I Went To The Woods Because I Wished To Live Deliberately Essay


I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.


It's good to suck! As long as it's the marrow out of life—you know, a carpe diem sorta thing, but in a much more simple way. That's pretty much what Thoreau is telling us to do in this excerpt from the book Walden, which is where he describes his experience living alone in the woods of Massachusetts for two years.

So why is it so necessary to simplify in order to get the most of our sublime experiences? Because only by simplifying our lives can we be free to be our true selves. In other words, individualism isn't possible if we're encumbered with things: whether that's stuff (like clothes or furniture or cars or houses) or other people's opinions.

Thoreau's book is a celebration of individualism. After all, the guy actually went off to live in the woods, just him and the birds, for years. That's pretty gutsy, we'd say. And Thoreau's experience in the woods taught him that we live our lives in a way that doesn't allow us to be in touch with who we truly are, because we're encumbered by so many things. So, let's start up the spring-cleaning.

Walden is a funny shaped literary animal. It's part memoir and part essay. Think a centaur, but made out of words. Anyway, Thoreau isn't just describing his experience living in the woods in this book: he wants us to derive certain lessons from that experience, and he ain't shy about telling us what those lessons are.

What's so compelling about the narrative—and the passage above—is that it's presented as a kind of experiment. Thoreau went into the woods so that he could "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life," in order to find out what life is all about.

And the result of the experiment, according to him, showed clearly that we need to affirm our individualism, not repress it, as society often makes us do.

Henry David Thoreau > Quotes > Quotable Quote

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms...”


― Henry David Thoreau
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