"The Wind in the Willows" Quotes

Lines from Kenneth Grahame's Collection of Animal Adventure Short Stories

The Wind in the Willows
"The Piper at the Gates of Dawn", frontispiece to a 1913 edition. Paul Bransom

After retiring early from his career at the Bank of England, Kenneth Grahame spent his days in the early 1900s on the River Thames expanding on and writing out the bedtime stories he used to tell his daughter about a collection of anthropomorphized woodland critters in the highly-quoted collection of short stories that would come to be known as " The Wind in the Willows."

This collection mixed moralistic stories with mysticism and adventure tales, beautifully depicting the natural world of the region in imaginative prose that has delighted audiences of all ages in its many adaptations since including a play, musical and even animated film.

The central characters include Mr. Toad, Mole, Rat, Mr. Badger, Otter and Portley, The Weasels, Pan, The Gaoler's Daughter, The Wayfarer, and rabbits, which are described as a "mixed lot." Read on to discover some of the best quotes from this delightful children's tale, perfect for use in any classroom discussion.

Setting the Scene of the Thames

"The Wind in the Willows" opens by setting the scene along the riverfront, full of unique animal characters including the mild-mannered homebody named Mole who starts the story by leaving his home only to find himself overwhelmed by the world around him:

"The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing."

Once out in the world, Mole chuckles to himself about a great truth he's discovered in leaving behind his responsibilities of spring cleaning saying, "After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working."

Interestingly, the early part of the book feels somewhat autobiographical for Grahame, who described his time after retirement as mostly spent "messing about in boats." This sentiment is shared by the first other creature Mole meets when he ventures out of his home and down to the river for the first time, a leisurely water vole named Rat who says to Mole, "There is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

Still, there's a hierarchy and a sense of prejudice even in the cute animal world that Grahame constructs, as illustrated in the character of the Mole in that he implicitly does not trust certain creatures: 

"Weasels—and stoats—and foxes—and so on. They're all right in a way—I'm very good friends with them—pass the time of day when we meet, and all that—but they break out sometimes, there's no denying it, and then—well, you can't really trust them, and that's the fact."

Ultimately, Mole decides to pal around with Rat and the two boat down the river together, with Rat teaching Mole the ways of the water, though he warns of going beyond the Wild Wood into the Wide World because "that's something that doesn't matter, either to you or me. I've never been there, and I'm never going, nor you either, if you've got any sense at all."

Mr. Toad and a Story of Dangerous Obsessions

In the next chapter, Mole and Rat dock near the royal Toad Hall to stop in on one of Rat's friends, Mr. Toad, who is rich, friendly, happy, but also conceited and easily distracted by the latest fad. His current obsession upon their meeting: driving a horse-drawn carriage:

"Glorious, stirring sight! The poetry of motion! The real way to travel! The only way to travel! Here today—in next week tomorrow! Villages skipped, towns and cities jumped—always somebody else's horizon! O bliss! O poop-poop! O my! O my!"

Somehow, Toad manages to convince Rat and Mole to accompany him on a carriage-ride and camping adventure together, against both of their better judgements: "Somehow, it soon seemed taken for granted by all three of them that the trip was a settled thing; and the Rat, though still unconvinced in his mind, allowed his good-nature to over-ride his personal objections."

Unfortunately, this does not end well as the reckless Toad careens the carriage off the road to avoid a collision with a speeding motorcar driver, breaking the carriage beyond use or repair. Consequently, Toad also loses his obsession with horse-drawn carriages, replaced by the insatiable need to drive a motorcar.

Mole and Rat took the opportunity to excuse themselves from Toad's company but admitted that it was "never a wrong time to call on Toad" because "early or late, he's always the same fellow; always good-tempered, always glad to see you, always sorry when you go!"

The Elusive Badger

Chapter Three opens in the winter with Mole leaving Rat to set out on his own quest while his friend took a long rest, namely to satiate his long-standing desire to meet the elusive Badger: "The Mole had long wanted to make the acquaintance of the Badger. He seemed, by all accounts, to be such an important personage and, though rarely visible, to make his unseen influence felt by everybody about the place."

