Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

David Whyte (b. 1955) Irish-English poet
“Sweet Darkness,” House of Belonging (1996)
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The essence of aphorism is the compression of a mass of thought and observation into a single saying. It is the very opposite of dissertation and declamation; its distinction is not so much ingenuity, as good sense brought to a point.

John Morley (1838-1923) English statesman, journalist, writer [John, Viscount Morley]
“Aphorisms,” speech, Edinburgh (1887)
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My son, a perfect little boy of five years and three months, had ended his earthly life. You can never sympathize with me; you can never know how much of me such a young child can take away. A few weeks ago I accounted myself a very rich man, and now the poorest of all.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Letter to Thomas Carlyle (28 Feb 1842)
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DAVE BOWMAN: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.

HAL 9000: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) American film director, screenwriter, producer
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) [with Arthur C. Clarke]
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It’s no trick to support the free speech of somebody you agree with or to whose opinion you are indifferent. The defense of free speech begins at the point when people say something you can’t stand. If you can’t defend their right to say it, then you don’t believe in free speech.

Salman Rushdie (b. 1947) Indian novelist
“Do we have to fight the battle for the Enlightenment all over again?” The Independent (22 Jan 2005)
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I define anxiety as experiencing failure in advance.

Seth Godin (b. 1960) American entrepreneur, author, public speaker
Poke the Box (2011)
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Marriage is not a simple love affair, it’s an ordeal, and the ordeal is the sacrifice of ego to a relationship in which two have become one.

Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) American mythological scholar
The Power of Myth, ch. 1 “Myth and the Modern World” (1988)
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There is fascism, leading only into the blackness which it has chosen as its symbol, into smartness and yapping out of orders, and self-righteous brutality, into social as well as international war. It means change without hope. Our immediate duty — in that tinkering which is the only useful form of action in our leaky old tub — our immediate duty is to stop it ….

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“Notes on the Way,” Time and Tide (10 June 1934)
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Reprinted in The Prince's Tale and Other Uncollected Writings (1998)
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If glory comes after death, I hurry not.

[Si post fata venit gloria, non propero.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 5, ep. 10 [tr. Rush]

Alt. trans.: "If glory comes only after death I am in no hurry for it." [tr. Bohn (1871)]
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I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot;
Follow your spirit: and upon this charge,
Cry — God for Harry! England and Saint George!

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry V, Act 3, sc. 1 [Henry] (1599)
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Man is a social animal who dislikes his fellow man.

[L’homme es un animal sociable qui déteste ses semblables.]

Eugène Delacroix (1799-1863) French painter [Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix]
The Journal of Eugène Delacroix, 17 November 1852 (1951)
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If I seem to take part in politics, it is only because politics encircle us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries. I wish therefore to wrestle with the snake.

Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) Indian philosopher and nationalist [Mahatma Gandhi]
In Young India (12 May 1920)
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Makeup is not beauty. When artfully applied, it merely enhances what’s already there — the red paint on the fire engine.

Mae West (1892-1980) American film actress
Goodness Had Nothing to Do With It: The Autobiography of Mae West (1959)
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Sorrow is how we learn to love. Your heart isn’t breaking. It hurts because it’s getting larger. The larger it gets, the more love it holds.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
Riding Shotgun, ch. 17 (1996)
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“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
​”Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
​”How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
​”You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) English writer and mathematician [pseud. of Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson]
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, ch. 6 (1865)
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It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” sermon, National Cathedral, Washington, DC (31 Mar 1968)
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Compare to language he used here.
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Learn this from me. Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from inside. We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves.

Mitch Albom (b. 1958) American author, journalist, broadcaster, musician
The Five People You Meet in Heaven, “The Third Lesson” [Ruby] (2003)
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To really ask is to open the door to the whirlwind. The answer may annihilate the question and the questioner.

Anne Rice (b. 1941) American author [b. Howard Allen Frances O'Brien]
The Vampire Lestat, Part 5, ch. 3 (1992)
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In short, Mort was one of those people who are more dangerous than a bag full of rattlesnakes. He was determined to discover the underlying logic behind the universe. Which was going to be hard, because there wasn’t one.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Mort (1987)
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What we need to do is always lean into the future; when the world changes around you and when it changes against you — what used to be a tail wind is now a head wind — you have to lean into that and figure out what to do, because complaining isn’t a strategy.

