Ralph Waldo Emerson? Muriel Strode? Fred V. Hawley? Andrew Taylor Still? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: A powerful inspirational quote about choosing your own destiny is often attributed to the notable philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Here are two versions:
Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
I am confused because I cannot find these words in any of the famous essays by Emerson. The words are occasionally ascribed to others such as George Eliot, Robert Frost, and George Bernard Shaw. Could you tell me who should be credited?
Quote Investigator: Expert Ralph Keyes in the “The Quote Verifier” noted that the expression was commonly attributed to Emerson. Yet, Keyes declared that “No source of this quotation has ever been found in his works”. 1 QI concurs that there is no substantive linkage of this saying to Emerson.
The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in a poem published in August 1903 titled “Wind-Wafted Wild Flowers” by Muriel Strode. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2
I will not follow where the path may lead, but I will go where there is no path, and I will leave a trail.
Infinitely will I trust nature’s instincts and promptings, but I will not call my own perversions nature.
Each receives but that which is his own returning.
Each hears but that which is the echo of his own call.
Each feels but that which has eaten into his own heart.
I do not bemoan misfortune. To me there is no misfortune. I welcome whatever comes; I go out gladly to meet it.
It is no stigma to wear rags; the disgrace is in continuing to wear them.
The above citation and some others in this article were located by top researcher Barry Popik. 3
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Quote Page 56, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1903 August, The Open Court: Devoted to the Science of Religion, the Religion of Science, and the Extension of the Religious Parliament Idea, Volume 17, Number 8, Section: Miscellaneous, Wind-Wafted Wild Flowers by Muriel Strode, Start Page 505, Quote Page 505, The Open Court Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- Website: The Big Apple, Article title: “Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”, Date on website: November 02, 2010, Website description: Etymological dictionary with more than 10,000 entries. (Accessed barrypopik com on June 18, 2014) link ↩