50 Brilliant Henry David Thoreau Quotes

Last updated on Jul 9th, 2023

50 Brilliant Henry David Thoreau Quotes

Henry David Thoreau (born July 12, 1817, Concord, Massachusetts, U.S. – died May 6, 1862, Concord, Massachusetts, U.S.) was an American author, poet, essayist, and practical philosopher.

Although not a professional philosopher, Thoreau was a significant contributor to the philosophical movement known as New England Transcendentalism. Known as a vigorous advocate of civil liberties, he was also a lifelong abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, and historian.

Thoreau is best known for his book Walden (1854) and the essay Resistance to Civil Government (1849). His overall work, including books, articles, essays, journals, and poetry, counts over 20 volumes.

Thoreau’s work and philosophy influenced the political thoughts and actions of many notable figures as Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

The question is not what you look at, but what you see. - Henry David Thoreau (The Journal Quotes)
1

The question is not what you look at, but what you see.
(Also known as: It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.)The Journal (August 5, 1851)

Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. - Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or, Life in the Woods Quotes)
2

Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.Walden (1854), (Ticknor and Fields, ed. 1954), Chapter XVIII, Page 353

This world is but a canvas to our imagination. - Henry David Thoreau (A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers Quotes)
3

This world is but a canvas to our imagination.A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), (James Munroe and Co., ed. 1849), Page 306

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. - Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or, Life in the Woods Quotes)
4

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.
(Also known as: The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.)Walden (1854), (Ticknor and Fields, ed. 1954), Chapter I. Economy, Page 35

There is no remedy for love but to love more. - Henry David Thoreau (The Journal Quotes)
5

There is no remedy for love but to love more.The Journal (July 25, 1939)

Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts. - Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or, Life in the Woods Quotes)
6

Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.Walden (1854), (Ticknor and Fields, ed. 1954), Chapter XVIII, Page 350

The language of Friendship is not words but meanings. - Henry David Thoreau (A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers Quotes)
7

The language of Friendship is not words but meanings.A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), (James Munroe and Co., ed. 1849), Page 286

The savage in man is never quite eradicated. - Henry David Thoreau (The Journal Quotes)
8

The savage in man is never quite eradicated.The Journal (September 26, 1859)

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. - Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or, Life in the Woods Quotes)
9

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.Walden (1854), (Ticknor and Fields, ed. 1954), Chapter XVIII, Page 348

Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still. 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. - Henry David Thoreau Quotes
10

Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still. 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.Letter to Harrison Blake (Concord, March 27, 1848)

If you can speak what you will never hear, if you can write what you will never read, you have done rare things. - Henry David Thoreau (A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers Quotes)
11

If you can speak what you will never hear, if you can write what you will never read, you have done rare things.A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), (James Munroe and Co., ed. 1849), Page 316

Goodness is the only investment that never fails. - Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or, Life in the Woods Quotes)
12

Goodness is the only investment that never fails.Walden (1854), (Ticknor and Fields, ed. 1954), Chapter XI, Page 235

Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it. - Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle Quotes)
13

Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.Life Without Principle (1863)

Thank God, men cannot as yet fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth! - Henry David Thoreau (The Journal Quotes)
14

Thank God, men cannot as yet fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth!The Journal (January 3, 1861)

 

As if you could kill time without injuring eternity. - Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or, Life in the Woods Quotes)
15

As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.Walden (1854), (Ticknor and Fields, ed. 1954), Chapter I, Page 10

What is once well done is done forever. - Henry David Thoreau (Civil Disobedience Quotes)
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What is once well done is done forever.Civil Disobedience (1849)

The Friend does not count his Friends on his fingers; they are not numerable. - Henry David Thoreau (A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers Quotes)
17

The Friend does not count his Friends on his fingers; they are not numerable.A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), (James Munroe and Co., ed. 1849), Page 290

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. - Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or, Life in the Woods Quotes)
18

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.Walden (1854), (Ticknor and Fields, ed. 1954), Chapter XVIII, Page 346

Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it. - Henry David Thoreau (The Journal Quotes)
19

Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it.The Journal (February 3, 1860)

It is better to have your head in the clouds, and know where you are, if indeed you cannot get it above them, than to breathe the clearer atmosphere below them, and think that you are in paradise. - Henry David Thoreau Quotes
20

It is better to have your head in the clouds, and know where you are, if indeed you cannot get it above them, than to breathe the clearer atmosphere below them, and think that you are in paradise.Letter to Harrison Blake (Concord, April 10, 1853)

Nature is as well adapted to our weakness as to our strength. - Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or, Life in the Woods Quotes)
21

Nature is as well adapted to our weakness as to our strength.Walden (1854), (Ticknor and Fields, ed. 1954), Chapter I, Page 13

If misery loves company, misery has company enough. - Henry David Thoreau (The Journal Quotes)
22

If misery loves company, misery has company enough.The Journal (September 1, 1851)

The law will never make a man free; it is men who have got to make the law free. - Henry David Thoreau (Slavery in Massachusetts Quotes)
23

