Quotations of Thoreau on Solitude
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) is the most representative non-religious Westerner to comprehend solitude and the hermit life. His philosophy of transcendentalism, which paralleled romanticism but was free of its excesses and defects, combined with his scholarly attitude and astute observations on society, politics, and nature, make Thoreau's writings essential to a contemporary application of solitude and the eremitic life. Add to this his willingness to experience this life, his natural curiosity into nature and human psychology, and his very readable style, as reflected by this series of aphorisms from his various writings, and Thoreau offers a perennial voice.
I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.
By my intimacy with nature I find myself withdrawn from man. My interest
in the sun and the moon, in the morning and the evening, compels me to
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.
I feel the necessity of deepening the stream of my life: I must
cultivate privacy. It is very dissipating to be with people too much.
I do not know if I am singular when I say that I believe there is no man
with whom I can associate who will not, comparatively speaking, spoil
Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world,
do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the
infinite extent of our relations.
Silence is the universal refuge, the sequel to all dull discourses and
all foolish acts, a balm to our every chagrin, as welcome after
satiety as after disappointment; that background which the painter may
not daub, be he master or bungler, and which, however awkward a figure
we may have made in the foreground, remains ever our inviolable asylum, where no indignity can assail, no personality disturb us.
-- A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
The man I meet with is not often so instructive as the silence he breaks. -- Journal
I am tired of frivolous society, in which silence is forever the most natural and the best manners. I would fain walk on the deep waters, but my companions will only walk on shallows and puddles.
Why will you waste so many regards on me, and not I of my silence?
Infer from it what you might from the pine wood. It is its natural
condition, except when the winds blow, and the jays scream, and the chickadee winds up
his clock. My silence is just as inhuman as that, and no more.
-- Familiar Letters
You think that I am
impoverishing myself by withdrawing from men, but in my solitude I have woven for myself a
silken web or chrysalis, and, nymph-like, shall ere long burst forth a more perfect
creature, fitted for a higher
From Thoreau, A Book of Quotations. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2000.