Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
—Adam Zagajewski, “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” tr. by Clare Cavanagh, Without End, 2002
She determined to think no more of Castruccio; but every day, every moment of every day, was as a broken mirror, a multiplied reflection of his form alone.
—Mary Shelley, Valperga, 1823
The idea of [playing the guitar with my teeth] came to me in a town in Tennessee. Down there you have to play with your teeth or else you get shot. There’s a trail of broken teeth all over the stage.
—Jimi Hendrix, 1969
Let every house be placed, if the person pleases, in the middle of its plot as to the breadthway of it, so that there may be ground on each side for gardens or orchards or fields, that it may be a green country town which will never be burnt, and always be wholesome!
—William Penn, to Philadelphia’s commissioners, September 1681
So on a summer’s day waves collect, overbalance, and fall; collect and fall; and the whole world seems to be saying “that is all” more and more ponderously, until even the heart in the body which lies in the sun on the beach says too, That is all. Fear no more, says the heart. Fear no more, says the heart, committing its burden to some sea, which sighs collectively for all sorrows, and renews, begins, collects, lets fall. And the body alone listens to the passing bee; the wave breaking; the dog barking, far away barking and barking.
—Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, 1925
I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down
From long french windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.
—Philip Larkin, “Money,” High Windows, 1974
Bred to looking at landscape as if it were a picture, to the posted scenic viewpoint, I was responding to the prairie like a shut-in taking his first walk across a blinding city square. It was all periphery and no center …
—Jonathan Raban, Bad Land: An American Romance, 1996
In the shallows, the dark, water-soaked sticks and twigs, smooth and old, were undulating in clusters on the bottom against the clean ribbed sand, and the track of the mussel was plain. A school of minnows swam by, each minnow with its small, individual shadow, doubling the attendance, so clear and sharp in the sunlight. Some of the other campers were in swimming, along the shore, one of them with a cake of soap, and the water felt thin and clear and unsubstantial. Over the years there had been this person with the cake of soap, this cultist, and here he was. There had been no years.
—E. B. White, “Once More to the Lake,” 1941
You say to brick, “What do you want, brick?” Brick says to you, “I like an arch.” If you say to brick, “Arches are expensive, and I can use a concrete lintel over an opening. What do you think of that, brick?” Brick says: “I like an arch.”
—Louis Kahn, lecturing at the University of Pennsylvania, 1971
The whole Mediterranean—the sculptures, the palms, the gold beads, the bearded heroes, the wine, the ideas, the ships, the moonlight, the winged gorgons, the bronze men, the philosophers—all of it seems to rise in the sour, pungent taste of these black olives between the teeth. A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water.
—Lawrence Durrell, Prospero’s Cell, 1945
… The grasses
shivered with presences, and sunlight
stayed like a halo on hair and heather and hills.
Walking into town, I saw, in a radiant raincoat,
the woman from the fish-shop. ‘What a day it is!’
cried I, like a sunstruck madman.
And what did she have to say for it?
Her brow grew bleak, her ancestors raged in their graves
as she spoke with their ancient misery:
‘We’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it!’
—Alastair Reid, “Scotland,” Inside Out, 2008
I don’t go up to the air-raid shelter any more. The Tschörners are already dead and Ali went the next day. Our Ali. There’s no one left in our street any more. The days are so sunny. I’ve taken a chair out to the garden and I’m reading. I have firmly resolved to carry on reading when the bombs come. … I find the idea of perhaps perishing down there with the lot of them, like a herd of cattle, horrifying. At least in the garden. At least in the sunshine.
—Ingeborg Bachmann, War Diary, tr. by Mike Mitchell, June 1945
There’s a kind of peacefulness even in the names of English coarse fish. Roach, rudd, dace, bleak, barbel, bream, gudgeon, pike, chub, carp, tench. They’re solid kind of names. The people who made them up hadn’t heard of machine-guns, they didn’t live in terror of the sack or spend their time eating aspirins, going to the pictures and wondering how to keep out of the concentration camp.
—George Orwell, Coming Up for Air, 1939
The earth’s crust extends about fifteen miles down, here on the coast where I live. Beyond that, the mantle is thousands of miles thick. Is this little piece of earth mine, all the way down to its hot red center? Surely at some particular depth I lose my claim to it, and it becomes part of a vast unexplored territory owned by no one.
And who lives down there, under my house? When I think of my property as extending not just across to the neighbor’s fence, and back to the alleyway, but down a hundred feet or more, I realize that I paid a paltry sum for a kingdom that just happened to have a house sitting on top of it. Millions—no, billions—of organisms inhabit my little piece of land, and it shocks me to realize how little I know of them.
—Amy Stewart, The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms, 2004
“It is a great danger for everyone when what is shocking changes.”
—Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana, 1958
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