101 Henry David Thoreau Quotes, Fun Facts, Sayings

These Henry David Thoreau quotes and fun facts will provide some insights into this famous author. Robert Frost wrote of him, “In one book (referring to Walden)… he surpasses everything we have had in America.”

Noted author John Updike said of Walden, “A century and a half after its publication, Walden has become such a totem of the back-to-nature, preservationist, anti-business, civil-disobedience mindset, and Thoreau so vivid a protester, so perfect a crank and hermit saint, that the book risks being as revered and unread as the Bible.”

We start with some of his best and most famous quotes.

Best Thoreau Quotes

These were the best Henry David Thoreau quotes we could find.

1.) The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

2.) An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.

3.) I ask for, not at once, no government, but at once a better government.

4.) What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.

5.) 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.

6.) 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.

7.) Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.

8.) 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.

9.) The question is not what you look at but what you see.

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

Henry David Thoreau quotes.

Famous Sayings

11.) Dreams are the touchstones of our characters.

12.) Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

13.) Not till we are completely lost or turned around…do we begin to find ourselves.

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 he hears, however, measured or far away.

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

17.) There is no remedy for love but to love more.

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

19.) This world is but a canvas to our imaginations.

20.) Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.

21.) Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.

22.) The universe is wider than our views of it.

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

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Henry David Thoreau Impact on American Literature Video

Be Good for Something Thoreau Quote

24.) Be not simply good – be good for something.

25.) 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.

26.) The language of friendship is not words but meanings.

27.) Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.

28.) I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion.

Henry David Thoreau Quote Meme

Never Look Back Thoreau quote image

Nature Quotations

29.) All good things are wild and free.

30.) Wildness is the preservation of the World.

31.) We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and Titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. {And} We need to witness our own limits transgressed and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.

32.) I love Nature partly because she is not a man but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. There a different kind of right prevails. In her midst, I can be glad with an entire gladness. If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself; I should lose all hope. He is constraint; she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world. She makes me content with this.

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

34.) 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.

Conservation Sayings

35.) Ah dear nature—the mere remembrance, after a short forgetfulness, of the pine woods! I come to it as a hungry man to a crust of bread.

36.) What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?

37.) 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.

38.) How important is a constant intercourse with nature and the contemplation of natural phenomena to the preservation of moral and intellectual health! The discipline of the schools or of business can never impart such serenity to the mind.

39.) The tops of mountains are among the unfinished parts of the globe, whether it is a slight insult to the gods to climb and pry into their secrets and try their effect on our humanity. Only daring and insolent men, perchance, go there.

40.) Every part of nature teaches that the passing away of one life is the making room for another.

41.) It appears to be a law that you cannot have a deep sympathy with both man and nature.

Henry David Thoreau’s Quotes on Solitude

42.) Ah! I need solitude. I have come forth to this hill at sunset to see the forms of the mountains in the horizon—to behold and commune with something grander than man.

Their mere distance and unprofanedness are an infinite encouragement. It is with infinite yearning and aspiration that I seek solitude, more and more resolved and strong, but with a certain weakness that I seek society ever.

43.) 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. As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down!

44.) I have a room all to myself; it is Nature.

45.) By my intimacy with nature, I find myself withdrawn from man. My interest in the sun and the moon, in the morning and the evening, compels me to solitude.

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Consider Nature

46.) As it is important to consider Nature from the point of view of science remembering nomenclature and system of men, and so, if possible, go a step further in that direction, so it is equally important often to ignore or forget all that men presume they know and take an original and unprejudiced view of Nature, letting her make what impression she will on you, as the first men, and all children and natural men still do.

Day and the Night: Greet them with Joy

47.) 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.

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.

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.

Heaven is under our feet quotation image

Walden Quotations

These Henry David Thoreau quotes come from his essay titled Walden. The title of the book takes its name from a lake in Concord, Massachusetts.

48.) 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.

49.) Things do not change; we change.

50.) 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.

51.) 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.

52.) Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.

53.) 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.

54.) All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be.

Learn to Reawaken

55.) 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.

Your Life: Meet It and Live It

56.) 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.

Heaven is under our feet

57.) Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.

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

59.) 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. {And} 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.

60.) Every generation laughs at the old fashions but follows religiously the new.

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

62.) 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.

