Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Eugene O'Neill, fully Eugene Gladstone O'Neill

Irish American Playwright, Nobel Laureate in Literature

"Man's loneliness is but his fear of life."

"Life is for each man a solitary cell whose walls are mirrors."

"Contentment is a warm sty for eaters and sleepers."

"We need above all to learn again to believe in the possibility of nobility of spirit in ourselves."

"Age and time are but timidities of thought."

"Obsessed by a fairy tale, we spend our lives searching for a magic door and a lost kingdom of peace."

"This is Daddy's little secret for today: Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue."

"Happiness hates the timid."

"The only living life is in the past and future... the present is an interlude... interlude in which we call on past and future to bear witness we are living."

"There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now."

"To hell with the truth! As the history of the world proves, the truth has no bearing on anything. It's irrelevant and immaterial, as the lawyers say. The lie of a pipe dream is what gives life to the whole misbegotten mad lot of us, drunk or sober."

"One should either be sad or joyful. Contentment is a warm sty for eaters and sleepers. "

"A credulous, religious-minded fool, as I've pointed out! And he carried his credulity into the next period of his life, where he believed in one social or philosophical Ism after another, always on the trial of Truth! He was never courageous enough to face what he really knew was true, that there is no truth for men, that human life in unimportant and meaningless. No. He was always grasping at some absurd new faith to find and excuse for going on!"

"A man's work is in danger of deteriorating when he thinks he has found the one best formula for doing it. If he thinks that, he is likely to feel that all he needs is merely to go on repeating himself . . . so long as a person is searching for better ways of doing his work, he is fairly safe."

"And if sometimes, on the stairs of a palace, or on the green side of a ditch, or in the dreary solitude of your own room, you should awaken and the drunkenness be half or wholly slipped away from you, ask of the wind, or of the wave, or of the star, or of the bird, or of the clock, or whatever flies, or sighs, or rocks, or sings, or speaks, ask what hour it is; and the wind, wave, star, bird, clock, will answer you: 'It is the hour to be drunken! Be drunken, if you would not be martyred slaves of Time; be drunken continually! With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will."

"But I suppose life has made him like that, and he can't help it. None of us can help the things life has done to us. They're done before you realize it, and once they're done they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you'd like to be, and you've lost your true self forever."

"And several other times in my life, when I was swimming far out, or lying alone on a beach, I have had the same experience, became the sun, the hot sand, green seaweed anchored to a rock, swaying in the tide. Like a saint's vision of beatitude. Like the veil of things as they seem drawn back by an unseen hand. For a second you see, and seeing the secret, you are the secret. For a second there is meaning! Then the hand lets the veil fall and you are alone, lost in the fog again, and you stumble on towards nowhere for no good reason."

"Be always drunken. Nothing else matters: that is the only question. If you would not feel the horrible burden of Time weighing on your shoulders and crushing you to the earth, be drunken continually."

"Drunken with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will. But be drunken."

"But I know that I shall find surcease, the rest my spirit craves,"

"But land is land, and it's safer than the stocks and bonds of Wall Street swindlers."

"Curiosity killed the cat, and satisfaction brought it back."

"Censorship of anything, at any time, in any place, on whatever pretense, has always been and always will be the last resort of the boob and the bigot."

"For de small stealing dey puts you in jail, soon or late. But for de big stealing dey puts yo' picture in de paper and yo' statue in de Hall of Fame when you croaks! If dey's one thing I learned in ten years, listenin' to de white quality on de Pullman cars, it's dat same fact. And when I gets a chance to use it -- from stowaway to Emperor in two years. Dat's goin' some!"

"Happy roads is bunk. Weary roads is right. Get you nowhere fast. That's where I've got—nowhere. Where everyone lands in the end, even if most of the suckers won't admit it."

"He thinks money spent on a home is money wasted. He's lived too much in hotels. Never the best hotels, of course. Second-rate hotels. He doesn't understand a home. He doesn't feel at home in it. And yet, he wants a home. He's even proud of having this shabby place. He loves it here."

"HOGAN: No, I wouldn't think it, but my motto in life is never trust anyone too far, not even myself."

"How thick the fog is. I can't see the road. All the people in the world could pass by and I would never know. I wish it was always that way. It's getting dark already. It will soon be night, thank goodness."

"I am so far from being a pessimist... on the contrary, in spite of my scars, I am tickled to death at life."

"I hate doctors! They'll do anything — anything to keep you coming to them. They'll sell their souls! What's worse, they'll sell yours, and you never know it till one day you find yourself in hell!"

"Dey's some things I don't got to be told. I kin read them in folks' eyes."

"For a moment I lost myself, actually lost my life. I was set free! I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life . . . to life itself. I caught a glimpse of something greater than myself."

