Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Willa Cather, fully Willa Sibert Cather

American Author

"The Miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always."

"Where there is great love there are always miracles."

"Woe is me to tell it thee, Winter winds in Arcady! Scattered is thy flock and fled From the glades where once it fed, And the snow lies drifted white In the bower of our delight, Where the beech threw gracious shade On the cheek of boy and maid: And the bitter blasts make roar Through the fleshless sycamore. White enchantment holds the spring, Where thou once wert wont to sing, And the cold hath cut to death Reeds melodious of thy breath. He, the rival of thy lyre, Nightingale with note of fire, Sings no more; but far away, From the windy hill-side gray, Calls the broken note forlorn Of an aged shepherd's horn. Still about the fire they tell How it long ago befell That a shepherd maid and lad Met and trembled and were glad; When the swift spring waters ran, And the wind to boy or man Brought the aching of his sires-- Song and love and all desires. Ere the starry dogwoods fell They were lovers, so they tell. Woe is me to tell it thee, Winter winds in Arcady! Broken pipes and vows forgot, Scattered flocks returning not, Frozen brook and drifted hill, Ashen sun and song-birds still; Songs of summer and desire Crooned about the winter fire; Shepherd lads with silver hair, Shepherd maids no longer fair."

""ROWSES, Rowses! Penny a bunch!" they tell you-- Slattern girls in Trafalgar, eager to sell you. Roses, roses, red in the Kensington sun, Holland Road, High Street, Bayswater, see you and smell you-- Roses of London town, red till the summer is done. Roses, roses, locust and lilac, perfuming West End, East End, wondrously budding and blooming Out of the black earth, rubbed in a million hands, Foot-trod, sweat-sour over and under, entombing Highways of darkness, deep gutted with iron bands. "Rowses, rowses! Penny a bunch!" they tell you, Ruddy blooms of corruption, see you and smell you, Born of stale earth, fallowed with squalor and tears-- North shire, south shire, none are like these, I tell you, Roses of London perfumed with a thousand years."

"Across the shimmering meadows-- Ah, when he came to me! In the spring-time, In the night-time, In the starlight, Beneath the hawthorn tree. Up from the misty marsh-land-- Ah, when he climbed to me! To my white bower, To my sweet rest, To my warm breast, Beneath the hawthorn tree. Ask of me what the birds sang, High in the hawthorn tree; What the breeze tells, What the rose smells, What the stars shine-- Not what he said to me!"

"In the tavern of my heart Many a one has sat before, Drunk red wine and sung a stave, And, departing, come no more. When the night was cold without, And the ravens croaked of storm, They have sat them at my hearth, Telling me my house was warm. As the lute and cup went round, They have rhymed me well in lay;-- When the hunt was on at morn, Each, departing, went his way. On the walls, in compliment, Some would scrawl a verse or two, Some have hung a willow branch, Or a wreath of corn-flowers blue. Ah! my friend, when thou dost go, Leave no wreath of flowers for me; Not pale daffodils nor rue, Violets nor rosemary. Spill the wine upon the lamps, Tread the fire, and bar the door; So despoil the wretched place, None will come forevermore."

"Paradox: I knew them both upon Miranda's isle, Which is of youth a sea-bound seigniory: Misshapen Caliban, so seeming vile, And Ariel, proud prince of minstrelsy, Who did forsake the sunset for my tower And like a star above my slumber burned. The night was held in silver chains by power Of melody, in which all longings yearned-- Star-grasping youth in one wild strain expressed, Tender as dawn, insistent as the tide; The heart of night and summer stood confessed. I rose aglow and flung the lattice wide-- Ah, jest of art, what mockery and pang! Alack, it was poor Caliban who sang. Share on facebook Share on twitter Share on google Share on print "

"Poppies On Ludlow Castle - Through halls of vanished pleasure, And hold of vanished power, And crypt of faith forgotten, A came to Ludlow tower. A-top of arch and stairway, Of crypt and donjan cell, Of council hall, and chamber, Of wall, and ditch, and well, High over grated turrets Where clinging ivies run, A thousand scarlet poppies Enticed the rising sun, Upon the topmost turret, With death and damp below,-- Three hundred years of spoilage,-- The crimson poppies grow. This hall it was that bred him, These hills that knew him brave, The gentlest English singer That fills an English grave. How have they heart to blossom So cruel and gay and red, When beauty so hath perished And valour so hath sped? When knights so fair are rotten, And captains true asleep, And singing lips are dust-stopped Six English earth-feet deep? When ages old remind me How much hath gone for naught, What wretched ghost remaineth Of all that flesh hath wrought; Of love and song and warring, Of adventure and play, Of art and comely building, Of faith and form and fray-- I'll mind the flowers of pleasure, Of short-lived youth and sleep, That drunk the sunny weather A-top of Ludlow keep."

