Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Thornton Wilder, fully Thornton Niven Wilder

American Playwright and Novelist awarded three Pulitzer Prizes

"I not only bow to the inevitable; I am fortified by it."

"Literature is the orchestration of platitudes."

"My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate - that’s my philosophy."

"On the stage it is always now, the personages are standing on that razor-edge between the past and the future, which is the essential character of conscious being."

"The difference between a little money and no money at all is enormous - and can shatter the world. And the difference between a little money and an enormous amount of money is very slight - and that, also, can shatter the world."

"Love is an energy which exists of itself. It is its own value."

"There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."

"Favors cease to be favors when there are conditions attached to them."

"The more decisions that you are faced to make alone, the more you are aware of your freedom to choose."

"A dramatist is one who believes that the pure event, an action involving human beings, is more arresting than any comment that can be made upon it."

"A living is made, Mr. Kemper, by selling something that everybody needs at least once a year. Yes, sir! And a million is made by producing something that everybody needs every day. You artists produce something that nobody needs at any time."

"A play visibly represents pure existing."

"All that we know about those we have loved and lost is that they would wish us to remember them with a more intensified realization of their reality. What is essential does not die but clarifies. The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude."

"A man looks pretty small at a wedding, George. All those good women standing shoulder to shoulder, making sure that the knot's tied in a mighty public way."

"Am I sure that there is no mind behind our existence and no mystery anywhere in the universe? I think I am. What joy, what relief there would be, if we could declare so with complete conviction. If that were so I could wish to live forever. How terrifying and glorious the role of man if, indeed, without guidance and without consolation he must create from his own rituals the meaning for his existence and write the rules whereby he lives."

"A sense of humor judges one's actions and the actions of others from a wider reference . . . and finds them incongruous. It dampens enthusiasm; it mocks hope; it pardons shortcomings; it consoles failure. It recommends moderation."

"A purpose is the eternal condition of success."

"An American is insubmissive, lonely, self-educated, and polite."

"And oh, Claudia, Claudilla, ask me to do something -something that I can do. Do not ask me to forget you or to be indifferent to you. Do not ask me to have no interest in how you pass your time. But if we are separated, set me a task, something that will be a daily link with you."

"An incinerator is a writer's best friend."

"And particularly the days when you were first in love; when you were like a person sleepwalking, and you didn’t quite see the street you were in, and didn’t quite hear everything that was said to you."

"And we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead,"

"And the sign that something's wrong with you is when you sit quietly at home And the sign that something's wrong with you is when you sit quietly at home quietly at home wishing you were out having lots of adventure."

"But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."

"Camila was quite incapable of establishing any harmony between the claims of her art, of her appetites, or her dreams, and of her crowded daily routine. Each of these was a world in itself."

"But such occasions of excellence became less and less frequent. As her technique became sounder, [her] sincerity became less necessary."

"Cesar is not a philosophical man. His life has been one long flight from reflection. At least he is clever enough not to expose the poverty of his general ideas; he never permits the conversation to move toward philosophical principles. Men of his type so dread all deliberation that they glory in the practice of the instantaneous decision. They think they are saving themselves from irresolution; in reality they are sparing themselves the contemplation of all the consequences of their acts. Moreover, in this way they can rejoice in the illusion of never having made a mistake; for act follows so swiftly on act that it is impossible to reconstruct the past and say that an alternative decision would have been better. They can pretend that every act was forced on them under emergency and that every decision was mothered by necessity"

"But there comes a moment in everybody's life when he must decide whether he'll live among the human beings or not - a fool among fools or a fool alone."

"Camila had intended to be perfunctory and if possible impudent, but now she was struck for the first time with the dignity of the old woman. The mercer's daughter could carry herself at times with all the distinction of the Montemayors and when she was drunk she wore the grandeur of Hecuba."

"Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan."

"Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?--every, every minute?"

"Dona Maria saw that the people of this world moved about in an armor of egotism, drunk with self-gazing, athirst for compliments, hearing little of what was said to them, unmoved by the accidents that befell their closest friends, in dread of all appeals that might interrupt their long communion with their own desires."

"Comparisons of one's lot with others' teaches us nothing and enfeebles the will."

"Esteban fell face downward upon the floor. I am alone, alone, alone, he cried. The Captain stood above him, his great plain face ridged and gray with pain; it was his own old hours he was reliving. He was the awkwardest speaker in the world apart from the lore of the sea, but there are times when it requires a high courage to speak the banal. He could not be sure the figure on the floor was listening, but he said, We do what we can. We push on, Esteban, as best we can. It isn't for long, you know. Time keeps going by. You'll be surprised at the way time passes."

"Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."

"Enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate."

"Every good thing in the world stands on the razor-edge of danger."

"Every writer is necessarily a critic -- that is, each sentence is a skeleton accompanied by enormous activity of rejection; and each selection is governed by general principles concerning truth, force, beauty, and so on. The critic that is in every fabulist is like the iceberg -- nine-tenths of him is under water."

"Faith is a never-ending pool of clarity, reaching far beyond the margins of consciousness. We all know more than we know we know."

"For what human ill does dawn not seem to be alternative?"

"Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover's Corners... Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking... and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths...and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you."

"He divided the inhabitants of this world into two groups, into those who had loved and those who had not. It was a horrible aristocracy, apparently, for those who had no capacity for love (or rather for suffering in love) could not be said to be alive and certainly would not live again after their death. They were a kind of straw population, filling the world with their meaningless laughter and tears and chatter and disappearing still lovable and vain into thin air. For this distinction he cultivated his own definition of love that was like no other and that had gathered all its bitterness and pride from his odd life. He regarded love as a sort of cruel malady through which the elect are required to pass in their late youth and from which they emerge, pale and wrung, but ready for the business of living. There was (he believed) a great repertory of errors mercifully impossible to human beings who had recovered from this illness. Unfortunately there remained to them a host of failings, but at least (from among many illustrations) they never mistook a protracted amiability for the whole conduct of life, they never again regarded any human being, from a prince to a servant, as a mechanical object."

"He respected the slight nervous shadow that crossed her face when he came too near her. But there arose out of this denial itself the perfume of a tenderness, that ghost of passion which, in the most unexpected relationship, can make even a whole lifetime devoted to irksome duty pass like a gracious dream."

"He had lost that privilege of simple nature, the dissociation of love and pleasure. Pleasure was no longer as simple as eating; it was being complicated by love. Now was beginning that crazy loss of one's self, that neglect of everything but one's dramatic thoughts about the beloved, that feverish inner life all turning upon the [loved one]."

"Hope, like faith, is nothing if it is not courageous; it is nothing if it is not ridiculous."

"He possessed the six attributes of the adventurer-- a memory for names and faces, with the aptitude for altering his own; the gift of tongues; inexhaustible invention; secrecy; the talent for falling into conversation with strangers; and that freedom from conscience that springs from a contempt for the dozing rich he preyed upon."

"He regarded love as a sort of cruel malady through which the elect are required to pass in their late youth and from which they emerge, pale and wrung, but ready for the business of living."

"I am convinced that, except in a few extraordinary cases, one form or another of an unhappy childhood is essential to the formation of exceptional gifts."

"I am not interested in the ephemeral - such subjects as the adulteries of dentists. I am interested in those things that repeat and repeat and repeat in the lives of the millions."

"I did not hear you. You were speaking in a language I did not understand. Never, never, I can conceive of a love which is able to foresee its own termination. Love is its own eternity. Love is in every moment of its being: all time. It is the only glimpse we are permitted of what eternity is. So I did not hear you. The words were nonsense."