Quotations about   change

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You couldn’t get hold of the things you’d done and turn them right again. Such a power might be given to the gods, but it was not given to women and men, and that was probably a good thing. Had it been otherwise, people would probably die of old age still trying to rewrite their teens.

Stephen King (b. 1947) American author
The Stand (1978)
Added on 27-Jul-16 | Last updated 27-Jul-16
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The custom and fashion of to-day will be the awkwardness and outrage of to-morrow. So arbitrary are these transient laws.

Dumas - custom and fashion of today - wist_info quote

Alexandre Dumas, père (1802-1870) French novelist and dramatist
(Attributed)

Quoted in James Comper Gray, The Biblical Museum: Old Testament, vol. 3 (1878 ed.).
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You know, here in America we’re loyal to our flaws. It’s like, if we change even our flaws there’s something wrong.

William "Bill" Maher (b. 1956) American comedian, political commentator, critic, television host.
“Bill Maher, Incorrect American Patriot,” Interview with Sharon Waxman, Washington Post (8 Nov 2002)
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Life is not a static thing. The only people who do not change their minds are incompetents in asylums, who can’t, and those in cemeteries.

Everett Dirksen (1896-1969) American politician
(Attributed)
Added on 14-Jul-16 | Last updated 14-Jul-16
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As one gets older one doesn’t feel quite so strongly any more, one discovers that everything is always going to be exactly the same with different hats on.

Noël Coward (1899-1973) English playwright, actor, wit
Letter (1959)
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More frequently paraphrased (as in The Film Daily in 1964): "As one gets older, one discovers everything is going to be exactly the same -- with different hats on."
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It’s hard to let go of anything we love. We live in a world that teaches us to clutch. But when we clutch we’re left with a fist full of ashes.

LEngle - fist full of ashes - wist_info quote

Madeleine L'Engle (1918-2007) American writer
A Ring of Endless Light, ch. 4 [Adam] (1980)
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The humblest citizen of all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of Error.

William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) American lawyer, statesman, politician, orator
Speech, National Democratic Convention, Chicago (1896)
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My soul, sit thou a patient looker-on;
Judge not the play before the play is done:
Her plot hath many changes; every day
Speaks a new scene; the last act crowns the play.

Francis Quarles (1592-1644) English poet
Respice Finem, Epigram (1635)
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Alas! There is no casting anchor in the stream of time!

Marguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington (1789-1849) Irish novelist [Lady Blessington, b. Margaret Power]
Country Quarters (1850)
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THE DOCTOR: We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.

Steven Moffat (b. 1961) Scottish television writer, producer
Doctor Who, “The Time of the Doctor” (25 Dec 2013)
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If you want to make enemies, try to change something.

Wilson - try to change something - wist_info quote

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) US President (1913-20), educator, political scientist
Speech, Detroit (10 Jul 1916)
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“Do you think the world is growing worse?” Mr. Hennessy asked.
“I do not,” said Mr. Dooley.
“Do you think it’s growing better?”
“No,” said Mr. Dooley. “If it’s doing anything, it’s just turning around as usual.”

Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936) American humorist and journalist
(Attributed)

Usually paraphrased as "The world is not growing worse and it is not growing better -- it is just turning around as usual."
Added on 26-Feb-16 | Last updated 26-Feb-16
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What is wrong then? The system. But when you’ve said that you’ve said nothing. The system, after all, is only the outcome of the human psyche, the human desires. We shout and blame the machine. But who on earth makes the machine, if we don’t? And any alterations in the system are only modifications in the machine. The system is in us, it is not something external to us. The machine is in us, or it would never come out of us. Well then, there’s nothing to blame but ourselves, and there’s nothing to change except inside ourselves.

David Herbert "D. H." Lawrence (1885-1930) English novelist
“Education of the People,” Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine (1925)
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The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations that we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us.

Lorde - piece of the oppressor - wist_info quote

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) American writer, feminist, civil rights activist
“Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” Copeland Colloquium, Amherst College (Apr 1980)

Reprinted in Sister Outsider (1984)
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Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
“New Year’s Day,” Virginia City Territorial Enterprise (Jan 1864)
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Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) English poet
“In Memoriam A. H. H.” [Arthur Henry Hallam], part 106 (1849)
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The dictionaries should get with it; in pronunciation and ultimately in usage, when enough of us are wrong, we’re right.