""You should not be discouraged; one does not die of a cold," the priest said to the bishop. The old man smiled. "I shall not die of a cold, my son. I shall die of having lived.""

"A work-room should be like an old shoe; no matter how shabby, it's better than a new one."

"A man long accustomed to admire his wife in general, seldom pauses to admire her in a particular gown or attitude, unless his attention is directed to her by the appreciative gaze of another man."

"A child's attitude to everything is always an artist's attitude."

"Alexandra drew her shawl closer about her and stood leaning against the frame of the mill, looking at the stars which glittered so keenly through the frosty autumn air. She always loved to watch them, to think of their vastness and distance, and of their ordered march. It fortified her to reflect upon the great operations of nature, and when she thought of the law that lay behind them, she felt a sense of personal security. That night she had a new consciousness of the country, felt almost a new relation to it. Even her talk with the boys had not taken away the feeling that had overwhelmed her when she drove back to the Divide that afternoon. She had never known before how much the country meant to her. The chirping of the insects down in the long grass had been like the sweetest music. She had felt as if her heart were hiding down there, somewhere, with the quail and the plover and all the little wild things that crooned or buzzed in the sun. Under the long shaggy ridges, she felt the future stirring."

"Alexandra sighed. I have a feeling that if you go away, you will not come back. Something will happen to one of us, or to both. People have to snatch at happiness when they can, in this world. It is always easier to lose than to find. What I have is yours if you care enough about me to take it."

"All the intelligence and talent in the world can't make a singer. The voice is a wild thing. It can't be bred in captivity. It is a sport, like the silver fox. It happens."

"Although I admired scholarship so much in Cleric, I was not deceived about myself; I knew that I should never be a scholar. I could never lose myself for long among impersonal things. Mental excitement was apt to send me with a rush back to my own naked land and the figures scattered upon it. While I was in the very act of yearning toward the new forms that Cleric brought up before me, my mind plunged away from me, and I suddenly found myself thinking of the places and people of my own infinitesimal past."

"And now the old story has begun to write itself over there, said Carl softly. Isn’t it queer: there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes for thousands of years."

"Ah! the terror and the delight of that moment when first we fear"

"After supper was over and the toasts had been drunk, the boy Pablo was called in to play for the company while the gentlemen smoked. . . there was softness and languor in the wire strings--but there was also a kind of madness; the recklessness, the call of wild countries which all these men had felt or followed in one way or another. Through clouds of cigar smoke, the scout and the soldiers, the Mexican rancheros and the priests, sat silently watching the bent head and crouching shoulders of the banjo player, and his seesawing yellow hand, which sometimes lost all form and became a mere whirl of matter in motion, like a patch of sand-storm."

"Ain't it wonderful, Jim, how much people can mean to each other?"

"Alcohol is perfectly consistent in its effects upon man. Drunkenness is merely an exaggeration. A foolish man drunk becomes maudlin; a bloody man, vicious; a coarse man, vulgar."

"And I advise ye to think well, he told her It's better to be a stray dog in this world than a man without money. I've tried it both ways, and I know. A poor man stinks, and God hates him."

"And that's what makes men happy, believing in the mystery and importance of their own individual lives."

"Antonia had always been one to leave images in the mind that did not fade - that grew stronger with time. In my memory there was a succession of such pictures, fixed there like the old woodcuts of one's first primer... She lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true... She was a battered woman now, not a lovely girl; but she still had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop one's breath for a moment by a look or gesture... All the strong things of her heart came out in her body, that had been so tireless in serving generous emotions."

"Antonia came in and stood before me... It was a shock, of course. It always is, to meet people after long years, especially if they have lived as much and as hard as this woman had. We stood looking at each other. The eyes that peered anxiously at me were - simply Antonia's eyes… As I confronted her, the changes grew less apparent to me, her identity stronger. She was there in the full vigor of her personality, battered, but not diminished."

"Art and religion (they are the same thing, in the end, of course) have given man the only happiness he has ever had."

"Any first rate novel or story must have in it the strength of a dozen fairly good stories that have been sacrificed to it. A good workman can't be a cheap workman; he can't be stingy about wasting material, and he cannot compromise. Excerpt taken from On the Art of Fiction by circa 1920."

"Art, it seems to me, should simplify. That, indeed, is very nearly the whole of the higher artistic process; finding what conventions of form and what detail one can do without and yet preserve the spirit of the whole - so that all that one has suppressed and cut away is there to the reader's consciousness as much as if it were in type on the page."

