Quotations about   time

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Youth has its romance, and maturity its wisdom, as morning and spring have their freshness, noon and summer their power, night and winter their repose. Each attribute is good in its own season.

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) British novelist [pseud. Currer Bell]
Letter to a young admirer at Cambridge (as Currer Bell) (23 May 1850)
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Added on 23-Apr-19 | Last updated 23-Apr-19
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They [the hours] pass by, and are put to our account.

[Nobis pereunt et imputantur.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 5, #20, line 13

This phrase is often found as an inscription on sundials.

Alt. trans.:
  • "As it is, neither of us lives for himself, but sees his good days flee from him and vanish; days which are ever being lost to us, and set down to our account. Should any one, then, delay to live, when he knows how?" [tr. Bohn (1871)]
  • "Now to himself, alas! does neither live / But see good suns of which we are to give / A strict account, set and march thick away. / Knows a man how to live, and does he stay?" [tr. Cowley]
  • "To-day neither lives for himself, and he feels the good days are flitting and passing away, our days that perish and are scored to our account. Does any man, when he knows how to live, delay?" [tr. Ker (1919)]
  • "Each of us feels the good days speed and depart, and they are lost and counted against us. [bonosque soles effugere atque abire sentit, qui nobis pereunt et imputantur]" [Source]
  • "The hours perish to us, and are accounted also to us." [Source]

    Nunc vivit sibi euter,heu, bonosque Soles effugere atque abire sentit: Qui nobis pereunt et imputantur. Quisquan vive cum sciat, moratur?
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Colors fade, temples crumble, empires fall, but wise words endure.

Edward Thorndike (1874-1949) American psychologist, educator
(Attributed)
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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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He that lacks time to mourn, lacks time to mend.
Eternity mourns that. ‘Tis an ill cure
For life’s worst ills, to have no time to feel them.
Where sorrow’s held intrusive and turned out,
There wisdom will not enter, nor true power,
Nor aught that dignifies humanity.

Henry Taylor (1800-1886) English dramatist, poet, bureaucrat, man of letters
Philip Van Artevelde, Part 1, Act 1, sc. 5 (1834)
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The King in a carriage may ride,
And the Beggar may crawl at his side;
But in the general race,
They are traveling all the same pace.

Edward FitzGerald (1809-1883) English writer, poet, translator
“Chronomoros,” l. 57ff, Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal (5 Dec 1840)
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Each Morn a thousand Roses brings, you say;
Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday?

Omar Khayyám (1048-1123) Persian poet, mathematician, philosopher, astronomer
Rubaiyat, 9 [tr. FitzGerald, 5th Ed. (1889)]
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It kills you to see them grow up. But I guess it would kill you quicker if they didn’t.

Barbara Kingsolver (b. 1955) American novelist, essayist, poet
Animal Dreams (1990)
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You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile, to escape to Europe and some foreign land, back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing’s sake, back home to aestheticism, to one’s youthful idea of “the artist” and the all-sufficiency of “art” and “beauty” and “love”, back home to the ivory tower, back home to places in the country, to the cottage in Bermuda, away from all the strife and conflict of the world, back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.

Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) American writer
You Can’t Go Home Again, Book 7 “A Wind Is Rising and the Rivers Flow” (1940)
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Life is not made up of dramatic incidents — even the life of a nation. It is made up of slowly evolving events and processes, which newspapers, by a score of different forms of emphasis, can reasonably attempt to explore from day to day. But television news jerks from incident to incident. For the real world of patient and familiar arrangements, it substitutes an unreal world of constant activity, and the effect is already apparent in the way which the world behaves. It is almost impossible, these days, to consider any problem or any event except as a crisis; and, by this very way of looking at it, it in fact becomes a crisis.

Henry Fairlie (1924-1990) British journalist and social critic
“Can You Believe Your Eyes?” Horizon (Spring 1967)
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Forgive us immortals our sins of pride, child. We all age like cheese, growing strong and tasty but also covered in the mould of good intentions gone grey.

Gail Carriger (b. 1976) American archaeologist, author [pen name of Tofa Borregaard]
Imprudence (2016)
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The goal of every culture is to decay through over-civilization; the factors of decadence, — luxury, skepticism, weariness and superstition, — are constant. The civilization of one epoch becomes the manure of the next.

Cyril Connolly (1903-1974) English intellectual, literary critic and writer.
The Unquiet Grave (1944)
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Tragedy plus time equals comedy.

allen-tragedy-plus-time-equals-comedy-wist_info

Steve Allen (1922-2000) American composer, entertainer, and wit.
“Steve Allen’s Almanac,” Cosmopolitan (Feb 1957)

Similar formulations have been made by Carol Burnett, Lenny Bruce, Bob Newhart, and Woody Allen. For more discussion see here.
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That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in the next.

mill-height-of-absurdity-wisdom-wist_info-quote

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist
(Attributed)
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Often cited from a quote in Adlai Stevenson, Call to Greatness (1954), but appears earlier in, e.g., National Magazine (Nov 1911). Unverified in Mills' writings.
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He that is good will infallibly become better, and he that is bad will as certainly become worse; for vice, virtue, and time are three things that never stand still.