Safire - wrong right - wist_info quote

William Safire (1929-2009) American author, columnist, journalist, speechwriter
Language Maven Strikes Again, “Drudgery It Ain’t” (1990)
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Often paraphrased: "The thing about language is that, when enough of us are wrong, we're right."
Added on 18-Dec-15 | Last updated 18-Dec-15
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Little changes are the enemies of great changes.

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German poet, playwright, director, dramaturgist
“Quotation [Zitat]” (1930s) [tr. Morley]
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The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a room packed with archaic furniture. You must get the old furniture of what you know, think, and believe out before anything new can get in. Make an empty space in any corner of your mind, and creativity will instantly fill it.

Dee W. Hock (b. 1929) American businessman
In M. Mitchell Waldrop, “Dee Hock on Management,” Fast Company (Oct/Nov 1996)
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In the manner of one who has just beheld a two-headed calf they repeated that they had “never heard such funny ideas!” They were staggered to learn that a real tangible person, living in Minnesota, and married to their own flesh-and-blood relation, could apparently believe that divorce may not always be immoral; that illegitimate children do not bear any special and guaranteed form of curse; that there are ethical authorities outside of the Hebrew Bible; that men have drunk wine yet not died in the gutter; that the capitalistic system of distribution and the Baptist wedding-ceremony were not known in the Garden of Eden; that mushrooms are as edible as corn-beef hash; that the word “dude” is no longer frequently used; that there are Ministers of the Gospel who accept evolution; that some persons of apparent intelligence and business ability do not always vote the Republican ticket straight; that it is not a universal custom to wear scratchy flannels next the skin in winter; that a violin is not inherently more immoral than a chapel organ; that some poets do not have long hair; and that Jews are not always pedlers or pants-makers.
    “Where does she get all them the’ries?” marveled Uncle Whittier Small; while Aunt Bessie inquired, “Do you suppose there’s many folks got notions like hers? My! If there are,” and her tone settled the fact that there were not, “I just don’t know what the world’s coming to!”

Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) American novelist, playwright
Main Street, ch. 20 (1920)
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Added on 22-Sep-15 | Last updated 22-Sep-15
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The voice of passion is better than the voice of reason.
The passionless cannot change history.

Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004) Polish-Lithuanian poet, essayist, diplomat
“The Child of Europe” (1946)
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Added on 16-Sep-15 | Last updated 16-Sep-15
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The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) English writer, fabulist, philologist, academic [John Ronald Reuel Tolkien]
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, ch. 1 “A Long-expected Party” (1954)
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In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) English prelate, Catholic Cardinal, theologian
An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, ch. 1, sec. 7 (1845)
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Sorvalh smiled, and it was terrifying, and glorious. “And so we learn how simple it is to change the history of the universe,” Sorvalh said. “All you need is for every other thing to have gone so horribly wrong first.”

John Scalzi (b. 1969) American writer
The End of All Things (2015)
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People are very open-minded about new things — as long as they’re exactly like the old ones.

Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958) American inventor, engineer, researcher, businessman
(Attributed)
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It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow.

James Madison (1751-1836) American statesman, political theorist, US President (1809-17)
The Federalist Papers, #62 (Feb 1788)
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The Stream of Life sometimes glides smoothly on, through flowry meadows and enamell’d planes. At other times it draggs a winding reluctant Course through offensive Boggs and dismal gloomy Swamps. The same road now leads us thro’ a spacious Country fraught with evry delightful object, Then plunges us at once, into miry Sloughs, or stops our passage with craggy and inaccessible mountains. The free roving Songster of the forest, now rambles unconfin’d, and hopps from Spray to Spray but the next hour perhaps he alights to pick the scattered Grain and is entangled in the Snare. The Ship, which, wafted by a favourable gale, sails prosperously upon the peaceful Surface, by a sudden Change of weather may be tossed by the Tempest, and driven by furious, opposite winds, upon rocks or quicksands. In short nothing in this world enjoys a constant Series of Joy and prosperity.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Journal (27 Mar 1756)
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You ask me in effect why I am not a Roman Catholic. If it comes to that, why am I not — and why are you not — a Presbyterian, a Quaker, a Mohammedan, a Hindu, or a Confucianist? After how prolonged and sympathetic study and on what grounds have we rejected these religions? I think those who press a man to desert the religion in which he has been bred and in which he believes he has found the means of Grace ought to produce positive reasons for the change — not demand from him reasons against all other religions. It would have to be all, wouldn’t it?

