Thoughts From Thoreau: Part One

Tom Morris

While looking for something else, I found on one of my bookshelves this past weekend a slim old collection of Thoreau's insights. I'm tempted to reflect that if anyone ever collects my wisdom, it will probably be a pretty slim volume, too. Anyway, you remember Henry David Thoreau - Walden Pond, and all. Without any further introduction, allow me to just quote several of his tidbits. They are all from Thoreau on Man and Nature, published in 1960. And I just read it for the first time. Aren't books amazing? 41 years after it was published, it gave me a great Saturday.

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. (12)

Shall a man go and hang himself because he belongs to the race of the pygmies, and not be the best pygmy that he can? Let every man mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made.

Do a little more of that work which you had sometime confessed to be good, which you feel that society and your justest judge rightly demands of you. Do what you reprove yourself for not doing. Know that you are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with yourself without reason. Let me say to you and to myself in one breath, Cultivate the tree which you have found to bear fruit in your soil.

We know not yet what we have done, still less what we are doing. Wait till evening and other parts of our day's work will shine than we had thought at noon, and we shall discover the real purport of out toil. (13)

In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.

Be resolutely and faithfully what you are, be humbly what you aspire to be. Be sure you give men the best of your wares, though they be poor enough, and the gods will help you to lay up a better store for the future.

It is never too late to give up our prejudices. (16)

A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. (17)

In the spring I burned over a hundred acres till the earth was sere and black, and by mid-summer the space was clad in a fresher and more luxuriant green than the surrounding even. Shall man then despair? Is he not a sproutland too, after never so many searings and witherings?

Man is the artificer of his own happiness. (20)

Our least deed, like the young of the land crab, wends its way to the sea of cause and effect as soon as born, and makes a drop there to eternity. (21)

To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts. (22)

What a man thinks of himself, that is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate. (23)

Readers: Come back for more Thoreau next week, more insights from the pond for your reflection and application. And let me know if any one of them sparks in you a new realization that makes a difference!

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