I'm looking for great sentences from literature
July 23, 2020 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Contribute your favorite sentences to help me with my letterpress project.

I'm working on an ongoing letterpress printing project to celebrate great sentences. You can see my first four attempts here.
Since I'm making one every month, and reading all of literature takes a long time, I'm seeking help from you. Send my your favorite sentences, that stand out to you because of eloquence, profundity, structure, quirkiness, or beauty. I'm focused on literature and fiction but wouldn't rule out non-fiction as well. Thank you!
posted by Joan Rivers of Babylon to Writing & Language (98 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: "Send me your favorite..."
How embarrassing...
posted by Joan Rivers of Babylon at 12:29 PM on July 23, 2020

"In people's eyes, in the swing, tramp and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June."
- Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
posted by rabbitbookworm at 12:36 PM on July 23, 2020 [8 favorites]

I preface this with the disclaimer that I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA why this sentence struck me, but nevertheless, when I read it, I fell INSTANTLY and COMPLETELY in love. It's a silly little throwaway thing in the middle of some exposition and backstory about one of the side characters in The English Patient:

"He had been helping Miss Swift, the aviator, collect information on the habits of badgers."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:39 PM on July 23, 2020 [7 favorites]

I'm a big fan of two (separate) sentences from John Cheever's short story The Country Husband:

"The village hangs, morally and economically, from a thread. But it hangs by its thread in the evening light."

"Then it is dark; it is a night where kings in golden suits ride elephants over the mountains.”
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:41 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm going to be obvious here, but:

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
posted by gaspode at 12:42 PM on July 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

Also, basically any of the sentences from Yeats's poem The Second Coming.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:43 PM on July 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

"There are nights when the upper air is windless and the stars in heaven stand out in their full splendor round the bright moon; when every mountain-top and headland and ravine starts into sight, as the infinite depths of the sky are torn open to the very firmament; when every star is seen, and the shepherd rejoices. Such and so many were the Trojans' fires, twinkling in front of Ilium..." - the Iliad, in the Rieu translation.
posted by runincircles at 12:51 PM on July 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca.
posted by Allee Katze at 12:54 PM on July 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain:

“She wondered if literature might lose some of its interest when she reached an age or state of mind where her life was set on such a sure course that the things she read might stop seeming so powerfully like alternate directions for her being.”


"His spirit, he feared, had been blasted away so that he had become lonesome and estranged from all around him as a sad old heron standing pointless watch in the mudflats of a pond lacking frogs."

or most any sentence picked at random from the book.
posted by runincircles at 1:14 PM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure if this one's too long or not, so feel free to abridge it, but I have one from Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close:

“When I was a girl, my life was music that was always getting louder. Everything moved me. A dog following a stranger. That made me feel so much. A calendar that showed the wrong month. I could have cried over it. I did. Where the smoke from a chimney ended. How an overturned bottle rested at the edge of a table. I spent my life learning to feel less. Every day I felt less. Is that growing old? Or is it something worse?”
posted by runnerfive at 1:15 PM on July 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Does it have to be one sentence? That second one is two. My favorite short passage:

"Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.
Now, women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly."
-Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

There are a number of ways to truncate this that are very interesting.
posted by gideonfrog at 1:15 PM on July 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

"Marley was dead, to begin with."
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

And for quirky:
"Shut up, he explained."
Ring Lardner, The Young Immigrunts
posted by FencingGal at 1:15 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Every spirit passing through the world fingers the tangible and mars the mutable, and finally has come to look and not to buy.

Marilynne Robinson, Homecoming
posted by jon1270 at 1:16 PM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

And they buried torques in the barrow, and jewels
and a trove of such things as trespassing men
had once dared to drag from the hoard.
They let the ground keep that ancestral treasure,
gold under gravel, gone to earth,
as useless to men now as it ever was.