The law will never make a man free; it is men who have got to make the law free.Slavery in Massachusetts (1854)

Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hinderances to the elevation of mankind. - Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or, Life in the Woods Quotes)
24

Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hinderances to the elevation of mankind.Walden (1854), (Ticknor and Fields, ed. 1954), Chapter I, Page 17

True friendship can afford true knowledge. It does not depend on darkness and ignorance. - Henry David Thoreau (A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers Quotes)
25

True friendship can afford true knowledge. It does not depend on darkness and ignorance.A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), (James Munroe and Co., ed. 1849), Page 295

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Men have become the tools of their tools. - Henry David Thoreau (The Journal Quotes)
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Men have become the tools of their tools.The Journal (July 7, 1845)

Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new. - Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or, Life in the Woods Quotes)
27

Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.Walden (1854), (Ticknor and Fields, ed. 1954), Chapter I, Page 29

It takes two to speak the truth: one to speak, and another to hear. - Henry David Thoreau (A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers Quotes)
28

It takes two to speak the truth: one to speak, and another to hear.A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), (James Munroe and Co., ed. 1849), Page 281

That man is the richest whose pleasures are the cheapest. - Henry David Thoreau (The Journal Quotes)
29

That man is richest whose pleasures are the cheapest.The Journal (March 11, 1856)

Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! - Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or, Life in the Woods Quotes)
30

Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!
(Also known as: Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify.)Walden (1854), (Ticknor and Fields, ed. 1954), Chapter II, Page 99

In human intercourse the tragedy begins, not when there is misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood. - Henry David Thoreau (A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers Quotes)
31

In human intercourse the tragedy begins, not when there is misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood.A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), (James Munroe and Co., ed. 1849), Page 291

We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success. - Henry David Thoreau (The Journal Quotes)
32

We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.The Journal (March 11, 1859)

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. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. - Henry David Thoreau (Walden Quotes)
33

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. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.
(Also known as: Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.)Walden (1854), (Ticknor and Fields, ed. 1954), Chapter XVIII, Page 346

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live. - Henry David Thoreau (The Journal Quotes)
34

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.The Journal (August 19, 1851)

Ignorance and bungling with love are better than wisdom and skill without. - Henry David Thoreau (A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers Quotes)
35

Ignorance and bungling with love are better than wisdom and skill without.A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), (James Munroe and Co., ed. 1849), Page 297

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root. - Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or, Life in the Woods Quotes)
36

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.Walden (1854), (Ticknor and Fields, ed. 1954), Chapter I, Page 82

The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer. - Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle Quotes)
37

The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.Life Without Principle (1863)

Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them; and the bad neighborhood to be avoided is our own scurvy selves. - Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or, Life in the Woods Quotes)
38

Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them; and the bad neighborhood to be avoided is our own scurvy selves.Walden (1854), (Ticknor and Fields, ed. 1954), Chapter I, Page 38

We are not what we are, nor do we treat or esteem each other for such, but for what we are capable of being. - Henry David Thoreau Quotes
39

We are not what we are, nor do we treat or esteem each other for such, but for what we are capable of being.Letter to Mrs. Lucy Brown (Concord, March 2, 1842)

There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. - Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or, Life in the Woods Quotes)
40

There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted.Walden (1854), (Ticknor and Fields, ed. 1954), Chapter I, Page 80

Dreams are the touchstones of our characters. - Henry David Thoreau (A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers Quotes)
41

Dreams are the touchstones of our characters.A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), (James Munroe and Co., ed. 1849), Page 311

Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. - Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or, Life in the Woods Quotes)
42

Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.Walden (1854), (Ticknor and Fields, ed. 1954), Chapter I, Page 27

There is more of good nature than of good sense at the bottom of most marriages. - Henry David Thoreau Quotes
43

There is more of good nature than of good sense at the bottom of most marriages.Letter to Harrison Blake (September, 1852)

A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone. - Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or, Life in the Woods Quotes)
44

A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.Walden (1854), (Ticknor and Fields, ed. 1954), Chapter II, Page 89

Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes. - Henry David Thoreau Quotes
45

Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.Letter to Mrs. Emerson (Costleton, Staten Island, May 22, 1843)

Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul. - Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or, Life in the Woods Quotes)
46

Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.Walden (1854), (Ticknor and Fields, ed. 1954), Chapter XVIII, Page 352

If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment. - Henry David Thoreau (The Journal Quotes)
47

If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.The Journal (September 23, 1838)

The smallest seed of faith is of more worth than the largest fruit of happiness. - Henry David Thoreau Quotes
48

The smallest seed of faith is of more worth than the largest fruit of happiness.Letter to Mrs. Lucy Brown (Concord, Friday evening, January 25, 1843)

A man cannot be said to succeed in this life who does not satisfy one friend. - Henry David Thoreau (The Journal Quotes)
49

A man cannot be said to succeed in this life who does not satisfy one friend.The Journal (February 19, 1857)

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads. - Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or, Life in the Woods Quotes)
50

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.Walden (1854), (Ticknor and Fields, ed. 1954), Chapter XVI, Page 304