Before he fell asleep, though, Rat had warned Mole that "Badger hates Society, and invitations, and dinner, and all that sort of thing," and that Mole would be better off waiting for Badger to visit them instead, but Mole didn't listen and instead set off for the Wild Wood in hopes of finding him home.

Unfortunately, while navigating the wilderness, Mole gets lost and begins to panic saying "The whole wood seemed running now, running hard, hunting, chasing, closing in round something or—somebody? In panic, he began to run too, aimlessly, he knew not whither."

Rat, having woken from his nap to find Mole gone, guesses that his friend had gone to the Wild Wood in search of Badger and sets out to recover his lost companion, and fortunately finds him just before snow begins to fall heavily. The two then stumble through the winter storm wherein they happen upon the Badger's dwelling.

Badger, contrary to Rat's warning, is incredibly accommodating to his two unexpected guests and opens his spacious, warm home to the pair where they gossip about the goings on in the world and in the Wild Wood:

"Animals arrived, liked the look of the place, took up their quarters, settled down, spread, and flourished. They didn't bother themselves about the past—they never do; they're too busy...The Wild Wood is pretty well populated by now; with all the usual lot, good, bad, and indifferent—I name no names. It takes all sorts to make a world."

Badger offers another side of Grahame's own personality: his concern for the well-being of nature, of the effect mankind has on the natural world. Rat's own misconception that the Badger is a mean spirited old codger could be interpreted as Grahame's own projection of the criticisms he'd received as a slightly cynical employee of the Bank of England who merely realized the temporary nature of human civilization as we know it:

"I see you don't understand, and I must explain it to you. Well, very long ago, on the spot where the Wild Wood waves now, before ever it had planted itself and grown up to what it now is, there was a city—a city of people, you know. Here, where we are standing, they lived, and walked, and talked, and slept, and carried on their business. Here they stabled their horses and feasted, from here they rode out to fight or drove out to trade. They were a powerful people, and rich, and great builders. They built to last, for they thought their city would last for ever...People come—they stay for a while, they flourish, they build—and they go. It is their way. But we remain. There were badgers here, I've been told, long before that same city ever came to be. And now there are badgers here again. We are an enduring lot, and we may move out for a time, but we wait, and are patient, and back we come. And so it will ever be."

Other Selected Quotes from Chapter 7

The trio also discusses the happenings of Mr. Toad, who has apparently totaled seven cars since the incident with the carriage several months before and was summarily arrested in the middle of the book—for more information, and to learn more about what happens to all the creatures of the Willows, continue reading this selection of quotes from the Chapter 7 of "The Wind in the Willows:"

"Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden. Trembling he obeyed, and raised his humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fullness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humorously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter. All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered."

"Sudden and magnificent, the sun's broad golden disc showed itself over the horizon facing them; and the first rays, shooting across the level water-meadows, took the animals full in the eyes and dazzled them. When they were able to look once more, the Vision had vanished, and the air was full of the carol of birds that hailed the dawn."

"As they stared blankly in dumb misery deepening as they slowly realised all they had seen and all they had lost, a capricious little breeze, dancing up from the surface of the water, tossed the aspens, shook the dewy roses and blew lightly and caressingly in their faces; and with its soft touch came instant oblivion. For this is the last best gift that the kindly demi-god is careful to bestow on those to whom he has revealed himself in their helping: the gift of forgetfulness. Lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure, and the great haunting memory should spoil all the after-lives of little animals helped out of difficulties, in order that they should be happy and lighthearted as before."

"Mole stood still a moment, held in thought. As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, and can re-capture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty of it, the beauty! Till that, too, fades away in its turn, and the dreamer bitterly accepts the hard, cold waking and all its penalties; so Mole, after struggling with his memory for a brief space, shook his head sadly and followed the Rat."