Free Counters
Free Counters commonplace book
Commonplace book Back :  Forward
 

From the world of the senses, Arjuna, comes heat and comes cold, and pleasure and pain.
They come and they go: they are transient. Arise above them, strong soul.
(Bhagavad Gita)



It is a fundamental fallacy to believe that it is possible by the elaboration of machinery to escape from the necessity of trusting one's fellow human beings.
(Clement Attlee)



Organized power repeatedly creates the opportunity for evil on a large scale, which the heroic humanity of individuals is too weak and too rare to resist.
(Thomas Nagel: NY Rev of Books 64(14):52)



Therefore do I weep, because death is in the world;
the spoiler is among the works of God:
all that is made must be destroyed;
all that is born must die;
let me alone, for I will weep yet longer
(Anna Barbauld: Hymn on Death)



Bel ami; si est de nus
Ne vuz sanz mei, ne mei sanz vuz
(Marie de France, 12th cent)



"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
(Shelley)



First they came for the socialists, and I kept silent because I wasn't a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I kept silent because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I kept silent because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.
(Niemöller)



I once vowed to renounce all loathing; then you transformed my nearest and dearest into ulcers.
What then, my noblest vow?
(Nietzsche: Also sprach Zarathustra)



Is the turn to family history symptomatic of a defeated and fragmented culture, in helpless retreat from a disempowering future? Does it reflect contemporary conservatism? Is it an evasion of the challenges of social and political reform?
(Dinah Birch, LRB 19 Feb 2015 37(4): 31)



Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can,
at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.
(Methodist maxim of Tony Benn's mother)



It was in Germany in 1417 that Poggio Bracciolini found a ninth-century manuscript copy containing the entire 7400-line text of De Rerum Natura by Lucretius. [...] It posits a solely material world, suggesting that the universe was not created by divine power; that the soul dies with the body; that there is no afterlife; that all organised religions are superstitious delusions; and that the highest goal of human life is the enhancement of happiness in the here and now. [...] The rediscovery of Lucretius ... was a kind of 'swerve' which helped to create the new cultural forms of the Rennaissance.
(review of Stephen Greenblatt: The Swerve. 2011)



Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back, Guiltie of dust and sinne,
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetlly questioning, If I lack'd any thing.

A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here: Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkinde, ungrateful? Ah my deare, I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, Who made the eyes but I?

Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame? My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat: So I did sit and eat.
(Herbert)



The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.
    And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become moulded into the form of the typical inmate.
    [...] in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him - mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoievsky said once, "There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings". These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behaviour in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom - which cannot be taken away - that makes life meaningful and purposeful.
(Viktor Frankl 1959 From death camp to existentialism. p64)



[...] the story of a young woman whose death I witnessed in a concentration camp. It is a simple story. There is little to tell and it may sound as if I had invented it; but to me it seems like a poem. This young woman knew she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. "I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard", she told me. "In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously". Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, "This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness". Through that window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. "I often talk to this tree", she said to me. I was startled and didn't quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. "Yes". "What did it say to her?" She answered, "It said to me, 'I am here - I am here - I am life, eternal life'".
(Viktor Frankl 1959 From death camp to existentialism. p68)



..to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself now and then in finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great Ocean of Truth lay all before me.
(Isaac Newton)





A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned towards the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling up wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
(Walter Benjamin)



Confidence is what you have before you understand the problem.
(Woody Allen)



It used to be about trying to do something; now it’s about trying to be someone
(Margaret Thatcher in 'The Iron Lady')



...then, for the first time, realizing that for every man, and himself too, there was nothing ahead but suffering, death, eternal oblivion, he had decided that to live under such conditions was impossible - he must either find an explanation to the problem of existence which would make life seem other than the cruel irony of a malevolent spirit, or he must shoot himself. But he had done neither the one nor the other: he had gone on living, thinking and feeling, had even at that very time married, had experienced many joys and been happy whenever he was not pondering on the meaning of his life. What did that show? It showed that he had been living rightly, but thinking wrongly. He had been living on those spiritual truths that he had imbibed with his mother's milk, yet in thinking he had not only refused to acknowledge these truths but had studiously ignored them.
(Tolstoy: Anna Karenina)