"Artistic growth is, more than anything else, a refining of the sense of truthfulness. The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy: only the great artist knows how difficult it is."

"Art is a concrete and personal and rather childish thing after all - no matter what people do to graft it into science and make it sociological and psychological; it is no good at all unless it is let alone to be itself - a game of make-believe, or re-production, very exciting and delightful to people who have an ear for it or an eye for it."

"As I confronted her, the changes grew less apparent to me, her identity stronger. She was there, in the full vigor of her personality, battered but not diminished, looking at me, speaking to me in the husky, breathy voice I remembered so well."

"Avarice, he assured them, was the one passion that grew stronger and sweeter in old age."

"But she still had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop one's breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning in common things. She had only to stand in the orchard, to put her hand on a little crab tree and look up at the apples, to make you feel the goodness of planting and tending and harvesting at last. All the strong things of her heart came out in her body that had been so tireless in serving generous emotions. It was no wonder that her sons stood tall and straight. She was a rich mine of life, like the founders of early races."

"As we walked homeward across the fields, the sun dropped and lay like a great golden globe in the low west. While it hung there, the moon rose in the east, as big as a cart-wheel, pale silver and streaked with rose color, thin as a bubble or a ghost-moon. For five, perhaps ten minutes, the two luminaries confronted each other across the level land, resting on opposite edges of the world."

"Beautiful women, whose beauty meant more than it said... was their brilliancy always fed by something coarse and concealed? Was that their secret?"

"Claude Wheeler opened his eyes before the sun was up and vigorously shook his younger brother, who lay in the other half of the same bed."

"But the great fact was the land itself, which seemed to overwhelm the little beginnings of human society that struggled in its somber wastes. It was from facing this vast hardness that the boy's mouth had become so bitter; because he felt that men were too weak to make any mark here, that the land wanted to be let alone, to preserve its own fierce strength, its peculiar, savage kind of beauty, its uninterrupted mournfulness."

"Cleric said he thought Virgil, when he was dying at Brindisi, must have remembered that passage. After he had faced the bitter fact that he was to leave the 'Aeneid' unfinished, and had decreed that the great canvas, crowded with figures of gods and men, should be burned rather than survive him unperfected, then his mind must have gone back to the perfect utterance of the 'Georgics,' where the pen was fitted to the matter as the plough is to the furrow; and he must have said to himself, with the thankfulness of a good man, 'I was the first to bring the Muse into my country.'"

"Cavenaugh rubbed his hands together and smiled his sunny smile."

"Directly under his feet was the French stronghold, — scattered spires and slated roofs flashing in the rich, autumnal sunlight; the little capital which was just then the subject of so much discussion in Europe, and the goal of so many fantastic dreams."

"Desire is creation, is the magical element in that process. If there were an instrument by which to measure desire, one could foretell achievement."

"Doctrine is well enough for the wise, Jean; but the miracle is something we can hold in our hands and love."

"Eastman looked at him sourly. 'Cavenaugh, when you've practiced law in New York for twelve years, you find that people can't go far in any direction, except-' He thrust his forefinger sharply at the floor.'Even in that direction, few people can do anything out of the ordinary. Our range is limited. Skip a few baths, and we become personally objectionable. The slightest carelessness can rot a man's integrity or give him ptomaine poisoning. We keep up only be incessant cleansing operations, of mind and body. What we call character, is held together by all sorts of tacks and strings and glue. (Consequences)"

"Even in harmonious families there is this double life: the group life, which is the one we can observe in our neighbor's household, and, underneath, another — secret and passionate and intense — which is the real life that stamps the faces and gives character to the voices of our friends. Always in his mind each member of these social units is escaping, running away, trying to break the net which circumstances and his own affections have woven about him."

"Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. The landscape one longed for when one was away, the thing all about one, the world one actually lived in, was the sky, the sky!"

"Don't love it so well, Clark, or it may be taken from you. Oh, dear boy, pray that whatever your sacrifice may be, it be not that."

"Dr. Howard Archie had just come up from a game of pool with the Jewish clothier and two traveling men who happened to be staying overnight in Moonstone."

"Even the wicked get worse than they deserve."

"Every American travelling in England gets his own individual sport out of the toy passenger and freight trains and the tiny locomotives, with their faint, indignant, tiny whistle. Especially in western England one wonders how the business of a nation can possibly be carried on by means so insufficient."

"Every artist knows that there is no such thing as "freedom" in art. The first thing an artist does when he begins a new work is to lay down the barriers and limitations; he decides upon a certain composition, a certain key, a certain relation of creatures or objects to each other. He is never free, and the more splendid his imagination, the more intense his feeling, the farther he goes from general truth and general emotion."