Quotations about   despair

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Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
Notebooks: 1935-1942 Notebook 1, May 1935 [tr. Thody (1963)
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Added on 16-May-22 | Last updated 16-May-22
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It is not impossibilities which fill us with deepest despair, but possibilities which we have failed to realize.

Robert Mallet (1915-2002) French novelist, poet, playwright, academician
Apostilles: ou, L’Utile et le Futile (1972)
Added on 7-Dec-21 | Last updated 7-Dec-21
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Despair says It’s all the same. Happiness knows there are even a thousand Despairs.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
“Vectors: 56 Aphorisms and Ten-second Essays,” Michigan Quarterly Review, # 50 (Spring 1999)
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Added on 2-Nov-21 | Last updated 2-Nov-21
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Does anything in nature despair except man? An animal with a foot caught in a trap does not seem to despair. It is too busy trying to survive. It is all closed in, to a kind of still, intense waiting. Is this a key? Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.

May Sarton
May Sarton (1912-1995) Belgian-American poet, novelist, memoirist [pen name of Eleanore Marie Sarton]
Journal of a Solitude, “October 6th” (1973)
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Added on 10-Aug-21 | Last updated 10-Aug-21
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As long as we haven’t been able to abolish a single cause of human desperation, we do not have the right to try to suppress the means by which man tries to clean himself of desperation.

Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) French playwright, actor, director
“Sûreté générale: La liquidation de l’opium,” La Révolution Surréaliste (Jan 1925) [tr. L. Dejardin]
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Alternate translation: "So long as we have failed to eliminate any of the causes of human despair, we do not have the right to try to eliminate those means by which man tries to cleanse himself of despair." [tr. Weaver (1976)]
Added on 17-Feb-21 | Last updated 17-Feb-21
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I believe in evil. It is the property of all those who are certain of truth. Despair and fanaticism are only differing manifestations of evil.

Edward Teller (1908-2003) Hungarian-American theoretical physicist
(Attributed)

Quoted in István Hargittai, The Martians of Science: Five Physicists Who Changed the Twentieth Century (2006), via Judith Shoolery.
Added on 30-Nov-20 | Last updated 30-Nov-20
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But although foreign and internal threats of Fascism must be taken seriously, there is no greater mistake and no graver danger than not to see that in our own society we are faced with the same phenomenon that is fertile soil for the rise of Fascism anywhere: the insignificance and powerlessness of the individual.

Erich Fromm (1900-1980) American psychoanalyst and social philosopher
Escape from Freedom, ch. 7, sec. 1 (1941)
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Added on 21-Sep-20 | Last updated 21-Sep-20
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Pessimism about man serves to maintain the status quo. It is a luxury for the affluent, a sop to the guilt of the politically inactive, a comfort to those who continue to enjoy the amenities of privilege.

Leon Eisenberg (1922-2009) American psychiatrist and medical educator
“The Human Nature of Human Nature,” Science (14 Apr 1972)
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Based on an address at Faculty of Medicine Day, McGill University Sesquicentennial Celebration, Montreal, Canada (1 Oct 1971).
Added on 6-Jul-20 | Last updated 6-Jul-20
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A person can go on living fairly well, seem to be a human being, be occupied with temporal matters, marry, have children, be honored and esteemed — and it may not be detected that in a deeper sense this person lacks a self. Such things do not create much of a stir in the world, for a self is the last thing the world cares about and the most dangerous thing of all for a person to show signs of having. The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss — an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. — is sure to be noticed.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Danish philosopher, theologian
The Sickness unto Death, “The Forms of This Sickness, i.e., of Despair,” 1.a.1 (1849)

