The Concord Writer

 

Thoreau Quotes

Thoreau began a journal at the suggestion of his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson on October 22, 1837.  Thoreau was just 20 at the time and his journal writing continued for the rest of his life.  His first entry began with this:  ""What are YOU doing now?" he asked.  "Do you keep a journal?"  So I make my first entry..."


From Thoreau's Journal

If with closed ears and eyes I consult consciousness for a moment – immediately are all walls and barriers dissipated – earth rolls from under me, and I float, by the impetus derived from the earth and the system – a subjective – heavily laden thought, in the midst of an unknown & infinite sea, or else heave and swell like a vast ocean of thought – without rock or headland.  Where are all riddles solved, all straight lines making there their two ends to meet – eternity and space gamboling familiarly through my depths.  I am from the beginning – knowing no end, no aim. No sun illumines me, – for I dissolve all lesser lights in my own intenser and steadier light - I am a restful kernel in the magazine of the universe.
~ Journal, August 1838

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I felt that it would be to make myself the laughing-stock of the scientific community to describe to them that branch of science which specially interests me, in as much as they do not believe in a science which deals with the higher law.  So I was obliged to speak to their condition and describe to them that poor part of me which alone they can understand.  The fact is I am a mystic, a transcendentalist, and a natural philosopher to boot.  Now I think of it, I should have told them at once that I was a transcendentalist.  That would have been the shortest way of telling them that they would not understand my explanation. 
~ Journal, March 5, 1853

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I love nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. 
None of his institutions control or pervade her.  There a different kind of
right prevails.  In her midst I can be glad with an entire gladness.   If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself, I should lose all hope. 
He is constraint, she is freedom to me.  He makes me wish for another world. 
She makes me content with this.  ~ Journal, January 3, 1853

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 I thrive best on solitude. If I have had a companion only one day in a week, unless it were one or two I could name, I find that the value of the week to me has been seriously affected. It dissipates my days, and often it takes me another week to get over it.  ~  Journal, December 28, 1856

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Many an object is not seen, though it falls within the range of our visual ray, because it does not come within the range of our intellectual ray, i.e. we are not looking for it. So, in the largest sense, we find only the world we look for. 
~ Journal, July 2, 1857 

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Talk about slavery!  It is not the peculiar institution of the South. It exists wherever men are bought and sold, wherever a man allows himself to be made a mere thing or a tool, and surrenders his inalienable rights of reason and conscience. Indeed, this slavery is more complete than that which enslaves the body alone.
~ Journal, December 4, 1860  

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Many college text-books which were a weariness and a stumbling-block when studied, I have since read a little in with pleasure and profit. 
~  Journal, February 19, 1854

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It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know.
~ Journal, October 4, 1859

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The question is not what you look at, but what you see. 
~  Journal, August 5, 1851

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Carlyle said that how to observe was to look, but I say that it is rather to see,
and the more you look the less you will observe.  ~ Journal, September 13, 1852

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From Walking

I took a walk on Spaulding’s Farm the other afternoon. I saw the setting sun lighting up the opposite side of a stately pine-wood. Its golden rays straggled into the aisles of the wood as into some noble hall. I was impressed as if some ancient and altogether admirable and shining family had seated there in that part of the land called Concord, unknown to me; to whom the Sun was servant; who had not gone into society in the village; who had not been called on. I saw their park, their pleasure ground, beyond through the wood, in Spaulding’s cranberry meadow. The pines furnished them with gables as they grew. Their house was not obvious to vision; the trees grew through it. I do not know whether I heard the sounds of a suppressed hilarity or not. They seemed to recline on the sunbeams. They have sons and daughters. They are quite well. The farmer’s cart path which leads directly through their hall does not in the least put them out, — as the muddy bottom of a pool is sometimes seen through the reflected skies. They never heard of Spaulding, and do not know that he is their neighbor, — notwithstanding that I heard him whistle as he drove his team through the house. Nothing can equal the serenity of their lives. Their coat of arms is simply a lichen. I saw it painted on the pines and oaks. Their attics were in the tops of the trees. They are of no politics. 
There was no noise of labor. I did not perceive that they were weaving or spinning.  Yet I did detect, when the wind lulled and hearing was done away, the finest imaginable sweet musical hum, — as of a distant hive in May, which perchance was the sound of their thinking. They had no idle thoughts, and no one without could see their work, for their industry was not as in knots and excrescences embayed.

