My favorite quotes


I really loved Jeanette Leblanc’s post, 10 Inspirational Quotes for Writers and Lovers and Speakers of Truth. The first time I read it, I marveled at the powerful passages she chose, and I’ve returned to the post several times since.  It’s no secret that I too love quotations.  I’ve written many times about that passion here, and wondered what mysterious alchemy causes certain lines and snippets of poetry to rise to my mind at specific times.  I’m sure there’s some deep reason behind that, but I haven’t yet discerned its pattern.  I’ve also noted the particular poets and lines that live on the walls in my office, where I spend most of my time, and within my skull, where I spend all of my life.  I even share a favorite passage once a week, on Fridays.

It’s impossible for me to choose favorite passages.  So I decided instead I’d share the first ones that come to mind.  Here are a few of those most familiar, well-worn, and oft-remembered words.

For when I lose touch with what matters most in this world.

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

– Mary Oliver

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. – Annie Dillard

Ordinary life was laced with miracles, I knew that, had read enough poetry to understand that we are elevated with the knowing, and yet it was difficult to notice and be grateful when one was continually fatigued and irritated.  I suppose that unquenchable sense of wonder is what separates us dolts from the saints and the poets.  This was the lesson, perhaps, that I was sent to learn: the old life was worth having at any expense. – Jane Hamilton, A Map of the World

For when I feel lost.

There is no such thing as a complete lack of order, only a design so vast it appears unrepetitive up close. – Louise Erdrich, The Bingo Palace

Life gives us what we need when we need it.  Receiving what it gives us a whole other thing. – Pam Houston, Cowboys Are My Weakness

It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
We have come to our real work.
And when we no longer know which way to go,
We have begun our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
– Wendell Berry

For when I cannot put anything into words.

There’s no vocabulary for love within a family, love that’s lived in but not looked at, love within the light of which all else is seen, love within which all other love finds speech.  This love is silent. – T. S. Eliot

Gratitude is one of the least articulate of the emotions, especially when it is deep. – Felix Frankfurter

For when life brings me to my knees.

In this moment there is life and food for future years. – William Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey

Trust life, and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow, all you need to know. – James Baldwin

When I need to release my grip.

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. – Joseph Campbell

What are your favorite words, and which do you think of most often?


14 thoughts on “My favorite quotes”

  1. “The impeded stream is the one that sings.” I love your quote from Wendall Berry, and also the T.S. Eliot, both I’ve never heard before.

    “Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.” Albert Schweitzer
    “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” Arthur Ashe
    Thanks for sharing, Lindsey!

  2. I am in academic medicine, and probably the most quotable physician of all time is William Osler, whose contributions to medicine and medical education were tremendous. Many of his quotes apply to the art of medicine, but some apply even more broadly. Here’s one I love, and you may find applicable as a writer and a love of literature: “No human being is constituted to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; and even the best of men must be content with fragments, with partial glimpses, never the full fruition.” To me, the quote conjures everything from scientific inquiry to human psychology to poetry to narrative, a la Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon.”

  3. For a little hope when I feel completely off balance, I go back to this ~

    “It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do’. And mostly, against all odds, they do.” – Anne Lamott

  4. I love this topic and I really love the T.S. Elliot quote. I’m not sure why this vivid quote has stuck with me so many years but it often come to mind on bleak winter evenings:
    “…sometimes in its box of
    sky lavender and cornerless, the
    moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy”
    – e.e.cummings from “the Cambridge Ladies”

  5. Two such as you, with such a master speed from one another are agreed that life is only life forever more wing to wing and oar to oar. – Robert Frost

    We will not cease from exploration. And the end of our exploration will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. – TS Elliot

  6. I keep this one by Cesare Pavese in my office: “We do not remember days… we remember moments.” Based on what I remember from my own childhood, I know this to be true. And so, it’s become an encouraging reminder for me on the days I feel like I am not doing such a great job “balancing” work and family. Just give them a moment to remember.

  7. I share your love of quotes and always look forward to those you share so thank you. I think there is a line in every Mary Oliver poem that stays with me, and I love the Eliot quote. Today what comes to mind is a quote from Rob Lowe’s Love Life: Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides. But that’s just today. Ask me tomorrow and I know I’d have a different answers.

  8. Brings me to my knees…

    There’s no vocabulary for love within a family, love that’s lived in but not looked at, love within the light of which all else is seen, love within which all other love finds speech. This love is silent. – T. S. Eliot

  9. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” MLK

    This one always let’s me see the brighter side of every tragedy, loss and seemingly hopeless situation.

  10. Lindsey, thanks so much for the link to Jeanette LeBlanc’s post–I went there when you first mentioned it and was captivated by her words and her favorite quotes. I have yet to get through to the end of it–I always get thrown out by my own thoughts or my own immense desire to be able to select my 10 favorite quotes and to have the words to say why. Good for you for trying. Was happy to recognize so many. xo

  11. thank you! I am so glad you read and that these words resonated. I adored Jeanette’s post, too. Would love to hear your favorites … xox

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