A random selection of quotes – some relating to blog posts here, others that for one reason or another simply caught my imagination and earned a turned down corner, or the online equivalent.
Swifts! “Perhaps that was Aristotle’s real agenda. Perhaps he was writing not science, but another resurrection myth along the lines of the story of Persephone and Demeter. Look out over the most dismal place – the frozen lake. Beneath it, crystallised in a bird’s body, is the summer, and soon the bird will burst out of the dark, screech victory, circle up to the sun and, next winter, bring the sun down into the mud so that nowhere is ever really dark and nothing is ever really dead.” – Charles Foster, The Screaming Sky
“In these inner suburbs – Tulse Hill, North Dulwich, along that line – through which the near empty tobacco-musty slam-door commuter train makes no effort to hurry, the squat and twisted trees become more ghostly. Palely sinister, yet visually mute, they mark a terrain of mist hung open spaces in the midst of terraces and villas; the embankment subsumed by unchecked suburban scrub of silver birch, dense weeds, ivy – and the loneliness of empty trains at noon, traversing the empty day.” – Michael Bracewell, Souvenir
“If you didn’t know better, you might not recognize raindrops and rivers as kin, so different are the particular and the collective. I lean over a still pool, reach in my hand, and let the drops fall from my fingers, just to be sure.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
“Light caught like a thing unwanted in a tree.” – Sasha Dugdale – from Mappa Mundi – Joy
James Rebanks, English Pastoral
“The say that old wheelwrights planted, felled and stored apple trees in a three-generation cycle, so that their grandsons would have sufficient matured trees, and dried wood of the right kind, from which to make the hard wheel hubs they needed. We need to live like that again, thinking longer term and with more humility. Maybe my descendants will make something from these trees that we are planting now. But, less grandly than that, I hope my children and grandchildren will climb trees and build dens, catch fish and roam free the way we once did. I hope they will love our flocks and our culture and cherish the wild things. I am tired of absolutes and extremes and the angriness of this age. We need more kindness, compromise and balance.”
Italio Calvino – The Baron in the trees
“There is the moment when the silence of the countryside gathers in the ear and breaks into a myriad of sounds: a croaking and a squeaking, a swift rustle in the grass, a plop in the water, a pattering on earth and pebbles, and high above all, the call of the cicada…The frogs continue croaking in the background without changing the flow of sounds, just as light does not vary from the continuous winking of the stars.”
“Walking—the simple, monotonous act of placing one foot before the other to prevent falling—turns out not to be so simple if you’re black.” https://lithub.com/walking-while-black/
“Dividing literature into genres is limiting…a marketing device that got out of hand, and leaked into the audience”. M John Harrison
“I’m keen on what Coleridge called both the outseeing and the inseeing. The words matter, but they must also imply an understanding that they are notlike the matter of what they describe, and that there is no (or should be no) getting or spending of the world, as Wordsworth said. It cannot be fully owned in language. Approach, attention, engagement (contact was Thoreau’s word), and retreat: these must be the stations of the nature-writing cross. Kathleen Jamie’s poems do this memorably and beautifully and I try to emulate them in my prose. Attention to detail is a species of love: what you look hard at seems to look hard back at you said Gerard Manley Hopkins. He also said when once looking hard at an outdoors scene, I could feel my eye growing. That is what I try to write about.”
“A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.”
“…The song must turn on the compass
Of language like a tangle of wire endowed
With feeling. The notes must tear & tear,
There must be a love for the minute & minute,
There must be a record of witness & daydream.
Where the heart is torn or feathered & tarred,
Where death is undone, time diminished,
The song must hold its own storm & drum,
And cast a noise so lovely it is sung at sunset
Weddings, baptisms, & beheadings henceforth.”
From AMERICAN SONNET FOR MY PAST AND FUTURE ASSASSIN by Terrance Hayes,
I heard of it via Clarrisa Aykroyd’s excellent http://thestoneandthestar.blogspot.co.uk/2018/04/terrance-hayes-american-sonnets-for-my.html
Place & Loneliness
“Existential loneliness and a sense that one’s life is inconsequential, both of which are hallmarks of modern civilizations, seem to me to derive in part from our abandoning a belief in the therapeutic dimensions of a relationship with place. A continually refreshed sense of the unplumbable complexity of patterns in the natural world, patterns that are ever present and discernible, and which incorporate the observer, undermine the feeling that one is alone in the world, or meaningless in it. The effort to know a place deeply is, ultimately, an expression of the human desire to belong, to fit somewhere.
