After every war
someone has to tidy up.
— Wisława Szymborska, “The End and the Beginning,” 1993
The road, just in front of the sidewalk where I sat and played jacks, would be ankle-deep in dust, and seemed to drink up the moonlight like folds of velvet. It drank up sound, too; muffled the wagon-wheels and hoof-beats; lay soft and meek like the last residuum of material things,—the soft bottom resting-place. Nothing in the world, not snow mountains or blue seas, is so beautiful in moonlight as the soft, dry summer roads in a farming country, roads where the white dust falls back from the slow wagon-wheel.
—Willa Cather, “Two Friends,” 1932
Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.
—Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex, 2002
And in 1934, scientists at the University of Cologne discovered that sound waves sent through fluid can create flashes of light inside bubbles, visible to the naked eye and bearing an uncanny resemblance to the stars in the heavens. This property of sound—now known as sonoluminescence—is accompanied by intense pressure and high temperature coinciding with bubble collapse and the release of energy. Here is the littlest bang of all, if you will. As with the creation myths, sound has become visible.
—Ted Gioia, Music: A Subversive History, 2019
She was feeling, thinking, trembling, about everything; agitated, happy, miserable, infinitely obliged, absolutely angry.
—Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, 1814
“If you put your shoes un-der your mat-tress,” Monsieur Auguste’s voice said, “you’ll sleep well.”
I thanked him for the suggestion, and did so. I reclined in an ecstasy of happiness and weariness. There could be nothing better than this. To sleep.
“Got a gottverdummer cigarette?” Harree’s voice asked of Fritz.
“No bloody fear,” Fritz’s voice replied coolly.
Snores had already begun in various keys at various distances in various directions. The candle flickered a little; as if darkness and itself were struggling to the death, and darkness were winning.
—E. E. Cummings, The Enormous Room, 1922
As a person who has had ants in his underwear, however, I have to say that what makes their presence particularly irksome is not the momentary discomfort but rather the knowledge of why they’re there. They’re not just passing through, you see, on their way to somewhere else. They’re not in your underwear by accident. They’re nation-building. … With their strength, with their industriousness, with their endurance, with their organization, with their cooperation, with their altruism, with their discipline, and, above all, with their adaptability, the ants will contest you for everything you own, from your underwear to the glass of wine you leave on your desk.
Yes, ants drink.
—Tom Junod, “Invasion,” Esquire, July 2010
The old art historian. I was going on
About Cézanne and he took me into the studio
And took down four tubes of shades of green
And stood me in front of an easel with a brush
And said, “Now, put these on paper
In small rectangular daubs so that they shimmer,
And until you can do that, I say this
In all friendship, shut up about Cézanne.”
—Robert Hass, “Nature Notes in the Morning,” Summer Snow, 2020
The tide that bore us along was then all the while moving to this as its grand Niagara—yet what a blessing we didn’t know it. It seems to me to undo everything, everything that was ours, in the most horrible retroactive way.
—Henry James to Rhoda Broughton, August 10, 1914
I often reflected upon the unprovided condition that the whole body of the people were in at the first coming of this calamity upon them, and how it was for want of timely entering into measures and managements, as well public as private, that all the confusions that followed were brought upon us, and that such a prodigious number of people sank in that disaster, which, if proper steps had been taken, might, Providence concurring, have been avoided, and which, if posterity think fit, they may take a caution and a warning from.
—Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, 1722
John Cage tells the story somewhere of going to a concert of music composed by a friend of his. The composer had also written the programme notes for the music in which he said, among other things, that he hoped his music might go some way to diminishing the suffering in the world. After the concert his friend asked him what he thought of the event and Cage answered, ‘I loved the music but I hated the programme notes.’ ‘But don’t you think there’s too much suffering in the world?’ the friend asked, obviously put out. ‘No,’ Cage replied, ‘I think there’s just the right amount.’
—Adam Phillips, Darwin’s Worms, 1999
The cats and houseplants are his to feed and water
and the sunflower blooming in the driveway’s border
of weeds. He drew our backyard to scale,
using map symbols, sent off to have it declared
an official wildlife refuge, left a good-night
note on my pillow, written in Egyptian hieroglyphs.
In my life, I have done one good thing.
—Linda Rodriguez, “Joseph Sleeps,” Heart’s Migration, 2009
Then the dews begin to descend in your mind & its atmosphere is strained of all impurities—And home is farther away than ever—here is home—the beauty of the world impresses you—There is a coolness in your mind as in a well—Life is too grand for supper.
—Henry David Thoreau, Journal, June 14, 1853
By confusing health and virtue, we’ve gotten testier, less tolerant, and ultimately less capable of confronting the sources of disease that do not lie within our individual control.
—Barbara Ehrenreich, “The Naked Truth About Fitness,” 1990
Fortune, goodnight: smile once more, turn thy wheel!
—William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act II, Scene 2 (the Earl of Kent)
Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.