If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.
—Rudyard Kipling, “Epitaphs of the War,” The Years Between, 1919
She consulted me, a glance, and said: “I think not anything off the wagon. It arrives too quickly. Let’s have something that takes forever. So that we can get drunk and disorderly. Say a soufflé Furstenberg. Could you do that, Monsieur Soulé?”
He tutted his tongue—on two counts: he disapproves of customers dulling their taste buds with alcohol, and also: “Furstenberg is a great nuisance. An uproar.”
Delicious, though: a froth of cheese and spinach into which an assortment of poached eggs has been sunk strategically, so that, when struck by your fork, the soufflé is moistened with golden rivers of egg yolk.
“An uproar,” said Ina, “is exactly what I want.”
—Truman Capote, “La Côte Basque, 1965,” Esquire, November 1975
The oyster was therefore a paradox. Luxurious on the one hand and healing on the other, it defied the kind of clear moral classification that Pliny the Elder liked to apply to the things around him. While the oyster was multifarious enough to earn his interest, Pliny the Elder was on balance reproachful: ‘There is no greater cause for the destruction of morals and rise of luxury than shellfish.’ Given his friends’ manners, his nephew Pliny was inclined to agree.
—Daisy Dunn, The Shadow of Vesuvius, 2019
I am often reminded of certain spirits & fairies one reads of, who are at one’s elbows in one shape now, & the next minute in a form most dissimilar ; and uncommonly deceptive, troublesome & tantalizing are the mathematical sprites & fairies sometimes; like the types I have found for them in the world of Fiction.
—Ada Lovelace to Augustus De Morgan, January 1841
Do you not see that history’s high tension
Must so be broken down to each man’s end
And his frail filaments, that it may feed
Not blast all patience, love and warm invention?
—C. Day Lewis, “Sonnet for a Political Worker,” Overtures to Death, 1938
These islands are very green and fertile and the breezes are very soft, and it is possible that there are in them many things, of which I do not know. … The singing of little birds is such that it seems a man could never wish to leave this place.
—Christopher Columbus, journal, the Bahamas, October 1492
I took a very agreeable lecture from my friend Mr. [Capability] Brown in his art, and he promised to give me taste by inoculation. … He told me he compared his art to literary composition. ‘Now, there,’ said he, pointing his finger, ‘I make a comma; and there,’ pointing to another spot, ‘where a more decided turn is proper, I make a colon: at another part (where an interruption is desirable to break the view), a parenthesis—now a full stop; and then I begin another subject.’
—Hannah More to Horace Walpole, October 1785
People expect old men to die,
They do not really mourn old men.
Old men are different. People look
At them with eyes that wonder when …
People watch with unshocked eyes;
But the old men know when an old man dies.
—Ogden Nash, “Old Men,” The Old Dog Barks Backward, 1972
Probably, ghosts are allergic to us. Our uproarious
Breathing & ruckus. Our eruptions, our disregard
For dust. Small worlds unwhirl in the corners of our homes
After death. Our warriors, weirdos, anti-heroes, our sirs,
Sires, our sighers, sidewinders & whiners, winos
And wonders become dust …
—Terrance Hayes, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, 2018
She saw every relationship as a pair of intersecting circles. The more they intersected, it would seem at first glance, the better the relationship; but this is not so. Beyond a certain point the law of diminishing returns sets in, and there aren’t enough private resources left on either side to enrich the life that is shared. Probably perfection is reached when the area of the two outer crescents, added together, is exactly equal to that of the leaf-shaped piece in the middle. On paper there must be some neat mathematical formula for arriving at this: in life, none.
—Jan Struther, Mrs. Miniver, 1939
It was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or a civilization—it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt.
—Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory, 1940
How badly I would like to sleep now
in the shadows beside real things or beside
things that were real once, like the beaded gown
on the television, like the debut
of a song in New York in black and white
when my parents were there. I feel sometimes
my life was used up before I was born …
… The television
crumples into a white dot as the last
train of the evening, my train, is announced.
I lived in one place. I want to die in another.
—Donald Revell, “The Northeast Corridor,” 1990
[I]n spite of the slow conversion of progressive ideas into the fact of history, the Dark Ages have a way of coming back. Civilization—the world of affection and reason and freedom and justice—is a luxury which must be fought for, as dangerous to possess as an oil-field or an unlucky diamond.
—Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise, 1938
Though you do not always see the raven, the raven always sees you; and he will steal along, by the side of your route, in the tractless desert for many miles, though when you get a sight of him, he appears always to be leaving you …
—Charles Frederick Partington, The British Cyclopædia of Natural History, 1836
One of the most significant facts about us may finally be that we all begin with the natural equipment to live a thousand kinds of life but end in the end having lived only one.
—Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures, 1973
I would not fear the winter more than the shad-bush which puts forth fresh and tender leaves on its approach. … Away in some warm and sheltered recess in the swamp you find where these leaves have expanded. It is a foretaste of spring. In my latter years, let me have some shad-bush thoughts.
—Henry David Thoreau, Journal, October 13, 1859
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