Commonplace

“Man is perishable. That may be; but let us perish resisting and if it is nothingness that awaits us, do not let us so act that it shall be a just fate.” — Étienne Pivert de Senancour

“From a certain point onward there is no turning back. That is the point that must be reached.”– Franz Kafka

“. . . to the destructive element submit yourself, and with the exertions of your hands and feet in the water make the deep, deep sea keep you up.” – Conrad, Lord Jim

“A human being gifted for a particular art attains to a degree of excellence in it exactly in proportion to his ability not to think about.” — The Notebooks of Simone Weil

“André Malraux’s oracular pronouncements come to mind, as does his unverifiable, though inspiriting, notion that the first caveman who felt compelled to draw a bison on the stone wall of his cave knew that both he and the bison were mortal but that this first artificer also intuited that the act of depicting the perishable animal was somehow a way ‘to negate our nothingness.’” — Victor Brombert, Musings on Mortality

“How shall a child express what is for us the essence of childhood—its recognition of the validity of the dream? It is implicit in the belief of the child that the dream exists side by side with reality; there are no barriers between. It is only after he has suffered the common fate of little children—after he has been stolen away by the fairies—that the changeling who usurps his heritage builds those great walls which confront him when he will return.” — Katherine Mansfield, Novels and Novelists

“All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. And there are trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake.” — Jean Rhys

” . . . my poems. They are little more obscure than the metaphysics of Hegel or the Visions of Swedenborg, and would lose their charm with any attempt at explanation, were that possible; – probably my last illusion will be that of thinking myself a poet; criticism must dispel it.” – Gerard de Nerval, 1854

“Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about.” – W. H. Auden

“Alas, how soon the hours are over
Counted us out to play the lover!
And how much narrower is the stage
Allotted us to play the sage!
But when we play the fool, how wide
The theatre expands! beside,
How long the audience sits before us!
How many prompters! what a chorus!”
— Walter Savage Landor

“I can’t understand – strictly from a hedonistic point of view – how one can enjoy writing with no form at all. If one plays a game one needs rules, otherwise there is no fun. The wildest poem has to have a firm basis in common sense, and this, I think, is the advantage of formal verse. Aside from the obvious corrective advantages, formal verse frees one from the fetters of one’s ego.” – W. H. Auden, 1972.

“Although you can expound an opinion, or describe a thing when your words are not quite well chosen, you cannot give a body to something that moves beyond the senses, unless your words are as subtle, as complex, as full of mysterious life, as the body of a flower or of a woman.” – W. B. Yeats, 1900

“The author’s conviction on this day of the New Year is that music begins to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance; that poetry begins to atrophy when it gets too far from music.” – Ezra Pound, preface to ABC of Reading

“The most whimsical work is the result of seriousness and nothing else. Any man who does not take his technique—which means saying what he means and not saying what he does not mean—with bitter seriousness, is a jackass. The sign of a poet’s unforgiving seriousness is his rebellious laughter, which he guards with immaculate craft.”– William Carlos Williams, 1919

“Technique is the test of sincerity.” – Ezra Pound

“Poet is a word one can use when speaking of others, if one admires them sufficiently. If someone asks me what I do, I say I’m a critic, or a historian.” — Yves Bonnefoy, Paris Review interview

“Making things is so human that psychology and philosophy have gotten nowhere in trying to account for it.” — Guy Davenport, Twelve Stories

“When an author exposes his very substance without deliberately trying to exert an influence, the repercussions can be as powerful as if he had launched into a political argument: he provides an example, not an impulse. . . I gladly admit that I prefer drawing a map to playing the role of a signpost.” — Ernst Jünger

“No amount of assertion will make an ounce of art.” — Saul Bellow

“As finite creatures who think and feel, we can create islands of meaning in the sea of information.” — Freeman Dyson

“When we are stripped down to a certain point, nothing leads anywhere any more, hope and despair are equally groundless, and the whole of life can be summed up in an image. . . . A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover through the detours of art those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.”  — Albert Camus, “Between Yes and No.”

