The American mood, perhaps even the American character, has changed. There are few manifestations any longer of the old American self-assurance which so irritated Dickens. Instead, there is a sense of frustration so perceptible that even our politicians have attempted to exploit it.
The perversion of the mind is only possible when those who should be heard in its defense are silent.
Our reliance in this country is on the inquiring, individual human mind. Our strength is founded there; our resilience, our ability to face an ever-changing future and to master it. We are not frozen into the backward-facing impotence of those societies, fixed in the rigidness of an official dogma, to which the future is the mirror of the past. We are free to make the future for ourselves.
There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience and that is not learning from experience.
The one man who should never attempt an explanation on poetry is its author. If the poem can be improved by its author’s explanations, it never should have been published.
What happened at Hiroshima was not only that a scientific breakthrough had occurred and that a great part of the population of a city had been burned to death, but that the problem of the relation of the triumphs of modern science to the human purposes of man had been explicitly defined.
To see the earth as we now see it, small and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the unending night—brothers who see now they are truly brothers.
Topics: Humanity, World
We are as great as our belief in human liberty—no greater. And our belief in human liberty is only ours when it is larger than ourselves.
The business of the law is to make sense of the confusion of what we call human life—to reduce it to order but at the same time to give it possibility, scope, even dignity.
Topics: Law, Lawyers
Journalism is concerned with events, poetry with feelings. Journalism is concerned with the look of the world, poetry with the feel of the world.
Journalism wishes to tell what it is that has happened everywhere as though the same things had happened for every man. Poetry wishes to say what it is like for any man to be himself in the presence of a particular occurrence as though only he were alone there.
Conventional wisdom notwithstanding, there is no reason either in football or in poetry why the two should not meet in a man’s life if he has the weight and cares about the words.
A real writer learns from earlier writers the way a boy learns from an apple orchard-by stealing what he has a taste for and can carry off.
Wildness and silence disappeared from the countryside, sweetness fell from the air, not because anyone wished them to vanish or fall but because throughways had to floor the meadows with cement to carry the automobiles which advancing technology produced. Tropical beaches turned into high-priced slums where thousand-room hotels elbowed each other for glimpses of once-famous surf not because those who loved the beaches wanted them there but because enormous jets could bring a million tourists every year—and therefore did.
Topics: Progress, Wilderness
What is more important in a library than anything else—than everything else—is the fact that it exists.
What is freedom? Freedom is the right to choose: the right to create for oneself the alternatives of choice.
America is promises to take! America is promises to us to take them.
It is not in the world of ideas that life is lived. Life is lived for better or worse in life, and to a man in life, his life can be no more absurd than it can be the opposite of absurd, whatever that opposite may be.
Democracy is never a thing done. Democracy is always something that a nation must be doing. What is necessary now is one thing and one thing only that democracy become again democracy in action, not democracy accomplished and piled up in goods and gold.
The task of man is not to discover new worlds, but to discover his own world in terms of human comprehension and beauty.
There are those, I know, who will reply that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind, is nothing but a dream. They are right. It is. It is the American Dream.
Topics: America, Dreams, Liberty
Wondering Whom to Read Next?
- Mark Van Doren American Poet, Critic
- Joyce Carol Oates American Novelist
- Wallace Stevens American Poet
- Langston Hughes American Poet, Writer
- Edgar Lee Masters American Poet, Novelist
- William Saroyan American Playwright, Novelist
- Marianne Moore American Poet
- Conrad Aiken American Poet, Novelist
- Stanley Kunitz American Poet
- Howard Nemerov American Poet, Novelist