170 Henry David Thoreau Quotes

These Top 170 Henry David Thoreau quotes will show you the might of your mind. In this collection, we’re featuring quotes that focus on self-reflection, humility, and nature, as well as other insights from his 18 months of self-isolation in Walden Pond.

So, if you’re looking for something that will help you refresh your mind and realign your priorities in life, then this list is definitely something that can help you out.

Check out his best quotes below.

Best Henry David Thoreau Quotes

Henry David Thoreau Quote - How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.Pin

1. “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”

2. “Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.”

3. “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time.”

4. “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, and find your eternity in each moment.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost.Pin

5. “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.”

6. “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with unexpected success in common hours.”

7. “Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life.”

8. “To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating.”

9. “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.Pin

10. “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

11. “Dreams are the touchstones of our characters.”

12. “Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”

13. “I love to be alone. I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

14. “Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - All good things are wild and free.Pin

15. “All good things are wild and free.”

16. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.”

17. “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.”

18. “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.”

19. “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”

Henry David Thoreau Quotes on Solitude, Reflection, and the Self

Henry David Thoreau Quote - I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.Pin

20. “I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”

21. “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”

22. “Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.”

23. “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.”

24. “If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.Pin

25. “An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”

26. “It is never too late to give up your prejudices.”

27. “I had three chairs in my house—one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”

28. “I have an immense appetite for solitude, like an infant for sleep, and if I don’t get enough for this year, I shall cry all the next.”

29. “Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with nature herself.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - Amid a world of noisy, shallow actors it is noble to stand aside and say, 'I will simply be.'Pin

30. “Amid a world of noisy, shallow actors it is noble to stand aside and say, ‘I will simply be.’”

31. “We are born as innocents. We are polluted by advice.”

32. “I have, as it were, my own sun, and moon, and stars, and a little world all to myself.”

33. “It is not that we love to be alone, but that we love to soar; and when we do soar, the company grows thinner and thinner until there is none at all.”

34. “I have a room all to myself; it is nature.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us.Pin

35. “We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us.”

36. “Every path but your own is the path of fate. Keep on your own track, then.”

37. “To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake.”

38. “Our whole life is startlingly moral. There is never an instant’s truce between virtue and vice. Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”

39. “In the long run, men only hit what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - As to conforming outwardly and living your own life inwardly, I do not think much of that.Pin

40. “As to conforming outwardly and living your own life inwardly, I do not think much of that.”

41. “Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around.”

42. “We hear and apprehend only what we already half know.”

43. “What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.”

44. “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.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures.Pin

45. “Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures.”

46. “We should impart our courage and not our despair.”

47. “The true price of anything you do is the amount of time you exchange for it.”

48. “Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them.”

49. “I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.”

Henry David Thoreau Quotes on Life and Nature

Henry David Thoreau Quote - Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.Pin

50. “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”

51. “However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names.”

52. “Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse.”

53. “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.”

54. “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - It is not worth the while to let our imperfections disturb us always.Pin

55. “It is not worth the while to let our imperfections disturb us always.”

56. “The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its doors as early in the spring.”

57. “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”

58. “If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, it is more elastic, more starry, more immortal—that is your success.”

59. “All nature is your congratulations, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - Take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods, if you want to keep your spirits up.Pin

60. “Take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods, if you want to keep your spirits up.”

61. “Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary.”

62. “The universe is wider than our views of it.”

63. “Wildness is the preservation of the world.”

64. “A lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.Pin

65. “Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.”

66. “If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man.”

67. “It is better to have your head in the clouds, and know where you are than to breathe the clearer atmosphere below them, and think that you are in paradise.”

68. “We are not the least to aim at the summits though the multitude does not ascend them.”

69. “A single, gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - This curious world we inhabit is more wonderful than convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used.Pin

70. “This curious world we inhabit is more wonderful than convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used.”

71. “The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams.”

72. “Night is certainly more novel and less profane than day.”

73. “Life in us is like the water in a river.”

74. “All change is a miracle to contemplate, but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - The greatest art is to shape the quality of the day.Pin

75. “The greatest art is to shape the quality of the day.”

76. “I do not know how to distinguish between waking life and a dream. Are we not always living the life that we imagine we are?”

77. “He who hears the rippling of rivers in these degenerate days will not utterly despair.”

78. “The squirrel that you kill in jest, dies in earnest.”

79. “I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows.”

Henry David Thoreau Quotes on Happiness and Simplicity

Henry David Thoreau Quote - The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.Pin

80. “The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”

81. “I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.”

82. “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”

83. “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”

84. “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.Pin

85. “Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”

86. “When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.”

87. “I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit.”

88. “So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run.”

89. “For my greatest skill has been to want but little.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - Do not trouble yourself much to get new things - whether clothes or friends.Pin

90. “Cultivate property like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things—whether clothes or friends.”

91. “Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.”

92. “The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated.”

93. “I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.”

94. “It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite—only a sense of existence.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen.Pin

95. “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumbnail.”

96. “That man is the richest whose pleasures are the cheapest.”

97. “I make myself rich by making my wants few.”

98. “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”

99. “Happiness is like a butterfly, the more you chase it, the more it will evade you, but if you notice the other things around you, it will gently come and sit on your shoulder.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - Be resolutely and faithfully what you are; be humbly what you aspire to be.Pin

100. “Be resolutely and faithfully what you are; be humbly what you aspire to be.”

101. “It is desirable that a man lives in all respects so simply and preparedly. If an enemy takes the town, he can walk out the gate empty-handed and without anxiety.”

