Our affection towards others creates a sort of vantage or purchase which nothing will supply. I can do that by another which I cannot do alone. I can say to you what I cannot say to myself. Other men are lenses through which we read our own minds.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Representative Men (1850)
Image: Petrona Viera, Friendship (El Cuentito), found here
“Love mustn’t forget that she is Wisdom’s sister.” — Rudolf Steiner
“If what we love be some Alastair, some mirage, even that mirage has a relative reality, the only reality which we are, at the moment we perceive it, capable of perceiving. To extinguish or deny such love as we have is to be without any light whatsoever; for love, and not that denial of living impulse my father’s generation so named, is will.” — Kathleen Raine
“God is behind all things, but all things hide God. Things are black, human beings opaque. To love someone is to make them transparent.” — Victor Hugo
“It is a mysterious and yet simple secret known to the sages of all ages: the most minute act of selfless devotion, every act of compassion given in love, makes us richer, whereas every effort towards posssession and power weakens our strength and makes us poorer. Every time we act in the spirit of selflessness, out of loving sacrifice, every compassionate act of service, every reunciation of self-interest, looks like a squandering, a self-deprivation, and yet the truth is such acts enrich us and make us grow. No other way leads forward and upward.” — Hermann Hesse
“Surely Christianity, rightly understood, is the Science of Love.” — Helen Keller
“Love can’t be pinned down by a definition, and it certainly can’t be proved, any more than anything else important in life can be proved…I am slowly coming to understand with my heart as well as my head that love is not a feeling. It is a person.” — Madeleine L’Engle
“But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” — Thornton Wilder
The racket was indescribable; trapped and burning smoke almost blanketed the fight in total darkness. No words can express horror at that pitch. There were no men left in that now infernal struggle. It was no longer a matter of giants versus colossi. It was more like something out of Milton and Dante than Homer. Fiends attacked, specters resisted.
It was the heroism of monsters.
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), tr. Julie Rose
Image, Edouard Manet, The Barricade, found here
In my year-long chapter-a-day reading of Hugo’s novel, today’s chapter “Inch by Inch” (from which this quotation is taken) concerns the fall of the barricade defended by several of the novel’s main characters in a doomed 1832 insurrection.
Did Hugo know that this chapter would correspond to the today’s date, November 11, the day of St. Martin, a soldier who put down his arms to follow Christ? He didn’t know, of course, that today would mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War, which created so much pointless bloodshed. But the horror of violence was much on his mind — along with the nobility of some who attempted to use it in a good cause.
And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.
John Steinbeck, East of Eden (1952)
Image: Caspar David Friedrich, found here
Oh oak tree, how they have pruned you.
Now you stand odd and strangely shaped!
You were hacked a hundred times
until you had nothing left but spite and will!
I am like you, so many insults and humiliations
could not shatter my link with life.
And every day I raise my head
beyond countless insults toward new light.
What in me was once gentle, sweet, and tender
this world has ridiculed to death.
But my true self cannot be murdered.
I am at peace and reconciled.
I grow new leaves with patience
from branches hacked a hundred times.
In spite of all the pain and sorrow
I’m still in love with this mad, mad world.
“Why do you think she’s scared of anything? She’s a grown-up, isn’t she? Grown-ups and monsters aren’t scared of things.”
“Oh, monsters are scared,” said Lettie. “That’s why they’re monsters. And as for grown-ups…” She stopped talking, rubbed her freckled nose with a finger. Then, “I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.” She thought for a moment. Then she smiled. “Except for Granny, of course.”
Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2012)
Image: Cyclops by Odilon Redon (Wikimedia)
“Henrietta suddenly caught her breath. Always it seemed to her quite incredible that men could have made this place; people like herself and Hugh Anthony only bigger; how could they have done it? She looked about her. The massive pillars of the nave were so tall that they seemed to be lifting up the soaring arches they carried far out of sight, while below them the aisles stretched away unendingly into shadowed space. The sunshine came through the stained glass windows curiously charged, split up into reds and blues and greens robbed of its brightness and subdued to the colors of mystery. Everywhere was this sense of space and height and a reaching out to an end that was never found. There was no time here. Past and present and future were all one.”
Elizabeth Goudge, Sister of the Angels (1939) Image: William Turner, Interior of Salisbury Cathedral, found here.
How is it possible that one person can use only words to make another person laugh? Without tickling them, without making a silly face, without doing something foolish, they just make those twenty-six letters fall in a certain order, and for no good reason, I can see your eyes narrow, your cheeks get pulled up, your lips separate, your teeth show, and before you know what’s hit you, those twenty-six letters have you doubled up laughing.
Now that’s magic.
Christopher Paul Curtis, The Madman of Piney Woods (2014)
Image: The Letter, Vittorio Reggianini, found here.
The kitten has a luxurious, Bohemian, unpuritanical nature. It eats six meals a day, plays furiously with a toy mouse and a piece of rope, and suddenly falls into a deep sleep whenever the fit takes it. It never feels the need to do anything to justify its existence; it does not want to be a Good Citizen; it has never heard of Service. It knows that it is beautiful and delightful, and it considers that a sufficient contribution to the general good. And in return for its beauty and charm it expects fish, meat, and vegetables, a comfortable bed, a chair by the grate fire, and endless petting. The people who yelp so persistently for social security should take a lesson from kittens; they have only to be beautiful and charming, and they will get it without asking.
Robertson Davies, The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks (1986)
Image: Girl with a Cat by Auguste Renoir (from Harriet Devine’s Blog)