Quotations for the season
By Anne Matthews
March 5, 2018
Try to understand me: I love you while paying attention to external things. At Toulouse I simply loved you. Tonight I love you on a spring evening, I love you with the window open.
—Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone Jollivet, 1926
Inequality is as dear to the American heart as liberty itself.
—William Dean Howells, 1894
Finally she went into an elaborate and almost Jesuitical rationalization of the plain fact that she would like to eat another croûte, or perhaps one between us. The gist of her argument (against her mother’s early training? Her damaged liver? Her lifelong war with her voluptuous nature?) was that she knew she would never taste such a beautiful thing again. It was that simple! Of course, the last shared portion we could barely swallow, but it was worth surfeit to see my dear smothered lady there, so relaxed and filled with the subtle flavours of the wild morel, and the delicate cool wine, and the warm room with a dozing tomcat in it.
—M. F. K. Fisher, With Bold Knife and Fork, 1969
I have the consolation too of having added nothing to my private fortune during my public service, and of retiring with hands as clean, as they are empty.
—Thomas Jefferson, March 1807
Finally arrived at Spiller’s in Wigmore St. to have my glasses re-screwed, & found that their premises too had been wrecked by incendiaries & high explosives, & my usual man & his typist were carrying on behind boarded doors in a shop [which] looked as though it were only held together with string. But they took my glasses for repair. Query: What is the effect on one’s mind of constantly walking about amid the ruins of lovely or familiar things?
—Vera Brittain, May 1941
But first, the question: what do pictures want? … Why is it that people have such strange attitudes toward images, objects, and media? Why do they behave as if pictures were alive, as if works of art had minds of their own, as if images had a power to influence human beings, demanding things from us, persuading, seducing, and leading us astray?
—W. J. T. Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images, 2005
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose;
… the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which …
—William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act 2, Scene 1), 1595
If I could learn just when spring arrived, in what manner and in what guises, I should have grown in knowledge of reality and established a bond of common experience with my fellow travelers in eternity. My monitoring of the seasons in off hours would thus be more substantial and altogether a more serious matter than anything I could do for the government. I had not had compunctions at interrupting the dictation of an official document to observe, from a government window, a flight of swans moving south overhead; and while I have now forgotten what the official paper was about, I remember the swans.
—Louis J. Halle, Spring in Washington, 1947
It was a very sleek boy, brown and thin and interesting-looking, that knocked at the door of the parlour where Mademoiselle sat reading a yellow-covered book and wishing vain wishes. Gerald could always make himself look interesting at a moment’s notice, a very useful accomplishment in dealing with strange grown-ups. It was done by opening his grey eyes rather wide, allowing the corners of his mouth to droop, and assuming a gentle, pleading expression, resembling that of the late little Lord Fauntleroy—who must, by the way, be quite old now, and an awful prig.
—Edith Nesbit, The Enchanted Castle, 1907
He waited. He listened. A sparrow perched on the railing opposite chirped Septimus, Septimus, four or five times over and went on, drawing its notes out, to sing freshly and piercingly in Greek words how there is no crime and, joined by another sparrow, they sang in voices prolonged and piercing in Greek words, from trees in the meadow of life beyond a river where the dead walk, how there is no death.
—Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, 1925
If we can abstract pathogenicity and hygiene from our notion of dirt, we are left with the old definition of dirt as matter out of place. … Dirt then, is never a unique, isolated event. Where there is dirt there is system.
—Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger, 1966
The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods—
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.
—Robert Frost, “Spring Pools,” 1928
I see him teeter at the edge of abysses he never saw. With pain I acknowledge acts undone that might have saved and led him into some serene and noble pathway. I move about him like a ghost, that vanished youth. I exhort, I plead. He does not hear me. Indeed, he too is already a ghost. He has become me. I am what I am. Yet the point is, we are not wholly given over to time—if we were, such acts, such leaps through that gray medium, would be impossible. Perhaps God himself may rove in similar pain up the dark roads of his universe. Only how would it be, I wonder, to contain at once both the beginning and the end, and to hear, in helplessness perhaps, the fall of worlds in the night?
—Loren Eiseley, “The Firmament of Time,” 1960
The lyf so shorte, the craft so longe to lerne.
—Geoffrey Chaucer, The Parliament of Fowles, 1382
pick a perch—
apple bough for example in bloom—
and if you like
drill imagination right through necessity:
it’s all right:
it’s been taken care of:
is allowed, considering
—A. R. Ammons, “Play,” 1970
Anne Matthews is a contributing editor of the SCHOLAR.