Spring 2023

Kira Laktionov (Flickr/kir4ik)
Kira Laktionov (Flickr/kir4ik)

You may drive Nature out with a pitchfork, but she will always hurry back.

Horace, Epistle 1.10, 20 B.C.

‘That by desiring what is perfectly good, even when we don’t quite know what it is and cannot do what we would, we are part of the divine power against evil—widening the skirts of light and making the struggle with darkness narrower.’

George Eliot, Middlemarch, 1874

The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right …

Learned Hand, “I Am an American Day” speech, May 21, 1944

We ate the sandwiches and drank the Chablis and watched the country out of the window. The grain was just beginning to ripen and the fields were full of poppies. The pastureland was green, and there were fine trees, and sometimes big rivers and chateaux off in the trees.

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises, 1926

Very direct sentences, smooth rivers, clear water over granite, no sinkholes.

Joan Didion on Hemingway, Paris Review, Fall-Winter 1978

I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.

John Keats, letter to brothers George and Tom, December 1817

Bees are Black, with Gilt Surcingles —
Buccaneers of Buzz —
Ride abroad in ostentation
And subsist on Fuzz —
Fuzz ordained—not Fuzz contingent —
Marrows of the Hill —
Jugs a Universe’s Fracture
Could not jar or spill —

Emily Dickinson, #1405, c. 1877

It was a stout, creamy-white cylinder—streaked here and there with crystalline seams that glimmered like ice. At almost half a metre long, it was about the same size and shape as a concrete bollard. … No man’s land.

Today the words evoke history gone wrong. They cut to the heart of humanity’s troubled nature: our endless capacity for fighting over space. And here the phrase was, carved into our oldest surviving border marker, in our earliest form of writing, in one of our formative attempts at recording history.

James Crawford, The Edge of the Plain: How Borders Make and Break Our World, 2023

Why is the viable a Good Thing? Why is it
better to last than to burn?

Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, translated by Richard Howard, 1979

Tea-trays pervade the corridors going everywhere. Some of the anxious hearts lie on their beds and moan in solitary misery. Mrs. Wigfall and I solace ourselves with tea in my room. These women have all a satisfying faith. “God is on our side,” they say. When we are shut in Mrs. Wigfall and I ask “Why?” “Of course, He hates the Yankees, we are told. You’ll think that well of Him.”

Not by one word or look can we detect any change in the demeanor of these negro servants. Lawrence sits at our door, sleepy and respectful, and profoundly indifferent. So are they all, but they carry it too far. You could not tell that they even heard the awful roar going on in the bay [near Fort Sumter], though it has been dinning in their ears night and day. People talk before them as if they were chairs and tables. They make no sign. Are they stolidly stupid? or wiser than we are; silent and strong, biding their time?

Mary Boykin Chesnut, A Diary from Dixie, April 13, 1861

His name was George F. Babbitt. He was forty-six years old now, in April, 1920, and he made nothing in particular, neither butter nor shoes nor poetry, but he was nimble in the calling of selling houses for more than people could afford to pay.

Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt, 1922

Chervil and wood-sorrel out. Hawthorn sprays papered with young leaves. —Venus like an apple of light.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, diary, March 15, 1868

There wasn’t a bottle in the store that we couldn’t assign a genus and species to. Bourbon? Zea mays, an overgrown grass. Absinthe? Artemisia absinthium, a much-misunderstood Mediterranean herb. Polish vodka? Solanum tuberosum—a nightshade, which is a weird family of plants if there ever was one. Beer? Humulus lupulus, a sticky climbing vine that happens to be a close cousin to cannabis. Suddenly we weren’t in a liquor store anymore. We were in a fantastical greenhouse, the world’s most exotic botanical garden, the sort of strange and overgrown conservatory we only encounter in our dreams.

Amy Stewart, The Drunken Botanist, 2013

Astronomies and slangs to find you, dear …
I prod our English: cough me up a word,
Slip me an epithet that will justify
My darling fondle, fumble of far fire
Crackling nearby, unreasonable as a surd …

John Berryman, Sonnets to Chris (No. 66), 1967

[Scriabin’s] music sounds like I think—sometimes. Has that far-off cosmic itch. Divinely fouled up. All fire and air. The first time I heard it I played it over and over. Couldn’t shut it off. It was like a bath of ice, cocaine, and rainbows.

Henry Miller, Nexus, 1959

… hubris? him? what did he have to be hubrid about?

Stanley Elkin, The MacGuffin, 1991

My work piles up,
I falter with disease.
Time rushes toward me—
it has no brakes. Still,
the radishes are good this year.
Run them through butter,
add a little salt.

Jim Harrison, “Zona,” Dead Man’s Float, 2016

People keep talking about making America great again. Maybe they should start with the movies.

Bob Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, 2022

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Anne Matthews is a contributing editor of the Scholar.


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