Saturday, April 12, 2014

"You can quote me"

Until about ten years ago, I kept a journal full of quotes by writers I especially liked. I love looking at these quotes, because they're like firecrackers of insight. Epiphany makers. (Note to self: find a fresher word for epiphany other than epiphany.) Sometimes a few words can sum up a messy, controversial and unfathomable situation. As Langston Hughes, through his character, Simple, the Harlem street sage, says:

"Some black men do not feel like men when they are surrounded by white folks who look at them like as if blackness was bad manners or something."
Langston Hughes

Many times a writer will tell you something you already knew but were hesitant to admit. Like Graham Greene in The Heart of the Matter:

"The truth, he thought, has never been of any real value to any human beingit's a symbol for mathematicians and philosophers to pursue. In human relations kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths."
Graham Greene

There are some words that I understand, then don't, then do:

"To be a Flower, is profound
                                Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson

Then words that capture that struggle you've had all your life, like these from Spanish Leaves by Honor Tracy:

"The Japanese say the four terrors of life are earthquake, fire, flood and father."

The difficulty with putting down a lot of quotations is that you can only devour a few at a time. La Rochefoucauld's Maxims are wonderful, but after you read seven or eight of them, they lose their ability to startle and satisfy, like eating too much licorice. Speaking of the Duc, very few have understood human nature better:

"We all have enough strength to endure the misfortune of others," he wrote.
La Rochefoucauld

Sometimes you want words to throw in the face of a charlatan, like one of those god damn moral crusaders who pretend to have God's unlisted number. That's when I turn to Charlotte Brontë:

"Conventionality is not morality.  Self-righteousness is not religion." 
Charlotte Brontë

When it's hard to look at myself in the mirror, I've got this from Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis:

"No one is a coward at all points." 
C.S. Lewis

The good thing about quotations is that they don't all have to be about profound subjects. They shouldn't, actually. Because I, for one, am hardly ever profound. Here's Brendan Behan from Borstal Boy, about mornings:

"The morning is always a good time. Till about eleven o'clock, when it begins to feel its age."
Brendan Behan

One quote I try to live by? Ok, from William Blake:

"Exuberance is Beauty."

You can say that again, W.B.


  1. Very nice. Why I like to read. To know better what I have suspected.

    1. Thanks, Marie. Hope your book(s?) are doing well.