Quotations to guide you into the new year
By Anne Matthews
December 5, 2016
Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these?
—William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 3, Scene 4
The chickadee’s fear of windy places is easily deduced from his behavior. In winter he ventures away from woods only on calm days, and the distance varies inversely as the breeze. I know several wind-swept woodlots that are chick-less all winter, but are freely used at all other seasons. They are wind-swept because cows have browsed out the under growth. To the steam-heated banker who mortgages the farmer who needs more cows who need more pasture, wind is a minor nuisance. To the chickadee, winter wind is the boundary of the habitable world.
—Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1949
Having no destination, I am never lost.
—Ikkyū Sōjun (1394–1481)
Instantaneous ivy, fleeting wall flora! The least colorful, the saddest, in the opinion of many, of those that clamber over the wall or decorate the casement; for me, the dearest of them all since the day it appeared on our balcony, like the very shadow of the presence of Gilberte, who was perhaps already in the Champs-Élysées and, as soon as I arrived there, would say to me: “Let’s start playing prisoners’ base right away, you’re on my side”; fragile, carried off by a breath, but also in harmony, not with the season, but with the hour; a promise of the immediate happiness of love; softer, warmer on the stone even than moss; hardy, for it needs only a ray of light to come into being and blossom into joy, even in the heart of winter.
—Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, (tr. by Lydia Davis), 1913
Shouting and running and so on. Staggering round like a man beset by a mob. Falling, groveling. So on. The snow.
No. All I have to do is endure; that is, keep my face to the wind. My face to the wind, a firm grip on my mind, and everything else follows naturally. There is not the slightest need to be anxious. Any time now the Polar night will arrive, bringing a drastic change of climate—inevitable. Clearing the sky and revealing the faultless compass of the stars.
—Ted Hughes, “Snow,” 1956
Make a decision and what you want from the lost things will present itself. You can take it down like a can from a shelf. Perhaps. One can would be marked Rand Avenue in Kentucky and some would recall the address at least as true. Inside the can are the blackening porches of winter, the gas grates, the swarm.
—Elizabeth Hardwick, Sleepless Nights, 1979
Being in a squadron was a digest of life. You were a child when you joined. There was endless opportunity, and everything was new. Gradually, almost unknowingly, the days of painful learning and delight were over; you achieved maturity; and then suddenly you were old, with new faces and relationships that were difficult to recognize rising up quickly all around you, until you found yourself existing practically unwelcome in the midst of them, with all the men you had known and lived with gone and the war little more than unsharable memories of things that had taken place long ago. It was like the last year of college. … The rooms were being continually filled with strangers, more of them every week. They knew nothing of the past and its holiness.
—James Salter, The Hunters, 1956
For indeed I never love you so well as when I think of sitting down with you to dinner over a scrag-end of mutton, and hot potatoes.
—William Hazlitt, to his first wife, January 1808
I have found myself asking: How could film be art, since all the major arts arise in some way out of religion? Now I can answer: because movies arise out of magic; from below the world.
—Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed, 1971
Howard looked through his window at a lamp-post buried to its waist in snow supporting two chained-up, frozen bikes, identifiable only by the tips of their handlebars. He imagined waking up this morning and digging his bike out of the snow and riding to a proper job, the kind Belseys had had for generations, and found he couldn’t imagine it. This interested Howard, for a moment: the idea that he could no longer gauge the luxuries of his own life.
—Zadie Smith, On Beauty, 2005
For dinner we had turkey and blazing pudding, and after dinner the Uncles sat in front of the fire, loosened all buttons, put their large moist hands over their watch chains, groaned, and slept. Mothers, aunts and sisters scuttled to and fro, bearing tureens. Auntie Bessie, who had already been frightened, twice, by a clockwork mouse, whimpered at the sideboard and had some elderberry wine. The dog was sick. Aunt Dosie had to have three aspirins, but Auntie Hannah, who liked port, stood in the middle of the snowbound back yard, singing like a big-bosomed thrush.
—Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, 1955
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought.
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
—T. S. Eliot, “East Coker,” Four Quartets, 1940
You turn into some side street where they are roasting coffee in the morning or you pass a baker’s on a winter’s night—and immediately you nose out delight. But perhaps … the most romantic smell is that of Earth itself. That time, for instance, when we were approaching Tahiti. … It was our noses that discovered the coming landfall. No doubt this smell that brought us such delight was compounded of copra, decayed fish, frangipani and vanilla, oil and sweat, stew and fries, dung and blossom; but there it was, this Earth of ours, and we hung eagerly over the rail, sniffing away.
—J. B. Priestley, Delight, 1949
Happiness is too many things these days for anyone to wish it on anyone lightly. So let’s just wish each other a bileless New Year and leave it at that.
—Judith Crist, 1967
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear! …
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If winter comes, can spring be far behind?
—Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ode to the West Wind,” 1820
Anne Matthews is a contributing editor of the SCHOLAR.