Quotes by Henry David Thoreau

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Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 - 1862) was an American essayist, poet, and naturalist. Among his lasting contributions were his writings on natural history and philosophy, where he anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environmental history, two sources of modern day environmentalism. more

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By avarice and selfishness, and a groveling habit, from which none of us is free, of regarding the soil as property, or the means of acquiring property chiefly, the landscape is deformed, husbandry is degraded with us, and the farmer leads the meanest of lives. He knows Nature but as a robber.

The words which express our faith and piety are not definite; yet they are significant and fragrant like frankincense to superior natures.
Through want of enterprise and faith men are where they are, buying and selling and spending their lives like servants.
My facts shall be falsehoods to the common sense. I would so state facts that they shall be significant, shall be myths or mythologies. Facts which the mind perceived, thoughts which the body thought -- with these I deal.
Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but religiously follows the new.
Let nothing come between you and the light.
The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked what I thought, and attended to my answer.
City life is millions of people being lonesome together.
How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book! The book exists for us, perchance, that will explain our miracles and reveal new ones. The at present unutterable things we may find somewhere uttered.
Books, not which afford us a cowering enjoyment, but in which each thought is of unusual daring; such as an idle man cannot read, and a timid one would not be entertained by, which even make us dangerous to existing institution --such call I good books.
If I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior.
Behave so the aroma of your actions may enhance the general sweetness of the atmosphere.
We need the tonic of wildness, to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground.
It is characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.
The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure.
How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.
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.
I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other when they came in contact with the more civilized.
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.
It takes two to speak truth -- one to speak, and another to hear.
I think that we may safely trust a good deal more than we do. We may waive just so much care of ourselves as we honestly bestow elsewhere.
Only the traveling is good which reveals to me the value of home and enables me to enjoy it better.
He who is only a traveler learns things at second-hand and by the halves, and is poor authority. We are most interested when science reports what those men already know practically or instinctively, for that alone is a true humanity, or account of human experience.
That devilish Iron Horse, whose ear-rending neigh is heard throughout the town, has muddied the Boiling Spring with his foot, and he it is that has browsed off all the woods on Walden shore, that Trojan horse, with a thousand men in his belly, introduced by mercenary Greeks! Where is the country's champion, the Moore of Moore Hall, to meet him at the Deep Cut and thrust an avenging lance between the ribs of the bloated pest?
But lo! men have become the tools of their tools.
You cannot kill time without injuring eternity.
Time is but the stream I go fishing in. I drink at it, but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. It's thin current slides away, but eternity remains.
Having each some shingles of thought well dried, we sat and whittled them.
Each thought that is welcomed and recorded is a nest egg by the side of which more will be laid.
How can they expect a harvest of thought who have not had the seed time of character.
To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning.
Thought is the sculptor who can create the person you want to be.
A man thinks as well through his legs and arms as this brain.
Glances of true beauty can be seen in the faces of those who live in true meekness.
Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.
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.
The mass never comes up to the standard of its best member, but on the contrary degrades itself to a level with the lowest.
In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds.
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.
The broadest and most prevalent error requires the most disinterested virtue to sustain it.
Almost any man knows how to earn money, but not one in a million knows how to spend it.
The way by which you may get money almost without exception leads downward.
Money is not required to buy one necessity of the soul.
Our whole life is startlingly moral. There is never an instant's truce between virtue and vice.
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 infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable.
If the fairest features of the landscape are to be named after men, let them be the noblest and worthiest men alone.
A name pronounced is the recognition of the individual to whom it belongs. He who can pronounce my name aright, he can call me, and is entitled to my love and service.
Nations! What are nations? Tartars! and Huns! and Chinamen! Like insects they swarm. The historian strives in vain to make them memorable. It is for want of a man that there are so many men. It is individuals that populate the world.
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. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.
To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit it and read it are old women over their tea.
Yet some can be patriotic who have no self-respect, and sacrifice the greater to the less. They love the soil which makes their graves, but have no sympathy with the spirit which may still animate their clay. Patriotism is a maggot in their heads.
What sort of philosophers are we, who know absolutely nothing about the origin and destiny of cats?
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. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.
A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.
That man is the richest whose pleasures are the cheapest.
Poetry implies the whole truth, philosophy expresses only a particle of it.
Good poetry seems too simple and natural a thing that when we meet it we wonder that all men are not always poets. Poetry is nothing but healthy speech.
Politics is the gizzard of society, full of gut and gravel.
We are not what we are, nor do we treat or esteem each other for such, but for what we are capable of being.
Give me the poverty that enjoys true wealth.

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