Poetry Fiction - An Introduction to the Elements of Creative Writing

Poetry§Fiction - Extras

Photocopy of the first page of John Keats
Ode to the NightingaleKeat's Ode to the Nightingale


Some Favorite Quotes



There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the market-place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samara and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samara.

—W.S. Maughm


For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can't readily accept the God formula, the big answers don't remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command nor faith a dictum. I am my own god. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.

—Charles Bukowski


Some cities are really successful, and present the solid and definite achievement of the thing at which their builders aimed; and when they do so, they present, just as a fine statue presents, something of the direct divinity of man, something immeasurably superior to mere nature, to mere common mountains, to mere vulgar seas.... The modern city is ugly, not because it is a city, but because it is not enough of a city, because it is a jungle, because it is confused and anarchic, and surging with selfishness and materialistic energies. In short, the modern town is offensive because it is a great deal too like nature, a great deal too like the country.
—GK Chesterton


The scrupulous and the just, the noble, humane and devoted natures, the unselfish and the intelligent, may begin a movement— but it passes away from them. They are not the leaders of a revolution. They are its victims.
—Joseph Conrad


During periods of 'crisis', positions which are false or feigned are very common. Entire generations falsify themselves to themselves; that is to say, they wrap themselves up in artistic styles, in doctrines, in political movements which are insincere and which fill the lack of genuine conviction. When they get to be about forty years old, those generations become null and void, because at that age one can no longer live on fictions.
—Ortega Y Gasset


There is more simplicity in the man who eats caviar on impulse than in the man who eats grapenuts on principle.
—GK Chesterton


Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring, real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating. 'Imaginative literature' then, is either boring or immoral or a mixture of both.
—Simone Weil


In these days when it has become the medical convention, firstly, to keep the dying in ignorance of their condition and, secondly, to keep them under sedation, how are any of us to utter what could be legitimately called our 'last' words? Still, it is fun to imagine what one would like them to be. The best proposed comment I know of is that of my friend Chester Kallman: 'I've never done this before'.
—W.H. Auden



A few quotes from the Alexandrian Quartet (I know, some people don't consider this particularly 'great literature', but at a certain point in my life I thought it was fabulous stuff:):


"First, nobody can own an artist so be warned. Second what good is a faithful body when the mind is by its very nature unfaithful? Third stop whining like an Arab, you know better. Fourth neurosis is no excuse. Health must be won and earned by a battle. Lastly it is honorable if you can't win to hang yourself."

—Pursewarden, in reply to a pouty note from Justine


"When you pluck a flower, the branch springs back into place. This is not true of the heart's affections." 



"Idle to imagine falling in love as a correspondence of minds, of thoughts; it is a simultaneous firing of two spirits engaged in the autonomous act of growing up. And the sensation is of something having noiselessly exploded inside each of them. Around this event, dazed and preoccupied, the lover moves examining his or her own experience; her gratitude alone, stretching away towards a mistaken donor, creates the illusion that she communicates with her fellow, but this is false. The loved object is simply one that has shared an experience at the same moment of time, narcissistically; and the desire to be near the beloved object is at first not due to the idea of possessing it, but simply to let the two experiences compare themselves, like reflections in different mirrors. All this may precede the first look, kiss, or touch; precede ambition, pride, or envy; precede the first declarations which mark the turning point— for from here love degenerates into habit, possession, and back to loneliness.... Every man is made of clay and daimon, and no woman can nourish both."



"For years one has to put up with the feeling that people do not care, really care, about one; then one day with growing alarm, one realizes that it is God who does not care: and not merely that he does not care, but that he does not care one way or the other."



"I was always worried about money while I was alive. But when you are dying you suddenly find yourself in funds."





