”

The greatest art is to shape the quality of the day - Henry David Thoreau

101. “I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”

102. “All change is a miracle to contemplate, but it is a miracle which takes place every instant.”

103. “Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it.”

104. “If you want to be happy, be!”

105. “What is the use of a house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?”

106. “Wildness is the preservation of the World.”

107. “As to conforming outwardly and living your own life inwardly, I do not think much of that.”

108. “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”

109. “Every generation laughs at the old fashions but follows religiously the new.”

110. “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”

111. “An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”

112. “I have an immense appetite for solitude, like an infant for sleep, and if I don't get enough for this year, I shall cry all the next. ”

113. “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”

114. “Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.”

115. “It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?”

Share Your Favorite Henry David Thoreau Quote

As we reach the end of our journey through the insights of Henry David Thoreau, it is evident that his words continue to hold great wisdom and inspiration.

Whether seeking guidance on living a fulfilling and uncomplicated life or finding motivation to stand up for justice, Thoreau's teachings offer something for everyone.

These 115 quotes from the esteemed philosopher have surely provided you with a deeper understanding of his thought process.

We encourage you to share your favorite Henry David Thoreau quote with us in the comments below.

Thank you for embarking on this journey with us, exploring the ideas of one of America's most revered writers and intellectuals.