A cousin gave this to me a few years back and during my big book cull last summer it resurfaced. I commenced reading it then, at a slow, thoughtful, sporadic pace. I have just now finished it. I have to say, as a book choice for me they nailed it: nature, art, and musings on existence– a perfect combination for me.
Every page spread has beautiful watercolor art, and indeed the quotes by Thoreau were compiled by the artist. As I wrote in this poem about Walden all the way back in 2009, if I’ve read any Thoreau before, I don’t recall it. So I was delighted to have put together for me the best bits, beautifully illustrated.
I learned that Thoreau espoused these basic principles:
- Everything worthwhile in life requires love, faith, and imagination.
- Art emerges out of our inner life
- These are the elements of a good life: to live simply, to do quality work that is not rushed, to avoid waste, to live below your means, and to set aside a substantial portion of time for leisure.
- A close relationship with nature contributes to one’s experience of joy and peace.
- That wisdom and simplicity are closely related.
- That the path of joy is one of knowing who you are and living that. It requires that you befriend yourself.
- And to make time for silence, adopting a thoughtful rhythm to your life and work.
Here are the quotes by Thoreau in the book that I flagged to share with you:
- “Essentially your truest poetic sentence is as free and lawless as a lamb’s bleat.”
- “We hear and apprehend only what we already half know.”
- “The greatest compliment ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”
- “Where there is a lull in truth an institution springs up.”
- “Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”
- I love to see anything that implies a simpler mode of life and a greater nearness to the earth.”
- “It is remarkable that those flowers which are most emblematic of purity should grow in the mud.”
- “The earth is pregnant with law.”
- “We must go out and re-ally ourselves to Nature everyday. We must take root, send out some little fiber at least, even every winter day. I am sensible that I am imbibing health when I open my mouth to the wind. Staying in the house breeds a sort of insanity. I am aware that I recover some sanity which I had lost almost the instant that I come abroad.”
- “Nothing is so much to be feared as fear. Atheism may comparably be popular with God.”
- “I do not prefer one religion or philosophy to another. I have no sympathy with the bigotry and ignorance which made transient and partial and puerile distinctions between one man’s faith and another’s– Christian and heathen. I pray to be delivered from narrowness, partiality, exaggeration, and bigotry. To the philosopher, all sects, all nations, are alike.”
- Poetry implies the wholeness of truth. Philosophy expresses a particle of it.
- “It is best to avoid the beginnings of evil.”
- What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
- “Thought is the sculptor who can create the person you want to be.”
- “Do not despair of life. You have no doubt force enough to overcome your obstacles. Think of the fox prowling through wood and field in a winter night for something to satisfy his hunger. Notwithstanding cold and the hounds and traps, his race survives.”
- “You cannot perceive beauty but with a serene mind.”
- “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”
- “Silence is a balm for every chagrin.”
- “Silence is the communing of a conscious soul with itself. If the soul attends for a moment to its own infinity, then and there is silence.”
- “Such clarity is obtained by simple living and honest purpose.”
- “To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who [opt out] are old men over their tea.”
- “I love a broad margin to my life.”
I loved all of this except the excerpts from “Economy,” where I found Thoreau rather oblivious of his privilege. Those bits lagged for me. The rest of it I heartily endorse. You too might enjoy a stroll through Thoreau and the Art of Life. I give it fours stars.