A word is a powerful instrument. When well chosen and well used, words can move us, inspire us, and force us into action. The following are a few well crafted passages that have captured my attention over the years.
Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them. Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn't. Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. 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.
"A River Runs Through It"
We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.
"Dead Poets Society"
Words! Words, when spoken out loud for the sake of performance are music. They have rhythm and pitch and timbre and volume. These are the properties of music, and music has the ability to find us and move us and lift us up in ways that literal meaning can't.
"The West Wing", Season 3 Episode 5: "War Crimes"
spoken by Josiah Barlett
We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.
Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product...if we should judge American by that - counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.
Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
Address at University of Kansas, Lawrence
March 18, 1968
Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking.
New Statesman and Nation, 15 July 1933
If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.
There is no present or future only the past happening over and over again -- now.
A Moon for the Misbegotten
The smaller one comes to feel compared to the mountain, the nearer one comes to sharing in its greatness. I do not know why this is so.
Modesty and the Conquest of Mountains
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Speech given at the Sorbonne, Paris
April 23, 1910
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it. You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
"You Learn By Living", p 29-30
The most terrifying thing about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death - however mutable man may be able to make them - our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfilment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.
Playboy Magazine, September 1968
"The Playboy Interview: Stanley Kubrick"
All of our days are numbered. We cannot afford to be idle. To act on a bad idea is better than to not act at all. Because the worth of the idea never becomes apparent until you do it. Sometimes this idea can be the smallest thing in the world. A little flame that you hunch over and cup with your hand, and pray will not be extinguished by all the storm that howls about. If you can hold on to that flame, great things can be constructed around it, that are massive, and powerful, and world changing. All held up by the tiniest of ideas.
20,000 Days on Earth
In the end, I am not interested in that which I fully understand. The words I have written over the years are just a veneer. There are truths that lie beneath the surface of the words. Truths that rise up out of the water like the humps of a sea monster -- and then disappear. What performance and song is to me is finding a way to tempt the monster to the surface. To create a space where the creature can break through what is real, and what is known to us. This shimmering space, where reality and imagination intersect -- this is where all love, and tears, and joy exist. This is the place. This is where we live.
20,000 Days on Earth
Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth — that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. But to do that a man must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else men will not be able to attain even that which is possible today. Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say ‘In spite of all!’ has the calling for politics.
Essays in Sociology
Politics as a Vocation