Walden

Henry David Thoreau Character Analysis

The writer and narrator of Walden. Thoreau moves to the woods by Walden Pond in order to experience solitude, and the book is principally a record of his thoughts and observations. A believer in the Transcendentalist idea of self-reliance, he builds his own house, grows his own food in his bean-field, and stresses the importance of individuality and living according to his ideals. He critiques society for its pretensions and excesses, like clothes and travel, urging men to simplify their lives and escape societal institutions in order to elevate their lives. As a Transcendentalist, he reveres nature and strives to live a good life according to its example, combining the hardiness of nature with his intellect. He prefers solitude, though he also takes pleasure in companionship, and he believes in the power of work, both intellectual and physical, though not too strenuous, to dignify his life and bring him closer to a higher existence.

Henry David Thoreau Quotes in Walden

The Walden quotes below are all either spoken by Henry David Thoreau or refer to Henry David Thoreau. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Self-Reliance Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Publications edition of Walden published in 1995.
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:

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The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

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With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

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All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

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The farmer is endeavoring to solve the problem of a livelihood by a formula more complicated than the problem itself.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Bean-Field
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

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While civilization has been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to inhabit them. It has created palaces, but it was not so easy to create noblemen and kings.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

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Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

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Where I Lived, and What I Lived For Quotes

We are wont to imagine rare and delectable places in some remote and more celestial corner of the system, behind the constellation of Cassiopeia's Chair, far from noise and disturbance. I discovered that my house actually had its site in such a withdrawn, but forever new and unprofaned, part of the universe.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

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The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred million to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?

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

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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:

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Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!

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

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God himself culminates in the present moment, and will never be more divine in the lapse of all the ages.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

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Reading Quotes

Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

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Sounds Quotes

Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer?

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Visitors Quotes

I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

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Objects of charity are not guests.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

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The Village Quotes

I was never molested by any person but those who represented the State.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Conclusion Quotes

Be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought... It is easier to sail many thousand miles... than it is to explore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one's being alone.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 207
Explanation and Analysis:

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I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:

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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 has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him... 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.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:

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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 which he hears, however measured or far away.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:

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Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker)
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:

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Henry David Thoreau Character Timeline in Walden

