Most of us may never have the pleasure or opportunity to spend a year living next to a pond and writing self-reflections, but surely we can feel inspired by these valuable Walden quotes on the power of self-reflection.
Henry David Thoreau published Walden over 150 years ago, yet the wisdom and sagacity of his work still apply in 2021. Narrative writing is a powerfully transformative experience as it allows us to reflect on the subject we know best, ourselves.
In writing about what he knows best, he aims to help the reader pursue higher thoughts and improve their conditions. The book is presented in eighteen chapters, each one a different form of reflection that shares the common goal of raising the collective consciousness.
Thoreau encourages us to embrace skills and virtues that are needed now more than ever; independence, self-reliance, simplicity, and dedication.
Walden quotes on the value of knowing yourself
1. “Things do not change; we change.”
2. “…for my greatest skill has been to want but little.”
3. “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”
4. “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”
5. “All good things are wild and free.”
6. “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”
7. “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.”
8. “Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”
9. “It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?”
10. “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”
Walden quotes on the power of self-reflection
11. “All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be.”
12. “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.”
13. “If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.”
14. “Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.”
15. “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.”
16. “I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”
17. “Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.”
18. “Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself.”
19. “Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
20. “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that 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.”
Inspiring Walden quotes
21. “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.”
22. “If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down!”
23. “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”
24. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats.”
25. “A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”
26. “If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal- that is your success.”
27. “All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself.”
28. “The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality.”
29. “Perhaps the facts most astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man.”
30. “The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.”
Famous Walden quotes
31. “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”
32. “However mean your life is, meet and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest.”
33. “The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise.”
34. “Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse.”
35. “The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its doors as early in the spring.”
36. “Cultivate property like a garden herb, like sage.”
37. “Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them.”
38. “Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts… Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only.”
39. “Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.”
40. “I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”
Walden quotes to inspire and teach
41.“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
42. “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.”
43. “Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”
44. “Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.”
45. “In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagvat Geeta, since whose composition years of the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial; and I doubt if that philosophy is not to be referred to a previous state of existence, so remote is its sublimity from our conceptions.
46. “I lay down the book and go to my well for water, and lo! there I meet the servant of the Bramin, priest of Brahma and Vishnu and Indra, who still sits in his temple on the Ganges reading the Vedas, or dwells at the root of a tree with his crust and water jug. I meet his servant come to draw water for his master, and our buckets as it were grate together in the same well. The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges.”
47. “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. “
48. “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavour.”
49. “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.”
50. “To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”
What did you learn from these Walden quotes?
Reading Walden is like experiencing an entire lifetime of lessons in 18 chapters. Thoreau encourages us to reject the aspects of life that are empty and embrace our inner selves.
Luxury can be fun but necessities are important. Walden forces us to question how technological progress has not necessarily resulted in an enhanced quality of life without detracting from the natural and spiritual world.
He reminds us that there is an inner light inside each of us and we must seek it in order to transform and become our fullest self. Walden suggests that in order to experience spiritual growth we have to reaffirm our relationship with nature.
When was the last time you went for a stroll in the forest, put your toes in the sand, or put your hands deep into the earth’s soil? A closer relationship with nature helps us see things more clearly. Remember, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”
What’s your biggest takeaway from these Walden quotes and sayings? Do you have any other favorite quotes to add? Let us know in the comment section below.