After reading Walden I have come to see how relevant this book still is. I have included my highlights of the text and left interpretation open to the reader. These are the highlights that I found noteworthy. I recommend going and reading the complete text. If the idea of reading Walden seems intimidating I’d like to point to a cool project by Matt Steel. Matt has a kickstarter to produce an annotated version of Walden to help readers get into the text through modern language.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Page 6: The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.
Page 17: I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but i had not made it worth any one’s while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of making it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of the others?
Page 21: I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit? If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes. All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be. Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or dirty the old, until we have so conducted, so enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel like new men in the old, and that to retain it would be like seeing new wine in old bottles.
Page 24: In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.
Page 33: Most men appear never to have considered what a house is, and are actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think that they must have such a one as their neighbors have. Shall we always study to obtain more of these things and not sometimes to be content with less?
Page 34: But lo! men have become tools of their tools. We now no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven.
Page 51: This spending of the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it, reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet.
Page 54: A simple and independent mind does not toil at the bidding of any prince. Nations are possessed with an insane ambition to perpetuate the memory of themselves by the amount of hammered stone they leave. What if equal pains were taken to smooth and polish their manners? One piece of good sense would be more memorable than a monument as high as the moon.
Page 88: 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.
Page 88: 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. I wanted to love 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, and if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
Page 89: Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!
Page 89: Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion.
Page 106: It is time that we had uncommon schools, that we did not leave off our education when we begin to be men and women. It is time that our villages were universities, and their elder inhabitants the fellows of universities, with leisure—if they are indeed so well off—to pursue liberal studies the rest of their lives. Shall the world be confined to one Paris or one Oxford forever?
Page 212: The repugnance of animal food is not the effect of experience, but is an instinct. It appeared more beautiful to live low and fare hard in many respects; and though I never did so, I went far enough to please my imagination. I believe that every man who has ever been earnest to preserve his higher or poetic faculties in the best condition had been particularly inclined to abstain from animal food, and from much food of any kind.
Page 246: How much more interesting an event is that man’s supper who has just been forth in the snow to hunt, nay, you may say, steal, the fuel to cook it with! His bread and meat are sweet.
Page 299: The day is an epitome of the year. The night is the winter, the morning and evening are the spring and fall, and the noon is the summer.
Page 311: A gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects
brighten on the influx of better thoughts. We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it; and did not spend our time in atoning for the neglect of past opportunities, which we call doing our duty. We loiter in winter while it is already spring.
Page 318: Be rather the Mungo Park, the Lewis and Clarke and Frobisher, of your own streams and oceans; explore your own higher latitudes.
Page 320: The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! 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 had imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will pit some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Not put the foundations under them.
Page 323: Let everyone mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made. Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man doe 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. It is not important that he should mature as soon as an apple tree or an oak. Shall he turn his spring into summer?
Page 325: Cultivate poverty like a garden herd, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change.