Beowulf (Seamus Heaney translation)
posted by mekily at 1:17 PM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

I saved this passage in my email 11 years ago after reading Seventeenth Summer:

Each summer holiday a traveling concession comes to our town, stakes off a wide circle on the green of the park lawn, rings it with rope, and tethers its patient little ponies in a line, waiting for the children to come with their dimes to pay for three slow exciting turns around the ring. In the morning the ponies were part of the parade, walking in a prim straight line, their hoofbeats neat and dainty on the hot pavement, and jaunty red and blue pompons stuck behind their ears. They always reminded me of genteel old ladies who, for some reason, had to work for a living but never quite forgot that they had known better things. "Angie, make Daddy take me to the park afterward," Kitty pleaded. "I want to ride the black one with the little face," and her voice went soft and her lips were all pouted up with love just looking at the demure ladylike pony.
posted by jabes at 1:18 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I contain multitudes- Walt Whitman
posted by pairofshades at 1:35 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

"I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then." - Lewis Carroll

Don’t panic. – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“We can experience nothing but the present moment, live in no other second of time, and to understand this is as close as we can get to eternal life.” - PD James , The Children of Men.
posted by wwax at 1:35 PM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.
-Joyce, Ulysses
posted by Dorinda at 1:37 PM on July 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

"God damn it, you've got to be kind." - Kurt Vonnegut
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 1:42 PM on July 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Two of my favourites:

"Night City was like a deranged experiment in social Darwinism, designed by a bored researcher who kept one thumb permanently on the fast forward button."
-- William Gibson, Neuromancer

"Far out on the desert to the north dustspouts rose wobbling and augered the earth and some said they'd heard of pilgrims borne aloft like dervishes in those mindless coils to be dropped broken and bleeding upon the desert again and there perhaps to watch the thing that had destroyed them lurch onward like some drunken djinn and resolve itself once more into the elements from which it sprang."
-- Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
posted by myotahapea at 1:45 PM on July 23, 2020

There are years that ask questions and years that answer. Zora Neale Hurston.
posted by caoimhe at 1:45 PM on July 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

"For those of nimble tongues: the strangest and most terrible power we possess is the power we have over the chance-met, the stranger, the passerby outside our life and our kin. Speak as you would write, as if your words were letters of lead, graven there for all time, for which you must take the consequences. And take the consequences."

Dorothy Dunnett, Queen's Play
posted by suelac at 1:51 PM on July 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

The Summer Day, Mary Oliver
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 2:10 PM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."

C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 2:18 PM on July 23, 2020 [12 favorites]

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

William Gibson, Neuromancer
posted by Thorzdad at 2:21 PM on July 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

I'd offer several sections of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot.

It opens with this single sentence stanza
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question ...
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
There is this, from the middle (quotation marks included)
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”
And this is more than one sentence, but I can't resist including it
I grow old ... I grow old ...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
Full text here.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 2:28 PM on July 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

"So when they're happy, they'll be me."

Permutation City, Greg Egan
posted by Grunyon at 2:28 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

We will be known as a culture that feared death and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity for the few and cared little for the penury of the many. We will be known as a culture that taught and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke little if at all about the quality of life for people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a commodity. And they will say that this structure was held together politically, which it was, and they will say also that our politics was no more than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of the heart, and that the heart, in those days, was small, and hard, and full of meanness.

Mary Oliver, Of the Empire
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:31 PM on July 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

"Another lesson I learned early is that there is nothing new on Wall Street. There can't be because speculation is as old as the hills...." Edwin Lefevre (Jesse Livermore) Reminiscences of a Stock Operator.
posted by AugustWest at 2:38 PM on July 23, 2020

"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,"grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:40 PM on July 23, 2020

"I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another… then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes."

James Joyce, Ulysses
posted by theseventhstranger at 2:40 PM on July 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

This has always been a favorite, and it deserves a bonus because it's the opening line:

“We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody threw the girl off the bridge.”
― John D. MacDonald, Darker Than Amber
posted by yclipse at 2:41 PM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Water may be older than light, diamonds crack in hot goat's blood, mountaintops give off cold fire, forests appear in mid-ocean, it may happen that a crab is caught with the shadow of a hand on its back, and that the wind be imprisoned in a bit of knotted string. And it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.

E. Annie Proulx, The Shipping News
posted by dlugoczaj at 2:42 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

"but, dear me, let us be elegant or die."

"Passers-by probably thought them a pair of lunatics..."
Both from Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

"Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenki, a Twi proverb: 'It is no great sin to go back and fetch what you have forgotten'"
Passage from Michael W. Twitty, The Cooking Gene

(What a great excuse to trawl through my Kindle highlights)
posted by paradeofblimps at 2:45 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't.”

― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Perfectly encapsulates the particular nature of his genius.

"He took no notice of the goat abaft the manger, that fixed him with an insulting devilish split-pupilled eye and defecated with intent; nor of the dubious object, not unlike a pudding, that someone in a last-minute panic had wedged beneath the gammoning of the bowsprit."

― Patrick O'Brien, Master and Commander. A glorious rhythm and dexterity to this sentence; a showcase of what English can do.

These three sentences:
"Who will swear the hobs and boggarts who live in the hedges and hollow trees, and the wild men who hide in the woods? Who will swear the saints in their niches, and the spirits that cluster at holy wells rustling like fallen leaves, and the miscarried infants dug in to unconsecrated ground: all those unseen dead who hover in winter around forges and village hearths, trying to warm their bare bones? For they too are his countrymen: the generations of uncounted dead, breathing through the living, stealing their light from them, the bloodless ghosts of lord and knave, nun and whore, the ghosts of priest and friar who feed on living England, and suck the substance from the future.”

― The incomparable Hilary Mantel, in Wolf Hall, impeccably evoking the essence of England.

Okay stopping. But do also consider Dorothy Parker.
posted by runincircles at 2:46 PM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours. – Jerome K. Jerome

Cats, as a class, have never completely got over the snootiness caused by the fact that in ancient Egypt they were worshipped as gods. – P.G. Wodehouse

Always be civil to the girls, you never know who they may marry. – Nancy Mitford
posted by zadcat at 3:12 PM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

I have a dream. MLK Jr.

I just saw this quote from Gov. Reeves of Mississippi. Pretty sure it may not fit that for which you are looking, but...

“If you love the president, join him, be patriotic and wear a mask…If you don't like the president, then just wear a mask to spite him.”
posted by AugustWest at 3:15 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

My favorite sentence is also from Wolf Hall. It’s the last one in this passage:

“They take down the tapestries and leave the bare blank walls. They are rolled up, the woollen monarchs, Solomon and Sheba; as they are brought into coiled proximity, their eyes are filled by each other, and their tiny lungs breathe in the fibre of bellies and thighs. Down come the cardinal's hunting scenes, the scenes of secular pleasure: the sportive peasants splashing in ponds, the stags at bay, the hounds in cry, the spaniels held on leashes of silk and the mastiffs with their collars of spikes: the huntsmen with their studded belts and knives, the ladies on horseback with jaunty caps, the rush-fringed pond, the mild sheep at pasture, and the bluish feathered treetops, running away into a long plumed distance, to a scene of chalky bluffs and a white sailing sky.”
posted by bluebird at 3:17 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
posted by ChuraChura at 3:18 PM on July 23, 2020 [8 favorites]


Annie Proulx.

"When you live a long way out you make your own fun."

There are truckloads of sentences I love from whole tribes of writers, but the Internet has destroyed my ability to remember anything so none come to mind when I think of their names, whereas when I read Annie Proulx from the comment above about The Shipping News, that nail-in-the-forehead last sentence from a story I read 20 years ago sprang into my brain unbidden and nearly exact, bringing the story along to hijack my peace of mind again as powerfully as it did when I first read it. How does she do it? It's miraculous.
posted by Don Pepino at 3:37 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

More that one sentence but I find this deeply moving: "I thought of how people wish to be singular, so as to feel that, being gone, they still will not be gone. And I thought this was fine and as it should be. And I wished all the wistful people good fortune, and said out loud that I at least would still remember them, and do my best through all the years. I said to myself, I will hold them dear and dear and dear, until, at last, I forget everything." Lydia Millet, My Happy Life
posted by Allee Katze at 3:38 PM on July 23, 2020

Poems OK?

"We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world."

Jack Gilbert, A Brief for the Defense
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:48 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

"If you can't take it easy, take it hard."

Said by Archie Goodwin in a Nero Wolfe novel written by Rex Stout.
posted by brookeb at 3:59 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

"Story is our only boat for sailing on the river of time, but in the great rapids and the winding shallows, no boat is safe."