Lord of lords! O infinite virtue, com'st thou smiling from the world's great snare uncaught?
(Anthony & Cleopatra)



What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow that which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset
(Crowfoot, 1890)



Yesterday is history
Tomorrow is a mystery
Today is a gift - the 'present'



In general we look for a new scientific law by the following process. First, we guess it. Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right. Then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with your experiment it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is - if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. That is all there is to it.
(Richard Feynman 1965)



Do not ask of me, my love, that love I once had for you....
How lovely you are still, my love, but I am helpless too;
For the world has other sorrows than love, and other pleasures too.
Do not ask of me, my love, that love I once had for you.
(Faiz Ahmed Faiz)



There is no pain, you are receding; a distant ship's smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves; your lips move, but I cannot hear what you're saying
When I was a child, I caught a fleeting glimpse; out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look, but it was gone; I cannot put my finger on it now
The child has grown, the dream is gone; I..... have become, comfortably numb
(Pink Floyd)



Ne me quitte pas, il faut oublier, tout peut s'oublier, qui s'enfuit déjà
Oublier le temps, des malentendus, et le temps perdu, a savoir comment
Oublier ces heures, qui tuaient parfois, a coups de pourquoi, le coeur du bonheur
Ne me quitte pas, ne me quitte pas, ne me quitte pas, ne me quitte pas

Moi je t'offrirai, des perles de pluie, venues de pays, où il ne pleut pas
Je creuserai la terre, jusqu'après ma mort, pour couvrir ton corps, d'or et de lumière
Je ferai un domaine, où l'amour sera roi, où l'amour sera loi, où tu seras reine
Ne me quitte pas

Ne me quitte pas, je t'inventerai, des mots insensés, que tu comprendras
Je te parlerai, de ces amants-là, qui ont vu deux fois, leurs coeurs s'embraser
Je te raconterai, l'histoire de ce roi, mort de n'avoir pas, pu te rencontrer
Ne me quitte pas

On a vu souvent, rejaillir le feu, de l'ancien volcan, qu'on croyait trop vieux
Il est paraît-il, des terres brûlées, donnant plus de blé, qu'un meilleur avril
Et quand vient le soir, pour qu'un ciel flamboie, le rouge et le noir, ne s'épousent-ils pas
Ne me quitte pas

Ne me quitte pas, je n'vais plus pleurer, je n'vais plus parler, je me cacherai là
A te regarder, danser et sourire, et t'écouter, chanter et puis rire
Laisse-moi devenir, l'ombre de ton ombre, l'ombre de ta main, l'ombre de ton chien
Mais
Ne me quitte pas
(Jacques Brel)



The attitude towards the Irish and Israeli troubles is one of quite proper disgust with all parties to a grotesque, barbarous, utterly unnecessary conflict, fuelled at least partly by the willingness of outsiders to take its mythologies seriously.
(Andrew Mueller 2008)



The American myth is of free will in its simple, primary sense. One can choose oneself and will oneself; and this absurdly optimistic assumption so dominates the republic that it has bred all its gross social injustices. Failure to succeed proves a moral, not a genetic, fault. 'All men are born equal' becomes 'No decent society can help those who fail to stay equal'.
(John Fowles)



We survey the past, and see that its history is of blood and tears, of helpless blunderings, of wild revolt, of stupid acquiescence, of empty aspirations. We sound the future, and learn that after a period, long compared to the individual life, but short indeed compared with the divisions of time open to our investigation, the energies of our system will decay, the glory of the sun will be dimmed, and the earth, tideless and inert, will no longer tolerate the race which has for a moment disturbed its solitude. Man will go down into the pit, and all his thoughts will perish.
(Arthur Balfour)



Instead of seeking total certainty, modern science allows for an element of doubt, in theory, while in practice everyone gets on with the business of learning about the world, comparing observation to hypotheses according to general agreed codes of practice. We live as though there were no abyss. Like Montaigne accommodating himself to his own fallibility, we accept the world as it appears to be, with just a formal nod to the possibility that nothing is solid at all. The demon waits in the wings, yet life goes on.
(Sarah Bakewell: How to live - a life of Montaigne 2011)



