Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Jewels of Wisdom from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden

Today I am reading the classic American book Walden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau, a nineteenth century philosopher.  Thoreau wrote Walden while living alone in a small house he built, on Walden pond, in Concord, Massachusetts.  He grew his own food, took walks in the woods, sat for long periods of time in contemplation, studied the plants and animals around him, and wrote everything down.  What emerged is a powerful and transcendent and poetic work that is a damning critique of prevalent American values, and an inspiring call to simplicity, self-reliance, and sensitivity to the poetry of the natural world.  Here are some jewels of wisdom (quotes) from Walden:

“I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of.”
“Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluous coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them.”
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”
“The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad.”
“Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”
“None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but form the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty.”
“To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.  It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.”
“I do not speak to those who are well employed…but mainly to the mass of men who are discontented.”
“No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch in his clothes.”
“I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”
“Many a man is harassed to death to pay the rent of a larger and more luxurious box.”
“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.”
“I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than to be crowded on a velvet cushion.”
“Men have become the tools of their tools.”
“A taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors, where there is no house and no housekeeper.”
“Who knows but if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so engaged?”
“Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things.”
“This spending the better 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.”
“I learned from my two years’ experience that it would cost incredibly little trouble to obtain one’s necessary food, even in this latitude; that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength.”
“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”
“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”
“But I would say to my fellows, once for all, as long as possible live free and uncommitted.”
“The morning wind forever blows, the poem of creation is uninterrupted; but few are the ears that hear it.”
“There was pasture enough for my imagination.”
“Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with nature herself.”
“The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life.”
“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake.”
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived…I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”
“Our life is frittered away by detail.”
“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”
“Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths, while reality is fabulous.”
“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.”
“God himself culminates in the present moment, and will never be more divine in the lapse of all the ages.  And we are enabled to apprehend at all what is sublime and noble only by the perpetual instilling and drenching of the reality which surrounds us.”
“I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans.”

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