When Sarah ate she set aside, with a sigh, the dish of dandelions with its crowning ovarious accompaniment. As this dark mass had been transformed from a bright and love-indorsed flower to be an ignominious vegetable, so had her summer hopes wilted and perished. Love may, as Shakespeare said, feed on itself: but Sarah could not bring herself to eat the dandelions that had graced, as ornaments, the first spiritual banquet of her heart’s true affection.
Since I was exiled here, it was impossible to remain by just standing still. I became an actor and gave myself the name of “I” and it was I who had to search out the cycles that helped me play the roles of my exile. Not only did I play myself; it was also necessary to take on the roles of others who were shrewder than I, and masters of their own plots. Yet, hidden in the sorcery of those plots were things to help me unmask them. I had only to listen to their lines, then concoct lines of my own—to question me, then lead me toward the daily answers.
— Gordon Parks, Voices in the Mirror: An Autobiography (1990)
We forget that man does not exist only to convince another man. He exists in order to win, to win to his side, to seduce, charm, possess. Truth is not a matter of arguments. It is only a matter of attraction, that is, a pulling toward. Truth does not make itself real in an abstract contest of ideas, but in a collision of persons. Being condemned to read a fair amount of books filled only with arguments, I know what truth severed from the person is: a laborious truth. And that is why I turn to you with the plea: Do not allow an idea to grow in you at the price of your personality.
— Witold Gombrowicz, Diary (1953-1969) translated by Lillian Vallee
It turned out that writing about life amounts to thinking about life, and thinking about life amounts to casting doubt on life, but only one who is suffocated by his very lifeblood, or in whom it somehow circulates unnaturally, casts doubt on that lifeblood. It turned out that I don’t write in order to seek pleasure; on the contrary, it turned out that by writing I am seeking pain, the most acute possible, well-nigh intolerable pain, most likely because pain is truth, and as to what constitutes truth, I wrote, the answer is so simple: truth is what consumes you, I wrote. Naturally, I could impart none of this to my wife.
— Imre Kertesz, Kaddish for an Unborn Child (1990) translated from the Hungarian by Tim Wilkinson
"I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do. I feel as if this tree knows everything I ever think of when I sit here. When I come back to it, I never have to remind it of anything; I begin just where I left off."
Carter said, “Talmud teaches that it is a greater sin to shame your neighbor with words than to defraud him of his property…Because property can be restored by the action of the court, but to cause another to blanch with shame is like drawing off his life’s blood and is tantamount to murder. When a people—a whole race—is systematically humiliated, it is tantamount to genocide. Talmud says only he who is guilty of shaming his neighbor must abandon hope of ever getting out of Gehenna. Talmud is right: the loss of face is the only misfortune of which we can make no use at all. I can learn from pain, poverty, unhappy love, because I can get over them; I hardly know how to wish away past sufferings, which have made me what I have become; it would be like wishing my own face away. But there is no use to which I can put my humiliations. They don’t strengthen my muscle for suffering. They erode me. They don’t dissipate. The one thing from which one does not recover is the loss of face.”
I’ve always figured it that you die each day and each day is a box, you see, all numbered and neat; but never go back and lift the lids, because you’ve died a couple of thousand times in your life, and that’s a lot of corpses, each dead a different way, each with a worse expression. Each of those days is a different you, somebody you don’t know or understand or want to understand.