Charles Caleb "C. C." Colton (1780-1832) English cleric, writer
Lacon: or, Many Things in Few Words, #457 (1821 ed.)
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Every hour wounds. The last one kills.

gaiman-last-one-kills-wist_info-quote

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
American Gods, epigraph (2001)
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Gaiman notes this as an "old saying." It is frequently found on sun dials or other clocks, sometimes in Latin. Variations:
  • "All hours wound; the last one kills."
  • "All the hours wound you, the last one kills."
  • "They all wound; the last one kills."
  • "Vulnerant omnes, ultima necat."
  • "Omnes vulnerant. Postuma necat."
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It is an unhappy truth that racism is a way of life for the vast majority of white Americans, spoken and unspoken, acknowledged and denied, subtle and sometimes not so subtle — the disease of racism permeates and poisons a whole body politic. And I can see nothing more urgent than for America to work passionately and unrelentingly — to get rid of the disease of racism. Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation.

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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Time indeed changes manners and notions, and so far we must expect institutions to bend to them. But time produces also corruption of principles, and against this it is the duty of good citizens to be ever on the watch.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Spencer Roane (1821)
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All is change; all yields its place and goes.

Euripides (485?-406? BC) Greek tragic dramatist
Heracles (421-416 B.C.)
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What the tender and poetic youth dreams to-day, and conjures up with inarticulate speech, is to-morrow the vociferated result of public opinion, and the day after is the character of nations.

Emerson - character of nations - wist_info quote

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
(Attributed)

Quoted in James Comper Gray, The Biblical Museum: Old Testament (1876).
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If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now — when?

Hillel (1st C. BC-1st C. AD) Jewish sage, rabbi
Talmud, Mishnah, “Pirkay Avot [Chapters of the Fathers],” Aboth 1:14 [tr. Rosten (1972)]
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There are no happy endings in history, only crisis points that pass.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
The Gods Themselves, Sec. 3, ch. 19 (1972)
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I bid good-bye to the old century, may it rest in peace as it has lived in war. Of the new century I prophesy nothing except that it will see the decline of the British Empire. Other worse empires will rise perhaps in its place, but I shall not live to see the day. It all seems a very little matter here in Egypt, with the pyramids watching us as they watched Joseph, when, as a young man four thousand years ago, perhaps in this very garden, he walked and gazed at the sunset behind them, wondering about the future just as I did this evening. And so, poor wicked nineteenth century, farewell!

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1840-1922) English poet, critic, horse breeder
My Diaries, 1888-1914, 31 Dec 1900 (1921)
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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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Time never fails to bring every exalted reputation to a strict scrutiny: the world, in passing the judgment that is never to be reversed, will deny all partiality even to the name of Washington. Let it be denied, for its justice will confer glory.

Fisher Ames (1758-1808) American politician, orator
“Eulogy on Washington” (8 Feb 1800)
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The freethinking of one age is the common sense of the next.

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) English poet and critic
God and the Bible (1875)
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Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got.

Buchwald - only time weve got - wist_info quote

Art Buchwald (1925-2007) American humorist, columnist
(Attributed)
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Whichever way we look the prospect is disagreeable. Behind, we have left pleasures we shall never more enjoy, and therefore regret; and before we see pleasures which we languish to possess, and are, consequently, uneasy till we possess them.

Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774) Irish poet, playwright, novelist
The Citizen of the World, Letter 44 (1762)
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The monuments of wit and learning are more durable than the monuments of power, or of the hands. For have not the verses of Homer continued twenty-five hundred years or more, without the loss of a syllable or letter; during which time infinite palaces, temples, castles, cities have been decayed and demolished?

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
Essex’s Device (1595)
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The girl that I will marry
Will be like a fine wine
That will become better
A bit every morning.

[La fille que j’aimera
Sera comme bon vin
Qui se bonifiera
Un peu chaque matin.]

Brel - like a fine wine - wist_info quote

Jacques Brel (1929-1978) Belgian singer, songwriter, actor
“Bachelor’s Dance [La Bourrée Du Célibataire]” (1957)

More commonly translated for English (by Eric Blau): "The girl that I will marry / Will age without a fear / And like the wine grow mellower / With every passing year."
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Love is the emblem of eternity; it confounds all notion of time; effaces all memory of a beginning, all fear of an end: we fancy that we have always possessed what we love, so difficult is it to imagine how we could have lived without it.

