Walden

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Themes and Colors
Self-Reliance Theme Icon
Work Theme Icon
Simplicity Over "Progress" Theme Icon
Solitude and Society Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Transcendentalism, Spirituality, and the Good Life Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Walden, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Nature Theme Icon

When Thoreau perceives nature, he sees an inexhaustible source of wisdom, beauty, and spiritual nourishment. He regards it with great respect and awe while also having with it an intimate familiarity and comfort. Many chapters in the book are dedicated to his fond, painstaking observations of the natural world, from the way the ice breaks up on the pond in springtime, to the habits of the rabbits and fish and geese, which he sees as cohabitating with him, to the war between two races of ants that takes place on the ground right outside his cabin.

Nature is the constant backdrop that Thoreau never fails to see, and it becomes a central figure in his life. For one, he lives off it, as it provides him with shelter, food, fuel, and it fulfills all his other physical needs. Furthermore, it is a home that is much bigger than his house or any town; he is always at home because he is always in nature. He notes that Walden Pond is only on the edge of town, only a few miles from where he grew up. In so doing emphasizes that nature and all its rewards are nearby, not only in the faraway lands that people like to fantasize about, and that travel is unnecessary as most people have yet to enjoy and get to know their own backyards. Nature, open to all and free of excess, is the model for his life and the epitome of simplicity and independence.

Nature ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Nature appears in each chapter of Walden. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Nature Quotes in Walden

Below you will find the important quotes in Walden related to the theme of Nature.
Economy Quotes

When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile away from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning of Walden, Thoreau explains the source of the book: the "year and two months" he spent alone in the woods, self-reliant and self-sufficient. However, he also makes it clear that everything he experienced, which now finds its way into the book, was not a long-term lifestyle but rather a kind of experiment. Now, finding himself back in civilized society, Thoreau is able to reflect on what he experienced in that time alone and communicate that to other people by publishing his book. 

Already, Thoreau lays out the most important aspects of his time in the wilderness. He was alone, separate from society (even if a mile isn't exactly "far"), he lived amidst nature, and obtained what he needed through the work of his own hands. For the rest of the book, Thoreau will return to each of these aspects of his time in the woods, detailing exactly what they entailed and what he learned from them. But even at the beginning, we can recognize that Thoreau isn't necessarily telling everyone to leave society or abandon civilization: the fact that he has returned himself suggests that his book will be a sort of guide, attained through extreme measures but accessible to anyone.

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Where I Lived, and What I Lived For Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

In this statement, Thoreau for the first time lays out clearly and succinctly his motivations in going to live at Walden Pond for a time. Part of these motivations are negative in nature: they involve cutting out and cutting back, removing himself from the hectic rush of society in order to have time for himself, time to think. By getting rid of the duties and obligations of daily life, of the distractions of society, Thoreau hopes to pare down his life until he can grasp what is "essential" about life in general, through a more simply way of living. 

However, this process of paring down is ultimately meant to add something new: to replace the inessential with the essential, and to learn from nature what cannot be learned in society. Thoreau returns to the definition of life that he has just developed, in which life only counts as such if it is experienced alertly and in a state of wakefulness. Only by experiencing the world around him in such a way, Thoreau believes, can he hope to have really lived. The stakes, then, could not be higher, as it is the meaning of life itself that Thoreau goes in search of in the woods.

Solitude Quotes

I experienced sometimes that the most sweet and tender, the most innocent and encouraging society may be found in any natural object, even for the poor misanthrope and most melancholy man. There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of nature.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

Thoreau has spent most of his time at Walden alone, without company. It occasionally crosses his mind that social companionship might also be a part of the good life, despite his embrace of solitude. However, Thoreau then decides that nature itself counts as a companion. Solitude is often considered as negative in society, which tends to consider one who is "alone" as being "lonely." Here Thoreau challenges such an assumption by broadening the idea of "society" to include the living creatures, and the pulsing nature, that is around him. The solitude of nature can even, he suggests, be a remedy for those who feel utterly alone and solitary among other people, and who are led to melancholy as a result. 

The Ponds Quotes

A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is the earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Thoreau rapturously describes the beauty of Walden Pond, and also relates certain characteristics of some of the ponds that surrounds it. Here, Thoreau makes clear that for him, these descriptions are not simply in the service of a heightened realism or naturalism – they are directly related to human beings' search for meaning, a task to which he has devoted this book as well as his own time in the woods. By personifying the lake, Thoreau attempts to make Nature more familiar to people, more connected to people, rather than a separate facet of existence separate and different from people. 

Indeed, Thoreau stresses in this passage the close, even mystical connections between nature and people. This connection takes place through a kind of mutual gaze: the beholder's eye meets the eye of the earth, that is, the lake, so that each comes to better understand the other. Here as elsewhere, Thoreau wants to stress that nature isn't something totally separate from human activity, but is instead crucial to what makes human life meaningful.

Baker Farm Quotes

My Good Genius seemed to say,—Go fish and hunt far and wide day by day,—farther and wider,—and rest thee by many brooks and hearth-sides without misgiving. Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures... Grow wild according to thy nature.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

Thoreau has gone to visit a farmer, John Field, whom he describes as unambitious though hardworking: Field is uninterested in the solitary, distanced life that Thoreau has embraced, since he is much more a man of society. Thoreau has claimed before that he wants his time at Walden Pond to serve as a lesson to other people, but here he doesn't seem too upset by Field's lack of interest in his lifestyle. Instead, Field's apathy actually encourages Thoreau to carry on, as it seems to make clear to him the correctness of his own position. 

Here as elsewhere, Thoreau espouses a transcendental belief in the omnipresence of God – the Creator is everywhere, even perhaps inside human beings, and Thoreau must constantly remind himself of this presence as he enjoys all that nature offers to him. Thoreau embraces the challenges set by nature, the labor and solitude that are necessary there: for him they are not unpleasant hurdles to be surmounted, but rather positive elements of a close relationship with nature.

Winter Animals Quotes

I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

Thoreau has already made clear that he doesn't miss the society of other people while he's in the woods, since for him nature provides companionship enough. Here he underlines the warm, inviting side of nature, which is so easily lost on those who live in society and who think of nature as something separate and apart.

In this quote, Thoreau takes great pleasure in how comfortable this sparrow obviously feels around him, since it dares even to rest on his shoulder. He implies that, even though he is participating in work meant for human purposes, there is a kind of unspoken communion between him and the bird. And for Thoreau, it is an utter privilege to be welcomed into the bird's world in such a way. Here he stresses once again how little he cares for the empty accolades of the social world, instead striving after simple companionship with nature, which he prizes all the more for being less valued in society's eyes.