    Alt. trans.:
  • "A man may nevertheless be perfectly well able to live on, to be a mn, a it seems, to occupy himself with temporal things, get married, beget children, win honor and esteem -- and perhaps no one notices that in a deeper sense he lacks a self. About such a thing as that not much fuss made in the world for a self is the thing the world is least apt to inquire about, and the thing of all things the most dangerous for a man to let people notice that he has it. The greatest danger, that of losing one's own self, may pass off as quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, that of an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc., is sure to be noticed." (Source)
  • "But to become fantastic in this way, and therefore be in despair, although usually obvious, does not mean that a person may not continue living a fairly good life, to all appearances be someone, employed with temporal matters, get married, beget children, be honored and esteemed -- and one may fail to notice that in a deeper sense he lacks a self. Such things cause little stir in the world; for in the world a self is what one least asks after, and the thing it is the most dangerous of all to show signs of having. The biggest danger, that of losing oneself, can pass off in the world as quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. is bound to be noticed." (Source)
Added on 9-Jan-20 | Last updated 9-Jan-20
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Things seem to tend downward, to justify despondency, to promote rogues, to defeat the just; and by knaves as well as by martyrs the just cause is carried forward. Although knaves win in every political struggle, although society seems to be delivered over from the hands of one set of criminals into the hands of another set of criminals, as fast as the government is changed, and the march of civilization is a train of felonies, yet, general ends are somehow answered.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Montaigne; or, The Skeptic,” Representative Men, Lecture 4 (1850)
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Added on 28-Oct-19 | Last updated 19-Feb-22
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The people I respect most behave as if they were immortal and as if society was eternal. Both assumptions are false: both of them must be accepted as true if we are to go on eating and working and loving, and are to keep open a few breathing-holes for the human spirit. No millennium seems likely to descend upon humanity; no better and stronger League of Nations will be instituted; no form of Christianity and no alternative to Christianity will bring peace to the world or integrity to the individual; no “change of heart” will occur. And yet we need not despair, indeed, we cannot despair; the evidence of history shows us that men have always insisted on behaving creatively under the shadow of the sword; that they have done their artistic and scientific and domestic stuff for the sake of doing it, and that we had better follow their example under the shadow of the aeroplanes.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“What I Believe,” The Nation (16 Jul 1938)
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Added on 20-Sep-19 | Last updated 20-Sep-19
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It is not a threat but a fact of history that if an oppressed people’s pent-up emotions are not nonviolently released, they will be violently released. So let the Negro march. Let him make pilgrimages to city hall. Let him go on freedom rides. And above all, make an effort to understand why he must do this. For if his frustration and despair are allowed to continue piling up, millions of Negroes will seek solace and security in black-nationalist ideologies. And this, inevitably, would lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Playboy interview (Jan 1965)
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Added on 13-Apr-18 | Last updated 13-Apr-18
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Take hope from the heart of man and you make him a beast of prey.

Ouida (1839-1908) English novelist [pseud. of Maria Louise Ramé]
A Village Commune, ch. 20 (1881)
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Added on 11-Sep-17 | Last updated 11-Sep-17
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Absence from whom we love is worse than death,
And frustrate hope severer than despair.

William Cowper (1731-1800) English poet
“Hope, like the short-lived ray that gleams awhile”
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Added on 1-Aug-17 | Last updated 5-Sep-17
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Not in the clamor of the crowded street,
Not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng,
But in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
“The Poets,” Atlantic Monthly (Jul 1878)
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Added on 23-May-17 | Last updated 23-May-17
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There is no lasting hope in violence, only temporary relief from hopelessness.

Kingman Brewster, Jr. (1919-1988) American educator, diplomat
(Attributed)
Added on 29-Nov-16 | Last updated 29-Nov-16
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I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. There will be still rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment. There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair. Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. We may again with tear-drenched eyes have to stand before the bier of some courageous civil rights worker whose life will be snuffed out by the dastardly acts of bloodthirsty mobs. Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Where Do We Go From Here?” Southern Christian Leadership Conference Presidential Address (16 Aug 1967)
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Added on 28-Oct-16 | Last updated 9-Nov-20
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One day I sat thinking, almost in despair; a hand fell on my shoulder and a voice said reassuringly: cheer up, things could get worse. So I cheered up and, sure enough, things got worse.