The determination to know a particular place, in my experience, is consistently rewarded. And every natural place, to my mind, is open to being known. And somewhere in this process a person begins to sense that they themselves are becoming known, so that when they are absent from that place they know that place misses them. And this reciprocity, to know and be known, reinforces a sense that one is necessary in the world.”
Barry Lopez, The Invitation.
James Joyce, Ulysses – from Ithaca. The whole passage is too long to quote here, but I love the water sequence when Bloom turns on the tap. Hidden depths, things we don’t discuss, the sense of a larger world in Dublin and beyond. Magical.
“What in water did Bloom, waterlover, drawer of water, watercarrier, returning to the range, admire?
Its universality: its democratic equality and constancy to its nature in seeking its own level: its vastness in the ocean of Mercator’s projection: its unplumbed profundity in the Sundam trench of the Pacific exceeding 8000 fathoms: the restlessness of its waves and surface particles visiting in turn all points of its seaboard: the independence of its units: the variability of states of sea: its hydrostatic quiescence in calm: its hydrokinetic turgidity in neap and spring tides: its subsidence after devastation: its sterility in the circumpolar icecaps, arctic and antarctic: its climatic and commercial significance: its preponderance of 3 to 1 over the dry land of the globe: its indisputable hegemony extending in square leagues over all the region below the subequatorial tropic of Capricorn: the multisecular stability of its primeval basin..”
“Is there such a thing as a happy list in literature? The blithe verbal sum of possessions, achievements or experiences? Isn’t the very act of setting such things down evidence of some vexation, a clue that something is missing? The collector’s catalogue, the merchant’s tally, the seducer’s black book: they are all examples of compensating control. Compensation for what? For a scouring anxiety, or cumbrous melancholy? For sure, but there are heavy lists and lighter lists, and they both belong to the essayist, perhaps more than any other writer.” – Essayism, Brian Dillon – Fitzcarraldo Editions
“Superstition, bigotry and prejudice, ghosts though they are, cling tenanciously to life; they are shades armed with tooth and claw. They must be grappled with unceasingly, for it is a fateful part of human destiny that it is condemmed to wage perpetual war against ghosts. A shade is not easily taken by the throat and destroyed.” Victor Hugo.
John Oliver on Trump
“A Klan-backed misogynist internet troll is going to be delivering the next State of the Union address,” he said. “That is not normal. That is fucked up.”
American football coach Joe Paterno
“Publicity is like poison; it doesn’t hurt unless you swallow it.”
Kathleen Jamie on Poetry
When we were young, we were told that poetry is about voice, about finding a voice and speaking with this voice, but the older I get I think it’s not about voice, it’s about listening and the art of listening, listening with attention. I don’t just mean with the ear; bringing the quality of attention to the world. The writers I like best are those who attend.
Olivia Laing, from To The River
“The past is not behind us but beneath, and the ground we walk on is nothing more than a pit of bones, from which the grass unstinting grows.”
“I wondered if the river itself was holding it, for some things are drawn to water and behave differently when they are near it. I’ve watched mist gather on the surface of a stream where there is none elsewhere, and seen those little circling courts of flies that dance all evening above a single kink in a current.”
John Cowper Powys on Second-hand Bookshops – this is/was in the window of Walden Books, Chalk Farm
“Though books, as Milton says, may be the embalming of mighty spirits, they are also the resurrection of rebellious, reactionary, fantastical, and wicked spirits! in books dwell all the demons and all the angels of the human mind. it is for this reason that a a bookshop — especially a second-hand bookshop / antiquarian – is an arsenal of explosives, an armory of revolutions, an opium den of reaction.
and just because books are the repository of all the redemptions and damnations, all the sanities and insanities, of the divine anarchy of the soul, they are still, as they have always been, an object of suspicion to every kind of ruling authority. in a second-hand bookshop are the horns of the altar where all the outlawed thoughts of humanity can take refuge! here, like desperate bandits, hide all the reckless progeny of our wild, dark, self-lacerating hearts. a bookshop is powder-magazine, a dynamite-shed, a drugstore of poisons, a bar of intoxicants, a den of opiates, an island of sirens.
Of all the ‘houses of ill fame’ which a tyrant, a bureaucrat, a propagandist, a moralist, a champion of law and order, an advocate of keeping people ignorant for their own good, hurries past with averted eyes or threatens with his minions, a bookshop is the most flagrant.”