The timeline below shows where the character Henry David Thoreau appears in Walden. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Economy
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For two years and two months Thoreau lived alone in the woods by Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, where he wrote the... (full context)
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Most men, says Thoreau, work too much. Men who have inherited farms suffer personal and financial restrictions and spend... (full context)
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What is the chief purpose of man? Thoreau asks. Most men live in despair because they have forgotten that they have a choice... (full context)
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Human advancements throughout time have not changed "the essential laws of man's existence." Thoreau designs a primitive life for himself in order to figure out what are the barest... (full context)
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...Being poor in outward riches is often a sign of being rich in inward riches. Thoreau calls his way of life "voluntary poverty" and suggests it is a good vantage point... (full context)
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Before coming to the woods, Thoreau spent time as a newspaper reporter, (though the editor never published his writing), a self-appointed... (full context)
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Clothing, Thoreau argues, is an embarrassingly excessive concern for most people. They worry more about having new,... (full context)
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...a place for comfort and affections. What is the barest kind of shelter we need? Thoreau asks. Humankind began by requiring only caves for shelter. He sees large boxes by the... (full context)
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What are the differences between "the civilized man" and "the savage"? Thoreau asks. The civilized man conceives of institutions into which the individual is absorbed for the... (full context)
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The best art, Thoreau asserts, is made out of man's desire to free himself from the constraints of civilization.... (full context)
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In March 1845, Thoreau recounts, he went to Walden Pond and began to cut down trees for his house,... (full context)
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Perhaps if all men built their own houses, Thoreau suggests, the poetic faculty would be developed universally, just as all birds sing while they... (full context)
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Thoreau keeps meticulous records of all his expenses in building his house and includes a chart... (full context)
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Like the college system and other modern advancements, railroads and traveling in general, Thoreau believes, are a ridiculous waste of money and another symptom of an unhealthy way of... (full context)
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In order to defray his expenses, Thoreau plants a bean-field of couple of acres and makes a modest gain. The next year... (full context)
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Men should not be judged by their architecture or material wealth, Thoreau believes, but by the richness of their abstract thought: not by the temples of the... (full context)
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Continuing with his record-keeping, Thoreau makes charts of all his purchases for household goods and food, detailing all that he... (full context)
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After many experiments in making bread, Thoreau finds that the best way is to use just meal and water, not even salt.... (full context)
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For furniture and household goods, Thoreau chooses to have only the basics, including a table, a desk, three chairs, two knives... (full context)
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Thoreau finds that he can meet all his expenses by working six weeks out of the... (full context)
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Some townsmen have accused Thoreau of being selfish. It is true, philanthropy and charity do not agree with his constitution,... (full context)
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Philanthropy, Thoreau believes, is the selfish thing. Instead of spreading courage and personal fulfillment, it spreads despair.... (full context)
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Organized religion is about consoling man's fears, not nourishing his hope, Thoreau believes, and has thus failed even in simple praise of God. To cure any ill... (full context)
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Thoreau closes the chapter with a poem called "The Pretensions of Poverty" by English poet Thomas... (full context)
Where I Lived, and What I Lived For
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Where should his house be located? Thoreau considers. He has talked to all the nearby farmers and imagined buying their houses and... (full context)
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The nearest Thoreau came to possessing a house was when he intended to buy the Hollowell farm, but... (full context)
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On Independence Day, 1845, Thoreau begins living in the woods full-time, during nights as well as days. The house, not... (full context)
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Thoreau's first impression of the pond, which is sometimes misty in the early morning, sometimes still... (full context)
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Though men are in the habit of imagining faraway lands, Thoreau finds that his new living place, so close by, has all the glories of nature... (full context)
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Morning is Thoreau's invitation to make his life simple and commune with nature. Every morning he bathes in... (full context)
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Thoreau urges each man to awaken fully and "elevate his life by conscious endeavor." It is... (full context)
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Thoreau laughs about the absurdity of a man who wakes from a nap and asks for... (full context)
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Men often confuse the appearance of things with reality, Thoreau believes, but with true wisdom and unhurriedness it is possible to get past "petty pleasures"... (full context)
Reading
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Reading, Thoreau writes, is the pursuit of truth, which is immortal, while wealth and material possessions are... (full context)
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Thoreau calls on people to strive to read well. Instead, he says, most people aim too... (full context)
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Concord and places like it are culturally empty, Thoreau says, and need to be provoked to strive for greater achievements. Concord's schools for children... (full context)
Sounds
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Thoreau believes that man must be not only a reader, but also a seer and a... (full context)
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Nearby to Thoreau's house, the railroad passes. He knows the men who work on it and its daily... (full context)
