Happy Birthday, Henry David Thoreau—75 of His Best Quotes of All Time

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Henry David Thoreau's nineteenth-century East Coast wanderings did not take him far from home. They included a childhood in Concord, Massachusetts, college years at Harvard University, stints of time in the home of his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, two years of writing at the infamous home he built in Walden Woods (not in the wilderness but actually just a few miles outside of town), and eventually dying in his parent's Concord home from tuberculosis at the age of forty-four. He said and wrote plenty of profound things in his life, which brings us to these 75 best Henry David Thoreau quotes.

Although well-known for his philosophical essays, particularly those found in Walden, Thoreau was not a hermit as some assume, but more of an individualist who sought isolation for a time in order to better understand society. Another close friend of his, who helped build the house on Walden Pond, was Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May Alcott.

His minimalist lifestyle has had a lasting influence in the academic fields of literature, philosophy and science. Case in point: "A well-built sentence, in the rapidity and force with which it works, may be compared to a modern corn-planter, which furrows out, drops the seed, and covers it up at one movement."

We've gathered 75 Henry David Thoreau quotes to inspire us, in celebration of his birthday, July 12, 1817.

75 Best Henry David Thoreau Quotes



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 unexpected in common hours.

2. I suppose that what in other men is religion is in me love of nature.

3. Men invite the devil in at every angle and then prate about the garden of Eden and the fall of man.

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

5. 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.



6. Every oak tree started out as a couple of nuts who stood their ground.

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

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8. 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.

9. The fruit a thinker bears is sentences--statements or opinions.

10. I would remind my countrymen, that they are to be men first, and Americans only at a late and convenient hour.

11. We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking.

12. 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.

13. The poet has made the best roots in his native soil of any man, and is the hardest to transplant.

14. I think 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 fields absolutely free from all worldy engagements.

15. 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.

16. A man is worth most to himself and to others, whether as an observer, or poet, or neighbor, or friend, where he is most himself, most contented and at home.

17. If a man do not revive with nature in the spring, how shall he revive when a white-collared priest prays for him?

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

19. There is more religion in men's science, than there is science in their religion.

20. 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.

21. Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.

22. Heal yourselves, doctors; by God I live.

23. It's the beauty within us that makes it possible for us to recognize the beauty around us.

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

25. I love mankind, I hate the institutions of their forefathers.

26. 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.

27. From the right point of view, every storm and every drop in it is a rainbow.

28. Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.

29. ...for my greatest skill has been to want but little.

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

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31. 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.

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

33. A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us.

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

35. All change is a miracle to contemplate, but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.

36. 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.

37. Do we call this the land of the free? What is it to be free from King George the Fourth and continue the slaves of prejudice?

38. I came into this world, not chiefly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad.

39. Be it life or death, we crave only reality.

40. I have never felt lonesome, or in the least oppressed by a sense of solitude, but once, and that was a few weeks after I came to the woods, when, for an hour, I doubted if the near neighborhood of man was not essential to a serene and healthy life.

41. In the long run, we only hit what we aim at.

42. I am not sure but this Catholic religion would be an admirable one if the priest were quite omitted.

43. 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.

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

45. Man wanted a home, a place for warmth, or comfort, first of physical warmth, then the warmth of the affections.

46. Bribed with a little sunlight and a few prismatic tints, we bless our Maker, and stave off his wrath with hymns.

47. We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us!

48. All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to and to resist the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable.

49. I found in myself, and still find, an instinct toward a higher, or, as it is named, spiritual life, as do most men, and another toward a primitive rank and savage one, and I reverence them both. I love the wild not less than the good.

50. Is it not possible that an individual may be right and a government wrong?

51. A taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors.

52. In my short experience of human life I have found that the outward obstacles which stood in my way were not living men but dead institutions.

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

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54. 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.

55. O how I laugh when I think of my vague, indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it—for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.

56. Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again.

57. Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature.

58. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to society.

59. I like sometimes to take rank hold on life and spend my day more as the animals do.

60. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?

61. It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.

62. It is so much pleasanter and wholesomer to be warmed by the sun while you can be, than by an artificial fire.

63. The church is a sort of hospital for men's souls and as full of quackery as the hospital for their bodies.

64. 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.

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

66. There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted.

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

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68. If you can speak what you will never hear, if you can write what you will never read, you have done rare things.

69. Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows that surround it. We need the tonic of wildness.

70. The day is an epitome of the year. The night is the winter, the morning and evening are the spring and fall, and the noon is the summer.

71. When formerly I was looking about to see what I could do for a living... I thought often and seriously of picking huckleberries; that surely I could do.

72. There are many fine things we cannot say if we have to shout.

73. I believe that men are generally still a little afraid of the dark, though the witches are all hung, and Christianity and candles have been introduced.

74. 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.

75. Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?

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