Posted by: Mark | February 9, 2014

Quotes about Literature

Here’s a select number of quotes from Meic Stephens’ A Dictionary of Literary Quotations (1990).

“It is a sobering experience for any poet to read the last page of the Book Section of the Sunday Times where correspondents seek to identify poems which have meant much to them. He is forced to realize that it is not his work, not even the work of Dante or Shakespeare, that most people treasure as magic talismans in times of trouble, but grotesquely bad verses written by maiden ladies in local newspapers; that millions in their bereavements, heartbreaks, agonies, depressions, have been comforted and perhaps saved from despair by appalling trash while poetry stood helplessly and incompetent by,” W.H. Auden, “Squares and Oblongs,” Poets at Work (1948)

Facebook makes this abundantly clear. More people are inspired by Pokemon than Shakespeare.

“I can’t start writing until I have a closing line,” Joseph Heller, Writers at Work (5th series) 1981

I know many writers who start a story without knowing how it ends but I’m not one of them.

“The possession of a book becomes a substitute for reading it,” Anthony Burgess, in The New York Times Book Review, 12-4-66

“The very cheapness of literature is making even wise people forget that if a book is worth reading, it is worth buying. No book is worth anything which is not worth much; nor is it serviceable, until it has been read, and re-read, and loved, and loved again; and marked, so that you can refer to the passages you want in it,” John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies (1865)

These are flip sides of my book collection. I’m glad that I’ve supported many writers but, often times, once I’ve bought a book, I put off reading it. I’ve got books that I desperately wanted to read back in college but when I bought them, they just gather dust.

“Suicide attempts, and then writing poems about your suicide attempts, is just pure bullshit,” James Dickey, Writers at Work (5th edition, 1981)

I didn’t have the guts to say this out loud back in college writing classes. I wish I had.

“A man’s library is a sort of harem,” Ralph Waldo Emerson, “In Praise of Books,” The Conduct of Life (1860)

As much as I like to go to libraries, even with new books, it always feels like sloppy seconds.

“A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others,” William Faulkner, Writers at Work (1st series) 1958

I’ve felt like printing this on my syllabus.

“There are no young writers worth a damn,” William Faulkner, letter to Bennett Cerf

“Most poets are dead by their late twenties,” Robert Graves, quoted in the Observer (11-11-1962)

“Nine-tenths of the best poetry of the world has been written by poets less than 30 years old; a great deal more than half of it has been written by poets under 25,” H.L. Mencken, Prejudices (1919)

At my age, I’m hoping Faulkner was right.


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