The inexpressible depth of all music by virtue of which it floats past us as a paradise quite familiar and yet eternally remote, and is so easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our most innermost being, but entirely without reality and remote from its pain.
(Schopenhauer)



Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse.
(Janet Malcolm)



Two Tory Ministers share the responsibility for that — the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for the Environment. They are men obsessed with a purblind pursuit of salvation through usury.
(Gerald Kaufmann. 26 Nov 1979. House of Commons)



In the West, spasmodically and with uncertain hands, we try now to eliminate the causes of sorrow: but it is only recently, and since the decline of formal religion. The East still holds religion in its established forms: and encourages philanthropy, which deals with effects and not causes. For as soon as you investigate and try to alter the origins of things, you are no longer a philanthropist but a revolutionary, and your disinterested movements are liable to make edifices crumble: and mankind is asked from successive pulpits to leave the fundamental things alone.
(Freya Stark)



Regarde bien petit, regarde bien. Sur la plaine là-bas, À hauteur des roseaux
Entre ciel et moulins, y a un homme qui vient, que je ne connais pas

Regarde bien petit, Regarde bien. Est-ce un lointain voisin, un voyageur perdu
Un revenant de guerre, un montreur de dentelles, est-ce un abbé porteur
De ces fausses nouvelles, qui aident à vieillir, est-ce mon frère qui vient
Nous dire qu'il est temps, de moins nous haïr, ou n'est-ce que le vent
Qui gonfle un peu le sable, et forme des mirages, pour nous passer le temps

Regarde bien petit, regarde bien. Sur la plaine là-bas, À hauteur des roseaux
Entre ciel et moulins, y a un homme qui vient, que je ne connais pas
Regarde bien petit, regarde bien. Ce n'est pas un voisin, son cheval est trop fier
Pour être de ce coin, pour revenir de guerre, ce n'est pas un abbé
Son cheval est trop pauvre, pour être paroissien, ce n'est pas un marchand
Son cheval est trop clair, son habit est trop blanc, et aucun voyageur
N'a plus passé le pont, depuis la mort du père, ni ne sait nos prénoms

Regarde bien petit, regarde bien. Sur la plaine là-bas, À hauteur des roseaux
Entre ciel et moulins, y a un homme qui vient, que je ne connais pas

Regarde bien petit, regarde bien. Non ce n'est pas mon frère, son cheval aurait henni
Non ce n'est pas mon frère, il ne l'oserait plus, il n'est plus rien ici
Qui puisse le servir, non ce n'est pas mon frère, mon frère a pu mourir
Cette ombre de midi, aurait plus de tourments, s'il s'agissait de lui
Allons c'est bien le vent, qui gonfle un peu le sable, pour nous passer le temps

Regarde bien petit, regarde bien. Sur la plaine là-bas, À hauteur des roseaux
Entre ciel et moulins, y a un homme qui part, que nous n saurons pas

Regarde bien petit, regarde bien. Il faut sécher tes larmes, il y a un homme qui part
Que nous ne saurons pas, tu peux ranger les armes
(Jacques Brel)



That human life must be some kind of mistake is sufficiently proved by the simple observation that man is a compound of needs which are hard to satisfy; that their satisfaction achieves nothing but a painless condition in which he is only given over to boredom; and that boredom is a direct proof that existence is in itself valueless, for boredom is nothing other than the sensation of the emptiness of existence.
(Schopenhauer)



At first there was a mere moving speck on the horizon; my party of course became all alive with excitement, and there were many surmises. Soon it appeared that three laden camels were approaching and that two of them carried riders. In a while I saw that one of the riders wore European dress, and at last the travellers were pronounced to be an English gentleman and his servant; by their side were a couple of Arabs on foot; and this, if I rightly remember, was the whole party. This Englishman, as I afterwards found, was a military man returning to his country from India, and crossing the Desert at this part in order to go through Palestine. As for me, I had come pretty well straight from England, and so here we met in the wilderness, about half-way from our respective starting points.
    As we approached each other, it became with both a question of whether we should speak. I thought it likely that the stranger would accost me, and in the event of his doing so, I was quite ready to be as sociable and as chatty as I could be, according to my nature; but I could still not think of anything particular that I had to say to him. Of course, among civilized people, the not having anything to say is no excuse at all for not speaking; but I was shy, and indolent, and I felt no great wish to stop and talk in the midst of those broad solitudes. The traveller, perhaps, felt as I did, for, except that we lifted our hands to our caps, and waved our arms in courtesy, we passed one another quite as distantly as if we had passed in Bond Street.
(Alexander Kinglake: Eothen 1835)



You know your problem, Sean? It's no good being a nightingale when you're in a poultry competition.