Ursula le Guin - A Fisherman of the Inland Sea
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:15 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

My favorite line from Great Gatsby: “And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

It perfectly describes a feeling I get every year in late spring... except this misbegotten cursed hellyear of 2020 when all times are Thursday afternoon in late April.
posted by skycrashesdown at 4:21 PM on July 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Technically, this is 2 paragraphs, but:

"There were 3,653 days like that in his stretch. From the first clang of the rail to the last clang of the rail.

The 3 extra days were for leap years."

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

My other choices would be from Joseph Heller. So many possibilities from Catch-22, for example.
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 4:22 PM on July 23, 2020

I don't remember much of The Goldfinch now, but this passage has stayed with me ever since:

"But sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking out over a brackish wreck which was illumined in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead."
posted by invokeuse at 4:28 PM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

"She was tired." - James Joyce
posted by thelonius at 4:38 PM on July 23, 2020

"Man wants to be a fish or a bird,
the snake wants to have wings,
the dog is a baffled lion,
the engineer wants to be a poet,
the fly studies to become a swallow,
the poet tries to imitate the fly,
but the cat
wants to be only a cat
and every cat is a cat
from his whiskers to his tail,
from his premonition to the live rat,
from the night to his golden eyes." -- Pablo Neruda, Ode to the Cat (excerpt)
posted by winesong at 4:40 PM on July 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Both from The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan:
"They were men like other young men, unknown to themselves. So much that lay within them they were now travelling to meet."
"Of imperial dreams and dead men, all that remained was long grass."
posted by Rora at 4:48 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

"The good Lord in his infinite wisdom gave us three things to make life bearable; hope, jokes, and dogs. But the greatest of these was dogs."

-Robyn Davidson

"It's over before you know it.
It all goes by so fast.
The bad nights take forever,
And the good nights,
Don't ever seen to last."

-Tom Petty

"Life's like a movie. Write your own ending. Keep believing. Keep pretending."

-The Muppets
posted by WalkerWestridge at 4:55 PM on July 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

“This was not judgment day - only morning. Morning: excellent and fair.”
― William Styron, Sophie's Choice
posted by blob at 4:56 PM on July 23, 2020

ONE summer afternoon Mrs Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million collars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary.

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49
posted by Winnie the Proust at 5:06 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have loved Lincoln's mild and roundabout yet extremely telling reproof since the day I read it:

"It's the kind of thing for the kind of people who like that kind of thing."

"From the waste places comes a cry..."

And because I can't quite tell from ChuraChura's Pratchett quote:
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.
whether Pratchett knew his Eliot, or not:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
posted by jamjam at 5:38 PM on July 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

"The first kiss plummeted him down a hole and popped him out into a world he thought he could get along in—as if he’d been pulling hard the wrong way and was now turned around headed downstream."


"He laid his head back until his scalp contacted his spine, that far back, and opened his throat, and a sound rose in the auditorium like a wind coming from all four directions, low and terrifying, rumbling up from the ground beneath the floor, and it gathered into a roar that sucked at the hearing itself, and coalesced into a voice that penetrated into the sinuses and finally into the very minds of those hearing it, taking itself higher and higher, more and more awful and beautiful, the originating ideal of all such sounds ever made, of the foghorn and the ship’s horn, the locomotive’s lonesome whistle, of opera singing and the music of flutes and the continuous moanmusic of bagpipes. And suddenly it all went black. And that time was gone forever."

Both Denis Johnson, from Train Dreams

"All these weirdos, and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us."


"I’d been staying at the Holiday Inn with my girlfriend, honestly the most beautiful woman I’d even known, for three days under a phony name, shooting heroin. We made love in the bed, ate steaks at the restaurant, shot up in the john, puked, cried, accused one another, begged of one another, forgave, promised, and carried one another to heaven."

Both Denis Johnson, Jesus' Son

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
BY James Wright

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.


"This is the process by which the pain of the past, in its pastness, is converted to the future tense of joy." -- Robert Penn Warren

"I am the piece of shit at the center of the universe." -- David Milch
posted by dobbs at 6:31 PM on July 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Nowadays, of course, everything must be done with plutonium and laser beams.

"Most kids can't afford to go to Harvard to be misinformed."

