Henry David Thoreau, born in Concord, Massachusetts on July 12, 1817, was an American author and philosopher. He was also a poet, development critic and a pioneer of transcendentalism. His most famous work is his book Walden and essay Civil Disobedience. His total works consist of 20 volumes of books, essays, articles, poems etc. His last works on ecology also serve as a source to modern-day environmentalism. He was a lifelong abolitionist and also referred to as anarchist; his views on Civil Disobedience became an inspiration for great men like Mahatma Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy and Martin Luther King.
Following are few of intuitive and inspiring Henry David Thoreau quotes-
As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.
Even a single second wasted makes our life shorter. We waste much of our time in doing things that we don't like or that will only provide us momentary satisfaction. We procrastinate and postpone the things that are most important to us because we are under the impression that there is always tomorrow. We pigeonhole the desired life for the 'right time' as we assume that there is still a long life to be lived. But the truth is, no matter how long our life is, it will end one day, and every second we get closer to it.
Dreams are the touchstones of our characters.
Our dreams are a touchstone of our character. Touchstone is a kind rock that is used to tell the quality or purity of gold. He compares our dreams with a touchstone, as what a person desires in his life tells a lot about his values and intentions, about the quality of his character. Our dreams are the deepest desires which are born out of things we believe in life, things that impact us.
The question is not what you look at, but what you see.
View and perception are two different things. This is a classic glass half-filled, half-empty situation. It does not matter what problem you are facing right now- how difficult it is. What matters is how difficult you think it is. Or do you have enough optimism not to see it as a problem but as another opportunity to learn something new, to become stronger, to test your preparation?
I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
He says, through his experiences, he has known that if you are confident about your abilities, and persuade boldly towards your goal, you will be successful. No matter how improbable the dream seems, you just need to work hard and not quit. One day you will be victorious.
Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me the truth.
For Thoreau, money, fame and even other's affection means less than truth. He doesn't aspire superficial gains, but all he wants is wisdom. He wants to know the true nature of reality, of the whole universe.
Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.
He regards knowledge above anything else and thus, greatly values books. He says that books are our most prized possession. The limitless number of books on this planet is the most precious inheritance that we pass from through generations.
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.
We should live the present moment to its full potential. Leap at every opportunity that presents itself in front of you, don't miss any, no matter what excuse you have. Sometimes we are too foolish to realize the opportunities that are already present around us; instead, we look for it in the distance. This is the only life we are getting, the moment we have now is our eternity, don't waste it.
How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.
He condemns authors who preach about things that they have not lived through in their lives. He calls out to those writers who just sit and write but never have the courage to practice what they are writing. He calls them arrogant.
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.
He warns about the ill-effects of too much of morality- it can make your life vapid. Your goal shouldn't be to live by the moral conduct created and forced by society. Instead, have a greater purpose. Don't follow hollow ideals that only gives one outcome, i.e., society's approval. Do something that might not make you a good moral person, but it will definitely make you worthy of greatness.
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.
If a person does not want to follow to the same path as his fellow men, let him follow whichever his heart desires. Every man should have the right to live to be true to himself. He should be free enough to follow his instincts and march on the path accordingly, even if these instincts are little blurry at first.
Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.
The most important aspect of freedom is to be free not to follow people you disagree with. Unconditional obedience is also a form of slavery, after all.
All good things are wild and free.
He believes all the materialistic goods that we need to pay for to acquire do not hold any real value. The best things are the ones whose value are too high to be measured by currency and thus, is not bought or sold. Things like knowledge of truth, freedom, friendship, character, are free of cost and do not live under anyone's rule.
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation
Most men live with hidden desperation that they are not able to express. There are dreams and goals they want to work for, but they are too bound by the personal and social commitments. So, when we notice them stuck in meaningless monotonous lives, it's not due to resignation or hopelessness but due to desperation to get out of it futile circle and finally start living a motivated and joyous life. And in this desperate desire, they do the only thing they know, the one told by society – to live a moral socially upright life to be happy. But only seldom that advice turns out to be true.
Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.
It means that we constantly waste our life on trivial, petty things that do not hold any significance in the long term.
Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.
He wants us to prioritize our life's goals. Make a list of all the things you want to do in your life, starting from the one you want the most. And you should strive to fulfil these dreams in the same order. Don't leave the things that mean the most to you for last. You can not take your life for granted; it is imperative to live through each day thinking it can be your last. And just like most important things, your books too- read the best ones first.
There is no remedy for love but to love more.
Love, as powerful emotion it is, it comes with insufferable problems. But all these problems have only one cure, that is to love another person even more. More you love someone, more trivial the problems become.
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.
Thoreau didn't measure the value of things in his life by the money it costs him, but by the time and energy, it demands of him. He says we spend years of our life trying to create a fortune; then this money is spent on things like expensive house, car, lavish lifestyle etc. So, in other words, you are basically buying, say a Ferrari in exchange of five years of your life. Or ten years? Or more?
Is the ride worth it? Are we constantly wasting away our life in things that have literally no long term contribution to our happiness? He is trying to make us understand the value of a simple life.
A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.
It can be understood as an afterthought to the previous quote. A man is as rich as simple a life he can live. The more things you can leave alone and not buy into, the lesser energy and time you will waste on it. Hence, a longer life, you will have to do whatever you truly desire.
Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?
He believes there couldn't be anything more fascinating than being able to look into each other's eye and form a bond. To make a connection, to understand other people, being able to empathize with them and feel their joys and sorrows as yours, is a real miracle.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately… I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life...to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms...
It is one of his most famous quotes. He says he wanted to live with purpose, according to his true nature that's why he left the society and lived in woods. He wanted to live by only the essential truths and not any other superficial moral code. He wanted to feel the 'marrow of life', the very force of life. He wanted to feel the passion as the driving force that keeps him alive. He wants to live a spartan existence, one which is without any vain ambitions and needs. He wanted to reduce life into its basic terms, into is simplistic form. And before he dies, he wanted to be sure that he has truly lived.
He died on May 6, 1862, due to health issues. During his last moments, aware that it was the end, he uttered his last sentence,
Now comes good sailing.
Co-author: Shreya Arya
A digital marketing enthusiast with experience in HR and hospital management, Shreya has wide interests ranging from philosophy, psychology to latest trends in automation. She is also a freelance content writer and loves lending beautiful words to ideas and feelings.