Category Archives: Quotations

An Artist Must Be Content to Deliver Himself Wholly Up To It

 

alex atkins bookshelf literatureIn a letter written on April 3, 1855, legendary British author Charles Dickens explains to Mrs. Winter that his craft makes huge demands on his time and he must therefore politely decline many social invitations: “A necessity is upon me now — as at most times — of wandering about in my old wild way, to think. I could no more resist this on Sunday or yesterday than a man can dispense with food, or a horse can help himself from being driven. I hold my inventive capacity on the stern condition that it must master my whole life, often have complete possession of me, make its own demands upon me, and sometimes, for months together, put everything else away from me. If I had not known long ago that my place could never be held, unless I were at any moment ready to devote myself to it entirely, I should have dropped out of it very soon. All this I can hardly expect you to understand — or the restlessness and waywardness of an author’s mind. You have never seen it before you, or lived with it, or had occasion to think or care about it, and you cannot have the necessary consideration for it. “It is only half an hour,” —  “It is only an afternoon,” — “It is only an evening,” people say to me over and over again; but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes, — or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometimes worry a whole day. These are the penalties paid for writing books. Whoever is devoted to an art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it, and to find his recompense in it. I am grieved if you suspect me of not wanting to see you, but I can’t help it; I must go my way whether or no.”

In short, Dickens believed that a writer had to be very disciplined. In his own case, Dickens not only had to set aside enough time in his schedule to write when the muses inspired him, but he also had to make time to carefully study and ponder human nature. Biographer Fred Kaplan, who has written a highly-regarded biography of Dickens, shares a very illuminating story of when Henry James and Dickens met in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1867. Although terribly brief, their encounter was an epiphany in James’s life. He observed Dickens alone in a room and noted his aura of authority and discipline; James described the famous author’s look as a “merciless, military gaze.” Kaplan explains: “[James] realized that Dickens could get maximum amount of life out of the smallest experience. That, combined with his talent, was conducive to the creation of great art… James learned that the great artist has to use his energy in the most disciplined and ruthless way.” Like Shakespeare, Dickens had the instinctive ability to place humanity under a microscope — meticulously probing, dissecting, distilling, analyzing  — to collect the fodder for his life’s work.

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Read related posts:
Why Read Dickens?
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Most Famous Quotations in British Literature
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The Singer Who Inspired Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” Speech

In his autobiography, King explained that he wrote his speech at the Willard Hotel in Washington the night before the MOW, which was held on August 28, 1963. Prior to going up to his room, he had assembled his aides and asked them for suggestions for the speech. In the past, he had used the dream metaphor. Just two months earlier in June, at a speech delivered at Cobo Hall in Detroit, he said: “I have a dream this afternoon that one day, right here in Detroit, Negroes will be able to buy a house or rent a house anywhere that their money will carry them and they will be able to get a job.” The other metaphor he frequently used as the “bad check’, i.e, that the country wrote blacks a bad check, promising liberty and equality, but failing to honor it. Since speakers at the MOW were told they only had five minutes to speak, King didn’t think he had time to use both metaphors. [Later he was told that he could take whatever time he needed.] So he listened to his aides and said: “My brothers, I understand. I appreciate all the suggestions. Now let me go and counsel with the Lord.”

King spent the evening writing the speech in longhand, editing as he wrote, trying to find the right rhythm of words and phrases. Finally, he completed the speech by 4:00 am and handed the speech to an aid so that it could be typed up and delivered to the press. In the speech, King referenced the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. But no where in that manuscript were the words “I have a dream.” 