Germaine de Staël (1766-1817) Swiss-French writer, woman of letters, critic, salonist [Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein, Madame de Staël, Madame Necker]
Corinne, Book 8, ch. 2 (1807) [ed. Hill (1833)]

Alt. trans.: "It is certainly through love that eternity can be understood; it confuses all thoughts about time; it destroys the ideas of beginning and end; one thinks one has always been in love with the person one loves, so difficult is it to conceive that one could live without him." [tr. Raphael (1998)]
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Cares are often more difficult to throw off than sorrows; the latter die with time, the former grow upon it.

Jean-Paul Richter (1763-1825) German novelist, art historian, aesthetician [pseud. Jean-Paul]
(Attributed)
    (Source)

In Ballou, Treasury of Thought (1884).
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BOLINGBROKE: Grief makes one hour ten.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Richard II, Act 1, sc. 3, l. 261 (1595)
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Patience is not very different from courage. It just takes longer.

James Richardson - courage patience

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays, # 54 (2001)
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Leaders I feel should guide as far as they can — and then vanish. Their ashes should not choke the fire they have lit.

H.G. Wells (1866-1946) British writer [Herbert George Wells]
Experiment in Autobiography, ch. 9, sec. 2 “The Samurai — In Utopia and in the Fabian Society (1905-1909)” (1934)
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Variant: "Leaders should lead as far as they can and then vanish. Their ashes should not choke the fire they have lit."
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If a couple could see themselves twenty years later they might not recognize their love, but they would recognize their argument.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays, # 20 (2001)
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Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.

Earl Nightingale (1921-1989) American motivational speaker, writer, radio personality
(Attributed)
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Like as the waves make towards the pebbl’d shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Sonnet 60
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Rome was not built in a day.

John Clarke (d. 1658) British educator
Proverbs: English and Latine (1639)
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Because inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Moving Pictures (1990)
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Dripping water hollows a stone.

Lucretius (c. 100-c. 55 BC) Roman poet [Titus Luretius Carus]
De Rerum Natura [On the Nature of Things], 1.313 [tr. Latham (1951)]
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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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Time is a drug. Too much of it kills you.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Small Gods (1992)
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Most men that do thrive in the world do forget to take pleasure during the time that they are getting their estate, but reserve that till they have got one and then it is too late for them to enjoy it.

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) English diarist, naval administrator
Diary (10 Mar 1666)
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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, Epilogue [Gaius Sextus] (2008)
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The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.

Orson Welles (1915-1985) American writer, director, actor
Comment to Henry Jaglom

Quoted by Jaglom in his essay "The Independent Filmmaker" in Jason E. Quire, ed. The Movie Business Book (1992). See here for more information. Sometimes paraphrased in reverse ("The absence of limitations is the enemy of art").
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You have no lease of your lives, and death is not bound to give you warning before it gives you that deadly blow that will send you to everlasting misery or everlasting felicity.

Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) English Puritan divine, writer
The Hypocrite Detected, Anatomized (1650)
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Time is a jewel more worth than a world. Time is not yours to dispose of as you please; it is a glorious talent that men must be accountable for as well as any other talent.

Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) English Puritan divine, writer
The Hypocrite Detected, Anatomized (1650)
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Only he who has seen better days and lives to see better days again knows their full value.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Notebook [ed. Paine (1935)]
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Strategy is the art of making use of time and space. I am less chary of the latter than the former. Space we can recover, lost time never.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) French emperor, military leader
Letter to Baron von Stein, Dammartin le St. Père (7 Jan 1814)

Alt. trans.: "One always has a chance of recovering lost ground, but lost time -- never."
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It isn’t good to hold on too hard to the past. You can’t spend your whole life looking back. Not even when you can’t see what lies ahead. All you can do is keep on keeping on, and try to believe that tomorrow will be what it should be — even if it isn’t what you expected.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
Death Masks (2003)
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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."

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TURHAN: The past tempts us, the present confuses us, and the future frightens us. And our lives slip away, moment by moment, lost in that vast, terrible in-between.

J. Michael (Joe) Straczynski (b. 1954) American screenwriter, producer, author [a/k/a "JMS"]
Babylon 5, “The Coming of Shadows” (1 Feb 1995)
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Patience is the cure for every sorrow.

Publilius Syrus (d. 42 BC) Assyrian slave, writer, philosopher [less correctly Publius Syrus]
Sententiae [Moral Sayings], # 170 [tr. Lyman (1862)]
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Shed no tear! O shed no tear!
The flower will bloom another year.
Weep no more! O weep no more!
Young buds sleep in the root’s white core.

John Keats (1795-1821) English poet
“Faery Songs,” I (1818)
Added on 31-Dec-13 | Last updated 31-Dec-13
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