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“Then grant that I may follow
Your gleam, O glorious Light,
Till earthly shadows scatter,
And faith is changed to sight…”

– Ernest E Ryden, “O Lord Now Let Your Servant”

“It is said that our age is materialistic. But it’s not true! We only accumulate objects in order to communicate with other minds. We do it to make them love us, to seduce them. Nothing could be less materialistic, or more sentimental… Consumerism is not materialism.”

– Yann Dall’Aglio

“Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we are saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we are saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own; therefore, we are saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.”

– Reinhold Niebuhr

That year they said I was miserable, and it became an epithet, a destiny, an excuse.

They thought me miserable because they couldn’t imagine themselves behaving so badly out of weakness or choice, but only if they were overcome by a superior force, like gravity or misery. They were wrong. I behaved badly on my own, and they can do it, too.

It was a sort of kindness, their myth of my misery: presently I’d be the real and better me. And it was a sort of malice: The Big Cheese is all parings.

But I was not miserable. the more the theory grew among them the more I grew secret – almost without effort, for they had given me an identity through which I couldn’t be seen. And I grew happy.

And so it came to seem to me that they must be, because of their common error, miserable. Though I don’t suppose they know it, and I won’t say a word about it. I hate gossip.

– William Matthews

We’re here because
We’re here because
We’re here because we’re here;
We’re here because
We’re here because
We’re here because we’re here

We’re here because
We’re here because
We’re here because we’re here;
We’re here because
We’re here because
We’re here because we’re here

– Unknown, soldiers’ song

“I shall try to make plain the bloodiness of killing. Too often this has been slurred over by those who defend hawks. Flesh-eating man is in no way superior. It is so easy to love the dead. The word ‘predator’ is baggy with misuse.”

– J.A. Baker, The Peregrine

“[Mutual knowledge is] the difference between two people knowing something and each one knowing that the other knows that they know that the other knows ad infinitum. Which makes both a logical and a psychological difference. So if Harry says to Sally, ‘You ought to come up and see my etching,’ and Sally, says, ‘no,’ then he knows that she’s turned down a sexual overture, but does she knows that he knows that she knows? And does he know that she knows that he knows? In the absence of this higher-order knowledge, you can maintain the fiction of a platonic friendship.

“Whereas overt language leaves nothing to the imagination. The difference between individual and mutual knowledge is the basis of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’ When the little boy says, ‘The emperor is naked,’ he isn’t telling anyone anything that they can’t see with their own eyeballs, but he is conveying information – because everyone now knows that everyone else knows that they know. This changes the relationship. They can now challenge the authority of the emperor in a way that individual knowledge didn’t allow them to.

“So blurting things out, as the little boy does creates mutual knowledge, and thus forces the relationship to change in a way that is not forced when you use innuendo.”

– Steven Pinker

“You can be afflicted by some mental torment, and if you haven’t got the means or entitlement or the language to shape it, to describe it to yourself, all you can do is suffer – and often not be fully aware that you are suffering. Children in particular can suffer in this way. This is why language is such a precious tool.”

– Ian McEwan

“Deep experience is never peaceful.”

– Henry James

“We run narratives about other people in our real lives, we make characters out of them, necessarily, because it helps us to guess what they might do next. Intention is very much bound up with the notion of character, the sort of person who would do this or that. It’s all part of the way in which we instinctively judge other people’s behavior and see ourselves reflected back in their own view of us. The nineteenth century formalized this for us, and the creation of character and the mapping out of other minds and the innovation to the reader to step into our condition.”

– Ian McEwan

“Where there is no God, it’s difficult to give much intellectual credence to evil as an organizing principle in human affairs, as a vague comprehended supernatural force. It’s a useful way of talking about a side of human nature, and it’s metaphorically rich and, for that reason, hard to live without. Harder to live without evil, it would seem, than without God.”

– Ian McEwan, The Art of Fiction No. 173

“Novels do resemble buildings. A first chapter, a first line is like an entrance hall, a doorway. The reader has to be drawn in – what first meets the eye is important. You’re asking the reader to step inside a mental space which has a shape. That’s very much like someone stepping inside a modern building, going to look at it and deciding whether they like it or not.”

– Ian McEwan

“Slowly I’ve come to the view that what underlies morality is the imagination itself… Our imagination permits us to understand what it is like to be someone else. I don’t think you could have even the beginnings of a morality unless you had the imaginative capacity to understand what it would be like to be the person whom you’re considering beating round the head with a stick. An act of cruelty is ultimately a failure of the imagination. Fiction is a deeply moral form in that it is the perfect medium for entering the mind of another. It is at the level of empathy that moral questions begin in fiction.”

