Of Interest


The Henry D. Thoreau Quotation Page: Observation
  • Many an object is not seen, though it falls within the range of our visual ray, because it does not come within the range of our intellectual ray, i.e. we are not looking for it. So, in the largest sense, we find only the world we look for. [Journal, 2 July 1857]
  • What I see is mine. [A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers]
  • There is no such thing as pure objective observation. Your observation, to be interesting, i.e. to be significant, must be subjective. The sum of what the writer of what ever class has to report is simply some human experience, whether he be poet or philosopher or man of science. The man of most science is the man most alive, whose life is the greatest event. Senses that take cognizance of outward things merely are of no avail . It matters not where or how far you travel ? the farther commonly the worse ? but how much alive you are. If it is possible to conceive of an event outside to humanity, it is not of the slightest significance, though it were the explosion of a planet . Every important worker will report what life there is in him. It makes no odds into what seeming deserts the poet is born. Though all his neighbors pronounce it a Sahara, it will be a paradise to him; for the desert which we see is the result of the barrenness of our experience. [Journal, 6 May 1854]
  • The question is not what you look at, but what you see. [Journal, 5 August 1851]
  • We must look for a long time before we can see. ["Natural History of Massachusetts"]
  • Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant? [Walden]
  • Carlyle said that how to observe was to look, but I say that it is rather to see, and the more you look the less you will observe. [Journal, 13 September 1852]

A Note on the Text:

Source: Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Writings of Henry David Thoreau (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906)


November woods (Photographer: Herbert Gleason, from The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, 1906)

Men talk of freedom! How many are free to think? — Journal, 6 May 1858

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