WHERE I LIVED AND WHAT I LIVED FOR
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
GREAT IDEAS PENGUIN BOOKS 1854/2005
Where I lived, and What I lived For
At a certain stage of our life we are accustomed to consider every spot as the possible site of a house. I have thus surveyed the country on every side within a dozen miles of where I live.
- This experience entitled me to be regarded as a sort of real-estate broker by my friends.
- The nearest I came to actual possession was when I bought the Hollowell place, but the wife changed her mind and wanted to keep it.
The real attractions of the Hollowell farm, to me, were: its complete retirement, being about two miles from the village, half a mile to the nearest neighbor, and separated from the highway by a broad field; its bounding on the river, which the owner said protected it by its fogs from frosts in the spring, though that was nothing to me; the gray color and ruinous state of the house and barn, and the dilapidated fences, which put such an interval between me and the last occupant; the hollow and lichen-covered apple trees, gnawed by rabbits, showing what kind of neighbors I should have; but above all, the recollection I had of it from my earliest voyages up the river, when the house was concealed behind a dense grove of red maples, through which I heard the house-dog bark.
- Old Cato, whose De Re Rustica is my ‘Cultivator’ says, ‘When you think of getting a farm, turn it thus in your mind, not to buy greedily; nor spare your pains to look at it, and do not think it enough to go round it once. The oftener you go there the more it will please you, if it is good.’
- When I first took up my abode in the woods on the 4th of July 1845, the house was not finished.
- I found myself suddenly neighbor to the birds; not by having imprisoned one, but having caged myself near them.
- For the first week, whenever I looked out on the pond it impressed me like a tarn high up on the side of a mountain. The very dew seemed to hang upon the trees later into the day than usual, as on the sides of mountains.
- This small lake was of most value as a neighbor. From a hill top near by, there was a pleasing vista southward across the pond, through a wide indentation in the hills.
- It is well to have some water in your neighborhood, to give buoyancy to and float the earth.
- One value of even the smallest well is, that when you look into it you see that earth is not continent but insular. This is as important as that it keeps butter cool.
- Though the view from my door was still more contracted, I did not feel crowded or confined in the least.
- Both place and time were changed, and I dwelt nearer to those parts of the universe and to those eras of history which had most attracted me.
- Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself.
- I got up early and bathed in the pond; that was a religious exercise, and one of the best things which I did.
- There was something cosmical about it; a standing advertisement, till forbidden, of the everlasting vigor and fertility of the world.
- The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour.
- That man who does not believe that each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a descending and darkening way.
- All memorable events, I should say, transpire in the morning time, and in a morning atmosphere. The Vedas say, ‘All intelligences awake with the morning.’
- It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me.
- To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake.
- 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 in our soundest sleep.
- I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could 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 practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. 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, 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 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.’
- Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!
- In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds.
- Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, it if be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five, and reduce things in proportion.
The nation itself, with all its so called internal improvements, which, by the way, are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldly and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it as for them is a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast.
- Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry. As for work, we haven’t any of consequence.
- For my part, I could easily do without the post-office. I have never received more than one or two letters in my life that were worth the postage. And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper.
- To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.
- How much more important to know that is which was never old! Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous.
- If men would steadily observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, life would be like a fairy tale and the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.
- When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence – that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality.
- I perceive that we inhabitants of New England live this mean life that we do because our vision does not penetrate the surface of things. We think that that is which appears to be.
- The universe constantly and obediently answers to our conceptions; whether we travel fast or slow, the track is laid for us. Let us spend our lives in conceiving then.
- Let us spend one day as deliberately as nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails.
Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through new York and Boston and Concord, through church and state, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, That is, and no mistake.
Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from that inhospitable board.
- How long shall we sit in our porticoes practising idle and musty virtues, which any work would make impertinent?
- There is not one of my readers who has yet lived a whole human life. These may be but the spring months in the life of the race.
- We are acquainted with a mere pellicle of the globe on which we live. Most have not delved six feet beneath the surface, nor leaped as many above it.
- We are sound asleep nearly half our time. Yet we esteem ourselves wise, and have an established order on the surface.
- As I stand over the insect crawling amid the pine needles on the forest floor, I am reminded of the greater Benefactor and Intelligence that stands over me the human insect.
- There is an incessant influx of novelty into the world, and yet we tolerate incredible dullness.
- The life in us is like the water in the river. It may rise higher than man has ever known it, and flood the parched uplands.
- Everyone has heard the story of a strong and beautiful bug which came out of the dry leaf of an old table of apple-tree wood, from an egg deposited in the living tree many years earlier.
- Who does not feel his faith in a resurrection and immortality strengthened by hearing of this?
- Who knows what beautiful and winged life, whose egg has been buried for ages under many concentric layers of woodenness in the dead life of society, may unexpectedly come forth to enjoy its perfect summer at last!
I do not say that John or Jonathan will realize all this; but such is the character of that morrow which mere lapse of time can never make to dawn. The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.