“Corporation, n.   An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.” -Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

“Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.”  — Heinrich Heine

“It is only those who hope to transform human beings who end up by burning them, like the waste product of a failed experiment.” — Christopher Hitchens

“A great joy,  much to be envied, is that of people who think they know everything.” — Galileo, marginal note, Dialogue Concerning Two Chief World Systems

“All depends on keeping the eye steadily fixed on the facts of nature, and so receiving their images as they are. For God forbid that we should give out a dream of our own imagination for a pattern of the world.” — Francis Bacon, preface, Instauratio Magna

“It is not desirable to confine knowledge to whatever can be put into a useful shape for examinations, drawing-rooms, or the still more pretentious modes of publicity.” — T. S. Eliot, Tradition and the Individual Talent

“When an elder dies, a library is burned.” — West African folk saying

“Every age has its own fascism, and we see the warning signs wherever the concentration of power denies citizens the possibility and the means of expressing and acting on their own free will. There are many ways of reaching this point, and not just through the terror of police intimidation, but by denying and distorting information, by undermining systems of justice, by paralyzing the education system, and by spreading in a myriad subtle ways nostalgia for a world where order reigned, and where the security of a privileged few depends on the forced labor and the forced silence of the many.” — Primo Levi, 1974

“When silence or verbal trickery helps to maintain an abuse that needs to be ended or suffering that needs to be soothed, there is no choice but to speak out and show the obscenity disguised by a cloak of words.”  — Albert Camus, Reflections on the Guillotine

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” — Cyril Connolly

“One of the easiest things in the world is to call yourself a poet. One of the hardest is to convince the world that this is so.” — Jared Carter

“A good writer is basically a story teller, not a scholar or a redeemer of mankind.” — Isaac Bashevis Singer

“I confess that the political responsibility of poets bores me; I am discussing it because it irritates me more than it bores me. It irritates me because the poet has a great responsibility of his own: it is the responsibility to be a poet, to write poems, and not to gad about using the rumor of his verse, as I am now doing, as the excuse to appear on platforms and to view with alarm. I have a deep, unbecoming suspicion of such talking poets: whatever other desirable things they may believe in, they do not believe in poetry. They believe that poets should write tracts, or perhaps autobiographies; encourage the public, further this cause or that, good or bad, depending upon whose political ox is being gored.” — Allen Tate

“No poet yet has solved the main problem: how to maintain the gift of certitude.  Always to be in love: that is one recommendation.  To treat money and fame with equal nonchalance, is another.  To remain independent, is a third.  To prize personal honour, is a fourth.  To make the English language one’s constant study, is a fifth. . . . Yet lightning strikes where and when it wills.  No one ever knows. It is easy to take up a pen at random and plead ‘I’m just keeping my hand in.’  But nine-tenths of what passes in English poetry is the product of either careerism, or keeping one’s hand in: a choice between vulgarity and banality.” — Robert Graves, Oxford Lectures on Poetry, 1962

“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” — Robert Frost

“It is the dream, the recollection, which compels us  to poetry. . . .  Art is based on second love, not first love. . .  Images are clouds of glory for the man who has discovered that ideas are a sort of darkness.” – John Crowe Ransom, “Poetry: A Note on Ontology,” 1934

“Ours is a useful trade. With all its lightness and frivolity it has one serious purpose, one aim, one specialty, and it is constant to it — the deriding of shams, the exposure of pretentious falsities, the laughing of stupid superstitions out of existence . . . Whoso is by instinct engaged in this sort of warfare is the natural enemy of royalties, nobilities, privileges and all kindred swindles, and the natural friend of human rights and human liberties.”  — Mark Twain, 1888