"No damn cat, and no damn cradle."
-Kurt Vonnegut

The central rule of magic always holds good--what is seen is not what is actually being done.
-Christopher Priest
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 7:18 PM on July 23, 2020

From Jane Eyre:
"I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, [which I now exert to leave you]."
The part in brackets makes sense in the context of the book but you may want to leave it out for your purposes.

And of course: "Reader, I married him."
posted by zorseshoes at 7:40 PM on July 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

From "A Nice Price," by Damon Runyon:

"I do not know anything about boat races,' Sam says, 'and the Yales may figure as you say, but nothing between human beings is one-to-three. In fact,' Sam the Gonoph says, 'I long ago come to the conclusion that all life is six-to-five against.' "

From "Reginald on Besetting Sins," by Saki:

"The cook was a good cook, as cooks go; and as cooks go she went."
posted by zorseshoes at 7:54 PM on July 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

From 100 Years of Solitude
(but emphasis mine because it’s the bit that made me realize I loved this book and that I haven’t been able to shake for 15 years):
“Although it had no cover and the title did not appear anywhere, the boy enjoyed the story of a woman who sat at a table and ate nothing but kernels of rice, which she picked up with a pin, and the story of the fisherman who borrowed a weight for his net from a neighbor and when he gave him a fish in payment later it had a diamond in its stomach, and the one about about the lamp that fulfilled wishes and about flying carpets.”

From The Age of Innocence:
“What’s the use of two good cooks in one family, now that I’ve married the girls and I can’t eat sauces?”
posted by circle at 8:20 PM on July 23, 2020

Nothing is random, nor will anything ever be, whether a long string of perfectly blue days that begin and end in golden dimness, the most seemingly chaotic political acts, the rise of a great city, the crystalline structure of a gem that has never seen the light, the distributions of fortune, what time the milkman gets up, the position of the electron, or the occurrence of one astonishing frigid winter after another.
Mark Helperin, Winter's Tale.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 8:21 PM on July 23, 2020

If it was an emotion, it was a totally emotionless one. It was hatred, implacable hatred. It was cold, not like ice is cold, but like a wall is cold. It was impersonal, not like a randomly flung fist in a crowd is impersonal, but like a computer-issued parking summons is impersonal. And it was deadly, again, not like a bullet or a knife is deadly, but like a brick wall across an expressway is deadly.
— Douglas Adams

You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think
- Dorothy Parker

Exit, pursued by a bear
- Shakespeare
posted by Mchelly at 9:12 PM on July 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

-Moby Dick
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 10:28 PM on July 23, 2020 [7 favorites]

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.”

― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
posted by jcworth at 12:08 AM on July 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.
E M Foster Howard's End
posted by Pantalaimon at 12:26 AM on July 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

"Many a man may look respectable, and yet be able to hide at will behind a spiral staircase."

- P. G. Wodehouse, Sunset at Blandings
posted by rawrberry at 1:33 AM on July 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

First and last line of "Jabberwocky" from Lewis Carol.
posted by SweetLiesOfBokonon at 3:55 AM on July 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea."
Isak Dinesen

"Romance at short notice was her specialty"

"Sir, you have debauched my sloth."
Patrick O'Brian

This has had me looking up half-remembered quotes for a good half hour.
posted by Fuchsoid at 4:15 AM on July 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

"Is it well that I should with to leave this dreary world behind,
Seeking for your fair Utopia, which perchance I may not find?"

Henry Kendall
posted by MonsieurPsychosis at 4:52 AM on July 24, 2020

You can have a silence full of words. A lute retains, in its bowl, the notes it has played. The viol, in its strings, holds a concord. A shriveled petal can hold its scent, a prayer can rattle with curses; an empty house, when the owners have gone out, can still be loud with ghosts.
Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall

So the first step out of childhood is made all at once, without looking before or behind, without caution, and nothing held in reserve.
Ursula K. LeGuin, The Farthest Shore

And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. You need distance, interval. The way to see how beautiful the earth is, is to see it as the moon. The way to see how beautiful life is, is from the vantage point of death.
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed
posted by emmling at 5:44 AM on July 24, 2020

More Goldfinch:

And I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost, and tried to preserve them and save them while passing them along literally from hand to hand, singing out brilliantly from the wreck of time to the next generation of lovers, and the next.
posted by wintersonata9 at 7:46 AM on July 24, 2020

I find the opening line of Ross MacDonald's The Way Some People Die incredibly evocative:

The house was in Santa Monica on a cross street between the boulevards, within earshot of the coast highway and rifleshot of the sea.

