Henry David Thoreau: Quotes from "Walden"

Henry David Thoreau, was born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1817, and never strayed far or long from his home.  Along with his famous essay on "Civil Disobedience," he is chiefly remembered for "Walden," written during the course of a famous experiment in solitude on Walden Pond.  Walden is filled with thought-provoking observations, more so than any other single volume that I have encountered.  Before proceeding to some of my favorite excerpts, I would be remiss if I did not set forth two of the best known quotations:

  • 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.
  • The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

I heartily recommend this book to any serious thinker.  Beyond the relatively well known quotations lies a vast treasure of inspiration.  The following are only a very few of the nuggets that the careful reader will encounter.

Regarding dedication to purpose

In the long run men hit only what they aim at.  Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.
. . .
...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.
. . .
Drive a nail home, and secure it so faithfully that you can wake up in the night and think of your work with satisfaction.

Regarding Leadership

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root,...
. . .
You who govern public affairs ... Love virtue, and the people will be virtuous.  The virtues of a superior man are like the wind; the virtues of a common man are like the grass; the grass, when the wind passes over it, bends.

Regarding Air Jordans

As for clothing, to come at once to the practical part of the question, perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty and a regard for the opinions of men, in procuring it, than by a true utility.  Let him who has work to do recollect that the object of clothing is, first, to retain the vital heat, and secondly, in this state of society, to cover nakedness, and he may judge how much of any necessary or important work may be accomplished without adding to his wardrobe.

Regarding Consciousness

Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous.  If men would steadily observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, life, to compare it with such things as we know, would be like a fairy tale and the Arabian Nights' Entertainments.
. . .
The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred million to a poetic or divine life.  To be awake is to be alive.  I have never yet met a man who was quite awake.  How could I have looked him in the face?

Regarding Television and the Internet

Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things.

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