.......... look love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder East:
Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.
(Romeo & Juliet)



The surest way to corrupt a young man is to teach him to esteem more highly those who think alike than those who think differently
(Nietzsche)



Only, for the nights that were
soldier, and the dawns that come
when in sleep you turn to her
call her by my name
(Dorothy Parker)



Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
(HL Mencken)



How can I tell you I love you, I love you, but I can't think of right words to say
I long to tell you that I'm always thinking of you, always thinking of you
But my words just blow away, just blow away.
It always ends up to one thing, honey, and I can't think of right words to say.
Wherever I am, girl, I'm always walking with you, always walking with you,
but I look and you're not there.
Whoever I'm with, I'm always, always talking to you, I'm always talking to you,
and I'm sad that you can't hear, sad that you can't hear.
It always ends up to one thing, honey, when I look and you're not there.
I need to know you, need to feel my arms around you, feel my arms surround you,
like a sea surrounds a shore.
and each night and day I pray, in hope that I might find you, in hope that I might find you,
because hearts can do no more.
It always ends up to one thing, honey, still I kneel upon the floor.
How can I tell you that I love you, I love you,
but I can't think of right words to say.
I long to tell you, that I'm always thinking of you, I'm always thinking of you.
It always ends up to one thing, honey,
and I can't think of right words to say.
(Cat Stevens)



This catallaxy [the bottom-up future of people exchanging and specialising] will not go smoothly, or without resistance. [...] Governments will bail out big corporations and big bureaucracies, hand them special favours such as subsidies or carbon rations, and regulate them in such a way as to create barriers to entry, slowing down creative destruction. Chiefs, priests, thieves, financiers, consultants and others will appear on all sides, feeding off the surplus generated by exchange and specialisation, diverting the life blood of the catallaxy into their own reactionary lives. It happened in the past. Empires bought stability at the price of creating a parasitic court; monotheistic religions bought social cohesion at the price of a parasitic priestly class; nationalism bought power at the expense of a parasitic military; socialism bought equality at the price of a parasitic bureaucracy; capitalism bought efficiency at the price of parasitic financiers.
(Matt Ridley: The rational optimist)



A butterfly is a love letter, folded in two, looking for a flowery address.
(Jules Renard)



There is such a thing as progressive politics achieved by people coming together for the common good to do what needs to be done but cannot be achieved just by markets, however dynamic; cannot be achieved by charity, however philanthropic; cannot be achieved by individuals on their own, however well meaning; can only be achieved in a public realm where people think of themselves not as consumers but as neighbours and citizens.
(Gordon Brown, 2004)



It's not time to make a change, just relax, take it easy, you're still young, that's your fault, there's so much you have to know
find a girl, settle down, if you want, you can marry, look at me, I am old, but I'm happy.
I was once like you are now, and I know that it's not easy to be calm, when you know there's something going on.
But take your time, think a lot, why think of everything you've got, for you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.

How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again, it's always been the same, same old story.
From the moment I could talk, I was ordered to listen now there's a way, and I know, that I have to go away,
I know, that I have to go.

It's not time to make a change, just sit down, take it slowly, you're still young, that's your fault, there's so much you have to go through
Find a girl, setlle down, if you want, you can marry, look at me, I am old, but I'm happy.

