“Day by day I am approaching the goal which I apprehend but cannot describe.” “After all that has been said and mused upon the ‘natural ills,’ the anxiety, and wearing out experienced by the true artist,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who paved the way for women in the arts, wrote in reflecting on art and suffering from her sickbed, “is not the good immeasurably greater than the evil?
“Our respect for other people… can only grow from a humble respect for the cosmic order and from an awareness that we are a part of it… and that nothing of what we do is lost, but rather becomes part of the eternal memory of being.” In his clever 1958 allegory I, Pencil, the libertarian writer Leonard Read used the complex chain of resources and competences involved in the production of a single pencil to illustrate the vital web of interdependencies — economic as well as ethical — undergirding humanity’s needs and knowledge.
A beautiful clarion call for making creative work “the filling joy of your life” no matter how difficult the cards you’ve been dealt.
“Many of [life’s] big decisions involve choices to have experiences that teach us things we cannot know about from any other source but the experience itself.” To be human is to suffer from a peculiar congenital blindness: On the precipice of any great change, we can see with terrifying clarity the familiar firm footing we stand to lose, but we fill the abyss of the unfamiliar before us with dread at the potential loss rather than jubilation over the potential gain of gladnesses and gratifications we fail to envision because we haven’t yet experienced them.
“The closer the likeness … the more virulent the hatred.” “Hate, in the long run, is about as nourishing as cyanide,” Kurt Vonnegut admonished in his magnificent Fredonia commencement address.
“Whatever our degree of friends may be, we come more under their influence than we are aware.” “We can count on so few people to go that hard way with us,” Adrienne Rich wrote in her exquisite meditation on the art of honorable human relationships.
“I am most faithless when I most am true.” Published at nineteen and a Pulitzer winner at thirty-three, the poet and playwright Edna St.
“The process by which man is able to posit his own subjective nature outside of himself … is at [the] bottom of all effort and the germinating principles of all reform and all progress.” “True art, when it happens to us, challenges the ‘I’ that we are,” Jeanette Winterson wrote in her arresting meditation on how art transforms us.
“The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty are the only hours when we really live, so that the longer we can stay among these things so much the more is snatched from inevitable Time.” “We forget that nature itself is one vast miracle transcending the reality of night and nothingness.
“We may be born alone, but childhood ends with a synchrony of clocks, as we lend ourselves fully to the contagion of time.” When I was growing up, my father — a kind man of quick intellect and encyclopedic knowledge about esoteric subjects — had, and still has, one habit that never failed to make other people uneasy and to infuriate my mother: In conversation, the interval of time that elapses between the other person’s sentiment or question and my father’s response greatly exceeds the average, a lapse swelling with Kierkegaard’s assertion that “the moment is not properly an atom of time but an atom of eternity.” At first, one might suspect that my father is taking an incubatory pause to produce a considered response.
An ode to the art of relationship sculpted in time. “A letter should be regarded not merely as a medium for the communication of intelligence,” advised a nineteenth-century guide to the art of epistolary etiquette, “but also as a work of art.” Virginia Woolf made a beautiful case for letter writing as “the humane art” and Lewis Carroll proposed that it be governed by a set of rules which, if applied to today’s dominant communication media, would make the whole of modern life kinder and more humane.
A lovely reminder that we perceive the world not as it is but as we are. “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way… As a man is, so he sees,” William Blake wrote in his spectacular 1799 defense of the imagination.
“The discipline of the writer is to learn to be still and listen to what his subject has to tell him.” Many of the titans of literature have left, alongside a body of work that models powerful writing, abiding advice on the craft that examines the source of that power.
“There are more things … likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” “The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news is and what the bad news is,” Kurt Vonnegut observed in discussing Hamlet during his influential lecture on the shapes of stories.
A lyrical ode to the ocean’s invitation to self-transcendence from the grand dame of Transcendentalism.
“We’re on the go for love to open our lives to walk tasting the sunshine of Life.” The question of what it takes to have a good life is the animating inquiry of human existence, and although it is each of our life’s work to arrive at the answer for ourselves, we can be, and have been, greatly aided by those who have made the question their vocation — the philosophers, like Bertrand Russell and his theorem of love and knowledge, the psychologists, like the Harvard team who conducted a revelatory 75-year study of human happiness, and, perhaps most of all, the poets, those captain-spirits of humanity, who craft and steer vessels of language to hold what our hearts and minds struggle to contain.
“Between two such beings as he and I, the one a perfect volcano, the other boiling too, inwardly, a sort of struggle was preparing.” Certain relationships are charged with an intensity of feeling that incinerates the walls we habitually erect between platonic friendship, romantic attraction, and intellectual-creative infatuation.
“Yesterday has already vanished among the shadows of the past; to-morrow has not yet emerged from the future.
“How frail the human heart must be — a throbbing pulse, a trembling thing — a fragile, shining instrument of crystal, which can either weep, or sing.” “Once a poem is made available to the public, the right of interpretation belongs to the reader,” young Sylvia Plath wrote to her mother upon the publication of her first tragic poem.
“The spark from Heaven is given to few — It is not to be obtained by intreaty or by toil.” “Those who work much do not work hard,” Henry David Thoreau observed in his prescient meditation on the myth of productivity and the measure of meaningful labor a century before the dawn of the cult of workaholism, which continues to bedevil us with ever-accelerating virulence to this day.