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Henry David Thoreau Quotes

  1. ‘Tis healthy to be sick sometimes.
  2. 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.
  3. A man cannot be said to succeed in this life who does not satisfy one friend.
  4. A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.
  5. A man’s interest in a single bluebird is worth more than a complete but dry list of the fauna and flora of a town.
  6. 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.
  7. After the first blush of sin comes its indifference.
  8. Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something.
  9. Alas! how little does the memory of these human inhabitants enhance the beauty of the landscape!
  10. All men are children, and of one family. The same tale sends them all to bed, and wakes them in the morning.
  11. All this worldly wisdom was once the unamiable heresy of some wise man.
  12. An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.
  13. An unclean person is universally a slothful one.
  14. Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it.
  15. 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.
  16. As for doing good; that is one of the professions which is full. Moreover I have tried it fairly and, strange as it may seem, am satisfied that it does not agree with my constitution.
  17. As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.
  18. As in geology, so in social institutions, we may discover the causes of all past changes in the present invariable order of society.
  19. 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.
  20. Be not simply good – be good for something.
  21. Before printing was discovered, a century was equal to a thousand years.
  22. Being is the great explainer.
  23. Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.
  24. Books are to be distinguished by the grandeur of their topics even more than by the manner in which they are treated.
  25. Books can only reveal us to ourselves, and as often as they do us this service we lay them aside.
  26. Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?
  27. Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.
  28. Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so.
  29. Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.
  30. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends… Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.
  31. Do what nobody else can do for you. Omit to do anything else.
  32. Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.
  33. Dreams are the touchstones of our character.
  34. 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.
  35. 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.
  36. Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.
  37. Every man casts a shadow; not his body only, but his imperfectly mingled spirit. This is his grief. Let him turn which way he will, it falls opposite to the sun; short at noon, long at eve. Did you never see it?
  38. Every people have gods to suit their circumstances.
  39. Faith keeps many doubts in her pay. If I could not doubt, I should not believe.
  40. Faith never makes a confession.
  41. Friends… they cherish one another’s hopes. They are kind to one another’s dreams.
  42. Front yards are not made to walk in, but, at most, through, and you could go in the back way.
  43. Generally speaking, a howling wilderness does not howl: it is the imagination of the traveler that does the howling.
  44. God reigns when we take a liberal view, when a liberal view is presented to us.
  45. Goodness is the only investment that never fails.
  46. 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.
  47. Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.
  48. How can any man be weak who dares to be at all?
  49. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?
  50. How does it become a man to behave towards the American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.
  51. How many things there are concerning which we might well deliberate whether we had better know them.
  52. How sweet is the perception of a new natural fact!
  53. How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.
  54. I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.
  55. 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.
  56. I cannot read a single word of the Hindoos without being elevated.
  57. I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.
  58. I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.
  59. I have a great deal of company in the house, especially in the morning when nobody calls.
  60. I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.
  61. I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks.
  62. I have found that hollow, which even I had relied on for solid.
  63. I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another.
  64. 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.
  65. I have the habit of attention to such excess, that my senses get no rest – but suffer from a constant strain.
  66. I have thought there was some advantage even in death, by which we mingle with the herd of common men.
  67. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.
  68. 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.
  69. 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.
  70. I put a piece of paper under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark.
  71. I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.
  72. I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself than this incessant business.
  73. 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.
  74. I was more independent than any farmer in Concord, for I was not anchored to a house or farm, but could follow the bent of my genius, which is a very crooked one, every moment.
  75. 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.
  76. I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.
  77. 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.
  78. If I seem to boast more than is becoming, my excuse is that I brag for humanity rather than for myself.
  79. If a man constantly aspires is he not elevated?
  80. 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.
  81. 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 days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.
  82. If an injustice requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the government machine.
  83. 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?
  84. If misery loves company, misery has company enough.
  85. 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.
  86. 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.
  87. If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.
  88. If you can speak what you will never hear, if you can write what you will never read, you have done rare things.
  89. 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.
  90. If you would convince a man that he does wrong, do right. Men will believe what they see.
  91. Ignorance and bungling with love are better than wisdom and skill without.
  92. In human intercourse the tragedy begins, not when there is misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood.
  93. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to society.
  94. In the long run, men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, they had better aim at something high.
  95. In the meanest are all the materials of manhood, only they are not rightly disposed.
  96. In wildness is the preservation of the world.
  97. Instead of noblemen, let us have noble villages of men.
  98. Is the babe young? When I behold it, it seems more venerable than the oldest man.
  99. It appears to be a law that you cannot have a deep sympathy with both man and nature.
  100. It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.
  101. It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes.
  102. It is best to avoid the beginnings of evil.
  103. 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.
  104. It is never too late to give up our prejudices.
  105. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.
  106. It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?
  107. It is not part of a true culture to tame tigers, any more than it is to make sheep ferocious.
  108. It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know.
  109. It is remarkable how closely the history of the apple tree is connected with that of man.
  110. It is the greatest of all advantages to enjoy no advantage at all.
  111. It is too late to be studying Hebrew; it is more important to understand even the slang of today.
  112. It is usually the imagination that is wounded first, rather than the heart; it being much more sensitive.
  113. It is what a man thinks of himself that really determines his fate.
  114. It takes two to speak the truth: one to speak, and another to hear.
  115. It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.
  116. Justice is sweet and musical; but injustice is harsh and discordant.
  117. Live the life you’ve dreamed.
  118. Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around.