John Williams, Stoner
“Sometimes, immersed in his books, there would come to him the awareness of all that he did not know, of all that he had not read; and the serenity for which he labored was shattered as he realised the little time he had in life to read so much, to learn what he had to know.”
k-punk (Mark Fisher) on the 2015 election
“There is a connection between capitalist realism and depressive realism. The idea that life is essentially drudgery (and that therefore no-one should get a free ride) is a depressive conception of fairness (if I have to be miserable, so should everyone else), which has a particular traction in a burnt-out post-protestant culture like England’s … (England is the oldest capitalist country, don’t forget …)
…As opposed to the essentially spatial imaginary of Blue belonging – which posits a bounded area, with those inside hostile and suspicious towards those who are excluded – Red belonging is temporal and dynamic. It is about belonging to a movement: a movement that abolishes the present state of things, a movement that offers unconditional care without community (it doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are, we will care for you any way).”
Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts
“The reflected shore lights dropped coils and zigzags into the flood which were thrown into disarray every now and then, by the silhouettes of passing vessels’ luminous portholes, the funereal shapes of barges singled out by their port and starboard lights and cutters of the river police smacking from wave to wave as purposefully and as fast as pikes. Once we gave way to a liner that towered out of the water like a festive block of flats; from Hong Kong, said the steward, as she glided by; and the different notes of the sirens boomed up and downstream as though mastodons still haunted the Thames marshes.”
Pete Brown, Three Sheets to the Wind
“A few weeks later, I’m boarding a plane to Brussels…I’m in the window seat, which means I have to ask the smartly grey-suited young man in the aisle seat to move. He doesn’t look at all pleased by this. ‘Don’t tread on the briefcase,’ he snaps, clambering out of his seat.
‘Well, don’t leave “the briefcase” in the middle of the floor where I have to stride over it, you pompous cock,’ I retort telepathically…”
Stuart Maconie, The People’s Songs: The story of Modern Britain in 50 Records
“In contrast to the lush, padded-shouldered widescreen vision of transatlantic pop – the huge, gated reverb drum sound of Phil Collins, Pat Benatar, Duran Duran and their peers – indie was slim, spiky, jangly, skinny, and frequently harked back to a classic sixties template or the angular funkiness of post-punk. Indie offered a different narrative to the one that is generally seen as the story of the 1980s: vintage clothes, old records, bedsits, Penguin modern classics, black and white movies instead of the champagne, filofaxes and outsize mobile phones of Thatcher’s children.”
“I want to make beautiful things. Even if nobody cares.”
– Saul Bass
“Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences.”
– Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane
“Whiteness of moonlight builds a house that is not there”
– Kathleen Raine, The Hollow Hill
“They said, “You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.”
The man replied, “Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.”
– Wallace Stephens, The Man with the Blue Guitar
“The City is a woman bigger than any other
Oh, sophisticated lady,
I wanna be your lover,
not your brother,
or your mother, yeah.”
– Jarvis Cocker, Sheffield Sex City
“A man once told me that you step out of your door in the morning, and you are already in trouble. The only question is are you on top of that trouble or not?”
– Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress.
“The Winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.”
– T.S. Eliot, Preludes.
“There is no money in poetry, but then there is no poetry in money.”
– Robert Graves
Harry Burns: You realize of course that we could never be friends.
Sally Albright: Why not?
Harry Burns: What I’m saying is – and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form – is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.
Sally Albright: That’s not true. I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.
Harry Burns: No you don’t.
Sally Albright: Yes I do.
Harry Burns: No you don’t.
Sally Albright: Yes I do.
Harry Burns: You only think you do.
Sally Albright: You say I’m having sex with these men without my knowledge?
Harry Burns: No, what I’m saying is they all WANT to have sex with you.
Sally Albright: They do not.
Harry Burns: Do too.
Sally Albright: They do not.
Harry Burns: Do too.
Sally Albright: How do you know?
Harry Burns: Because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.
Sally Albright: So, you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?
Harry Burns: No. You pretty much want to nail ’em too.
Sally Albright: What if THEY don’t want to have sex with YOU?
Harry Burns: Doesn’t matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.
Sally Albright: Well, I guess we’re not going to be friends then.
Harry Burns: I guess not.
Sally Albright: That’s too bad. You were the only person I knew in New York.
– Nora Ephron, When Harry Met Sally
“Many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese-toasted, mostly” (Ch. XV, p. 142).
Ben Gunn to Jim Hawkins – Treasure Island.
“Love consists of this: two solitudes that meet, protect and greet each other. ”
— Rainer Maria Rilke
“Vell, Zaphod’s just zis guy, you know?”
– Douglas Adams.