And this sentence from Raymond Chandler's The Little Sister always leaves me pondering his stylistic choices:

There was the usual coming and going in the corridor outside my office and when I opened the door and walked into the musty silence of the little waiting room there was the usual feeling of having been dropped down a well dried up twenty years ago to which no one would come back ever.
posted by maurice at 7:55 AM on July 24, 2020

“Today, Maman died. Or maybe it was yesterday.”

The first two lines of Albert Camus’s “The Stranger”/“L’Etranger.”
posted by argonauta at 8:21 AM on July 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Beset by an aching but chaotic love that refused to focus in the conventional way.

- "A Home at the End of the World" by Michael Cunningham
posted by gursky at 9:15 AM on July 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Being safe is the first casualty of being an engaged citizen of a troubled time. Listen to the sound of the words: ‘Be safe’. Mythically, poetically, politically, that’s amateur hour.
— Stephen Jenkinson, orphanwisdom.com
posted by dancing leaves at 9:17 AM on July 24, 2020

I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.
― Isak Dinesen
posted by dancing leaves at 9:18 AM on July 24, 2020

Sometimes all it takes is a wink or a nod from some unexpected place to vary the tedium of a baffling existence.

- "Chronicles" by Bob Dylan
posted by gursky at 9:21 AM on July 24, 2020

(sorry; quote not from literature)
posted by dancing leaves at 9:51 AM on July 24, 2020

“I have nothing to say of my working life, only that a tie is a noose, and inverted though it is, it will hang a man nonetheless if he's not careful.”

-- Life of Pi, Yann Martel
posted by troywestfield at 9:55 AM on July 24, 2020

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.
— Louise Erdrich
posted by dancing leaves at 10:00 AM on July 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

There were several boxes of bubble bath on the shelf over the tub, and I picked one up to use, but found it empty. All of the others were too, all but one, which I suddenly felt I couldn’t use. It was an illusion of riches, all those boxes. I couldn’t take from her when in truth she had so little. I made my luxury be the hotness of the water, the depth of it.
— Elizabeth Berg
posted by dancing leaves at 10:02 AM on July 24, 2020

I like to think that she looked out the window one last time the night she died, and saw with a new understanding the placement of the stars. I like to think something incomprehensibly vast and complex moved into her soul at that moment, and that it, not pathology, was what took her breath away.
— Elizabeth Berg
posted by dancing leaves at 10:03 AM on July 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

The night, blue lapis. The mountain, onyx. Saguaro, verdigris within a copper dish of moon. The wind rustles dry mesquite. A coyote howls. A star falls. And the night cracks me open, with beauty sharp and poignant as grief. The night cracks me open, like a geode, exposing the crystal veins of God.
— Terri Windling
posted by dancing leaves at 10:06 AM on July 24, 2020

"He began to die when he was twenty-one, but tuberculosis is slow and sly and subtle. The disease took fifteen years to hollow out his lungs so completely they could no longer keep him alive. In all that time, he was allowed a single season of something like happiness." from Doc by Mary Doria Russel
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:02 AM on July 24, 2020

“Caminante, no hay puentes, se hace puentes al andar." (Voyager, there are no bridges, one builds them as one walks.) - Gloria Anzaldúa (who has a ton of wonderful writing to pick from).
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:05 AM on July 24, 2020

You will not be able to stay home, brother
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and
Skip out for beer during commercials
Because the revolution will not be televised
- Gil Scott-Heron, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" (since I saw some song lyrics posted here as well!)
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:13 AM on July 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

“to that piece in each of us that refuses to be silent” -Audre Lorde
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:34 AM on July 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

"He wishes to go home and say to himself, 'I stuck in a thumb and pulled out a plum, what a good boy I am.' But I will not be anybody's plum." Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace
posted by BlueBear at 1:14 PM on July 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

"One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six." Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales
posted by lungtaworld at 1:49 PM on July 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

"...he might ultimately decide to do her the honor of boring her for life...."

edith wharton, house of mirth
posted by megan_magnolia at 6:08 PM on July 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

"It was the day my grandmother exploded." - Iain Banks, The Crow Road
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 6:33 PM on July 24, 2020

Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House:

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
posted by Threeve at 11:43 PM on July 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

One for November then:

"In London November isn't a month, it's a state of mind."
Antal Szerb, Journey by Moonlight
posted by kmt at 5:32 AM on July 25, 2020

"For a long time, I used to go to bed early."