But I find it difficult to remember them.  They fade irrevocably out of my mind even now that I speak and endeavor to recall them, and recollect myself.  It is only after a long and serious effort to recollect my best thoughts that I become again aware of their cohabitancy.  If it were not for such families as this I think I should move out of Concord. 

From Walden

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. . . .  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. ~ Walden, 1854

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''With thinking we may be beside ourselves in a sane sense. By a conscious effort of the mind we can stand aloof from actions and their consequences; and all things, good and bad, go by us like a torrent. We are not wholly involved in Nature. I may be either the driftwood in the stream, or Indra in the sky looking down on it. I may be affected by a theatrical exhibition; on the other hand, I may not be affected by an actual event which appears to concern me much more. I only know myself as a human entity; the scene, so to speak, of thoughts and affections; and am sensible of a certain doubleness by which I can stand as remote from myself as from another. However intense my experience, I am conscious of the presence and criticism of a part of me, which, as it were, is not a part of me, but spectator, sharing no experience, but taking note of it, and that is no more I than it is you. When the play, it may be the tragedy, of life is over, the spectator goes his way. It was a kind of fiction, a work of the imagination only, so far as he was concerned. This doubleness may easily make us poor neighbors and friends sometimes.''  ~ Walden, 1854

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Men frequently say to me, "I should think you would feel lonesome down there, and want to be nearer to folks, rainy and snowy days and nights especially." I am tempted to reply to such,—This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? is not our planet in the Milky Way? This which you put seems to me not to be the most important question. What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary?  I have found that no exertion of legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another.  ~ Walden, 1854

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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. 
~ Walden, 1854

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From The Maine Woods, Khatadin

Perhaps I most fully realized that this was primeval, untamed, and forever untameable Nature, or whatever else men call it, while coming down this part of the mountain. We were passing over "Burnt Lands," burnt by lightning, perchance, though they showed no recent marks of fire, hardly so much as a charred stump, but looked rather like a natural pasture for the moose and deer, exceedingly wild and desolate, with occasional strips of timber crossing them, and low poplars springing up, and patches of blueberries here and there. I found myself traversing them familiarly, like some pasture run to waste, or partially reclaimed by man; but when I reflected what man, what brother or sister or kinsman of our race made it and claimed it, I expected the proprietor to rise up and dispute my passage. It is difficult to conceive of a region uninhabited by man. We habitually presume his presence and influence everywhere. And yet we have not seen pure Nature, unless we have seen her thus vast and dread and inhuman, though in the midst of cities. Nature was here something savage and awful, though beautiful. I looked with awe at the ground I trod on, to see what the Powers had made there, the form and fashion and material of their work. This was that Earth of which we have heard, made out of Chaos and Old Night.  Here was no man's garden, but the unhandselled  globe. It was not lawn, nor pasture, nor mead, nor woodland, nor lea, nor arable, nor waste-land. It was the fresh and natural surface of the planet Earth, as it was made for ever and ever, — to be the dwelling of man, we say, — so Nature made it, and man may use it if he can. Man was not to be associated with it. It was Matter, vast, terrific, — not his Mother Earth that we have heard of, not for him to tread on, or be buried in, — no, it were being too familiar even to let his bones lie there, — the home, this, of Necessity and Fate. There was there felt the presence of a force not bound to be kind to man. It was a place for heathenism and superstitious rites, — to be inhabited by men nearer of kin to the rocks and to wild animals than we. We walked over it with a certain awe, stopping, from time to time, to pick the blueberries which grew there, and had a smart and spicy taste. Perchance where our wild pines stand, and leaves lie on their forest floor, in Concord, there were once reapers, and husbandmen planted grain; but here not even the surface had been scarred by man, but it was a specimen of what God saw fit to make this world. What is it to be admitted to a museum, to see a myriad of particular things, compared with being shown some star's surface, some hard matter in its home! I stand in awe of my body, this matter to which I am bound has become so strange to me. I fear not spirits, ghosts, of which I am one, — that my body might, — but I fear bodies, I tremble to meet them. What is this Titan that has possession of me? Talk of mysteries! — Think of our life in nature, — daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it, — rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! The solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? where are we? 
~ The Contact Passage, Maine Woods 1848 

Misc. Quotes

In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while. ~ Life Without Principle, 1863

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 I have lately got back to that glorious society called Solitude. 
~  Letter to H.G.O. Blake, January 1, 1859

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Copyright 2009 - Cathryn McIntyre  - Not to be copied or reproduced without written consent.

 

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