"EDMUND: [with alcoholic talkativeness]: You've just told me some high spots in your memories. Want to hear mine? They're all connected with the sea. Here's one. When I was on the Squarehead square rigger, bound for Buenos Aires. Full moon in the Trades. The old hooker driving fourteen knots. I lay on the bowsprit, facing astern, with the water foaming into spume under me, the masts with every sail white in the moonlight, towering high above me. I became drunk with the beauty and singing rhythm of it, and for a moment I lost myself -- actually lost my life. I was set free! I dissolved in the sea, became white sails and flying spray, became beauty and rhythm, became moonlight and the ship and the high dim-starred sky! I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life, or the life of Man, to Life itself! To God, if you want to put it that way. Then another time, on the American Line, when I was lookout on the crow's nest in the dawn watch. A calm sea, that time. Only a lazy ground swell and a slow drowsy roll of the ship. The passengers asleep and none of the crew in sight. No sound of man. Black smoke pouring from the funnels behind and beneath me. Dreaming, not keeping lookout, feeling alone, and above, and apart, watching the dawn creep like a painted dream over the sky and sea which slept together. Then the moment of ecstatic freedom came. The peace, the end of the quest, the last harbor, the joy of belonging to a fulfillment beyond men's lousy, pitiful, greedy fears and hopes and dreams! And several other times in my life, when I was swimming far out, or lying alone on a beach, I have had the same experience. Became the sun, the hot sand, green seaweed anchored to a rock, swaying in the tide. Like a saint's vision of beatitude. Like the veil of things as they seem drawn back by an unseen hand. For a second you see -- and seeing the secret, are the secret. For a second there is meaning! Then the hand lets the veil fall and you are alone, lost in the fog again, and you stumble on toward nowhere, for no good reason!"

"I have had my dance with Folly, nor do I shirk the blame; I have sipped the so-called Wine of Life and paid the price of shame; but I know that I shall find surcease, the rest my spirit craves, where the rainbows play in the flying spray, 'mid the keen salt kiss of the waves."

"I have sipped the so-called Wine of Life and paid the price of shame."

"I haven't touched a piano in so many years. I couldn't play with such crippled fingers, even if I wanted to. For a time after my marriage I tried to keep up my music. But it was hopeless. One-night stands, cheap hotels, dirty trains, leaving children, never having a home — [She stares at her hands with fascinated disgust.] See, Cathleen, how ugly they are! So maimed and crippled! You would think they'd been through some horrible accident! [She gives a strange little laugh.] So they have, come to think of it. [She suddenly thrusts her hands behind her back.] I won't look at them. They're worse than the foghorn for reminding me — [Then with defiant self-assurance.] But even they can't touch me now. [She brings her hands from behind her back and deliberately stares at them — calmly.] They're far away. I see them, but the pain has gone."

"I hold more and more surely to the conviction that the use of masks will be discovered eventually to be the freest solution of the modern dramatist's problem as to how -- with the greatest possible dramatic clarity and economy of means -- he can express those profound hidden conflicts of the mind which the probings of psychology continue to disclose to us."

"I knew it. I knew it. Born in a hotel room - and God damn it - died in a hotel room."

"I lay on the bowsprit, with the water foaming into spume under me, the masts with every sail white in the moonlight towering above me. I became drunk with the beauty and singing rhythm of it, and for a moment lost myself- actually lost my life. I was set free... dissolved in the sea, became white sails and flying spray, became beauty and rhythm and the high dim-starred sky... I belonged within a unity and joy to life itself."

"I listen to people talking about this universal breakdown we are in and I marvel at their stupid cowardice. It is so obvious that they deliberately cheat themselves because their fear of change won't let them face the truth. They don't want to understand what has happened to them. All they want is to start the merry-go-round of blind greed all over again. They no longer know what they want this country to be, what they want it to become, where they want it to go. It has lost all meaning for them except as pig-wallow. And so their lives as citizens have no beginnings, no ends. They have lost the ideal of the Land of the Free. Freedom demands initiative, courage, the need to decide what life must mean to oneself. To them, that is terror. They explain away their spiritual cowardice by whining that the time for individualism is past, when it is their courage to possess their own souls which is dead — and stinking! No, they don't want to be free. Slavery means security — of a kind, the only kind they have courage for. It means they need not to think. They have only to obey orders from owners who are, in turn, their slaves!"

"I love every bone in their heads."

"I was set free! I dissolved in the sea, became white sails and flying spray, became beauty and rhythm, became moonlight and the ship and the high dim-starred sky! I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life, or the life of Man, to Life itself!.. And several other times in my life, when I was swimming far out, or lying alone on a beach, I have had the same experience, became the sun, the hot sand, green seaweed anchored to a rock, swaying in the tide. Like a saint's vision of beatitude. Like the veil of things as they seem drawn back by an unseen hand. For a second you see, and seeing the secret, you are the secret. For a second there is meaning! Then the hand lets the veil fall and you are alone, lost in the fog again, and you stumble on towards nowhere for no good reason."

"I will be an artist or nothing!"

"If a person is to get the meaning of life he must learn to like the facts about himself -- ugly as they may seem to his sentimental vanity -- before he can learn the truth behind the facts. And the truth is never ugly."

"If that ghost have money I tells him never to haunt you -- less'n he wants to lose it!"

"I'm as drunk as a fiddler's bitch."

"Irish as a Paddy's pig."

"Is it one wid this you'd be, Yank — black smoke from the funnels smudging the sea, smudging the decks — the bloody engines pounding and throbbing and shaking — wid divil a sight of sun or a breath of clean air — choking our lungs wid coal dust — breaking our backs and hearts in the hell of the stokehole — feeding the bloody furnace — feeding our lives along wid the coal, I'm thinking — caged in by steel from a sight of the sky like bloody apes in the Zoo!"

"It is Mystery -- the mystery any one man or woman can feel but not understand as the meaning of any event -- or accident -- in any life on earth ... [that] I want to realize in the theatre. The solution, if there ever be any, will probably have to be produced in a test tube and turn out to be discouragingly undramatic."

"It kills the pain. You go back until at last you are beyond its reach. Only the past when you were happy is real."