King was the last speaker of the day. He spoke after Mahalia Jackson sang and then a speech by Rabbi Joachim Prinz from the American Jewish Congress. He stepped up to the podium, carrying the manuscript, and read from it. As he reached the conclusion of the speech, he realized that the sentences he had written did not flow. He was supposed to read “go back to our communities as members of the international association for the advancement of creative dissatisfaction” and instead improvised a sentence that employed anaphora: “Go back to Mississippi; go back to Alabama; go back to South Carolina; go back to Georgia; go back to Louisiana; go back to the slums and ghettos of our Northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.” And this it was exactly at this moment, that Mahalia Jackson changed the course of one of the most famous speeches in history. Sitting near Kind, she yelled out, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” When he heard that, King instantly turned aside from the manuscript and followed his intuition; and he began: “I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…”

King’s memorable 17-minute speech was powerful, soaring, and emotional. It brough men and women to tears according to eyewitnesses. Half a century later, the speech continues to resonate and inspire; moreover it is considered a rhetorical masterpiece. Political speech analyst, Richard Greene writes: “The speech is perfect in every way. The use of language, the emotional build-up, the penetrating message and the flawless delivery are, plain and simple, perfection.” Today, in a world inundated by tweets, a speech of this calibre is amazingly rare (had it occurred today, thousands would be reducing this remarkable oration to four simple words “I have a dream”) — and it towers above most others because it was delivered with so much conviction and passion. Through the use of repetition (anaphora), rhythm, diction, contrasting metaphors, biblical and historical references, and strong visual images — 70 in all — King crafted a perfect and impassioned speech about racial injustice and the hope for a world of true equality. Greene concludes, “To this day, the emotional impact of this speech reverberates to those who heard it then as well as those who first hear it now. Like the Gettysburg Address, it is a speech with lasting impact.”

So the next time you hear the “I Have a Dream” speech, you can thank Mahalia Jackson for her remark that altered the course of the speech — and of history. And may her act inspire you: when you see that someone needs some encouragement, don’t be afraid to speak out.

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Read related posts: Quotes Mistakenly Attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Wisdom of Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King and the Suicide Letter
The Gettysburg Address

The Two Most Important Days of Your Life

For further reading: Words That Shook The World: 100 Years of Unforgettable Speeches and Events by Richard Greene
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. edited by Clayborne Carson
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/28/opinion/mahalia-jackson-and-kings-rhetorical-improvisation.html


The Amazing Healing Power of Love and Compassion

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my extraordinary life, it’s the amazing healing power of love and compassion. For example, I played the concert for 9/11 in New York in Madison Square Garden, which was an extremely moving experience because of the audience. Nobody came there worrying about whether the person next to them voted for another party, was a different color, was a different religion, had a different sexuality. They came there en masse, as a group of people to share love. And I I think we need so much more of that in our sick world, at the moment. Sometimes its hard to believe that we’re in 2019 and what I read in the newspapers — and its not just here– it’s all over the world,  cause I go everywhere. So I truly believe that love is the cure for what ails us at the moment. And this next song is all about that… [Begins to sing “Believe” from the 1995 album, Made in England]: I believe in love, it’s all we got / Love has no boundaries, costs nothing to touch / War makes money, cancer sleeps / Curled up in my father and that means something to me / Churches and dictators, politics and papers / Everything crumbles sooner or later / But love, I believe in love…”

Elton John speaking to the crowd at the SAP Center in San Jose, California, on January 19, 2019 during his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour. Remarkably, at the age of 71, John is playing 300 concerts over three years across the globe in this final tour. In his 50 year career, he has played more than 4,000 concerts. As a philanthropist, he established the Elton John Aids Foundation in 1992. To date, the foundation has raised more than $400 million to support innovative HIV prevention, education programs, and care and support services to people living with HIV.


We Have to Be True in Order to Know the Truth

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“I am not one who believes that a man has to show his religious party card before one can speak to [God]. And I am well aware that there are plenty of people who shy away from religion and its institutional aspect precisely because of a certain abuse of this kind of thing. God asks of us, first of all, sincerity and truth. Conformity is not the first requisite, or the second, or the tenth. I do not know where it may stand on the list or whether it is on the list at all, since God has not shown me His list. But since He has made us for the truth, it stands to reason that we have to be true in order to know the truth.”

Excerpt from a letter from Thomas Merton (1915-1968) to Steve Eisner, dated February 1962, from Witness to Freedom: The Letters of Thomas Merton in Times of Crisis. Merton was an American Trappist monk who wore many hats: poet, writer, theologian, mystic, scholar of comparative religion, and social activist. He was a prolific author, having written more than 70 books. His best-known work is The Steven Storey Mountain (1948), an autobiography, considered one of the 100 best non-fiction books of the century by the National Review. He was a passionate advocate of interfaith dialogue, i.e., the positive interaction between individuals of different religious, spiritual, or humanistic beliefs at both the institutional and individual levels.