— Ray Bradbury, from “No Particular Night or Morning” in The Illustrated Man (1951)
“Langston was saying, “I, too, sing America. I am the darker brother,” and so on. They will welcome me later on and say how beautiful I am. They will welcome me at the table. I don’t want to be welcome at the table, ain’t bothered about the table. I want to be respected… . Well, there was that trend; they will see how beautiful I am, and I’ll be invited in. It’s 1980, and we are not invited in; we are no longer completely cut out, but we’re not invited in. With me, that does not cause one gray hair. I not only am not invited in, I ain’t inviting them out here. If they’ve paid their dues, they can come… . [Look at] Robert Frost’s “In Dives’ Dive”: “It is late at night and still I am losing, / But still I am steady and unaccusing. / As long as the Declaration guards / My right to be equal in number of cards, / It is nothing to me who runs the Dive. / Let’s have a look at another five.” The word still means “continually,” “ever”; it’s the Elizabethan “still.” “Late at night”: I’m 80 years old, and still just as always I’m losing. “But still I am steady and unaccusing.” I ain’t blaming you, ain’t blaming me. I ain’t blaming my papa, ain’t blaming my mama. I’m unaccusing as long as the Declaration, capital “D,” of Independence guards, “G-U-A-R-D-S,” my right to be equal in the number of cards. You got five; he got five; he got five. “It does not matter to me who runs the Dive.” He’s wrong there, of course. But “Let’s have a look at another five.” The only time I ever talked to Frost, I mentioned that poem; he says I’m the only person who ever remembered that poem, and he loved it. He asked me, “Are you a poker player?” I said, “No, but I’m a loser.”—
Sterling Brown, 1980
[Source: “Steady and Unaccusing”: An Interview with Sterling A. Brown John Edgar Tidwell and John S. Wright, Callaloo 21.4 (1998) 811-821]
as a writing teacher I tell them revise the world: they clip, trim, slice: they bring it in: oh no I say you’ve just put it on stilts: they lob, twist, crack: oh no I say when they bring it in you’ve killed it: reconceive: they bring in something new: what’s the use, I throw up my hands, we’re already two or three worlds behind…
— A.R. Ammons, from “Summer Session" in Collected Poems: 1951-1971(1972)
Audubon said nothing because he had gone without speaking a word for days. He did not regard his thoughts for the birds and animals as susceptible, in their first change, to words. His long playing on the flute was not in its origin a talking to himself. Rather than speak to order or describe, he would always draw a deer with a stroke across it to communicate his need of venison to an Indian. He had only found words when he discovered that there is much otherwise lost that can be noted down each item in its own day, and he wrote often now in a journal, not wanting anything to be lost the way it had been, all the past, and he would write about a day, “Only sorry that the Sun Sets.”
— Eudora Welty, from “A Still Moment" in The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty (1980)
We cannot just ignore misfortune, comforting ourselves with the thought that it does not exist, when it clearly does. Since we must live with it, what remains is a choice of tactics. Apparently, when a foreign body invades their hive, bees build around it with wax. Alas, this work of building around an intruder must be undertaken anew repeatedly, but it is necessary, because otherwise misfortune will take control of all our thoughts and feelings.
— Czeslaw Milosz, from “Misfortune" in Milosz’s ABC’s (2001) translated by Madeline G. Levine
there’s nothing in front of me, only a moment salvaged from a dream tonight of coupled images dreamed, a moment chiseled from the dream, torn from the nothing of this night, lifted by hand, letter by letter, while time, outside, gallops away, and pounding at the doors of my soul is the world with its bloodthirsty schedules…
— Octavio Paz, from Sunstone (1957) translated by Eliot Weinberger
You write that I was the subject of your talk. So I would like to ask: Did you respect my person? Did your words ring with vibrancy, did you speak about me with the flight and passion appropriate to art or did you merely extract some sort of “views” out of me and gnaw on them like a dry bone from my skeleton? You should know that I forbid you to speak about me in a boring, everyday, ordinary way. I staunchly forbid this. I demand a holiday word for myself. I punish those who allow themselves to speak about me boringly and wisely. I punish them cruelly: I die on their lips and they end up with an oral cavity full of my dead body.
— Witold Gombrowicz, from Diary (1953-1969) translated by Lillian Vallee
There were times when I thought all of us…existed only on videotape. Our words and actions seemed to have a disturbingly elapsed quality. We had said and done all these things before and they had been frozen for a time, rolled up in little laboratory trays to await broadcast and rebroadcast when the proper time-slots became available. And there was the feeling that somebody’s deadly pinky might nudge a button and we would all be erased forever.
Being set on the idea Of getting to Atlantis, You have discovered of course Only the Ship of Fools is Making the voyage this year, As gales of abnormal force Are predicted, and that you Must therefore be ready to Behave absurdly enough To pass for one of The Boys, At least appearing to love Hard liquor, horseplay and noise.
…she always smiled at you as if she were seeing you through a red crepe veil; and no matter who said what—or what you were telling or asking her about, she always made the same reply, which to her was obviously the last word on everything: God doesn’t love ugly and doesn’t care too much about pretty either.
After the fall, when love’s austere and weightless other sings below the water, will the spirit know which voice to assume, or the ear attentive to an urge set low in the soul’s house? My heart, dawn’s deer,
lifts its head to the wind and clear promise of winter’s sly and sloe- eyed return, though wind is a mere occasion for night’s undertow or a chance for the dead to row from pool to pool, into this blear
forest of desire and to steer passion’s unruly bark as though compassion for our dead could grow with the turning from year to year.
— Jay Wright, from “The Fall into Love’s Atmosphere”; Transfigurations: Collected Poems (2000)