Excerpts from Walden Pond by Henry David Thoreau
edited by Miss Doolittle from thoreau.eserver.org/walden
Replica of Thoreau’s cabin
"You will get very little from
if you read it hunting for contradictions, if you make a great fuss over the fact that
he had dinner in town with friends sometimes. There is much to dispute with Thoreau, but the useful disagreements lie in
the essentials, not the details."
- Bill McKibben, from an annotation for
WHEN I WROTE the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile 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.
…Some have asked what I got to eat; if I did not feel lonesome; if I was not afraid; and the like. Pardon me if I
undertake to answer some of these questions in this book… I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody
else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience. Moreover, I,
on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has
heard of other men's lives;
I sometimes wonder that we can be so frivolous, I may almost say, as to attend to the gross but somewhat foreign
form of servitude called Negro Slavery, there are so many keen and subtle masters that enslave both North and South. It is
hard to have a Southern overseer; it is worse to have a Northern one; but worst of all when you are the slave-driver of
yourself…Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is
which determines, or rather indicates, his fate…. Think, also, of the ladies of the land weaving toilet cushions
the last day, not to betray too green an interest in their fates! As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the
desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A
stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.
There is no play in them, for this comes after work.
When we consider what…is the chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life, it appears as
if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think
there is no choice left. But alert and healthy natures remember that the sun rose clear. It is never too late to give up our
prejudices….Practically, the old have no very important advice to give the young, their own experience has been so
partial, and their lives have been such miserable failures, for private reasons, as they must believe; and it may be that they
have some faith left which belies that experience, and they are only less young than they were. I have lived some thirty