Civil Disobedience Thoreax Quotes

63.) That government is best which governs least.

64.) Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.

65.) The mass of men serve the State, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies.

66.) I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government.

67.) 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.

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

69.) Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.

70.) 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.

71.) I cannot… recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave’s government also.

72.) Absolutely speaking, the more money, the less virtue.

Be Men First

73.) Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.

Civil Liberties

These Henry David Thoreau quotes address the important subject of civil liberties.

74.) Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.

75.) Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.

76.) Any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.

77.) The rich man is always sold to the institution, which makes him rich.

78.) If we were left solely to the wordy wit of legislators in Congress for our guidance, uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the effectual complaints of the people, America would not long retain her rank among the nations.

What is once well done is done forever

79.) For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever.

80.) If a thousand men were not to pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible. (See International Peace Day page.)

81.) Your church is a baby-house made of blocks.

82.) Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?

83.) A common and natural result of undue respect of law is that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart.

84.) Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government?

85.) The government itself, which is only the mode by which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it.

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Henry David Thoreau Quotes: All voting is a sort of gaming

86.) All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions, and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right, but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obli­gation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.

Short Henry David Thoreau Quotations

87.) Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.

88.) Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them all.

89.) There is no remedy for love but to love more.

90.) Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

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Facts About Thoreau

91.) He sold his Walden house to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson sold the house to his gardener, and at one point, it became a pigsty.

92.) Despite living alone, Thoreau wasn’t a loner. He kept up with his family and lived on and off with Emerson throughout the years. He was friends with Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May Alcott.

93.) Was Walden the first tiny house? We’ve all seen the tiny house phenomenon play out on reality tv. Thoreau’s Walden house was notably one of the first that received a lot of attention.

94.) He invented a grinding machine to make better pencils. Following in his dad’s footsteps, Thoreau ran the family’s pencil company after his father passed.

95.) Thoreau just barely passed his entrance exams for admission to Harvard — No word on if he took an ACT prep course. 🙂 The total cost to attend Harvard for a year was $179 at the time.

Interesting Trivia

96.) He was 5’7″ tall.

97.) Thoreau lived for two years, two months, and two days by Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts.

98.) He had a big interest in Eastern literature, including Confucius and the sacred writings of Hinduism.

99.) His house only included this furniture: a desk, three chairs, a bed, and a table.

100.) His final words were “moose” and “Indian.”

101.) His neighbors included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Louisa May Alcott.

102.) Thoreau played the flute. He could summon his wild, pet mouse by playing the flute.

Thoreau Quote Image

Thoreau saying meme

Who is Henry David Thoreau?

Henry David Thoreau was a philosopher, author, poet, and transcendentalist. He is perhaps best known for his book Walden, about living simply in natural surroundings, and his essay “Civil Disobedience,” an argument to address an unjust state via disobedience.

Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts. His father, John, was a pencil maker, and his mother was named Cynthia Dunbar. Thoreau studied at Harvard College between the years 1833 and 1837. Thoreau passed away on May 6, 1862, from tuberculosis at the age of 44 years old. When his aunt asked him if he wanted to make peace with God before he died, he said, “I did not know we had ever quarreled.”

What was Thoreau’s life philosophy?

Thoreau’s philosophy is significantly reflected in this quote, “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.” As a transcendentalist, Thoreau tried to live a spiritually meaningful life embraced in nature. He believed that reality really only existed in the spiritual world.

He believed in a person’s right to life’s pursuits without unwarranted interference by the government or others. Thoreau was very much against slavery.

Thoreau FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions about Henry David Thoreau.

When did Henry David Thoreau live?

On July 12, 1817, Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts, and died on May 6, 1862.

What is Thoreau famous for?

Henry David Thoreau is known for his doctrines of Transcendentalism, as he wrote about in his masterwork Walden.

What is the main point of Walden?

The main point of Walden is the need for each individual to be one with nature. People and nature are both part of each other.

What are the five major points of Transcendentalism?

These are the five key elements:

  1. Self-reliance,
  2. Non-conformity,
  3. Free thought,
  4. Confidence, and
  5. Recognizing the importance of nature.

By Brenna O’Halloran

Brenna works as a naturalist at a school in northern California. A triple major from the University of Wisconsin, she is passionate about the environment, birds, and teaching children. And she lives in a small house in the forest.

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