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Famous Misquotations: We Can Easily Forgive a Child Who is Afraid of the Dark, the Real Tragedy…

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsYou have probably seen it a hundred times — you will find it in many collections of quotes (online and in print) as well as posters and tshirts. The full quotation, of course, is “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light” and invariably it is attributed to one of the greatest philosophers of all time: Plato. Only problem is that Plato, who lived around 428 to 347 BC, never said this. Oops.

Attributing this quote to Plato is not far-fetched, perhaps because it is understandably conflated with his well-known allegory of the cave. In his seminal work, Republic (written about 380 BC) Plato writes about a discussion Socrates had with some Athenians. Socrates described the following setting: there are humans chained to the side of a cave, facing a blank wall. Because they are deep inside the cave, they cannot see the outside world — all they can see are shadows (“forms”) of things that pass by the fire. Consequently, they give names to each of these shadows. These shadows are the prisoners’ only reality. One fateful day, one of the prisoners breaks free and ventures out into the real world and is astonished by what he sees. Feeling sorry for his fellow men, he returns to explain how amazing the real world is, and that all they have seen and known is an illusion — merely shadows on a wall. You can imagine the response: most think he is a few peas short of a pod. And they stay put — better to stick with what we know then to walk out into the light, following the ramblings of a crazy escapee. And that image leads us to the meaning of the allegory: don’t stay chained in the dark, go out and explore the world, question everything. Socrates said it best at his trial (described in Plato’s Apology), “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

The discussion of dark and light aligns neatly with the allegory of the cave, right? I mean, the sentiment is quintessential Plato? Not so fast, Padawan. To find the true source of this quote you will need to step into a time machine and transport yourself almost 2,500 years later — to 1997! Alas, the true source of this quote is not an ancient Greek but a very modern Canadian — namely, Robin Sharma, a writer and motivational speaker. This famous quote appears in his book, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, a self-help book that was published in 1997. According to the author, the book “gently offers answers to life’s biggest questions as well as a practical process to help you create prosperity, vitality, happiness and inner peace. This inspiring tale provides a step-by-step approach to living with greater courage, balance, abundance, and joy.  A wonderfully crafted fable, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari tells the extraordinary story of Julian Mantle, a lawyer forced to confront the spiritual crisis of his out-of-balance life. On a life-changing odyssey to an ancient culture, he discovers powerful, wise, and practical lessons that teach us to [live a fuller, more meaningful life].” Something that Plato could definitely give an enthusiastic high five to. Of course, Plato, would not be happy with the false attribution of the quote. But imagine Sharma’s annoyance of having his aphorism being universally attributed to Plato — “Hey, Robin, you stole that great line from Plato, didn’t you?” It’s about time that we give this living author the credit he deserves. Share this post when you see someone mistakenly attribute the quote to Plato and truly enlighten them (pun intended).

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

For further reading: Famous Misquotations: Blood, Sweat, and Tears
Famous Misquotations: A Civilization is Measured by How It Treats Its Weakest Members
Famous Misquotations: The Two Most Important Days in Your Life

Famous Misquotations: The Triumph of Evil is That Good Men Do Nothing
Famous Phrases You Have Been Misquoting

For further reading: They Never Said It: A Book of Fake, Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions by Paul Boller, Jr. and John George
https://www.robinsharma.com/book/the-monk-who-sold-his-ferrari
http://ianchadwick.com/blog/nope-this-quote-is-not-from-plato/
http://www.mesacc.edu/~davpy35701/text/plato-things-not-said.html


The Magic Ring of Myth and the Hero’s Journey

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation. Religions, philosophies, arts, the social forms of primitive and historic man, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth.”

