Lokashakti Library of Nonviolence, Peace, and Social Justice

WALDEN

or Life in the Woods

Henry David Thoreau

WaldenOriginally written in 1852 as an account of the slightly over two years Thoreau spent, between July 4, 1845 and September 6, 1847, living in the woods near Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. It was during this time – “near the end of the first summer,” as Thoreau describes it  that on one of his frequent trips into town he was forced to spend a night in prison for non-payment of taxes in protest of the war his government had started with Mexico.  This becomes the basis for the later essay "Resistance to Civil Government"  a classic in the field of nonviolence, and one of the best pieces of American prose to come out of the 19th century.  - Will Travers, Lokashakti Library


Selected excerpts

Page numbers refer to the edition published by New American Library/Mentor Books, New York, 1954

  • “At the present day, and in this country, as I find by my own experience, a few implements, a knife, an axe, a spade, a wheelbarrow, etc., and for the studious, lamplight, stationery, and access to a few books, rank next to necessaries, and can all be obtained at a trifling cost.” (p. 14)
  • “Shall we forever resign the pleasure of construction to the carpenter? What does architecture amount to in the experience of the mass of men? I never in all my walks came across a man engaged in so simple and natural an occupation as building his house. We belong to the community. It is not the tailor alone who is the ninth part of a man; it is as much the preacher, and the merchant, and the farmer. Where is this division of labor to end? and what object does it finally serve? No doubt another may also think for me; but it is not therefore desirable that he should do so to the exclusion of my thinking for myself.” (p. 36)
  • “The spending of the best part of one's life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet. He should have gone up garret at once. 'What!' exclaim a million Irishmen starting up from all the shanties in the land, 'is not this railroad which we have built a good thing?' Yes, I answer, comparatively good, that is, you might have done worse; but I wish, as you are brothers of mine, that you could have spent your time better than digging in this dirt.” (p. 41)
  • “Most of the stone a nation hammers goes toward its tomb only. It buries itself alive. As for the Pyramids, there is nothing to wonder at in them so much as the fact that so many men could be found degraded enough to spend their lives constructing a tomb for some ambitious booby, whom it would have been wiser and manlier to have drowned in the Nile, and then given his body to the dogs.” (p. 44)
  • “If you give money, spend yourself with it, and do not merely abandon it to them. We make curious mistakes sometimes. Often the poor man is not so cold and hungry as he is dirty and ragged and gross. It is partly his taste, and not merely his misfortune. If you give him money, he will perhaps buy more rags with it.” (p. 56)
  • ”There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve. It is the pious slave-breeder devoting the proceeds of every tenth slave to buy a Sunday’s liberty for the rest. Some show their kindness to the poor by employing them in their kitchens. Would they not be kinder if they employed themselves there? You boast of spending a tenth part of your income in charity; maybe you should spend the nine tenths so, and done with it.” (p. 56)
  • ”Those who have not learned to read the ancient classics in the language in which they were written must have a very imperfect knowledge of the history of the human race.” (p. 74)
  • Speaking of when he was arrested and forced to spend a night in prison: “It is true, I might have resisted forcibly with more or less effect, might have run ‘amok’ against society; but I preferred that society should run ‘amok’ against me, it being the desperate party.” (p. 118)
  • Reflecting on his experiment with simple living, self-sustainability, and existing on as little money as he possibly could: ”I am convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown. These take place only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient while have not enough.” (p. 119)
  • ”I believe that every man who has ever been earnest to preserve his higher or poetic faculties in the best condition has been particularly inclined to abstain from animal food, and from much food of any kind.” (p. 146)
  • ”Is it not a reproach that man is a carnivorous animal? True, he can and does live, in a great measure, by preying on other animals; but this is a miserable way, - as any one who will go to snarling rabbits, or slaughtering lambs, may learn, - and he will be regarded as a benefactor of his race who shall teach man to confine himself to a more innocent and wholesome diet. Whatever my own practice may be, I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other when they came in contact with the more civilized.” (pp. 146-7)
  • ”I am glad to have drunk water so long, for the same reason that I prefer the natural sky to an opium-eater’s heaven. I would fain keep sober always; and there are infinite degrees of drunkenness. I believe that water is the only drink for a wise man; wine is not so noble a liquor; and think of dashing the hopes of a morning with a cup of warm coffee, or of an evening with a dish of tea!” (p. 147)
  • Speaking of a war between ants he witnessed one day, ”I have no doubt that it was a principle they fought for, as much as our ancestors, and not to avoid a three-penny tax on their tea; and the results of this battle will be as important and memorable to those whom it concerns as those of the battle of Bunker Hill, at least.” (p. 156)
  • ”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.” (p. 215)
  • ”Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage.” (p. 218)
  • “Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.” (p. 218)
  • ”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.” (p. 221)

Library - Print

  • Print   ( 15 )
    Books, articles, essays, and other literature related to nonviolence, peace, and social justice
  • Visual   ( 5 )
    Images reflecting art being used to shape our collective conscience toward justice and peace
  • Audio   ( 8 )
    Protest music, speeches, radio programs, etc., all in the spirit of nonviolent social change
  • Video   ( 5 )
    Moving images documenting or paying tribute to the world's rich history of nonviolent action
fuga mobilya