All the times that I've cried, keeping all the things I knew inside, it's hard, but it's harder to ignore it.
If they were right, I'd agree, but it's them they know, not me, now there's way, and I know, that I have to go away,
I know, I have to go.
(Cat Stevens)



Having established the role of markets and the limits of government, we must also explain the limits of markets and the role of government: that the town square is more than a market place, the city centre more than where people buy and sell, the community more than a collection of individuals.
(Gordon Brown, 2004)



Undeterred by Egypt since Sadat's peace, convinced of America's unfailing support, guaranteed moral impunity by Europe's bad conscience, and backed by a nuclear arsenal that was acquired with the help of Western powers, and that keeps growing without exciting any comment from the international community, Israel can literally do anything it wants, or is prompted to do by its leaders' fantasies of domination.
(Samir Kassir)



The lute invented by Fu-hoi had 50 strings. When the Yellow Emperor commanded the White Lady to play the lute, he found it unbearably sad, so broke half the strings, leaving 25./ Chuang Tsu once dreamed he was a butterfly. Now he does not know whether it is Chuang Tzu who dreamed that he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he is Chuang Tzu./Want-Ti, King of Shu, committed adultery with the wife of a minister. In his shame he fled into exile and became the cuckoo. That is why, when the people of Shu hear a cuckoo call, they all rise to their feet saying:'That is Wang-Ti'./When the moon waxes, the oyster is full; when it wanes, the oyster is empty./Beyond the South Sea there are mermaids who live in the water like fish, but spin and weave like women on land; their weeping eyes can exude pearls./Her father the king was angry and would not let her marry, and Purple Jade died of grief. One day, when the king was dressing and combing his hair, suddenly he saw Purple Jade: 'Can you be alive?' he asked in amazement, sad and happy at once. Her mother heard them and came out to embrace her, but Purple Jade dissolved like smoke./Tai Hsü-lun (723-789) said that the scene presented by a poet is like the smoke which issues from fine jade when the sun is warm on Indigo Field (Lan-t'ien - a mountain); it can be seen from a distance, but not from close to.

Mere chance that the patterned lute has fifty strings.
One by one, string and fret recall the blossoming years.
Chuang Tzu dreamed at sunrise that a butterfly lost its way;
Wang-Ti's spring passion cries in the cuckoo's song.
When the moon is full on the vast sea a pearl sheds tears;
When the sun is warm on Indigo Field a smoke issues from the jade.
Did it wait, this mood, to mature with hindsight?
Illusion was the whole of it, then as now.
(Li Shang-yin 812-858)

lines 1-2: The lute evokes a memory of the poet's youth. The 50 strings suggest the memory is painful, and hint at a private chronological reference.
lines 3-4: The memory is of a love like Wang Ti: like Chuang Tzu's dream it sometimes seems unreal, sometimes more real than the rest of the poet's life; like the cuckoo which was once Wang Ti, the poet changed by time, remembers it as though it happened to a different person. '..at sunrise' leaves open the question of whether it was by night or by day that he dreamed.
lines 5-6: Two sets of implications: (a) 'a pearl sheds tears' paired with 'a smoke issues from jade' suggests a woman who weeps and who dissolves like Purple Jade when the poet tries to fix her in the memory. (b) With time (full moon, midday sun) painful experience matures into poetry, which crystallizes out of grief like the pearl from a tear, and depends for its beauty on distance, like the mountain mist. In line 5 the assumption that pearls form as the moon waxes serves to fuse the images of pearl and mermaid in 'a pearl sheds tears', suggesting that the mermaid is more precious than the gems which she exudes.
lines 7-8: Is this the mood of the experience itself, or did it begin with hindsight? Even at the time, this love was imagination without fulfilment.
(AC Graham)



The grave that they dug him had flowers,
Gathered from the hillside in bright summer colours.
The brown earth bleached white at the edge of his gravestone,
He's gone.

When the wars of nation did beckon,
A young man barely twenty did answer the call.
Proud of the trust that he placed in his nation,
He's gone; but eternity knows him, and it knows what we've done.

And the rain fell like pearls on the leaves of the flowers,
leaving brown muddy clay where the earth had been dry.
And deep in the trench, he waited for hours
As he held to his rifle, and prayed not to die.
But the silence of night was shattered by fire,
as guns and grenades blasted sharp through the air.
One after another his comrades were slaughtered.
In a morgue of marines, alone standing there.
He crouched ever lower, ever lower in fear.
They can't let me die, they can't let me die here.
I'll cover myself, in the mud and the earth.
I'll cover myself. I know I'm not brave.
The earth. The earth. The earth is my grave.

The grave that they dug him had flowers
gathered from the hillsides in bright summer colours.
And the brown earth bleached white at the edge of his gravestone.
He's gone.
(Don MacClean 1973)