As a self-described Transcendentalist, Thoreau believes in the individual’s power to live an everyday life charged with meaning, and he has faith in self-reliance over societal institutions, focusing instead on the goodness of humankind and the profound lessons it can learn from nature. He values individuality, conviction, and focus as cardinal virtues. Eschewing organized religion, he opts to search on his own for what living a good life means, and he tries to live it as he searches. He crafts a life with a perpetual sense of striving towards something greater, such that all of his activities take on spiritual significance. Every morning he washes himself in Walden Pond and calls his bath a "religious experience," quoting Hindu scripture and writing that the pond is part of the sacred water of the Ganges River. Nature’s activities, for him, are sacred rites, and he pays them due attention, believing that the present moment is the culmination of the spiritual and is as divine as all time. Furthermore, he holds that true richness has nothing to do with material wealth but with a hunger for truth and beauty. In the end, Thoreau finds living by these principles to be an essential duty, a challenge that people have an obligation to match. Walden is Thoreau’s attempt to wake ordinary men from their sleep and call them to live better lives, more deliberate and more fulfilled.
Transcendentalism, Spirituality, and the Good Life ThemeTracker
Transcendentalism, Spirituality, and the Good Life Quotes in Walden
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor.
All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be.
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.
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 I discovered that my house actually had its site in such a withdrawn, but forever new and unprofaned, part of the universe.
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.