Literature helps us interpret and understand life. It helps us tolerate the aspects of life which escapes our understanding. There are words which refuse to be fossilized. There are timeless words which breathes even when buried under the dark layers of earth. That’s what we call classic, which in terms of relevance and wisdom stays untouched, unmoved, unblemished by the cruel winds of time. You sit down with them, slowly move the dust on the surface and a shining, tranquil, splendid emerald appears like a crystal ball holding all the answers to the myriad questions life throws at you. Today, we often do not have time and patience to read these classics unless you are a writer trying to learn the craft or a rare reader of refined interest. Accepted, it isn’t easy love to live with, for these words need much more than fleeting flirtation to spell out their meaning to you.
They need deep dedication, a profound passion and as Nietzsche would say, “one has to be willing to wash his feet and hands before sitting down to read such words.” They are glorious, majestic yet shy words. They need a lot of cajoling to open up, quite like the serious men who wrote them. They are playful as a child once they open and reassure us about life even in their sadness. These words are too shy, too proud, too taciturn to come knocking over your shoulders. They will sit in quiet dignity on your bookshelves waiting for you to pick them up. But when you are overwhelmed by life, they will leap towards you like a gasp of quick wind and grant you a rare breath of life. They come in many forms- floating between sparse, straight sentences on one side and vivacious, voluptuous words on the other, with masters like Hemingway one side and Joseph Conrad on the other end, sitting watchful, ancient as majestic knights
Still, we mustn’t lose out to the majestic words from the classics which have wings to help our souls soar above the squalor of daily lives like an eagle. Even when they dive deep into dark abysses, trust me, it is merely to gain a trajectory to scale higher. Recently I had read a lovely collection of quotes from some great books on Social media which made my day, as it did for many others. It was a glorious collection, but there were some misses which I felt could be added. I am hereby supplementing it from my own readings and it will lighten up someone’s day.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad: I heard a light sigh, and then my heart stood still, stopped dead short by an exulting and terrible cry, by the cry of inconceivable triumph and of unspeakable pain. ‘I knew it – I was sure!... She knew. She was sure. I heard her weeping; she had hidden her face in her hands. It seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens would fall upon my head. But nothing happened. The heavens do not fall for such trifle. Would they have fallen, I wonder, if I had rendered Kurtz that justice which was his Due? Hadn’t he said he wanted only justice? But I couldn’t. I could not tell her. It would have been too dark altogether.
The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth: We work in the dark-we do what we can-we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our art. The rest is the madness of Art.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: Where was Rudy’s comfort? Who was there to soothe him when life’s rug was snatched from under his sleeping feet? There was only me. And I am not too great at that sort of comforting thing, especially when my hands are cold and the bed is warm…I saw him hip-deep in some icy water chasing a book, and I saw a boy lying in the bed, imagining how a kiss would taste from his glorious next-door neighbor. He does something to me, that boy. Every time. It’s his only detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry.
"There was an itchy lung for a last cigarette, and an immense magnetic pull towards the basement, for the girl who was his daughter and was writing a book down there that he hoped to read one day.
Liesel. His soul whispered it as I carried him.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: Self-abandoned, relaxed, and effortless, I seemed to have laid me down in the dried up bed of a great river; I heard a flood loosened in remote mountains, and felt the torrent come: to rise I had no will, to flee I had no strength. I lay faint, longing to be dead.
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann : Nothing gladdens a writer more than a thought that can become pure feeling and a feeling that can become pure thought. Just such a pulsating thought, just such a precise feeling was then in the possession and service of the solitary traveler: nature trembles with bliss when the mind bows in homage to beauty. He suddenly desired to write.
Love in The Time of Cholera by Marquez: Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.
The Summing Up by Somerset Maugham: God is not so reasonable. He craves so urgently to be believed in that you might think He needed your belief in order to reassure himself of his own existence. …I cannot believe in a God who has neither humor nor common sense.
The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald: It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again.
Her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened-then the glow faded, each light deserting her with lingering regret, like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms farther..And one fine morning- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
The Beautiful and The Damned by Scott Fitzgerald: Close together on the porch they would wait for the moon to stream across the silver acres of farmland, jump a thick wood and tumble waves of radiance at their feet.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die….It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched you into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.
Orlando by Virginia Wolfe: The sky is like the veils which a thousand Madonnas have let fall from their hair; and the grass fleets and darkens like a flight of girls fleeing the embraces of hairy satyrs from enchanted woods.
The man looks at the world full in face, as if it were made for his uses and fashioned to his liking. The woman takes a sidelong glance at it, full of subtlety, even of suspicion.
The Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway: You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.
When the cold rain kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person has died for no reason.
Notes from The Underground by Dostoevsky: She did not want me to go away without knowing that she, too, was honestly and genuinely loved; that she, too, was addressed respectfully.
I do not respect myself. Can a man of perception respect himself at all?
The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky: Those innocent eyes slit my soul up like a razor.
Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky: Pain and Suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart.
The Insulted and the Humiliated by Dostoevsky: She shed no tears, did not answer my questions, and quivered like a leaf on a tree when she heard Alyosha’s ringing voice; she glowed like a sunset and flew to meet him;
I often weep perhaps. I’m not ashamed to own it, just as I’m not ashamed to own that I once loved my child more than anything on earth.
As it got darker my room seemed to grow larger and larger as though walls were retreating.
I miss out here some lovely prose which comes to my mind like The Razor's Edge of Maugham, Lord Jim of Joseph Conrad and some more, from contemporary literature, but maybe next time. Feel free to share your own favorites.