The 21 Best Thoreau Quotes

Henry David Thoreau could today have a fine career as a motivational speaker. If you need someone to light a fire under your ass to either a) get outside or b) start living or c) both, just go back 160 years to the stuff Thoreau was writing. It’s hard to believe he put all this down on paper before our modern rat race, much less so many generations before.

Here are our favorites of what the man said:

1. “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that 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.”

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

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

4. “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 came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. 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 cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. “Not till we are completely lost or turned around…do we begin to find ourselves.”

12. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”

13. “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”

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

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

16. “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.”

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

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

19. “If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down!”

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

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

Words by Brendan Leonard. (Well, mostly Thoreau, but you get the idea.) 



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