Writers on walking: Thoreau, Wordsworth, Hazlitt

Updated: Jul 11, 2019

Insightful quotes from three writers known for their country rambles.

Photo: boule13/iStock

Thoreau on (un)familiar terrain

There is in fact a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles' radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the threescore years and ten of human life. It will never become quite familiar to you. — Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

Thoreau (1817-1862) was American essayist, poet, and philosopher. One of his most famous essays is “Walking,” in which he extolled the virtues of “sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.” Thoreau believed that walking through nature was conducive to deeply considered thinking. In this quote, he noted that there was always something new to discover while out for a walk, even when treading familiar terrain.

Wordsworth on slippery ground

Across a bare wide Common I was toiling With languid feet, which by the slippery ground Were baffled; nor could my weak arm disperse The host of insects gathering round my face, And ever with me as I paced along. — William Wordsworth, “The Excursion”

Wordsworth (1770-1850) was an English poet and major figure of the Romantic movement in literature. Romanticism glorified individualism, inspiration, and nature. For Wordsworth, those elements came together during his lengthy rambles across the countryside. Today, he is best remembered for the poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” in which he described coming upon “a host of golden daffodils.” But as the above quote illustrates, he wasn’t just a passive observer of nature. He was an active participant, with every step grounding him in the struggles of daily life.

Hazlitt on walking and not talking

I cannot see the wit of walking and talking at the same time. When I am in the country I wish to vegetate like the country. — William Hazlitt, “On Going a Journey”

Hazlitt (1778-1830) was an English essayist and literary critic. In his famous essay “On Going a Journey,” he expressed a strong preference for walking alone through the countryside, without the distraction of conversation. As he put it elsewhere in the same essay: “One of the pleasantest things in the world is going a journey; but I like to go by myself. I can enjoy society in a room; but out of doors, nature is company enough for me. I am then never less alone than when alone.”

About the author

Linda Wasmer Andrews is a freelance health and psychology writer.