(Other Authors and Sources)
James Haggerty (1909-1981) Press Secretary to President Eisenhower
Added on 9-Aug-16 | Last updated 9-Aug-16
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When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hopes hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go for a good spin down the road, without thought of anything but the ride you are taking.

Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) British writer and physician
In The American Bee Keeper (May 1895)
Added on 19-Nov-15 | Last updated 11-Mar-21
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Life often seems like a long shipwreck, of which the debris are friendship, glory, and love; the shores of existence are strewn with them.

Germaine de Staël (1766-1817) Swiss-French writer, woman of letters, critic, salonist [Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein, Madame de Staël, Madame Necker]
Reflections on Suicide [Réflexions sur le suicide], Sec. 1 (1813) [tr. De Finod]
Added on 18-Nov-15 | Last updated 18-Nov-15
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Despair says, I cannot lift that weight. Happiness says, I do not have to.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays, # 4 (2001)
Added on 28-Aug-15 | Last updated 28-Aug-15
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When I was young, for two or three years the light faded out of the picture. I did my work. I sat in the House of Commons, but black depression settled on me. It helped me to talk to Clemmie about it. I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand right back and if possible to get a pillar between me and the train. I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything. A few drops of desperation.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) British statesman and author
Remark to Lord Moran (14 Aug 1944)

In Lord Moran, Churchill: Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran, ch. 19 (1966)
Added on 30-Apr-15 | Last updated 30-Apr-15
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One overmuch elated with success
A change of fortune plunges in distress.

Horace (65-8 BC) Roman poet and satirist [Quintus Horacius Flaccus]
Epistles, 1.10 [ed. Kraemer, Jr (1936)]
Added on 30-Jan-15 | Last updated 30-Jan-15
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I wouldn’t want to live in Tomorrowland, where the social patterns and infrastructure are all so spiff and modern and rational and well-designed that any remaining problems must needs be insoluble, and so a cause for despair.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden (b. 1956) American editor, writer, essayist
“On Time” (1995)
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Added on 29-Aug-14 | Last updated 29-Aug-14
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Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.

Malcolm X (1925-1965) American revolutionary, religious leader [b. Malcolm Little]
Malcolm X Speaks, ch. 9 “With Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer” (1965)
Added on 1-Nov-13 | Last updated 1-Dec-16
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HELENA: Oft expectation fails and most oft there
Where most it promises, and oft it hits
Where hope is coldest and despair most fits.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
All’s Well that Ends Well, Act 2, sc. 1, l. 145 (1602)
Added on 26-Feb-10 | Last updated 20-May-16
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Those who believe that they believe in God, but without passion in their hearts, without anguish in mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe only in the God idea, not in God Himself.

[Los que sin pasión de ánimo, sin congoja, sin incertidumbre, sin duda, sin la desesperación en el consuelo, creen creer en Dios, no creen sino en la idea de Dios, más no en Dios mismo.]

Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) Spanish philosopher and writer [Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo]
The Tragic Sense of Life [Del sentimiento trágico de la vida], ch. 9 “Faith, Hope, and Charity” (1912) [tr. Flitch (1921)]
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Alt. trans. [tr. Kerrigan (1972)]: "Whoever believes he believes in God, but believes without passion, without anguish, without uncertainty, without doubt, without despair-in-consolation, believes only in the God-Idea, not in God Himself."

Original Spanish.

In Unamuno's earlier, unpublished work Treatise on the Love of God [Tratado del amor de Dios], ch. 3 "What is Faith?" (1905-08) [tr. Orringer], he used this same phrase and surrounding text: "Those without passion in their soul, without anguish, without uncertainty, without doubt, without despair in consolation, think they believe in God; they believe only in the idea of God, but not in God Himself."
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 19-May-20
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The greatest test of courage is to bear defeat without losing heart.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“The Declaration of Independence” (1876)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 2-Feb-16
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