Jeff Bezos (b. 1964) American business magnate, entrepreneur, investor
Interview, ABC News (25 Sep 2013)
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Warped with satisfactions and terrors, woofed with too many ambiguities and too few certainties, life can be lived best not when we have the answers — because we will never have those — but when we know enough to live it right out to the edges, edges sometimes marked by other people, sometimes showing only our own footprints.

Rosalie Maggio (contemp.) American writer
The New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women, Introduction (1996)
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Eight years involved with the nuclear industry have taught me that when nothing can possible go wrong and every avenue has been covered, then is the time to buy a house on the next continent.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
alt.fan.pratchett Usenet Group (26 Aug 1998)
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You ought to get out of those wet clothes and into a dry martini.

Mae West (1892-1980) American film actress
Every Day’s a Holiday (movie) [Larmadou Graves] (1937)

West both starred in the film (as the recipient of this line, Peaches O'Day) and wrote the screenplay. Often attributed to Robert Benchley, who used the line in a film a few years later, and claimed he got it from a joke book.
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The time is always right to do what’s right.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“The Future of Integration” Finney Chapel, Oberlin College (22 Oct 1964)

King gave several speeches over the years with this title.
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Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.

Barbara W. Tuchman (1912-1989) American historian and author
“Papyrus to Paperbacks: The World That Books Made,” Washington Post (30 Dec 1979)
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What do you suppose makes all men look back to the time of childhood with so much regret (if their childhood has been, in any moderate degree, healthy or peaceful)? That rich charm, which the least possession had for us, was in consequence of the poorness of our treasures. That miraculous aspect of the nature around us, was because we had seen little, and knew less. Each increased possession loads us with a new weariness; every piece of new knowledge diminishes the faculty of admiration; and Death is at last appointed to take us from a scene in which, if we were to stay longer, no gift could satisfy us, and no miracle surprise.

John Ruskin (1819-1900) English art critic, painter, writer, social thinker
The Eagle’s Nest, Lecture 5 “The Power of Contentment in Science and Art,” Sec. 82 (22 Feb 1872)
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This cold wilderness was utterly unfamiliar, but it did not feel hostile, just indifferent to her fate. If she fell off this path and was broken into a hundred pieces nothing up here would be one whit interested.

Kerry Greenwood (b. 1954) Australian author and lawyer
The Green Mill Murder, ch. 13 (1993)
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It is striking how much more seriously we are likely to be taken after we have been dead a few centuries.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 4 “Consolation for Inadequacy” (2000)
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Morals are three-quarters manners.

Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965) US Supreme Court Justice, jurist and teacher
Felix Frankfurter Reminiscences (1960) [ed. Harlan Phillips]
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May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
Comment (31 Dec 2001)
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Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace, there’s nothing so becomes a man,
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry V, Act 3, sc. 1 [Henry] (1599)
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The only queer people are those who don’t love anybody.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
Opening Speech, Gay Olympics, San Francisco (28 Aug 1982)
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Man is a talking animal and he will always let himself be swayed by the power of the word.

Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) French author, existentialist philosopher, feminist theorist
Les Belles Images (1966)
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We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.

Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) American architect, engineer
(Attributed)

Quoted in L. Steven Sieden, A Fuller View (2012).
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The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Questions (1988) [with Jason A. Schulman]
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One was never married, and that’s his hell; another is, and that’s his plague.

Robert Burton (1577-1640) English scholar
The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1.2.4.7 (1621-51)
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Anxiety is the handmaiden of contemporary ambition.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
Status Anxiety (2004)
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If you want that good feeling that comes from doing things for other folks then you have to pay for it in abuse and misunderstanding.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) American writer, folklorist, anthropologist
Moses, Man of the Mountain [Moses] (1939)
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Divide the work and thus you’ll shorten it.

[Divisum sic breve fiet opus.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 4, Epigram 82
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As quoted in Thomas Benfield Harbottle, Dictionary of Quotations (Classical) (1906); mislabeled as Epigram 83.Alt. trans.:
  • "If it be too much to read two volumes, let them roll up one of them; and the task, thus divided, will seem shorter." [tr. Bohn (1871)]
  • "If two be too much, double one parcel down; / So half, perhaps, better the pleasure will crown." [tr. Elphinston]
  • "If it is too much to read two, let one book be rolled up: divided the work will thus become brief. [Si nimis est legisse duos, tibi charta plicetur / Altera: divisum sic breve fiet opus.]"  [tr. Ker (1919), Ep. 210]
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You confuse what’s important with what’s impressive.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
Maurice (w. 1914, pub. 1971)
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Man is a noble animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave, solemnizing nativities and deaths with equal luster, nor omitting ceremonies of bravery, in the infamy of his nature.