“Probably my notion of poetry is very simple. Some time ago I agreed to help judge a poetry competition—you know, the kind where they get about 35,000 entries, and you look at the best few thousand. After a bit I said, Where are all the love poems? And nature poems? And they said, Oh, we threw all those away. I expect they were the ones I should have liked.” — Philip Larkin, Paris Review interview

“To be true, simply true, that is the only thing that matters.” – Stendhal

“I imagine myself today something like the ancient Greek as Hegel describes him: he interrogated, Hegel says, passionately, uninterruptedly, the rustle of branches, of springs, of winds, in short, the shudder of Nature, in order to perceive in it the design of an intelligence. And I – it is the shudder of meaning I interrogate, listening to the rustle of language, that language which for me, modern man, is my Nature.” — Roland Barthes, “The Rustle of Language”

” . . . the greatest poetry has always been local. International poetry is like the English spoken at the U. N. Everyone understands it, and it means next to nothing. So let us leave the Great World Cities to their raging proletariats and hope that somewhere in the boring boondocks something bold and gutsy is stirring, something alive with subtle rhythms and wild rhymes.” — Richard Moore

” . . . the old man [Henri Matisse] holds the limp paper in his hands as if reluctant to let go. He fusses with it a little, prodding and twisting the fronds in space, maybe trying to thread the shapes together, buckling them, letting them be carried for a second as they might be by a breeze or current. He seems to be waiting for the cut-outs to occupy space – to make space. Art for him is the moment at which, to quote a remark he made about Snail, one becomes ‘aware of an unfolding’. ‘At this time of year,’ he wrote to a friend, ‘I always see the dried leaves on your table, catching fire as they pass under your fingers from death to life.’” — T. J. Clark, “The Urge to Strangle”

“You have to have somewhere to start from: then you begin to learn,” [Sherwood Anderson] told me. “It don’t matter where it was, just so you remember it and ain’t ashamed of it. Because one place to start from is just as important as any other. You’re a country boy; all you know is that little patch up there in Mississippi where you started from.” — William Faulkner

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“Certain of them met Antigone in another existence, and now no earthly love can ever satisfy them.” — Jean Anouilh

“Resistance to the organized mass can be effected only by the individual who is better organized in his individuality than the mass itself.” — Carl Jung

“I saw a white bird once / on a wild coast / and fell in love / with this dream which obsesses me” — Basho, translated by Kenneth Rexroth

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” — Matthew 6:24

“All I have produced before the age of seventy is not worth taking into account. At seventy-three I have learned a little about the real structure of nature, of animals, plants, trees, birds, fishes, and insects. In consequence when I am eighty, I shall have made still more progress. At ninety I shall penetrate the mystery of things; at a hundred I shall certainly have reached a marvelous stage; and when I am a hundred and ten, everything I do, be it a dot or a line, will be alive. I beg those who live as long as I to see if I do not keep my word. Written at the age of seventy-five by me, once Hokusai, today Gwakio Rojin, the old man man about drawing.” — Hokusai, Preface to One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, 1834-35.

“What, have I become eighty years old in order to think the same thing all the time? On the contrary, I strive to think something different, something new every day, in order not to become boring. One has to change continuously, renew oneself, rejuvenate not to get stuck.” – Goethe

“. . . much of what is called political poetry, or poetry that deals with politics, is hackwork. From this comes the generalization that politics destroys poetry. Yet . . . most of any kind of poetry is hackwork, is slipshod, undemanding of itself. . . . When you come upon an inept love poem you aren’t likely to conclude that love and poetry don’t mix.” — James Scully

“It will not be humans who watch the sun’s demise, six billion years from now. Any creatures that then exist will be as different from us as we are from bacteria or amoebae.” — Martin Rees

“Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?” – Ecclesiastes 3:22.

“To conform to vulgar mannerisms, to please a vulgar popular taste, to play the fool for an indefinite period, till a cheap popularity is at last attained . . . better than this is to heave coal. Better than this is to dig ditches.” — Vachel Lindsay

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