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Amazing Henry David Thoreau Quotes That Serve as Life Lessons

Born on July 12, 1817, Henry David Thoreau was an American essayist, poet, and practical philosopher, widely recognized for his masterworks Walden and Civil Disobedience.

The first one is a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, inspired by transcendentalist philosophy, and the second one is an essay that reveals Thoreau’s defense of the private, individual conscience.

In 1837, Thoreau graduated from Harvard and searched for a teaching job in Concord. He soon realized that he wasn’t the strict type, a disciplinarian, so he resigned after only two weeks.

The good thing about going back to Concord was that Thoreau not only had the chance to meet Ralph Waldo Emerson, but to become his disciple. Thoreau saw in him a mentor and a friend. It was then that he began writing nature poetry and was exposed to Transcendentalism.

Thoreau’s work has influenced the American Civil Rights Movement and inspired many leaders. His work has endured because much of what he wrote is still applicable today.

Here are 201+ Henry David Thoreau quotes that will help you see life through different eyes.

Henry David Thoreau Quotes

Henry David Thoreau quote "The question is not what you look at, but what you see"

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoreau quote "Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth"

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” – Henry David Thoreau

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

“Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”

“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.” – Walden

“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.”

“Nay, be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.”

“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.”

Henry David Thoreau quote "The world is but a canvas to our imagination"

“The world is but a canvas to our imagination.” – Henry David Thoreau

“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.”

“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.”

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

“I can alter my life by altering my attitude. He who would have nothing to do with thorns must never attempt to gather flowers.”

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

Thoreau quote "It is never too late to give up your prejudices"

“It is never too late to give up your prejudices.” – Henry David Thoreau

“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us even in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.”

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

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

Henry David Thoreau quote "The universe is wider than our views of it"

“The universe is wider than our views of it.” – Henry David Thoreau

“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.”

“So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run.”

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

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

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

“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.”

Thoreau quote "Things do not change; we change"

“Things do not change; we change.” – Henry David Thoreau

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

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

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

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

“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.”

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

"I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion"

“I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Shall I not have intelligence with the earth? Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself.”

“It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes.”

“If a man constantly aspires is he not elevated?”

“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.”

“What old people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can. Old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new.”

“What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” – Familiar Letters

"How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book"

“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.” – Henry David Thoreau

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

“Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed by them.”

“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.”

“We shall see but a little way if we require to understand what we see.”

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

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

“My greatest skill has been to want but little.”

Henry David Thoreau quote "Wildness is the preservation of the World"

“Wildness is the preservation of the World.” – Henry David Thoreau

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

“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.”

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

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

“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.”

“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?”

"The most I can do for my friend is simply to be his friend"

“The most I can do for my friend is simply to be his friend.” – Henry David Thoreau

“True friendship can afford true knowledge. It does not depend on darkness and ignorance.”

“We are born as innocents. We are polluted by advice.”

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

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

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

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

Thoreau quote "Dreams are the touchstones of our characters"

“Dreams are the touchstones of our characters.” – Henry David Thoreau

“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.”

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

“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.”

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

“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.”

"Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake"

“Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.” – Henry David Thoreau

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

“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.”

“If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man.”

“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.”

Henry David Thoreau quote "Men are born to succeed, not to fail"

“Men are born to succeed, not to fail.” – Henry David Thoreau

“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.”

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”

“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.”

“Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand.”

“How does it become a man to behave towards the American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.”

“If misery loves company, misery has company enough.”

"We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success"

“We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.” – Henry David Thoreau

“I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another.”

“Generally speaking, a howling wilderness does not howl: it is the imagination of the traveler that does the howling.”

“Do what nobody else can do for you. Omit to do anything else.”

“Books can only reveal us to ourselves, and as often as they do us this service we lay them aside.”

“Instead of noblemen, let us have noble villages of men.”

“It is not part of a true culture to tame tigers, any more than it is to make sheep ferocious.”

Henry David Thoreau quote "Live your life, do your work, then take your hat"

“Live your life, do your work, then take your hat.” – Henry David Thoreau

“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.”

“To have done anything just for money is to have been truly idle.”

“We know but a few men, a great many coats and breeches.”

“‘Tis healthy to be sick sometimes.”

“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.”

“The smallest seed of faith is better than the largest fruit of happiness.”

“Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.”

Henry David Thoreau quote "Being is the great explainer"

“Being is the great explainer.” – Henry David Thoreau

“I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.”

“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. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.” – Civil Disobedience and Other Essays

“When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality.”

“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.”

"All good things are wild and free"

“All good things are wild and free.” – Henry David Thoreau

“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. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.”

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

“What sort of philosophers are we, who know absolutely nothing of the origin and destiny of cats?”

“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.”

“What does education often do? It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook.”

"What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals"

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” – Henry David Thoreau

“I have, as it were, my own sun and moon and stars, and a little world all to myself.”

“That man is the richest whose pleasures are the cheapest.”

“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.”

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

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

"It takes two to speak the truth - one to speak and another to hear"

“It takes two to speak the truth – one to speak and another to hear.” – Henry David Thoreau

“I make myself rich by making my wants few.”

“I have a room all to myself; it is nature.”

“It is not that we love to be alone, but that we love to soar, and when we do soar, the company grows thinner and thinner until there is none at all. …We are not the less to aim at the summits though the multitude does not ascend them.”

“Renew thyself completely each day.”

“This curious world we inhabit is more wonderful than convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used.”

“The heart is forever inexperienced.”

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler"

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.” – Henry David Thoreau

“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.”

“Before printing was discovered, a century was equal to a thousand years.”

“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.”

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

“Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.”

Thoreau quote "The language of friendship is not words, but meanings"

“The language of friendship is not words, but meanings.” – Henry David Thoreau

“There is more of good nature than of good sense at the bottom of most marriages.”

“The law will never make a man free; it is men who have got to make the law free.”

“It is remarkable how closely the history of the apple tree is connected with that of man.”

“Faith never makes a confession.”

“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.”

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

Henry David Thoreau quote "We are constantly invited to be what we are"

“We are constantly invited to be what we are.” – Henry David Thoreau

I hope you’ve enjoyed this collection of Henry David Thoreau quotes! Whatever the season, I hope you’ll be inspired to get outside and back to nature.

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