Thomas Browne (1605-1682) English physician and author
Urn-Burial: Or, Hydriotaphia, ch. 5 (1658)
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There are three possible ways in which the church can act toward the state: in the first place, as has been said, it can ask the state whether its actions are legitimate and in accordance with its character as state, i.e., it can throw the state back on its responsibilities. Secondly, it can aid the victims of state action. The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community. “Do good to all men.” In both these course of action, the church serves the free state in its free way, and at times when laws are changed the church may in no way withdraw itself from these two tasks.

The third possibility is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself. Such action would be direct political action, and is only possible and required when the church sees the state fail in its function of creating law and order, i.e., when it sees the state unrestrainedly bring about too much or too little law and order.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) German Lutheran pastor, theologian, martyr
“The Church and the Jewish Question” (1933)
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On the need for Christian clergy to actively oppose the Nazi regime's persecution of Jews.
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I have changed my definition of tragedy. I now think tragedy is not foul deeds done to a person (usually noble in some manner) but rather that tragedy is irresolvable conflict. Both sides/ideas are right.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
Starting from Scratch, Part 3 “The Work,” “Plot” (1989)
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Every man has a certain sphere of discretion, which he has a right to expect shall not be infringed by his neighbors. This right flows from the very nature of man. First, all men are fallible: no man can be justified in setting up his judgment as a standard for others. We have no infallible judge of controversies; each man in his own apprehension is right in his decisions; and we can find no satisfactory mode of adjusting their jarring pretensions. If every one be desirous of imposing his sense upon others, it will at last come to be a controversy, not of reason, but of force.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Book 2, ch. 5 (1793)
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When one is too old for love, one finds great comfort in good dinners.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) American writer, folklorist, anthropologist
Moses, Man of the Mountain, ch. 6 [Mentu] (1939)
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There is a loftier ambition than merely to stand high in the world. It is to stoop down and lift mankind a little higher.

Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933) American clergyman and writer
“Salt,” Counsels by the Way (1921 ed.)
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If poor you are, poor you will always be,
For wealth’s now given to none but to the rich.

[Semper eris pauper, si pauper es, Aemiliane;
Dantur opes nulli nunc, nisi divitibus.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 5, #81
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In Thomas Harbottle, ed., The Dictionary of Quotations (Classical) (1897). Alt. trans.:
  • If you are poor now, Æmilianus, you will always be poor. / Riches are now given to none but the rich. [tr. Bohn (1871)]
  • If thou are poor, Æmilian, / Thou shalt be ever so, / For no man now his presents can / But on the rich bestow. [tr. Fletcher]
  • You want, Æmilianus, so you may; / Riches are given rich men, and none but they. [tr. Wright]
  • Poor once and poor for ever, Nat, I fear; / None but the rich get place and pension here. [tr. N. B. Halhed]
  • You will always be poor, if you are poor, Aemilianus. Wealth is given today t none savethe rich. [tr. Ker (1919)]
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Dying is an art.
Like everything else,
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I have a call.

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) American poet and author
“Lady Lazarus”
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The only real argument for marriage is that it remains the best method for getting acquainted.

Heywood Broun (1888-1939) American journalist, author
It Seems To Me, 1925–35 (1935)
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The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) English journalist and writer
Tremendous Trifles, “The Advantages of Having One Leg” (1909)
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How easy it is to be amiable in the midst of happiness and success!

Anne Sophie Swetchine (1782-1857) Russian-French author and salonist [Madame Swetchine]
Life and Letters of Madam Swetchine, ch. 5 [8th ed., 1875] (ed. de Falloux; tr. Preston]
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Our live experiences, fixed in aphorisms, stiffen into cold epigram. Our heart’s blood, as we write with it, turns to mere dull ink.

F. H. Bradley (1846-1924) British idealist philosopher [Francis Herbert Bradley]
Aphorisms (1930)
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The one condition coupled with the gift of truth is its use.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“The Method of Nature,” speech, Waterville College, Maine (11 Aug 1841)
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HAL9000: The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) American film director, screenwriter, producer
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) [with Arthur C. Clarke]
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Marriage is not just spiritual communion and passionate embraces; marriage is also three-meals-a-day and remembering to carry out the trash.

Joyce Brothers (1927-2013) American psychologist, television personality, advice columnist
“When Your Husband’s Affection Cools,” Good Housekeeping (May 1972)
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