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Favorite Quotes of Henry David Thoreau's Walden

Updated on March 16, 2014

Quotes from Walden

1. Economy: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation". Though it is a short quote from the first chapter Economy, it packs a mighty punch in the words. When I read this quote I believe Thoreau could be referring to how when one lives in society they are consumed with so much that they become desperate creatures of habit. I love the image of quiet desperation because when one is desperate they are not quiet, but perhaps among the masses one mans desperation can get lost among the many voices of society.

2. Where I Lived, and What I Lived For: "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 cam to die, discover that I had not lived." I love this quote because living simply becomes something more than being described as a sort of hobbit, but it becomes something of epic proportions. He wanted to live this way on purpose to experience all that the world had to offer. Thoreau had already experienced living in society, but to live outside of society is a different kind of living. One gets to experience everything in nature as if it was for the first time. It's as if he wanted to step back and look at the world with fresh eyes.

3. Reading: "The heroic books, even if printed in the character of our mother tongue, will always be in a language dead to degenerate times; and we must laboriously seek the meaning of each word and line, conjuring a larger sense than common use permits out of what wisdom and valor and generosity we have." I love how he re-addresses reading when living solitude, it's as if he has a new appreciation for reading that society will never be able to obtain because they are looking to close to the picture. He wants people to soak up every word and really put thought behind their meanings instead of just accepting them for the words on the page.

4. Sounds: "Much is published, but little printed. The rays which stream through the shutter will be no longer remembered when the shutter is wholly removed."

5. Solitude: "I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part 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." I like the idea here of man finding companionship in solitude, because even when we are surrounded by a crowd of people some of us still feel empty and alone. You could even say those who flock in groups are even more lone than those who are introverts. Sometimes the loneliest person in the room is the one in the middle of the group pretending to have it all together.

6. Visitors: "I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society." I never really understood the meaning behind this quote, but I love the language here.

A Reading from Walden


7. The Bean-Field: "The true husbandman will cease from anxiety, as the squirrels manifest no concern whether the woods will bear chestnuts this year or not, and finish his labor with every day, relinquishing all claim to produce of his fields, and sacrificing in his mind not only his first but his last fruit also."

8. The Village: "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." What I like about this quote is that in order to fully understand who we are and our relationships with those around us we have to lose ourselves. It's almost as if Thoreau is saying that in order to see the bigger picture sometimes you have to be willing to get a little lost in the woods.

9. The Ponds: "It is a mirror which no stone can crack, whose quicksilver will never wear off, whose gliding Nature continually repairs; no storms, no dust, can dim its surface ever fresh; a mirror in which all impurity presented to it sinks, swept and dusted by the sun's hay brush - this the light dustcloth - which retains no breath that is breathed on it, but sends its own to float as clouds high above its surface, and be reflected in its bosom still." Here is beautiful imagery of the pond being described as a mirror. The pond becomes a natural living mirror that can never be broken because it is not made of man-made things. It's a product of nature and reflects things back truthfully.

10. Baker Farm: "Enjoy the land, but own it not. Through want of enterprise and faith men are where they are, buying and selling, and spending their lives like serfs."

11. Higher Laws: "I found 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." When I first read this I instantly thought of an old Cherokee Legend. It was used to teach young boys about life. It's said that a grandfather was trying to teach his grandson about life and he told him of a war that goes on inside all men between 2 wolves. One wolf is everything evil (anger, envy, self-pity, false-pride, arrogant, etc.) and the other wolf is everything good (joy, peace, love, hope, humility, serenity, etc.). The grandson asks which wolf will win and the grandfather says which ever one you feed. I like that Thoreau puts the idea of two men existing in the same body because we all, at some point or another, experience evil or good.

12. Brute Neighbors: "It was the only battle which I have ever witnessed, the only battlefield I ever trod while the battle was raging; internecine war; the red republicans on the one hand, and the black imperialist on the other."

Walden Pond


13. Housewarming: "The stove not only took up room and scented the house, but it concealed the fire, and I felt as if I had lost a companion. You can always see a face in the fire. The laborer, looking into it at evening, purifies his thoughts of the dross and earthiness which they have accumulated during the day. But I could no longer sit and look into the fire, and the pertinent words of a poet recurred to me with new force."

14. Former Inhabitants; & Winter Visitors: "Still grows the vivacious lilac a generation after the door and lintel and the sill are gone, unfolding its sweet-scented flowers each spring, to be plucked by the musing traveler; planted and tended once by children's hands, in front yard plots - now standing by wall-sides in retired pastures, and giving place to new-rising forests - the last of that strip, sole survivor of that family."

15. Winter Animals: "It looked as if Nature no longer contained the breed of nobler bloods, but stood on her last toes." I like this quote cause it's as if he is examining the creatures and plants that nature creates and is saying that they were once noble, but are now of lesser blood because nature has nothing else left to give. It's as if she's out of juice to create these enriched plants and creatures.

16. The Pond in Winter: "Standing on the snow-covers plain, as if in a pasture amid the hills, I cut my way first through a foot of snow, and then a foot of ice, and open a window under my feet, where, kneeling to drink, I look down into the quiet parlor of the fishes, pervaded by a softened light as through a window of ground glass, with its bright sanded floor the same as in summer; there a perennial waveless serenity reigns as in the amber twilight sky, corresponding to the cool and even temperament of the inhabitants. Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads." I like this quote because Thoreau takes a step back and really looks at nature and realizes that it's a true definition of beauty, a true heaven. He pauses for a moment to take in this pond and notices that in summer or winter it exhibits the same beautiful quality in any season.

17. Spring: "We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it; and did not spend our time in atoning for the neglect of past opportunities, which we call doing our duty." I like the message of nature being an accident and taking the time to live in the moment instead of dwelling on what if's and should of's.

18. Conclusion: "The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!" I like the image of the earth being shaped by men, but is it for the better? Could Thoreau perhaps be insinuating that man must watch what he creates because the earth is a fragile entity. It's an interesting quote to sum up his experiement and one that keeps me thinking of new possibilities.

Two Wolves

An interesting video telling the Cherokee legend of the Two Wolves.

Walden Pond in Winter



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