Henry David Thoreau Best General Quotes 💬

As a non-conformist, Henry David Thoreau was considered a man of strange ideas – but even that couldn’t displace the logic and rationality behind some of his best quotes.

Henry David Thoreau

American naturalist, essayist, poet, and philosopher

Spurred by the need to get more out of life and fed up with the norms of society, Henry David Thoreau took it upon himself to venture into the wild to discover the minimum things it took to stay alive and, in this quest, leave a catalog of fine quotes whose values are worthy of being tapped by future generations. Best quotes by Henry David Thoreau will be examined in this article. 

The Essence of Life 

I went to the woods because I wished to live desperately, to front only the essential facts of life… I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…

This is a popular quote from Henry David Thoreau that explains his decision to journey into Walden Pond in the first place. By this excerpt, readers understand that his trip to Walden Pond – which is on the outskirts of society – is motivated by his quest to search for more meaning in life. 

Thoreau knew that the life society offered was dictating, physically and emotionally enforced, and flawed. By his imagination, people were missing out on the fun of discovering the important natural things that made life tick and didn’t even notice because they were too busy living out society’s culture. Thoreau followed his instinct and, after two years, came back with stories and greater enlightenment to his mind.

Writing Comes From Normal, Everyday Living 

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

This quote happens to portray the frame of mind of most great writers and authors, and Henry David Thoreau shared this sentiment. The author believed that to be a great writer, or to even have anything interesting at all to write about, one must first live life. Octavia E. Butler and Katherine Paterson are two of several great authors who also share this view on writing. 

This quote from Henry David Thoreau becomes very helpful for readers and aspiring writers who now know that inspiration for writing can come from simple, everyday experiences such as going camping, visiting a relative, or attending a birthday party.

Dreams are Beautiful 

Dreams are the touchstones of our characters… The question is not what you look at but what you see.

Just like how you, the reader, have dreams and believe in them – allowing them to propel and keep you going, Henry David Thoreau once also shared a similar view, only more intense. The author insisted that dreams were good and that everyone should have one for themselves. 

He believed dreams worked on measuring the quality of our future life, the reason why he called them ‘touchstones of our characters.’ He urged his followers to shoot for the best in terms of dreams and not settle for the mediocre, as that determines the quality of future life one’s probably going to get.

Make Every Day Count

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.

This quote can be summarized to mean, ‘Live life to the fullest.’ Henry David Thoreau offered this statement as a reprimand for those who would abandon their current life situation and chase after some faraway ideas and fantasies. 

To these lots, Thoreau referred to as being in denial – a state of mind which is not the best to be in, for it gives room for laxity, procrastination, and despair, things serve as obstructions to one’s life’s goals and dreams.

A good lesson Thoreau leaves here for readers is to not live for the future but to live for today, enjoying every minute as they come and go. Because living your best life today is a way to guarantee a greater future and also have sweet memories to leave buried in the past. 

Every Man Has a Purpose

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.’

This excerpt uses an allegory of sound and music, but there’s an intended subtext to it. Thoreau crafted this quote in a bid to provide succor and motivation to people who might be feeling emotionally battered by the fact that their mates seem to be progressing while they’re not.

Thoreau believed that every man has a different purpose in life, which can happen at different points in people’s lives – not necessarily at the same pace. Thoreau advised that individuals should strive to discover their purpose and work towards it from an early age.


What discipline did Henry David Thoreau write on?

During his best years, Thoreau specialized in nature writing, society, and the attainment of selfhood.

Who inspired Thoreau’s works and ideologies?

Thoreau had few people he respected, but he was particularly a huge fan of Ralph Waldo Emerson and his accomplishments with the transcendentalism movement.

Why did Henry David Thoreau write ‘Walden’?

Thoreau spent two years in Walden Pond and decided to write essays about his experience to lecture a group of intellectuals who were inquisitive about his adventure.

Victor Onuorah
About Victor Onuorah
Victor is as much a prolific writer as he is an avid reader. With a degree in Journalism, he goes around scouring literary storehouses and archives; picking up, dusting the dirt off, and leaving clean even the most crooked pieces of literature all with the skill of analysis.
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