Something to Learn from Henry David Thoreau: Where I Lived and What I lived For - Coach Marianna Guenther Facebook Pixel

“Be it life or death, we crave only reality.”

“I do not wish to be any more busy with my hands than necessary.”

“I found thus that I had been a rich man without any damage to my poverty.”

Thoreau, in Walden, his social critique – more than his own autobiography – of contemporary Western culture’s consumerist and materialist attitudes and its distance from and destruction of nature, highlights the importance of solitude, contemplation, and closeness to nature.

In Where I Lived, and What I Lived For, Thoreau shares his thoughts as to how he selected Walden Pond; he quotes Roman philosopher Cato’s advice: “Consider buying a farm very carefully before signing the papers,” as well as Thoreau’s thoughts while building and living in his new home.

Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau shares his counsel and that to be truly alive, life should be lived – free and uncommitted; he writes:

“I have no doubt that time discriminates between the good and the bad; and when at last I shall plant, I shall be less likely to be disappointed. But I would say to my fellows, once for all, As long as possible live free and uncommitted. It makes but little difference whether you are committed to a farm or the country jail.”


“[…] I found myself suddenly neighbor to the birds; not by having imprisoned one, but having caged myself near them.”

Further, Thoreau attempts to put in words how wonders of nature feel with celebration of gratitude and appreciation for life’s simplicity:

“Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself. I have been as sincere a workshipper of Aurora as the Greeks. I got up early and bathed in the pond; that was a religious exercise, and one of the best things which I did.”

Author argues that to truly live is to be excited, to get up each morning, awaken up by internal drive and aspirations and excitement of what that day might bring; Thoreau writes:

“Little is to be expected of that day, if it can be called a day, to which we are not awakened by our Genius, but by the mechanical nudging of some servitor, are not awakened by our own newly acquired force and aspirations from within, accompanied by the undulations of celestial music, instead of factory bells, and a fragrance filling air – to a higher life than we fell asleep from; and thus the darkness bear its fruit, and prove itself to be good, no less than the light.”


“To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?”

Thoreau points out that to live and be awake is to look forward to life’s simple gifts and what might come:

“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep.”

Thoreau explains that he went to live in the woods to live deep and fully – he made a choice to live the life’s full potential – as not uncover later in his life he had not lived:

“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 me, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

Thoreau questions meaning of a fast pace life and his attitude about that choice:

“Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry.”

Thoreau probes value of newspapers and reiterated news with the same themes have no meaning as they do not enrich lives:

“And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, – we never need to read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications? To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea. Yet not a few are greedy after this gossip.”

Author argues that to live life is to learn by failure rather by experience, he writes:

“Children, who play life, discern its true law and relations more clearly than men, who fail to live worthily, but who think that they are wiser by experience, that is, by failure.”

Thoreau encourages to live unrestricted and free life and to let things happen and go with the flow – and whatever the outcome or annoyance might be – take the meaning that suits you and to make the best of it:

“Let us rise early and fast, or break fast, gently and without perturbation: let company come and let company go, let the bells ring and let the children cry, – determined to make a day of it.”

At the end of the day, we are all mortal and while we are here and alive, Thoreau urges to live and experience a good and free life, author concludes:

“If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter, and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your mortal character.”

Absolutely wonderful and timeless Thoreau! Complete it with Walden or complement it with reading on solitude or for a bit different spin, Duty of Civil Disobedience might be your cup of tea.