15 Henry David Thoreau Quotes that Make You a Transcendentalist

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Henry David Thoreau was an American writer, philosopher, naturalist, and social reformer who is best known for his book Walden, a reflection on simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay Civil Disobedience, a powerful argument for individual resistance to unjust government. Thoreau was also a prolific writer of journals, poems, essays, and lectures on various topics such as nature, politics, ethics, religion, and literature. Additionally, his writings have influenced many thinkers and movements, like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., environmentalism, and Transcendentalism. In this article, we will look at some meaningful Henry David Thoreau quotes.

These Henry David Thoreau quotes will inspire and challenge you to live a more authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling life.

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

This quote is one of the famous Henry David Thoreau quotes. It means that most people are unhappy with their lives. They do not pursue their dreams or passions. Instead, they accept their fate and give up hope. Consequently, they pretend to be satisfied, but they are miserable. Thoreau urges people to live authentically and courageously. He wants them to follow their hearts and not settle for less. Thoreau believes that life is a precious gift and should not be wasted.

  1. “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 which he hears, however measured or far away.”

This quote conveys the idea that some people are different from others. Firstly, they have their own unique ideas and goals. Additionally, they don’t simply follow the crowd or conform to norms. Instead, they listen to their inner voice and pursue what they love. Henry David Thoreau quotes this to praise such people. He thinks that they are brave and original. Thoreau believes that everyone should find their own rhythm and harmony in life.

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


This is one of the most truthful Henry David Thoreau quotes. It suggests that we waste our lives by worrying about small things. We should make our lives simple and easy. Thoreau quotes this to advise us to focus on what matters. He says that simplicity is the key to happiness and peace. Henry believes we can enjoy life more if we reduce distractions and complications.

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

This quote is one of Henry David Thoreau’s quotes that show his concern for nature. He implies that humans have already destroyed Earth with their greed and violence. He is thankful that they cannot fly and do the same to the sky. He suggests that humans should respect and protect the environment, not harm it. Additionally, he prefers a simple and natural life over a complex and artificial one.

5. “He who gives himself entirely to his fellow-men appears to them useless and selfish; but he who gives himself partially to them is pronounced a benefactor and philanthropist.”

This quote is one of Henry David Thoreau quotes that explores the paradox of selflessness. He says that if someone devotes his life to helping others, they will think he is useless and selfish. However, if he only helps them sometimes, they will praise him as a benefactor and philanthropist. Nevertheless, he implies that people are ungrateful and hypocritical and that they don’t appreciate generosity. Additionally, he suggests that one should balance one’s interests and needs with those of others.

6. “If I have unjustly wrested a plank from a drowning man, I must restore it to him though I drown myself.”


This quote is from Henry David Thoreau’s essay Civil Disobedience. It asks if people should ever give up their moral sense to the government. Thoreau thinks that they should not. He believes that people have to follow their conscience, not the law. Thoreau argues that the law is often unjust and oppressive. He says that people should resist the government when it violates their rights and values. Additionally, Thoreau wants people to be independent and free. Furthermore, he thinks that people should be men first, and subjects afterward.

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

This quote is one of the Henry David Thoreau quotes that reveals his insight into the nature of evil. He compares evil to a tree with branches and a root. He says that most people only try to cut off the branches of evil, which are the visible and superficial effects of it. However, he believes that there are very few people who try to strike at the root of evil, which is the hidden and deep cause of it. Additionally, he implies that the only way to eliminate evil is to address its root, not its branches. Furthermore, he suggests that those who strike at the root are more courageous and effective than those who hack at the branches.

8.  “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”

This quote is one of the Henry David Thoreau quotes that reflects on the value and cost of things. He emphasizes that everything comes with a price; not just in terms of money, but also in time, energy, and attention. He reminds us that life is finite and precious and that we should be careful and mindful of how we spend it. He advises us to choose wisely and deliberately what we exchange our life for.

9. “This world is but a canvas to our imagination.”


This quote is one of the Henry David Thoreau quotes that expresses his appreciation and admiration of nature and art. He argues that, in his view, the world is not a fixed and objective reality; instead, it is a flexible and subjective one. He suggests that we can shape and transform the world with our imagination and creativity and that we can create our own beauty and meaning. He invites us to see the world as a canvas and ourselves as artists.

10. “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”

This quote criticizes the busyness and productivity of modern society. He argues that, in his view, being busy is not a virtue or a goal in itself; instead, it is a means to an end. He questions the purpose and value of our activities and tasks, and whether they are aligned with our true interests and passions. He advises us to be more mindful and intentional about how we spend our time and energy.

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

This quote is one of the Henry David Thoreau quotes that warns us about wasting time. He says that time is precious and connected to eternity. He implies that if we kill time, we also harm eternity. Additionally, Thoreau suggests that we should value and use our time wisely, and not waste it on trivial things. Moreover, he reminds us that our actions and choices have consequences, not only for the present but also for the future.

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


This quote compares life to a river. He says that life is fluid and dynamic, like water. He implies that life is constantly changing and flowing, like a river. Thoreau suggests that we should embrace and adapt to the changes and challenges of life, like water. He also reminds us that life is connected and interdependent; it’s like a river.

13. “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”

This quote is one of the Henry David Thoreau quotes that contrasts reality and illusion. He says that it is better to have dreams and visions and know your true situation than to live in a false and comfortable world and think that you are happy. Additionally, Thoreau implies that having your head in the clouds is not a bad thing, as long as you are aware and honest. Moreover, he suggests that living in denial and ignorance is worse, as it prevents you from growing and improving. Ultimately, Thoreau challenges us to face and accept the truth, even if it is hard and unpleasant.

14. “The path of least resistance leads to crooked rivers and crooked men.”

This quote warns us about the dangers of laziness and conformity. He says that if we always choose the easiest and most comfortable way, we will end up with twisted and corrupted results. He compares this to how rivers become crooked when they follow the path of least resistance. Additionally, he highlights the similarity by pointing out that, just like rivers, things can take a winding course when opting for the easiest route. He implies that we should challenge ourselves and overcome obstacles, not avoid them. He suggests that this will make us stronger and more virtuous. He urges us to be brave and principled, not weak and dishonest.

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


This quote is one of the Henry David Thoreau quotes that comments on the influence of society and culture. He asserts that we are born pure and innocent; however, we are corrupted by the advice and opinions of others. He implies that we lose our original and authentic selves, and become conforming and artificial. He suggests that we should be more independent and critical, and not let others dictate our lives. He challenges us to reclaim our innocence and integrity.

In conclusion, Henry David Thoreau was a great writer, philosopher, and naturalist. Additionally, he inspired many people with his wisdom and insight. Furthermore, Henry David Thoreau quotes teach us how to live authentically, simply, and freely. Moreover, we can learn a lot from his quotes about ourselves and the world. Not only do they provide valuable insights, but they also motivate us to make our lives more meaningful and fulfilling.

Sushmita Nibandhe

ALSO READ: 15 Mary Barra Quotes That Will Inspire You to Lead With Passion and Purpose


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