Votes did not save us from the precipice last week. Yet, so often, language has buoyed us — given us wings, or perhaps simply currents of warm air, to carry us onto steadier ground. I have no such words of my own, but in the past 10 days I’ve been hearing some wise voices, from other dark times. Here are a few:
From W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939”:
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
From the Blessed Giles of Assisi:
Blessed is he who loves and does not therefore desire to be loved; blessed is he who fears and does not therefore desire to be feared; blessed is he who serves and does not therefore desire to be served; blessed is he who behaves well toward others and does not desire that others behave well toward him; and because these are great things, the foolish do not rise to them.
Surprisingly (to me), from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.
He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us.
From Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis letter:
But were things different: had I not a friend left in the world; were there not a single house open to me in pity; had I to accept the wallet and ragged cloak of sheer penury: as long as I am free from all resentment, hardness and scorn, I would be able to face the life with much more calm and confidence than I would were my body in purple and fine linen, and the soul within me sick with hate.
From Emma Lazarus:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.
From that wise bard, Bill Shakespeare, in Hamlet:
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of dispriz’d love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? …
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.
And speaking of action, from Alfred Hayes’s “Joe Hill,” sung by so many:
And standing there as big as life
And smiling with his eyes
Says Joe, “What they can never kill
Went on to organize.”
From Winston Churchill’s address at Harrow School, October 29, 1941:
Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.
From Mary Wollstonecraft:
Nothing, I am sure, calls forth the faculties as much as the being obliged to struggle with the world.
From Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov:
Is there in the whole world a being who would have the right to forgive and could forgive? I don’t want harmony. From love of humanity I don’t want it. … Besides, too high a price is asked for harmony; it’s beyond our means to pay so much to enter on it. And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket.
Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation.
From Maya Angelou:
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
And finally, from the usually morbid, brilliant Emily Dickinson:
Hope is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—
What wise voices are you hearing these days, Lingua Franca readers?Return to Top