More from and about
Henry David Thoreau
(biographical info at bottom of page)

  

However mean your life is, meet it and live it: do not shun it
and call it hard names.  Cultivate poverty like a garden herb,
like sage.  Do not trouble yourself much to get new things,
whether clothes or friends.  Things do not change, we change.
Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.
God will see that you do want society.

   

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his or her dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he or she has imagined, one will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

      
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.
  
If we respected only what is inevitable and has a right to be, music and poetry would resound along the streets.  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.  This is always exhilarating and sublime.  By closing the eyes and slumbering, and consenting to be deceived by shows, men establish and confirm their daily life of routine and habit everywhere, which still is built on purely illusory foundations.  Children, who play life, discern its true law and relations more clearly than men, who fail to live it worthily, but who think they are wiser by experience, that is, by failure.
   

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. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of people to elevate their lives by a conscious endeavour. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.

     

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought
will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we
walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over
and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.

   

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Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you've imagined.

   

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.

   

We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal
and then leap in the dark to our success.

   

If we do not keep pace with our companions, perhaps it is because
we hear a different drummer. Let us step to the music
we hear, however measured or far away.

   
    
American author and naturalist, born in Concord, Mass., and graduated from Harvard, 1837.  Thoreau is considered one of the most influential figures in American thought and literature.  A supreme individualist, he championed the human spirit against materialism and social conformity. His most famous book, Walden (1854), is an eloquent account of his experiment in near-solitary living in close harmony with nature; it is also an expression of his transcendentalist philosophy.

Thoreau grew up in Concord and attended Harvard, where he was known as a serious though unconventional scholar.  During his Harvard years he was exposed to the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who later became his chief mentor and friend.  After graduation, Thoreau worked for a time in his father's pencil shop and taught at a grammar school, but in 1841 he was invited to live in the Emerson household, where he remained intermittently until 1843.  He served as handyman and assistant to Emerson, helping to edit and contributing poetry and prose to the transcendentalist magazine, The Dial.

In 1845 Thoreau built himself a small cabin on the shore of Walden Pond, near Concord; there he remained for more than two years, "living deep and sucking out all the marrow of life."  Wishing to lead a life free of materialistic pursuits, he supported himself by growing vegetables and by surveying and doing odd jobs in the nearby village.  He devoted most of his time to observing nature, reading, and writing, and he kept a detailed journal of his observations, activities, and thoughts.  It was from this journal that he later distilled his masterpiece, Walden. The journal, begun in 1837, was also the source of his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), as well as of his posthumously published Excursions (1863), The Maine Woods (1864), Cape Cod (1865), and A Yankee in Canada (1866).

One of Thoreau's most important works, the essay "Civil Disobedience" (1849), grew out of an overnight stay in prison as a result of his conscientious refusal to pay a poll tax that supported the Mexican War, which to Thoreau represented an effort to extend slavery.  Thoreau's advocacy of civil disobedience as a means for the individual to protest those actions of his government that he considers unjust has had a wide-ranging impact–on the British Labour movement, the passive resistance independence movement led by Gandhi in India, and the nonviolent civil-rights movement led by Martin Luther King in the United States.

Thoreau is also significant as a naturalist who emphasized the dynamic ecology of the natural world.  Above all, Thoreau's quiet, one-man revolution in living at Walden has become a symbol of the willed integrity of human beings, their inner freedom, and their ability to build their own lives.  Thoreau's writings, including his journals, were published in 20 volumes in 1906.

  

  

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