Top 50+ Henry David Thoreau quotes that will get you thinking

Top 50+ Henry David Thoreau quotes that will get you thinking

Henry David Thoreau, a prominent 19th-century American transcendentalist, writer, philosopher, and naturalist, left a lasting legacy with his profound reflections on life, society, and nature. His writings continue to inspire readers globally. Explore the best Henry David Thoreau quotes on life, nature, success, and civil disobedience.

Henry David Thoreau quotes
Henry David Thoreau's quotes offer profound insights on life, nature, civil disobedience, and success. Photo: @wynnter on Getty Images (modified by author)
Source: UGC


Henry David Thoreau is known for his book Walden, which details his two-year stay in a cottage on Walden Pond in Massachusetts. His writings, including poems, essays, and journals, profoundly impacted American literature and philosophy. Here are the most thought-provoking and inspiring Henry David Thoreau quotes.

Top Henry David Thoreau quotes

Henry David Thoreau was a lifelong abolitionist, a supporter of civil disobedience against unjust or corrupt governments, and a proponent of rejecting illusory issues in favour of simple living to find life's authentic vital necessities. Here is a list of his quotes on various subject matters.

Henry David Thoreau's quotes about life

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As a transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau believed in the value of living a simple, self-sufficient life and the importance of the present moment. Here are some of his most inspiring quotes about life and human experiences.

Henry David Thoreau's quotes
Henry David Thoreau's quotes about life emphasise the value of living a simple, self-sufficient life and living in the now. Photo:, @julian-jagtenberg (modified by author)
Source: UGC
  • 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.
  • And 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.
  • To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.
  • You must live within yourself and depend upon yourself, always tucked up and ready for a start, and not have many affairs.
  • The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
  • A slight sound at evening lifts me up by the ears and makes life seem inexpressibly serene and grand. It may be Uranus, or it may be in the shutter.
  • Our life is frittered away by detail. … 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. … Simplify, simplify.
  • What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.
  • Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.

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Henry David Thoreau's famous quotes

Thoreau's reflections on life, simplicity, truth, and nature resonate with timeless wisdom. But what was Henry David Thoreau's most famous quote? Here are his most famous quotes.

Henry David Thoreau's quotes
Henry David Thoreau's most famous quotes are on life, nature, truth, and simplicity. Photo:, @sebastians (modified by author)
Source: UGC
  • Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.
  • There is no remedy for love but to love more.
  • 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.
  • Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.
  • Men have become the tools of their tools.
  • Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.
  • Every generation laughs at the old fashions but follows religiously the new.
  • The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.
  • 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.
  • This world is but a canvas to our imagination.

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Henry David Thoreau's quotes about success

A transcendentalist's definition of success differs from the average person's. Thoreau believed that a person's success was more about self-fulfilment than achievements. Here are his thought-provoking quotes on dreams and success.

Henry David Thoreau quotes
Henry David Thoreau's quotes about success are about self-fulfilment rather than achievements. Photo:, @jill-wellington (modified by author)
Source: UGC
  • Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.
  • The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.
  • 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.
  • It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?
  • Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.
  • You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.
  • You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.
  • What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.
  • Success is not in what you have, but who you are.
  • What old people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can.

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Henry David Thoreau's civil disobedience quotes

Thoreau constantly wrote about citizens' responsibility to uphold justice, even when their government did not reciprocate. Here are his most inspirational quotes about civil disobedience.

Henry David Thoreau quotes
Henry David Thoreau's quotes about civil disobedience advocate for citizen's responsibility to uphold justice. Photo:, @edmond-dantes (modified by author)
Source: UGC
  • I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.
  • How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.
  • I heartily accept the motto, — ‘That government is best which governs least’; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically.
  • The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.
  • But a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it.
  • Oh for a man who is a man, and, as my neighbour says, has a bone in his back which you cannot pass your hand through!
  • The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way.
  • A man has not everything to do, but something; and because he cannot do everything, it is not necessary that he should do something wrong.
  • Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.
  • What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.
  • Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.
  • The only way to deal with an unjust world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.
  • I am too high-born to be propertied, to be a second at control, or useful serving-man and instrument to any sovereign state throughout the world.

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Henry David Thoreau's fishing quotes

Thoreau's views on fishing transcend beyond the act itself, delving into profound insights about life, nature, and the human condition. Here are some fishing quotes that will provoke you to think deeply about various elements of life.

Henry David Thoreau quotes
Henry David Thoreau's fishing quotes delve into valuable insights about nature, life, and human experiences. Photo:, @quang-nguyen-vinh (modified by author)
Source: UGC
  • Some men fish all their lives without realising it’s not the fish they’re after.
  • Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.
  • He who hears the rippling of rivers in these degenerate days will not utterly despair.

Henry David Thoreau's quotes about nature

Thoreau's time at Walden Pond helped him connect with nature, the changing seasons, and the intricacies of the day. He documented his thoughts on his most popular book, Walden. Here are some of Henry David Thoreau's Walden quotes about nature.

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  • I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.
  • In wildness is the preservation of the world.
  • I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows.
  • The bluebird carries the sky on his back.
  • We need the tonic of wildness—to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk.
  • Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand.
  • Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf and take an insect view of its plain.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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What is Henry David Thoreau most famous for?

Henry David Thoreau is best known for living the transcendental ideas outlined in his masterwork, Walden (1854). He also advocated for civil freedoms, as evidenced by his essay Civil Disobedience (1849).

What is Henry David Thoreau's dream quote?

Thoreau's dream quote is: "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." This quote captures his belief in the power of dreams and the importance of pursuing them confidently.

What is Thoreau's most famous poem?

Thoreau's most renowned poem is probably Smoke, which highlights his observations of nature and the fleeting beauty of the natural world. Thoreau is better known for his prose than his poetry.

Henry David Thoreau's quotes encourage readers to think profoundly, live intentionally, and be true to themselves. Whether you seek peace in nature, simplicity, or truth and justice, Thoreau's reflections provide timeless wisdom.

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Navigating the consequences of betrayal due to infidelity can be an emotionally challenging journey. If you want ideas to manage your emotions, explore these thought-provoking and funny cheating captions for your Instagram captions or bios.


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Racheal Murimi (Lifestyle writer) Racheal Murimi is a content creator who joined Yen in 2022. She has over four years of experience in creating content. Racheal graduated from Dedan Kimathi University of Technology with a bachelor's degree in BCom, Finance. She has amassed sufficient knowledge working on various topics, including biographies, fashion and lifestyles, guides, and more. In 2023, Racheal finished the AFP course on Digital Investigation Techniques. You can reach her at

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