Thoreau may have been the literary world’s poster boy for walks. His passion for walking complemented his general valorization of nature; to truly experience the woods is to ramble through them rather than to remain cooped up indoors or to speed through them on a horse or other means of conveyance. As Maria Popova of Brain Pickings recently noted, “Thoreau is careful to point out that the walking he extols has nothing to do with transportational utility or physical exercise -- rather it is a spiritual endeavor undertaken for its own sake.”
Sure, but Thoreau is the hippie of literature -- of course he thought everyone should walk around ponds all day. Many other classic literary figures were also strong proponents of strolling, however -- not just the tree-hugging Thoreau. He is joined by brilliant writers including Friedrich Nietzsche, C.S. Lewis and acclaimed author and essayist Rebecca Solnit, who have all commented on the value of a satisfying saunter. Even those who haven’t explicitly extolled walking as exercise frequently endorse it indirectly. The role of the flaneur in literature, post-Flaubert, is ubiquitous. From Virginia Woolf to Teju Cole, great authors capture life by narrating walks through it.
Recent studies suggest that walking bolsters creativity, retroactively validating the musings of many classic writers who have enumerated the mental and spiritual rewards of walking. This practical angle may be reason enough to head for the hills, but even if no great insights arise, these authors remind us that strolling through the world and experiencing its sights is reward enough in itself. Even in Thoreau’s time, authors spoke yearningly of walks as a way to escape daily demands and the clamor of the city. How much more do we need this escape today, when our work frequently follows us home in the form of email pings, and when our idea of relaxation too-frequently involves more time in front of a screen?
Here are 17 eloquent literary quotes that remind us of the simple, restorative power of a good walk:
"I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in." -- John Muir
“Now shall I walk or shall I ride?
'Ride,' Pleasure said;
'Walk,' Joy replied.” -- W.H. Davies
“To walk is to lack a place. It is the indefinite process of being absent and in search of a proper.” -- Michel de Certeau
"If I couldn't walk fast and far, I should just explode and perish." -- Charles Dickens
“Only thoughts won by walking are valuable.” -- Friedrich Nietzsche
"Walking and talking are two very great pleasures, but it is a mistake to combine them. Our own noise blots out the sounds and silences of the outdoor world; and talking leads almost inevitably to smoking, and then farewell to nature as far as one of our senses is concerned. The only friend to walk with is one... who so exactly shares your taste for each mood of the countryside that a glance, a halt, or at most a nudge, is enough to assure us that the pleasure is shared.” -- C.S. Lewis
“I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit.” -- Henry David Thoreau
“After a day's walk everything has twice its usual value.” -- George Macauley Trevelyan
“I would walk along the quais when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out. It was easier to think if I was walking and doing something or seeing people doing something that they understood.” -- Ernest Hemingway
“I find more pleasure in wandering the fields than in musing among my silent neighbours who are insensible to everything but toiling and talking of it and that to no purpose.” -- John Clare
“We ought to take outdoor walks, to refresh and raise our spirits by deep breathing in the open air.” -- Seneca
“I always feel so sorry for women who don't like to walk; they miss so much -- so many rare little glimpses of life; and we women learn so little of life on the whole.” -- Kate Chopin
“Thinking is generally thought of as doing nothing in a production-oriented culture, and doing nothing is hard to do. It's best done by disguising it as doing something, and the something closest to doing nothing is walking.” -- Rebecca Solnit
“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” -- Søren Kierkegaard
the truth depends on a walk around a lake.” -- Wallace Stevens
“Walks. The body advances, while the mind flutters around it like a bird.” -- Jules Renard
"[Walking] is the perfect way of moving if you want to see into the life of things. It is the one way of freedom. If you go to a place on anything but your own feet you are taken there too fast, and miss a thousand delicate joys that were waiting for you by the wayside.” -- Elizabeth von Arnim