66 of the Most Influential Henry David Thoreau Quotes

Henry David Thoreau was born in Massachusetts in 1817. He is most known for being a political philosopher but he was also known as an essayist and a poet

In 1828, Thoreau’s parents had sent him to Concord Academy where he had deeply impressed his teacher and was then able to prepare for his attendance of college. He attended Harvard University beginning in 1833.

Upon graduating Havard in 1837, Henry lasted two weeks as a teacher at his old grammar school, then worked in the family’s pencil-making business until 1838 when his brother John and him had started a school. Sadly his brother John had fallen ill and the school they had created together only lasted about three years.

In the 1840s, Henry began focusing on his poetry and literary career instead of his initial goal of being a schoolmaster. His brother died in 1842 which stuck Henry with grief and made him grow restless. Later in his life he became more of an activist up until his death.

He studied civil disobedience, is in the Hall of Fame for Great Americans (1960), founder of ‘The Dial’ and three of his notable works are Walden, Civil Disobedience and The Maine Woods. Henry David Thoreau died at the young age of 44 in his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts in 1862 of tuberculosis.

Henry David Thoreau Quotes

  1. “Our life is frittered away by detail…simplify, simplify.” – Henry David Thoreau
  2. “Be yourself, not your idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of yourself should be.” – Henry David Thoreau
  3. “It’s the beauty within us that makes it possible for us to recognize the beauty around us. The question is not what you look at but what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau
  4. “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” – Henry David Thoreau
  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.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden
  6. “I was not designed to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.” – Henry David Thoreau
  7. “Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.” – Henry David Thoreau
  8. “When it’s time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived.” – Henry David Thoreau
  9. “Simplify your life. Don’t waste the years struggling for things that are unimportant. Don’t burden yourself with possessions. Keep your needs and wants simple and enjoy what you have. Don’t destroy your peace of mind by looking back, worrying about the past. Live in the present. Simplify!” – Henry David Thoreau
  10. “The universe is wider than our views of it.” – Henry David Thoreau
  11. “Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden
  12. “Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.” – Henry David Thoreau
  13. “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau
  14. “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.” – Henry David Thoreau
  15. “However mean your life is, meet it and live it.” – Henry David Thoreau
  16. “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” – Henry David Thoreau
  17. “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.” – Henry David Thoreau
  18. “Not till we are completely lost or turned around… do we begin to find ourselves.” – Henry David Thoreau
  19. “Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.” – Henry David Thoreau
  20. “You must not only aim right, but draw the bow with all your might.” – Henry David Thoreau
  21. “Think for yourself, or others will think for you without thinking of you.” – Henry David Thoreau
  22. “Surely joy is the condition of life.” – Henry David Thoreau
  23. “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.” – Henry David Thoreau
  24. “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.” – Henry David Thoreau
  25. “Not all who wander are lost.” – Henry David Thoreau
  26. “There is no remedy for love but to love more.” – Henry David Thoreau
  27. “Maturity is when all of your mirrors turn into windows.” – Henry David Thoreau
  28. “Dreams are the touchstones of our characters.” – Henry David Thoreau
  29. “All good things are wild and free.” – Henry David Thoreau
  30. “Things do not change; we change.” – Henry David Thoreau
  31. “Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you. But if you turn you attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.” – Henry David Thoreau
  32. “The greatest tragedy in life is to spend your whole life fishing only to discover it was never fish that you were after.” – Henry David Thoreau
  33. “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.” – Henry David Thoreau
  34. “Be not simply good, be good for something.” – Henry David Thoreau
  35. “I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” – Henry David Thoreau
  36. “Any fool can make a rule And any fool will mind it.” – Henry David Thoreau
  37. “Things do not change; we change.” – Henry David Thoreau
  38. “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” – Henry David Thoreau
  39. “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” – Henry David Thoreau
  40. “Only that traveling is good which reveals to me the value of home and enables me to enjoy it better.” – Henry David Thoreau
  41. “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” – Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
  42. “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” – Henry David Thoreau
  43. “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.” – Henry David Thoreau
  44. “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.” – Henry David Thoreau
  45. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.” – Henry David Thoreau
  46. “The language of friendship is not words but meanings.” – Henry David Thoreau
  47. “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.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden
  48. “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” – Henry David Thoreau
  49. “Most of the luxuries and many so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” – Henry David Thoreau
  50. “An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.” – Henry David Thoreau
  51. “The only people who ever get anyplace interesting are the people who get lost.” – Henry David Thoreau
  52. “It appears to be a law that you cannot have a deep sympathy with both man and nature.” – Henry David Thoreau
  53. “The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.” – Henry David Thoreau
  54. “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” – Henry David Thoreau
  55. “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of a man to elevate his life by conscious endeavour.” – Henry David Thoreau
  56. “I have no doubt that it is part of the destiny of the human race in it’s gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals.” – Henry David Thoreau
  57. “Every oak tree started out as a couple of nuts who stood their ground.” – Henry David Thoreau
  58. “What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.” – Henry David Thoreau
  59. “Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.” – Henry David Thoreau
  60. “Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.” – Henry David Thoreau
  61. “What is once well done is done forever.” – Henry David Thoreau
  62. “To have done anything just for money is to have been truly idle.” – Henry David Thoreau
  63. “Life isn’t about finding yourself; it’s about creating yourself. So live the life you imagined.” – Henry David Thoreau
  64. “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” – Henry David Thoreau
  65. “Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.” – Henry David Thoreau
  66. “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” – Henry David Thoreau
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Related: Interesting Quotes about Maturity

Henry David Thoreau Video – Civil Disobedience

If you have read this far you should check out this fun and short educational video.

Everyone who has heard of Henry David Thoreau knows that he wrote Walden, but most people don’t know he also wrote a small pamphlet titled Civil Disobedience in which he recommended that if a US president is taking a wrong turn, that good citizens have a duty to protest. This concept has been a part of American politics since day 1.


Henry David Thoreau remains one of America’s most famous political writers. His impact on the world was inspiring people to work and fight hard for what they love and believe in, motivating people to break rules that they do not believe in and most of all influencing people to be their own individual self. These quotes represent the motivational, influential, and inspiring punch that Henry David Thoreau impacted the world with.

Image Credit: National Portrait Gallery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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