102. “If you want to be happy, be!”

103. “While civilization has been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to inhabit them.”

104. “The true harvest of my life is intangible—a little star dust caught, a portion of the rainbow I have clutched.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - As long as possible, live free and uncommitted.Pin

105. “As long as possible, live free and uncommitted. It makes but little difference whether you are committed to a farm or the county jail.”

106. “A taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors.”

107. “Read not the times, read the eternities.”

108. “Most of the luxuries—and many of the so called comforts of life—are not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor.”

109. “Direct your eye inward, and you’ll find a thousand regions in your mind yet undiscovered. Travel them, and be an expert in home-cosmography.”

Henry David Thoreau Quotes on Wisdom and Liberty

Henry David Thoreau Quote - Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.Pin

110. “Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”

111. “I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.”

112. “Things do not change; we change.”

113. “We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us even in our soundest sleep.”

114. “This world is but canvas to our imaginations.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be - what is once well done is done forever.Pin

115. “For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be—what is once well done is done forever.”

116. “Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with. He cannot inflame the minds of his audience.”

117. “If you would convince a man that he does wrong, do right. But do not care to convince him. Men will believe what they see. Let them see.”

118. “It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?”

119. “I can alter my life by altering my attitude. He who would have nothing to do with thorns must never attempt to gather flowers.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - Men have become the tools of their tools.Pin

120. “Men have become the tools of their tools.”

121. “Men are born to succeed, not to fail.”

122. “We are constantly invited to be what we are.”

123. “When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence—that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality.”

124. “Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - Books - the oldest and the best - stand naturally and rightfully on the shelves of every cottage.Pin

125. “Books—the oldest and the best—stand naturally and rightfully on the shelves of every cottage.”

126. “In human intercourse, the tragedy begins not when there is misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood.”

127. “A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.”

128. “If I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?”

129. “The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait until that other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail.Pin

130. “Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail.”

131. “Any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.”

132. “He who distinguishes the true savor of his food can never be a glutton; he who does not cannot be otherwise.”

133. “Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion.”

134. “Books can only reveal us to ourselves, and as often as they do us this service we lay them aside.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.Pin

135. “But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”

136. “No man ever followed his genius till it misled him.”

137. “Readers are plentiful; thinkers are rare.”

138. “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.”

139. “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 millions to a poetic or divine life.”

Henry David Thoreau Quotes on Love and Relationships

Henry David Thoreau Quote - Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance.Pin

140. “Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.”

141. “There is no remedy for love but to love more.”

142. “Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but religiously follows the new.”

143. “All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be.”

144. “The language of friendship is not words, but meanings.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?Pin

145. “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”

146. “How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.”

147. “The most I can do for my friend is simply to be his friend.”

148. “Say what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better than make-believe.”

149. “Pursue some path—however narrow and crooked—in which you can walk with love and reverence.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - Friends - they cherish one another's hopes.Pin

150. “Friends—they cherish one another’s hopes. They are kind to one another’s dreams.”

151. “On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living—that we have, henceforth, to fulfill the promise of our friend’s life also, on our own, to the world.”

152. “I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.”

153. “The heart is forever inexperienced.”

154. “Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - It takes two to speak the truth - one to speak and another to hear.Pin

155. “It takes two to speak the truth—one to speak and another to hear.”

156. “Enthusiasm is a supernatural serenity.”

157. “Society is commonly too cheap. We meet at very short intervals, not having had time to acquire any new value for each other. We meet at meals three times a day, and give each other a new taste of that old musty cheese that we are.”

158. “The whole course of human history may depend on a change of heart in a single, solitary, even humble individual. For it is within the soul of the individual that the battle between good and evil is waged and ultimately won or lost.”

159. “There is danger that we lose sight of what our friend is absolutely, while considering what she is to us alone.”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - Love must be as much a light as it is a flame.Pin

160. “Love must be as much a light as it is a flame.”

161. “Man wanted a home, a place for warmth, or comfort—first of physical warmth, then the warmth of the affections.”

162. “A man may be very industrious, and yet not spend his time well. There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of life getting his living.”

163, “What people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can.”

164. “Don’t be afraid that your life will end, be afraid that it will never begin!”

Henry David Thoreau Quote - A man can suffocate on courtesy.Pin

165. “A man can suffocate on courtesy.”

166. “I will come to you, my friend, when I no longer need you. Then you will find a palace, not an almshouse.”

167. “Why should we live in such a hurry and waste of life?”

168. “Begin where you are and such as you are, without aiming mainly to become of more worth, and with kindness aforethought, go about doing good.”

169. “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 Quote - I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune.Pin

170. “I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune.”

Did These Henry David Thoreau Quotes Inspire You to Live in the Moment?

In our world today, we constantly look towards the future—what will I do next? Where will I go? What will happen tomorrow? However, by doing this, we forget to live in the present moment. Life moves incredibly fast, and if we don’t take the time to observe and appreciate what’s happening in our lives right now, we could miss the beauty in the little things and in everyday life. Henry David Thoreau teaches us that we should reflect and let go of our material pursuits, and instead reach inwards—look into ourselves and into the present moment in order to find the true meaning of life and happiness.

Did these quotes remind you that you can only live your life once? What are the things you give most importance to in life? Let’s talk about your realizations and reflections in the comments section below.

Amy Finn

Hi. I'm Amy, the founder of this blog. I love quotes and enjoy sharing the best ones with you.

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