Category Archives: Quotations

Human Compassion Binds Us Together

atkins bookshelf quotations“We are together in this. Our human compassion binds us the one to the other — not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learned how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”

Humanitarian and anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013), speaking at the Healing and Reconciliation Service dedicated to HIV/Aids sufferers held on December 6, 2000 in Johannesburg, Africa.


Doublets: There’s No Money in Poetry

atkins-bookshelf-quotations“Poetry is living proof that rhyme doesn’t pay”

Anonymous

“There’s no money in poetry, but there’s no poetry in money, either”

Robert Graves (1895-1985), English poet, novelist, and classicist, best known for his historical novel I, Claudius (1934) and The Greek Myths (1955), the retelling of famous Greek myths. 

 

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What is the Meaning of the Ides of March?

atkins-bookshelf-phrasesIn the ancient Roman calendar, before the Christian Era, every month had three named days: the Calends (or Kalends), the first day of the month when accounts were due; the Nones, the fifth or seventh day of the month; and the Ides, the middle of the month (between the 13th to 15th day). There was nothing particularly significant about the ides of January, the ides of February, and so forth.

All that changed in 1599 when William Shakespeare wrote The Tragedy of Julius Ceasar. In Act 1, Scene 2, in a public place on March 15th, 44 BC, a soothsayer among the crowd approaches Caesar and calls out: “Caesar!… Beware the ides of March.” Caesar is not sure he has heard the man correctly, so Brutus repeats it: “A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.”  The soothsayer repeats the line, warning that the Roman leader’s life is in danger. But Caesar immediately dismisses him: “He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.” As we all know, Caesar should have heeded the soothsayer’s warning. In a scene filled with brutality and treachery, Caesar is surrounded by an angry mob of senators who walk up to him and stab him to death. He is stabbed a total of 23 times. As his life slips away, a feeble Caesar turns to his closest friend and ally, Marcus Junius Brutus, and utters the famous line, “Et tu, Brute?” (you too, Brutus?), signifying the ultimate betrayal.

So from that point on, thanks to Shakespeare’s dramatic genius, the phrase “Beware the Ides of March” being linked to Caesar’s barbarous assassination, imbued upon March 15 a rather ominous and nefarious connotation that has been passed down through the centuries. However, Tom Frail, senior editor of Smithsonian magazine, notes that March 15th lives in infamy beyond Casear’s murder. He cites several events in history that occurred on that same fateful day that were filled with villainy or mortalities:

Raid on Southern England, March 15, 1360: The French raided a town in southern England and began a two-day spree of murder, rape, and pillage. King Edward III initiated a pillaging spree in France in retaliation.

Cyclone strikes Samoa, March 15, 1889: A cyclone strikes six warships that were at barber in Apia, Samoa. More than 200 sailors were killed.

Czar Nicholas II abdicates throne, March 15, 1917: Czar Nicholas II or Russia is forced to abdicate his royal throne (ending a dynasty of 304 years). A few months later, he and his family are executed.

Blizzard in Great Plains, March 15, 1941: A devastating blizzard, with 60-MPH winds, struck the northern Great Plains, killing more than 66 people.

Depletion of ozone layer, March 15, 1988: NASA reported that the ozone layer over the Northern Hemisphere has been depleted three times faster than had been predicted.

Outbreak of SARS, March 15, 2003: WHO reported a breakout of Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in China, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

Read related posts: The Buck Stops Here
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For further reading: The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/top-ten-reasons-to-beware-the-ides-of-march-8664107/
http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/what-are-the-ides-of-march

 


The Most Beautiful Valentine Ever Written

catkins-bookshelf-literatureChilean poet Pablo Neruda (born  Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basalto) finished a collection of sonnets, entitled One Hundred Love Sonnets in October 1959. He then penned a beautiful, moving tribute to his wife, Matilde Urrutia Neruda, to serve as the book’s introduction. In short, the tribute — not to mention the brilliant love sonnets — make it one of the most beautiful valentines ever written:

“My beloved wife, I suffered while I was writing these misnamed “sonnets”; they hurt me and caused me grief, but the happiness I feel in offering them to you is vast as a savanna. When I set this task for myself, I knew very well that down the right sides of sonnets, with elegant discriminating taste, poets of all times have arranged rhymes that sound like silver or crystal or cannonfire. But—with great humility—I made these sonnets out of wood; I gave them the sound of that opaque pure substance, and that is how they should reach your ears. Walking in forests or on beaches, along hidden lakes, in latitudes sprinkled with ashes, you and I have picked up pieces of pure bark; pieces of wood subject to the comings and goings of water and the weather. Out of such softened relics, then with hatchet and machete and pocketknife, I built little houses, so that your eyes, which I adore and sing to, might live in them. Now that I have declared the foundations of my love, I surrender this century to you: wooden sonnets that rise only because you gave them life.”

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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For further reading: Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon by Pablo Neruda (1997)
100 Love Sonnets by Pablo Neruda (1986)
Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda (1993)
The Book of Love: Writers and Their Love Letters by Cathy Davidson (1992)

 

 


Literature as Divine Revelation

catkins-bookshelf-literature“[L]iterature was my first intellectual love. [At age] 12, I saw my equally aged inamorata reading Pickwick Papers, how I borrowed the book from her, and then ungratefully divided my affection between her and Dickens. I save fourteen cents, bought David Copperfield, read every word of its eight hundred pages, and ranked it, for a time, next to the Bible and the Imitation of Christ. Literature became an almost divine revelation, a miraculous multiplication of the world and life.”

From the preface to Interpretations of Life: A Survey of Contemporary Literature, by Will and Ariel Durant (1970). The two historians are best known for their 11-volume magnum opus, The Story of Civilization (published between 1935 and 1975), were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1968. In their 80s, they turned their attention to literature, focusing not only on the authors’ works, but on their lives; Will writes: “In almost all these studies I have found the author himself more interesting than any character in his books, and his career more instructive than the imaginary world by which he revealed or cloaked himself.”

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Word and Ideas Can Change the World

atkins bookshelf quotations“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

Spoken by English teacher John Keating (brilliantly played by Robin Williams) in the Academy-Award winning film Dead Poets Society (1989) written by Tom Schulman and directed by Peter Weir. Each day in class, Keating inspires his students to “make your lives extraordinary” underscored by the Latin phrase, carpe diem, meaning “seize the day.” One of Keating’s favorite poems is Walt Whitman’s beautiful elegy written to honor Abraham Lincoln, whom he greatly respected, titled “O Captain! My Captain!” (It became one of Whitman’s most famous poems.) At the end of the film, when Keating is forced to resign, he enters the classroom one last time to gather some books. One by one each of his students stand on their desk, defying the protests of the stern substitute teacher; they honor Keating by repeating the title of the poem. After Williams committed suicide in 2014, in many eulogies, the actor was honored with Whitman’s timeless poem. In the role as a teacher and an actor, his legacy lives on.


The Book as a Crutch

atkins bookshelf quotations“Long ago I discovered the value of books. Every prison has a library, and prison wardens, knowing that you can’t file through steel bars with a copy of Tom Sawyer, gladly let you have all the books you want. I’ve been reading for thirty years. I’ve given myself a pretty fair education; good enough to enable me to appreciate decent literature. Reading? Everyone has a crutch of some sort to lean on. With some it’s whiskey or drugs. There are luckier ones who have the crutch of real faith to hold them up when they start to sag. My crutch? Books.

I’ll spend the rest of my life reading, and because I’d rather read than do anything else, I don’t look forward to years of hopeless, black despair. Most men who are in for life are filled with bitterness and hatred for the unkind fate that led them to such a horrible end. My reading has given m􀀗e the ability to judge my life, my actions and my present situation with a considerable degree of detach­ment. I can’t repeat often enough that there is not a soul in the world I can blame for what happened to me. Fate wasn’t unkind to me. I was unkind and rebellious toward fate. I’m where I belong, and I can’t even feel a twinge of bitterness toward that impersonal abstraction called ‘So­ciety’ which decreed that as its confirmed enemy I should be confined for the rest of my life.”

From I, Willie Sutton: The Personal Story of the Most Daring Bank Robber and Jail Breaker of Our Time (1970) by Quentin Reynolds.


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