Friday, January 13, 2006

Love of Literature

In a recent post, the topic of the first line of the Narnia book, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, was mentioned. It is a most excellent first line!

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

MCM, who corrected my slight misquote on the line, hastened to remind me why Scrubb was such an awful boy:

(His parents) were vegetarians, non-smokers and teetotalers and wore a special kind of underclothes.

Great lines!

After spending much time lately on heavier topics (and we're not likely done there), I thought I'd offer a little enjoyable reading today by offering a few of my favorite literary lines. I invite you to post any of yours, as well, along with some explanation if you wish.

I'm thinking fiction primarily (and relatively short – 2-5 lines – preferably), but if you have something non-fiction you'd like to add, feel free. I'm also thinking of excerpts that use sparkling or intriguing language moreso than literature espousing dogma.

It would go without saying, for those of you who've read much of what I've written here, that Wendell Berry would probably top my list on quotable authors, as well as Mark Twain. I'll forgo them here as I already have quoted them a good bit. Suffice to say, go out and read all the Berry and Twain you can get.

How about if we begin instead with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein? While generally thought of as merely a horror novel, at least to those who haven't read it, it is pure poetry:

My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy, and when wrenched by misery to vice and hatred, it did not endure the violence of the change without torture such as you cannot even imagine.

The Creature

Are you mad, my friend?" said he; "or whither does your senseless curiosity lead you? Would you also create for yourself and the world a demoniacal enemy? Peace, peace! learn my miseries, and do not seek to increase your own.

Victor Frankenstein to Captain Walden

Another favorite of mine is A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean, a recent novel that overflows with beautiful phrasing (and has been made in to a movie that does a respectable job of staying true to the language and story). Enjoy:

In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing...

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...

My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things–trout as well as eternal salvation–come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy...

Another author that those who haven't read may fail to realize their art is A.A. Milne (Winnie-the-Pooh). Observe:

Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.

Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.

Nice, huh?

I could do this all day, but I'll let you all carry it on if you choose. I'll close with one more. How about a little of Melville's Moby-Dick, since most of my quotes have had a watery theme?

God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart for ever; that vulture the very creature he creates.

He pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me round the waist, and said that henceforth we were married... Thus, then, in our hearts' honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg - a cosy, loving pair. [with apologies to those who find men laying together a touchy topic – dan]

There are some strange summer mornings in the country, when he who is but a sojourner from the city shall early walk forth into the fields, and be wonder-smitten with the trance-like aspect of the green and golden world.

Your turn!


Marty said...

"..that most limited of all specialists, the well-rounded man, life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all"

Nick Carraway
The Great Gatsby

Dan Trabue said...

Great one, Marty. And we're off!

Daniel Levesque said...

Dang! I can' tfing my copy of the Inferno! I'll need to get back with you on this.

Wasp Jerky said...


The translation I used at Project Gutenberg puts it as:

"In the midway of this our mortal life, I found me in a gloomy wood, astray Gone from the path direct: and e'en to tell It were no easy task, how savage wild That forest, how robust and rough its growth,
Which to remember only, my dismay
Renews, in bitterness not far from death."

Wasp Jerky said...

Well, that's the first line, of course. If you're just going for a favorite line, I haven't quite perfected the ability to read minds. :)

Marty said...

"History was wrong-footed, caught off guard. Sloughed off like an old snake-skin. Its marks, its scars, its wounds from old wars and the walking-backwards days all fell away. In its absence it left an aura, a palpable shimmering that was plain to see as the water in a river or sun in the sky."

The God Of Small Things
Arundhati Roy

Dan Trabue said...

I LOVE Roy's essays. Does she have great fiction, too? Is this a good book to start with?

Marty said...

Yeah, I'd say so. It's her first novel. Winner of the Booker Prize.

madcapmum said...

"Mom took a deep breath. Dad was looking straight ahead. He never contributed to The Talk. It was Mom's Talk.... He, Dad, would pretend to be somewhere else. Mom was the head of the household in the department of sexual piety.

...The slightest question, even a mild inquiry...would result in The whole Talk. You could no more get a short answer than Congress could expect a president to step up to the podium in a State of the Union address and simply say, "Things are fine, thanks, good night and God bless." Mom was a force of nature: once unleashed on the subject of the human reproductive system, The Talk ensued."

-Frank Schaeffer, Portofino

Constantine recommended this novel to me and it's wonderful! I haven't laughed so hard at fiction in a very long time.

Dan Trabue said...

Yeah, I've seen him talking about this book a bit. Sounds good. Thanks.

Wasp Jerky said...

Portofino is fantastic. The entire Becker family trilogy is actually.

Daniel Levesque said...

Wasp Jerky,

Thanks for the quote. It wasn't the one I wantedtouse, but the firstline is both powerful and beautiful.

Still can't find The Inferno. Infernal move.

Eleutheros said...

From Brian Bates 'The Way of Wyrd'

"Your eyes break up the course of life into tiny segments and label them as separate entities. The eyes of the sorcerer do not have this false focus. Life is comprised of waterfalls, rapids, eddies and whirlpools, but they are all part of the same watercourse. For me, life and death flow together as aspects of one river. For you, life is like a series of unconnected rain puddles and death comes when the sun dries them all up."

lené said...

What a cool idea for a post, Dan.

Here's one from Annie Dillard's Teaching a Stone to Talk:

"One turns at last even from glory itself with a sigh of relief. From the depths of mystery, and even from the heights of splendor, we bounce back and hurry for the latitudes of home."

Dan Trabue said...

Wow! Beautiful stuff E and Lene. Thanks!

Eleutheros said...


The inferno, you say? Expand that to the entire Comedia Divina and I'm your man.

Now here's a link to both the original Italian and the better of the translations:

The original Italian is as smooth and satisfiying as ancient wine. I expect you to comment on that.

At any rate, what do you consider to be the pearls of this work? Are you, then, also into Milton's 'Paradise' poems?

And 'Pilgrim's Progress'?

Marty said...

"I'll be aroun' in the dark. I'll be everywhere-wherever you look. Wherever there is a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there is a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there..."

Tom Joad
The Grapes of Wrath

A.R.Malik said...

Hi. I'm a first-time visitor to your blog, and this is one cool idea!

"The enemy is the tyranny of the dull mind". (Tom Robbins)