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After the train passes, Thoreau is more alone than ever, he writes. He listens to the bells of the nearby... (full context)
Solitude
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Walking along the pond, enjoying the animals, Thoreau believes that his solitude makes him a part of nature and therefore allows him to... (full context)
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From nature, Thoreau gets "the most sweet and tender, the most innocent and encouraging society," which prevents every... (full context)
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Some of his most enjoyable hours, Thoreau writes, were the long rainstorms in which he stayed in his house thinking. Loneliness is... (full context)
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Thoreau believes that people are distracted by being polite and that they spend too much time... (full context)
Visitors
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Thoreau says that he is no hermit and that he loves society. He entertained many visitors... (full context)
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Once, Thoreau spent some time with a Canadian woodchopper (he chooses not to print his name), a... (full context)
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Among Thoreau's other visitors include those who ask for water (he points them to the pond); a... (full context)
The Bean-Field
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Thoreau's daily work is hoeing his bean-field, which he says connects him to the earth He... (full context)
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Thoreau does his work in the bean-field daily, in the early morning. The pigeons and hawks... (full context)
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Thoreau harvests twelve bushels of beans from his bean-field and sets out charts of all the... (full context)
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Farming, which Thoreau calls "husbandry," has sacred origins and, as ancient poetry reminds us, was once considered a... (full context)
The Village
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Every day or two, Thoreau goes to the village to hear the gossip, which he finds refreshing, like the sound... (full context)
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One afternoon, when Thoreau was in the village, he says, he was apprehended by the police and put in... (full context)
The Ponds
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The features of the landscape in the woods are humble, Thoreau writes, but Walden Pond is remarkable. It is deep, pure, sometimes blue and sometimes green,... (full context)
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There are tracks around the pond that, Thoreau thinks, were made by aboriginal hunters. According to an Indian fable, a group was holding... (full context)
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...Sandy Pond, which is much larger and more shallow, less pure, and has more fish. Thoreau laments that pond's boring name and wishes that natural features were named not after the... (full context)
Baker Farm
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Thoreau writes that there were "shrines" he visited in the woods, pine groves and other groups... (full context)
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Once, while Thoreau was walking through Baker Farm, he says, it began to rain, so he went into... (full context)
Higher Laws
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Once, Thoreau says, when a woodchuck crossed his path, he had the urge to kill and eat... (full context)
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...defiles a man is not food, however, but the appetite with which he consumes it, Thoreau believes; the animal inside a man wakes insofar as his higher faculties sleep. By living... (full context)
Brute Neighbors
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Thoreau talks with a recluse who lives in the woods, the Hermit, about going to the... (full context)
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Thoreau notices a war between two races of ants, red on one side and black on... (full context)
House-Warming
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When it begins to get cold, Thoreau builds his chimney out of bricks and sand and stones and mortar, and he plasters... (full context)
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The first ice that forms over the pond, Thoreau says, is hard, dark, and transparent, and through it he studies the bottom of the... (full context)
Former Inhabitants; and Winter Visitors
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When Thoreau is alone in the winter and wants company, he says, he thinks about the former... (full context)
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In the winter, Thoreau rarely has visitors. Once, when he walks a long way in the snow, he returns... (full context)
Winter Animals
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In the winter, Thoreau hears a host of animals around his house: the hooting owl, whose sad sound is... (full context)
The Pond in Winter
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One night, Thoreau says, he woke up with questions on his mind but was quieted by serene nature... (full context)
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Wondering how deep the pond is, Thoreau determines the shape of its bottom using a stone and a cord. He makes a... (full context)
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...the pond to collect peat. Occasionally, one of these men fall into the water and Thoreau takes him into his house to get dry. (full context)
Spring
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In deciding to come to the woods, Thoreau says, one attraction he anticipated was watching spring arrive. The ice on Walden Pond is... (full context)
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Thoreau likes to watch the flowing sand and clay by the railroads as the spring thaws,... (full context)
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Thoreau celebrates spring as a glorious influx of light and warmth, and he details the first... (full context)
Conclusion
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The universe is wide and no man needs to be tied down, Thoreau believes. He advocates exploration, however, not of distant lands, but of the lands within, urging... (full context)
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...robbery in order to see what it would take within him to oppose society, but, Thoreau says, this was unnecessary because any man can find himself opposing society by following higher... (full context)
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Thoreau says he left the woods because he had "several more lives to live." Within a... (full context)
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Are modern men intellectual dwarfs compared to the ancients? Thoreau considers. Even if it is true, it is no matter, he says, because men must... (full context)
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Thoreau tells the parable of an artist in the city of Kouroo who strove for perfection... (full context)
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However poor one's life is, Thoreau says, one must live it and take pleasure in it and not insult it. The... (full context)
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Any moment can be the moment when one's new life begins, Thoreau believes. Life within a person is like a river that can one year flood higher... (full context)