Sitting in the disorder of my silence,
Fingering first this fantasy and that,
Having scant room for practicing the balance
Of prayer, making a labor of delight,
Scrabbling within myself for space to kneel,
I pick up whims more tenuous than hair:
Threads of a hope or fragments of a fear,
When— as a mother gives her child some chore
To do, and, having watched him fret and frown,
Pauses beside him after the long hour
To guide his hand a moment with her own—
From cluttered void God plucks my mind sweat-sodden
Into His hush all of a gracious sudden.

—Vassar Miller


So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, "Try to be true to me,
And I'll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc."
Well now, I knew this girl. It's true she had read
Sophocles in a fairly good translation
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
But all the time he was talking she had in mind
The notion of what his whiskers would feel like
On the back of her neck. She told me later on
That after awhile she got to looking out
At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry. To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
Anyway, she watched him pace the room
And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
And then she said one or two unprintable things.
But you mustn't judge her by that. What I mean to say is
She's really all right. I still see her once in a while
And she always treats me good. We have a drink
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it's a year
Before I see her again, but there she is,
Running to fat, but dependable as they come.
And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d'Amour.

—Tony Hecht


If you ask someone: "Can you play the violin?" and he says: "I don't know, I have not tried, perhaps I can", you laugh at him. Whereas about writing, people always say: "I don't know, I have not tried", as though one had only to try and one would become a writer.



When I sit down to write a novel I do not at all know, and I do not very much care, how it is to end.
A plan for myself, as copious and developed as possible, I always do draw up-- the two documents I spoke of were based upon, and extracted from, such a preliminary private outpouring. But this latter voluminous effusion is, ever, so extremely familiar, confidential and intimate— in the form of an interminable garrulous letter addressed to my own fond fancy— that, though I always, for easy reference, have it carefully typed, it isn't a thing I would willingly expose to any eye but my own. And even then, sometimes, I shrink.

—Henry James, to H.G. Wells



At first
Senseless as beasts
I gave men sense
Possessed them of mind...
In the beginning, seeing,
they saw amiss,
and hearing, heard not,
but like phantoms huddled
In dreams, the perplexed
Story of their days

—Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound


He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth.



Civilization is only chaos taking a rest.

—Graham Hancock


I have found the link between apes and civilized man— it's us.

—Konrad Lorenz


Art is what you can get away with.

—Marshall McLuhan


Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.

—GK Chesterton



I saw
a sunset in Queretaro
that seemed
to reflect
the color of a rose
in Bengal.

—Jorge Luis Borges



It is the way
to educate
your eye,
and more.

Stare, pry,
listen, and

Die knowing

You are not
here long.

—Walker Evans



Fish are the last to recognize water.




while you and I
            have lips and voices
which are for kissing
            and to sing with,
who cares if some
            one-eyed son of a bitch
invents an instrument
            to measure spring with?

—ee cummings


If you don't know where you're going all roads lead there.

—Roman proverb


A grapefruit is a lemon that had a chance and took advantage of it.

—Oscar Wilde


The man who can't visualize a horse galloping on a tomato is an idiot.

—Andre Breton



Two grandmothers meet in a park.
One is pushing a pram.
"What a beautiful grandchild," says one.
"That's nothing," says the other,
reaching for her purse.
"I'll show you her picture!"

—Julian Barnes



You've all seen motion pictures run backwards where people undive out the swimming pool back onto the board. I'm going to run a motion picture of you backwards. You have just had breakfast: now, I am going to run the picture backwards, and all the food comes out of your mouth on to the plate and the plates go back up on the serving tray and things go back onto the stove, back into the icebox; they come out of the icebox and back into the cans and they go back to the store and then, from the store, they go back to the wholesaler. Then they go back to the factories where they had been put together. Then they go back to the trucks and ships, and they finally get back to pineapples in Hawaii. Then the pineapples separate out, go back into the air; the rain drops go back into the sky, and so forth. But in a very fast accelerated reversal of a month, practically everything has come together that you now have on board you, gradually becoming your skin and hair and so forth, whereas a month ago it was some air coming over the mountains. In other words, you get completely deployed.

—Buckminster Fuller