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
Letter to Father Peter Milward (6 May 1963)
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I often say that research is a way of finding out what you are going to do when you can’t keep on doing what you are doing now.

Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958) American inventor, engineer, researcher, businessman
“Industrial Prospecting,” Speech, Founder Societies of Engineers (20 May 1935)
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Slavery was contrary to all the moral principles advocated by Plato and Aristotle, yet neither of them saw this because to renounce slavery would have meant the collapse of the life they were living.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher
The Kingdom of God Is Within You, ch. 6 (1893) [tr. Maude (1936)]
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The world moves, and ideas that were good once are not always good.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
News conference (31 Aug 1956)
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Change based on principle is progress. Constant change without principle becomes chaos.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Republican National Convention, accepting the presidential nomination (23 Aug 1956)
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What has occurred in this case must ever recur in similar cases. Human nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good. Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this, as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
Speech, Washington, DC (10 Nov 1964)
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Clinging to the past is the problem. Embracing change is the answer.

Gloria Steinem (b. 1934) American feminist, journalist, activist
“Doing Sixty,” Moving Beyond Words (1994)
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It is the business of the future to be dangerous.

Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) English mathematician and philosopher
Science and the Modern World (1925)
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It needs inordinate self-confidence to face drastic change without inner trembling.

Eric Hoffer (1902-1983) American writer, philosopher, longshoreman
The Ordeal of Change (1963)
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Person after person has said to me in these last few days that this new world we face terrifies them. I can understand how that feeling would arise unless one believes that men are capable of greatness beyond their past achievements. … The time now calls for mankind as a whole to rise to great heights. We must have faith or we die.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
“My Day” (10 Aug 1945)

After the dropping of the atomic bomb.
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If you realize you aren’t so wise today as you thought you were yesterday, you’re wiser today.

Olin Miller (fl. early 20th C) American humorist
(Attributed)
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The real sadness of fifty is not that you change so much but that you change so little.

Maxwell "Max" Lerner (1902-1992) American journalist, columnist, educator
“Fifty,” New York Post (18 Dec 1952)
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You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) American architect, engineer
(Attributed)
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Nothing makes the multitude angrier than when someone forces them to change their opinion of him.

Herman Hesse (1877-1962) German-born Swiss poet, novelist, painter
Reflections, #100 [ed. V. Michels (1974)]
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All do not develop in the same manner, or at the same pace. Nations, like men, often march to the beat of different drummers, and the precise solutions of the United States can neither be dictated nor transplanted to others. What is important is that all nations must march toward increasing freedom; toward justice for all; toward a society strong and flexible enough to meet the demands of all its own people, and a world of immense and dizzying change.

Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968) American politician
“Day of Affirmation,” address, University of Capetown, South Africa (6 Jun 1966)
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It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects. … If possible, this must be prevented. My people must drink beer.

Frederick II (1712-1786) King of Prussia (a.k.a. Frederick the Great)
Proclamation (13 Sep 1777)
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When the country goes temporarily to the dogs, cats must learn to be circumspect, walk on fences, sleep in trees, and have faith that all this woofing is not the last word.

Garrison Keillor (b. 1942) American entertainer, author
“The Meaning of Life,” We Are Still Married (1989)
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This is your time, and it feels normal to you. But, really, there is no “normal.” There’s only change, and resistance to it, and then more change.

Meryl Streep (b. 1949) American actress
Commencement Address, Barnard College (2010)
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The drops of rain make a hole in the stone, not by violence, but by oft falling.

[Gutta cavat lapidem, non vi, sed saepe cadendo.]

