Seasons of Thoreau

Reflections on Life and Nature

Selected by Peter Saint-Andre


Henry David Thoreau was fascinated by the endless cycle of the seasons, by the endless pursuit of self-improvement, and by parallels between the two.

For Thoreau, the phenomena of the seasons were symbolical of human life: just as plants go through stages such as bud, leaf, flower, and fruit, or seed, seedling, and tree; just as agriculture persuades nature to yield its bounty through planting, cultivating, and harvesting, and delivers that bounty by storing it and bringing it to market; just as all things grow in spring, flourish in summer, ripen in autumn, and go dormant in winter; so, following ancient traditions and his own insights, Thoreau perceived deep patterns in human life and saw virtues like deliberation, discipline, gratitude, reverence, self-trust, magnanimity, independence, and simplicity as suggestive of certain stages of human life, periods of the year, and even times of the day.

The passages collected here illuminate these connections. Some of them are about nature, some are about ethics, and some bridge the gap between the two. By returning again and again to the same themes in Walden, in his essays, and in his Journal, Thoreau built up a system of images that clearly demonstrates his integrated understanding of, and wholehearted devotion to, cultivating a better life.

  1. March
  2. April
  3. May
  4. June
  5. July
  6. August
  7. September
  8. October
  9. November
  10. December
  11. January
  12. February

A note on the text: all of the selections excerpted in this book are in the public domain and thus can be freely quoted and reused; although relevant observations can also be found in Thoreau's recently discovered manuscripts (see especially Wild Fruits, reconstructed by Bradley P. Dean), they are not included here because doing so would have complicated the copyright status of the book.

Peter Saint-Andre > Writings > Thoreau