From The Hero with a Thousand Faces (published in 1949) by Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), professor of literature and world renown expert on comparative mythology and religion. In this seminal work, Campbell introduces the concept of monomyth (a term he borrows from James Joyce’s inscrutable Finnegans Wake) — the single great narrative that is woven into every myth, folk tale, or fairy tale ever told. At the heart of this monomyth is what he calls “the hero’s journey”: a hero who goes on an adventure and in a decisive crisis, aided by a supernatural mentor, wins a victory (or atones with the father) and returns home transformed, able to help his or her people. Campbell often reduced the quest of the hero to the simple phrase “Follow your bliss.” The quintessential hero’s journey, of course, is Homer’s Ulysses. George Lucas credited Campbell’s work for influencing his writing of the Star Wars saga. In a later work, The Masks of God: Creative Mythology (1959-1968), Campbell describes the four critical functions of myth in human society: the metaphysical function (awakens a sense of awe before the mystery of being); the cosmological function (explaining the creation and order of universe); the sociological function (validate and supports the existing social order); and pedagogical function (guides the individual through his or her stages of life). One of the most powerful myths throughout the existence of humanity is God; Campbell explains: “God is a metaphor for a mystery that absolutely transcends all human categories of thought, even the categories of being and non-being.” And just as significant, is the mythology of Christ: “It is clear that, whether accurate or not as to biographical detail, the moving legend of the Crucified and Risen Christ was fit to bring a new warmth, immediacy, and humanity, to the old motifs of the beloved Tammuz, Adonis, and Osiris cycles.” [In ancient Sumerian mythology, Tammuz was the god of fertility. In Greek mythology, Adonis is the god of beauty, desire, and vegetation. His story is derived from the legend of Tammuz. In ancient Egyptian religion, Osiris is the god of the afterlife, the underworld, and rebirth.]


The Last Message You Receive from Someone Close To You

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThe brilliant German writer and poet, Goethe, once observed “The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities; but to know someone who thinks and feels with us, and who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.” As the parable in Genesis reveals, we are not meant to travel through the garden alone. One of the great marvels of life is when someone joins us at just the right time — to be able to share the joys of life or help carry a burden or simply be a shoulder to lean on. Whether it is the result of some divine intervention, fate, or coincidence — its impact can be profound and long-lasting. But if life teaches you anything it is this: just as quickly as someone walks into your life, they can leave (to paraphrase the famous Beatles song, “you say ‘Hello’; they say ‘Goodbye’) — and for a variety of reasons: illness, death, suicide, a breakup (friendship or relationship, a profound disagreement, an explosive fight, and so forth. It was this realization that served as an epiphany for Emily Trunko right before she turned 16. She sent out a call for submissions on Tumblr and published them on the blog, “The Last Message Received,” as well as a book of the same title.

Her efforts had a huge impact on her life as well as her readers. In the introduction to her book, Trunko writes: “[The Last Message] has helped bring closure to people who have had to deal with the sudden death of someone close to them, and it has shown suicidal people the shattering impact they actions would have on the the people they would leave behind. It has taught so many people to be more careful with the messages they send, and to remind others how much they care about other people in their lives while they still have the chance to tell them how they feel… I think this Tumblr has made those who read its submissions much more aware and caring.”

The messages and the emotions they evoke are very powerful, and sometimes very raw. They range from elation and hope to sorrow and despair. And some messages are amazingly kind, some are shockingly rude. Here are some excerpts from the book and the blog:

“You have so many personalities and I don’t like any of them.” [written to a person who is bipolar]

“Don’t worry yourself too much about me. I’ll be fine. I have to run, Babe. Only 9 more days.” [individual serving in Libya, two days prior to his convoy being attacked, to his partner; he died a few days later]

“I’m giving up on you.”

“You don’t have to be so fucking dramatic all the time.” [written by a best friend who cut ties with the other friend]

“I love you so much.” [written by best friend; he died two days later]

“Hey! U still wanna hang out?” [written by friend on the day he took his life]

“I’ll fix this.” [written by a boyfriend who left the relationship]

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Best Poems for Funerals: When Great Trees Fall
How To Grieve for a Lost Friend 

For further reading: The Last Message Received by Emily Trunko
http://thelastmessagereceived.tumblr.com


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