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Henry David Thoreau (1817–62) was born David Henry Thoreau, in Concord, Massachusetts. He was an American author, poet, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, philosopher, and transcendentalist. In 1841, Thoreau moved into the Emerson house. There, from 1841 to 1844, he served as the children's tutor, editorial assistant, and repair man/gardener.

He advocated recreational hiking, conserving natural resources on private land, and preserving wilderness as public land. He neither rejected civilisation nor fully embraced wilderness, as he realised the necessity of balance.

Thoreau's last words before he died were "Now comes good sailing." And in the years up till that moment, he wrote much. His prose is largely detailed and descriptive, and boring too. Parts of his poetry are descriptive, detailed, with patterned end rhymes. Other parts of his poetic outputs are contain more pronounced philosophical ideas.

Now for a random poem:

The waves slowly beat
Just to keep the moon sweet.
And no sound is floated o'er.
Save the mallet on shore,
Which echoing on high
Seems a-calking the sky

(In Bode 1943, 58)

"Descriptive, detailed, with patterned end rhymes" - a poem about impressions, mainly. Now, it is his main ideas and apt selections from his various writings that make him shine - some selections bring out his brilliant ideas. that were advanced for his times. His writings influenced many public figures, like Mohandas Gandhi.

Gandhi first read Thoreau's Walden in 1906 while working as a civil rights activist in Johannesburg, South Africa. He told the American reporter Webb Miller that Thoreau's ideas "influenced me greatly. I adopted some of them and recommended the study of Thoreau to all of my friends who were helping me in the cause of Indian Independence. Why I actually took the name of my movement from Thoreau's essay 'On the Duty of Civil Disobedience'.

Thoreau Quotations

A few weeks after I came to the woods . . . for an hour, I doubted if the near neighbourhood of man was not essential to a serene and healthy life. . . . But I was at the same time conscious of a slight insanity in my mood. - Thoreau, Walden

A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting. - Thoreau

Be not simply good, be good for something. - Thoreau

Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it. - Thoreau

Do what nobody else can do for you. - Thoreau

Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new. - Thoreau, Walden (1854)

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads. - Thoreau

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live. - Thoreau

I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude. - Thoreau

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. - Thoreau, Walden

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. - Thoreau

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost, that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them. - Thoreau

Inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. - Thoreau

It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things. - Thoreau

It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes. - Thoreau, Walden

It is monstrous when one cares but little about trees and much about Corinthian columns. - Thoreau, in Snyder 1902, 55

It is not worthwhile to go around the world to count the cats in Zanzibar. - Thoreau

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after. - Thoreau

Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity. - Thoreau

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. - Thoreau

Simplify! - Thoreau, in Krutch 1948, 3

[Some] have become the tools of their tools. - Thoreau

Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it. - Thoreau

The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. - Thoreau, Walden, Chap. 1: Economy

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. - Thoreau, Walden

The whole pettiness of our life . . . is seen in the light of music's strains. - Thoreau, in Snyder 1902, 50

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is in prison. - Thoreau

What's the use of a fine house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?


Thoreau quotations, Henry David Thoreau quotes, Literature  

Blake, G. H. O., ed. 1890. Thoreau's Thought: Selections from the Writings of Henry David Thoreau. New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1890.

Bloom, Harold, ed. 2007. Henry David Thoreau. Updated ed. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2007.

Bode, Carl, ed. 1947. The Portable Thoreau. New York: Viking Press.

Cain, William E., ed. 2000. A Historical Guide to Thoreau. New York: Oxford University Press.

Childs, Christopher, comp., ed. 1978. Encounters with Henry David Thoreau: Clear Sky, Pure Light.. Lincoln, MA. Penmaen.

Krutch, Joseph Wood. 1948. Henry David Thoreau. London: Methuen.

Snyder, Helena Adell. 1902. Thoreau's Philosophy of Life with Special Consideration of the Influence of Hindoo Philosophy. Doctoral thesis. Heidelberg, DE: Ruprecht-Karl's Universität.

Thoreau, Henry D. 2004. Walden. Ed. Jeffrey S. Cramer. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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