Proust, In Search of Lost Time
posted by lathrop at 12:58 PM on July 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.
— Edwin Arlington Robinson
posted by SLC Mom at 3:17 PM on July 25, 2020

"There was nothing she could do, but there was always the next thing to be done."

Ursula LeGuin, Tehanu
posted by Winnie the Proust at 8:02 PM on July 26, 2020

Shelley's "England in 1819" is a single sentence. It stands out for its remarkable bicentennial historical rhyme.

An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king,--
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn, mud from a muddy spring,--
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,--
A people starved and stabbed in the untilled field,--
An army which liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield,--
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Religion Christless, Godless, a book sealed,--
A Senate—Time's worst statute unrepealed,--
Are graves from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst to illumine our tempestuous day.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:39 AM on July 27, 2020

Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown but time will tell and suffers like the divine Miranda with those who for reasons unknown but time will tell are plunged in torment plunged in fire whose fire flames if that continues and who can doubt it will fire the firmament that is to say blast hell to heaven so blue still and calm so calm with a calm which even though intermittent is better than nothing but not so fast and considering what is more that as a result of the labours left unfinished crowned by the Acacacacademy of Anthropopopometry of Essy-in-Possy of Testew and Cunard it is established beyond all doubt all other doubt than that which clings to the labours of men that as a result of the labours unfinished of Testew and Cunard it is established as hereinafter but not so fast for reasons unknown that as a result of the public works of Puncher and Wattmann it is established beyond all doubt that in view of the labours of Fartov and Belcher left unfinished for reasons unknown of Testew and Cunard left unfinished it is established what many deny that man in Possy of Testew and Cunard that man in Essy that man in short that man in brief in spite of the strides of alimentation and defecation is seen to waste and pine waste and pine and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the strides of physical culture the practice of sports such as tennis football running cycling swimming flying floating riding gliding conating camogie skating tennis of all kinds dying flying sports of all sorts autumn summer winter winter tennis of all kinds hockey of all sorts penicilline and succedanea in a word I resume and concurrently simultaneously for reasons unknown to shrink and dwindle in spite of the tennis I resume flying gliding golf over nine and eighteen holes tennis of all sorts in a word for reasons unknown in Feckham Peckham Fulham Clapham namely concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown but time will tell to shrink and dwindle I resume Fulham Clapham in a word the dead loss per caput since the death of Bishop Berkeley being to the tune of one inch four ounce per caput approximately by and large more or less to the nearest decimal good measure round figures stark naked in the stockinged feet in Connemara in a word for reasons unknown no matter what matter the facts are there and considering what is more much more grave that in the light of the labours lost of Steinweg and Peterman it appears what is more much more grave that in the light the light the light of the labours lost of Steinweg and Peterman that in the plains in the mountains by the seas by the rivers running water running fire the air is the same and then the earth namely the air and then the earth in the great cold the great dark the air and the earth abode of stones in the great cold alas alas in the year of their Lord six hundred and something the air the earth the sea the earth abode of stones in the great deeps the great cold an sea on land and in the air I resume for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis the facts are there but time will tell I resume alas alas on on in short in fine on on abode of stones who can doubt it I resume but not so fast I resume the skull to shrink and waste and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis on on the beard the flames the tears the stones so blue so calm alas alas on on the skull the skull the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the labours abandoned left unfinished graver still abode of stones in a word I resume alas alas abandoned unfinished the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the skull alas the stones Cunard tennis... the stones... so calm... Cunard... unfinished...

Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
posted by cotesdurhone at 7:15 PM on July 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

“I'm up to here with cool, okay? I am so amazingly cool you could keep a side of meat in me for a month. I am so hip I have difficulty seeing over my pelvis.”

Douglas Adams, Restaurant at the End of the Universe
posted by wwartorff at 7:53 PM on July 27, 2020

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