  119. Live your life, do your work, then take your hat.
  120. Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.
  121. Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.
  122. May we so love as never to have occasion to repent of our love!
  123. Men are born to succeed, not to fail.
  124. Men have a respect for scholarship and learning greatly out of proportion to the use they commonly serve.
  125. Men have become the tools of their tools.
  126. Money is not required to buy one necessity of the soul.
  127. 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.
  128. Nature and human life are as various as our several constitutions. Who shall say what prospect life offers to another?
  129. Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand.
  130. Nature puts no question and answers none which we mortals ask. She has long ago taken her resolution.
  131. 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.
  132. Nay, be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.
  133. Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.
  134. Night is certainly more novel and less profane than day.
  135. No face which we can give to a matter will stead us so well at last as the truth. This alone wears well.
  136. None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.
  137. Not only must we be good, but we must also be good for something.
  138. Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.
  139. Nothing goes by luck in composition. It allows of no tricks. The best you can write will be the best you are.
  140. Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.
  141. Old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new.
  142. Only he is successful in his business who makes that pursuit which affords him the highest pleasure sustain him.
  143. Only that day dawns to which we are awake.
  144. Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed by them.
  145. Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.
  146. Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify.
  147. 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.
  148. Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.
  149. Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.
  150. Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.
  151. Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.
  152. Shall I not have intelligence with the earth? Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself.
  153. Simplify, simplify.
  154. So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way, we say; but there are as many ways as there can be drawn radii from one centre. All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.
  155. Some are reputed sick and some are not. It often happens that the sicker man is the nurse to the sounder.
  156. Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.
  157. Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.
  158. That government is best which governs least.
  159. That man is rich whose pleasures are the cheapest.
  160. Thaw with her gentle persuasion is more powerful than Thor with his hammer. The one melts, the other breaks into pieces.
  161. 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.
  162. The bluebird carries the sky on his back.
  163. 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.
  164. The fibers of all things have their tension and are strained like the strings of an instrument.
  165. 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.
  166. The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.
  167. The heart is forever inexperienced.
  168. The language of excitement is at best picturesque merely. You must be calm before you can utter oracles.
  169. The language of friendship is not words but meanings.
  170. The law will never make a man free; it is men who have got to make the law free.
  171. The lawyer’s truth is not Truth, but consistency or a consistent expediency.
  172. 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?
  173. 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.
  174. The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.
  175. The man who is dissatisfied with himself, what can he do?
  176. The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.
  177. The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend.
  178. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.
  179. The perception of beauty is a moral test.
  180. The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.
  181. The rarest quality in an epitaph is truth.
  182. The savage in man is never quite eradicated.
  183. The smallest seed of faith is better than the largest fruit of happiness.
  184. The squirrel that you kill in jest, dies in earnest.
  185. The universe is wider than our views of it.
  186. The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.
  187. There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.
  188. 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.
  189. There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature.
  190. 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.
  191. There is always a present and extant life, be it better or worse, which all combine to uphold.
  192. There is but one stage for the peasant and the actor.
  193. There is danger that we lose sight of what our friend is absolutely, while considering what she is to us alone.
  194. There is more of good nature than of good sense at the bottom of most marriages.
  195. There is no just and serene criticism as yet.
  196. There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living.
  197. There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted.
  198. There is no remedy for love but to love more.
  199. There is no rule more invariable than that we are paid for our suspicions by finding what we suspect.
  200. 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.
  201. 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.
  202. There never was and is not likely soon to be a nation of philosophers, nor am I certain it is desirable that there should be.
  203. There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.
  204. They can do without architecture who have no olives nor wines in the cellar.
  205. Things do not change; we change.
  206. This world is but a canvas to our imagination.
  207. Those whom we can love, we can hate; to others we are indifferent.
  208. 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.
  209. Through our own recovered innocence we discern the innocence of our neighbors.
  210. Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.
  211. To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.
  212. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.
  213. To be admitted to Nature’s hearth costs nothing. None is excluded, but excludes himself. You have only to push aside the curtain.
  214. To be awake is to be alive.
  215. To have done anything just for money is to have been truly idle.
  216. True friendship can afford true knowledge. It does not depend on darkness and ignorance.
  217. Truth is always in harmony with herself, and is not concerned chiefly to reveal the justice that may consist with wrong-doing.
  218. Truths and roses have thorns about them.
  219. Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.
  220. We are all sculptors and painters, and our material is our own flesh and blood and bones. Any nobleness begins at once to refine a man’s features, any meanness or sensuality to imbrute them.
  221. We are always paid for our suspicion by finding what we suspect.
  222. 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.
  223. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will.
  224. We are not what we are, nor do we treat or esteem each other for such, but for what we are capable of being.
  225. We know but a few men, a great many coats and breeches.
  226. We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aid, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.
  227. We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.
  228. We shall see but a little way if we require to understand what we see.
  229. Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.
  230. What is called genius is the abundance of life and health.
  231. What is human warfare but just this; an effort to make the laws of God and nature take sides with one party.
  232. What is once well done is done forever.
  233. What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?
  234. What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.
  235. What old people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can. Old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new.
  236. 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.
  237. Where there is an observatory and a telescope, we expect that any eyes will see new worlds at once.
  238. 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.
  239. 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.
  240. You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.

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