– Ian McEwan

“When you are young you can easily afford pessimism. I think as you get older you find yourself searching for meaning. When you are young, you’ve got infinite time. We were happy to see that revolution on the street; as you get older you being to doubt what will come of it, and also you might own a bit of the street by then, and you don’t want it broken. Children force upon you a search for value. You have a stake in the world, you want it to continue, and you look hard for what will help it continue; and that is bound to make you fantasize, about things like trust and good honest communication between people.”

– Ian McEwan

“Happiness writes white. It does not show up on the page.”

– Henry de Montherlant

“A microscopic egg had failed to divide in time due to a failure somewhere along a chain of chemical events, a tiny disturbance in a cascade of protein reactions. A molecular event ballooned like an exploding universe, out onto the wider scale human misery. No cruelty, nothing avenged, no ghost moving in mysterious ways. Merely a gene transcribed in error, an enzyme recipe skewed, a chemical bond severed. A process of natural wastage as indifferent as it was pointless. Which only brought into relief healthy, perfectly formed life, equally contingent, equally without purpose. Blind luck, to arrive in the world with your properly formed parts in the right place, to be born to parents who were loving, not cruel, or to escape, by geographical or social accident, war or poverty. And therefore to find it so much easier to be virtuous.”

– Ian McEwan, The Children Act

“…Nothing of me
Is here because this is not my house,
This is not the driver’s seat of my car
Nor the memory of someone who loved me
Nor the distant classroom in which I
Fell asleep and dreamed of lamb. This
Is dirt, a filled hole of earth, stone
That says return to stone, a broken fence
That mumbles Keep Out, air above nothing,
Air that cannot imagine the sweet duties
Of wildflowers and herbs, this is cheap,
Common, coarse, what you pass by
Everyday in your car without a thought,
This is an ordinary grave.”

Philip Levine

Is it long as a noodle
or fat as an egg? Is it
lumpy like a potato or
ringed like an oak or an
onion and like the onion
the same as you go toward
the core? That would be
suitable, for is it not
the human core and the rest
meant either to keep it
warm or cold depending
on the season or just who
you’re talking to, the rest
a means of getting it from
one place to another, for it
must go on two legs down
the stairs and out the front
door, it must greet the sun
with a sigh of pleasure as
it stands on the front porch
considering the day’s agenda.
Whether to go straight ahead
passing through the ranch houses
of the rich, living rooms
panelled with a veneer of fake
Philippine mahogany and bedrooms
with ermined floors and tangled
seas of silk sheets, through
adobe walls and secret gardens
of sweet corn and marijuana
until it crosses several sets
of tracks, four freeways, and
a mountain range and faces
a great ocean each drop of
which is known and like
no other, each with its own
particular tang, one suitable
to bring forth the flavor
of a noodle, still another
when dried on an open palm,
sparkling and tiny, just right
for a bite of ripe tomato
or to incite a heavy tongue
that dragged across a brow
could utter the awful words,
“Oh, my love!” and mean them.
The more one considers
the more puzzling become
these shapes. I stare out
at the Pacific and wonder —
noodle, onion, lump, double
yolked egg on two legs,
a star as perfect as salt —
and my own shape a compound
of so many lengths, lumps,
and flat palms. And while I’m
here at the shore I bow to
take a few handfuls of water
which run between my fingers,
those poor noodles good for
holding nothing for long, and
I speak in a tongue hungering
for salt and water without salt,
I give a shape to the air going
out and the air coming in,
and the sea winds scatter it
like so many burning crystals
settling on the evening ocean.

- Philip Levine

Dreamed I was walking through a field of corn
And it was all men and women, chained where they were born,
The blades of the reaper turned in the sun
And nothing I could do would help anyone.

Went up on a mountain, looked as far as I could see,
The world was as dead as a petrified tree,
Only the sea moved up the shore
And all was winter for evermore.

Philip Larkin


All my life, of rivers
I have heard
the longing cries, the rut-oar
of shifted wind
on gongs of beaten water:

the Ten Mile of Hornpout,
the Drac hissing in its bed of sand,
the Ruknabad scribbled over by nightingales,
the Passumpsic breaking up all down its length in spring,
the East River of Fishes, the more haunting for not having a past either,
the Mississippi coursing into the Gulf through the silt of all its days,
the snake-cracked Tangipahoa, lifting with a little rush from the hills and dwindling in the undernourished greenery.


On one bank
of the last river stands
a black man, on the other
a white man, on the water between
a man of no color,
body of beryl,
face of lightning,
eyes lamps of wildfire,
arms and feet polished brass.

There will come an agony upon you
beyond any
this nation has known;
and at that time thy people,
given intelligence, given imagination, given love, given…

Here his voice falters, he drops
to his knees, he is
falling to pieces
no nose left,
no hair,
no teeth,
limbs dangling from prayer-knots and rags,

he sits down and waits by the grief-tree
of the last river.”

Galway Kinnell


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