Other Authors and Sources
Latin proverb

Alt. trans.:
  • "The rain dints the hard stone, not by violence, but by oft-falling drops."
  • "The drop of rain maketh a hole in the stone, not by violence, but by oft falling."
  • "The drop hollows out the stone not by strength, but by constant falling."
  • "The drop hollows the stone, not with force but by falling often."
  • "Dripping water hollows out the stone not by force, but by continually falling."

Some famous usages include Lucretius, De rerum natura, Book 6, l. 312: "The ring on the finger is tapered by being worn, the dripping water hollows out the stone, the plow is subtly worn by the impact of the fields." [anulus in digito subter tenuatur habendo, stilicidi casus lapidem cavat, uncus aratri, ferreus occulte decrescit vomer in arvis]

Similarly Ovid, Ex Ponte, 4.10.5: "The drop hollows out the stone, the ring is worn by use, and the curved ploughshare is rubbed away by the pressure of the earth." [Gutta cavat lapidem, consumitur annulus usu, et teritur pressa vomer aduncus humo.]

Made famous in English by Hugh Latimer, "Seventh Sermon before Edward VI" (1549). Similarly, John Lyly, Euphues (1580): "The soft droppes of rain perce the hard marble; many strokes overthrow the tallest oaks."

Added on 28-Jul-14 | Last updated 28-Jul-14
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Such is the state of life, that none are happy but by the anticipation of change: the change itself is nothing; when we have made it, the next wish is to change again. The world is not yet exhausted; let me see something tomorrow which I never saw before.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, ch. 47 (1759)
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But I tell you the New Frontier is here, whether we seek it or not. Beyond that frontier are the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. It would be easier to shrink back from that frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past, to be lulled by good intentions and high rhetoric — and those who prefer that course should not cast their votes for me, regardless of party. But I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier. My call is to the young in heart, regardless of age — to all who respond to the Scriptural call: “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed.” For courage — not complacency — is our need today — leadership — not salesmanship. And the only valid test of leadership is the ability to lead, and lead vigorously.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
“The New Frontier,” Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech, Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles (15 Jul 1960)
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The difference between the Japanese and the American is summed up in their opposite reactions to the proverb (popular in both nations), “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” Epidemiologist S. Leonard Syme observes that to the Japanese, moss is exquisite and valued; a stone is enhanced by moss; hence a person who keeps moving and changing never acquires the beauty and benefits of stability. To Americans, the proverb is an admonition to keep rolling, to keep from being covered with clinging attachments.

Other Authors and Sources
Carol Tavris, Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, ch. 4 (1982)
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I had become a new person; and those who knew the old person laughed at me. The only man who behaved sensibly was my tailor: he took my measure anew every time he saw me, whilst all the rest went in with their old measurements and expected them to fit me.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
Man and Superman, ch. 1 (1903)
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KING HENRY: Presume not that I am the thing I was;
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn’d away my former self.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry IV, Part II, Act 5, sc. 5, l. 60 (1597)
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All things pass in time. We are far less significant than we imagine ourselves to be. All that we are, all that we have wrought, is but a shadow, no matter how durable it may seem. One day, when the last man has breathed his last breath, the sun will shine, the mountains will stand, the rain will fall, the streams will whisper — and they will not miss him.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
Princeps’ Fury (2008)
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He not busy being born
Is busy dying.

Bob Dylan (b. 1941) American singer, songwriter
“It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” (1965)
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If you learn one thing from having lived through decades of changing views, it is that all predictions are necessarily false.

M. H. Abrams (b. 1912) American literary critic [Meyer (Mike) Howard Abrams]
In “Honored literary scholar M. H. Abrams continues his labors (of love),” interview, The Cornell Chronicle (10 Jun 1999)
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Be always displeased at what thou art, if thou desirest to attain to what thou art not.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) Christian church father, philosopher, saint [b. Aurelius Augustinus]
Sermon 169

Alt. trans.: "Ever let that displease thee which thou art, if thou wouldest attain to what thou art not."
Added on 29-Jan-14 | Last updated 29-Jan-14
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More quotes by Augustine of Hippo