Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

William Faulkner, fully William Cuthbert Faulkner

American Novelist, Short-Story Writer Awarded Nobel Prize

"The salvation of the world is in man's suffering."

"A writer needs three things, experience, observation and imagination, any two of which, at times any; one of which, can supply the lack of the two others."

"An artist is a creature driven by demons. He don't know why they choose him and he's usually too busy to wonder why."

"By artist I mean of course everyone who has tried to create something which was not here before him, with no other tools and material than the uncommerciable ones of the human spirit."

"The end of wisdom is to dream high enough to lose the dream in the seeking of it."

"Don't bother to be better that your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better that yourself."

"I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man; it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."

"No one is without Christianity, if we agree on what we mean by the word. It is every individual’s individual code of behavior by means of which he makes himself a better human being than his nature wants to be, if he followed his nature only."

"The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life. Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal since it will always move. This is the artist's way of scribbling Kilroy was here on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday pass."

"To live anywhere in the world today and be against equality because of race or color, is like living in Alaska and being against snow."

"I believe that man will not merely endure, he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance."

"The unrest which keeps the never-stopping clock of metaphysics going is the thought that the non-existence of this world is just as possible as its existence."

"There is consolation in the assurance that whatever becomes of this husk of a planet, the inner meaning of it, hope itself, God, man’s ideal, continually progresses and develops."

"A captive fettered at the oar of gain."

"A creature cloistered now by deliberate choice and still in the throes of enforced apprenticeship to, rather than voluntary or even acquiescent participation in, breathing."

"A dream is not a very safe thing to be near... I know; I had one once. It's like a loaded pistol with a hair trigger: if it stays alive long enough, somebody is going to be hurt. But if it's a good dream, it's worth it."

"A fellow is more afraid of the trouble he might have than he ever is of the trouble he's already got. He'll cling to trouble he's used to before he'll risk a change. Yes. A man will talk about how he'd like to escape from living folks. But it's the dead folks that do him the damage. It's the dead ones that lay quiet in one place and don’t try to hold him, that he can’t escape from."

"A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station."

"A gull on an invisible wire attached through space dragged. You carry the symbol of your frustration into eternity. Then the wings are bigger Father said only who can play a harp."

"A hack writer who would not have been considered a fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure-fire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy."

"A gentleman can live through anything."

"A gentleman accepts the responsibility of his actions and bears the burden of their consequences."

"A fellow gets to thinking. About all the sorrow and afflictions in this world; how it's liable to strike anywhere, like lightning."

"A man will talk about how he’d like to escape from living folks. but it’s the dead folks that do him the damage. It’s the dead ones that lay quiet in one place and don’t try to hold him, that he can’t escape from"

"A man or a race either if he's any good can survive his past without even needing to escape from it and not because of the high quite often only too rhetorical rhetoric of humanity but for the simple indubitable practical reason of his future: that capacity to survive and absorb and endure and still be steadfast."

"A man's moral conscience is the curse he had to accept from the gods in order to gain from them the right to dream."

"A man is the sum of his misfortunes. One day you'd think misfortune would get tired but then time is your misfortune."

"A man. All men. He will pass up a hundred chances to do good for one chance to meddle where meddling is not wanted. He will overlook and fail to see chances, opportunities, for riches and fame and well-doing, and even sometimes for evil. But he won't fail to see a chance to meddle."

"A writer is congenitally unable to tell the truth and that is why we call what he writes fiction."

"A pair of jaybirds came up from nowhere, whirled up on the blast like gaudy scraps of cloth or paper and lodged in the mulberries, where they swung in raucous tilt and recover, screaming into the wind that ripped their harsh cries onward and away like scraps of paper or of cloth in turn."

"A mule will labor ten years willingly and patiently for you, for the privilege of kicking you once."

"A street turned off at right angles, descending, and became a dirt road. On either hand the land dropped more sharply; a broad flat dotted with small cabins whose weathered roofs were on a level with the crown of the road. They were set in small grassless plots littered with broken things, bricks, planks, crockery, things of a once utilitarian value. What growth there was consisted of rank weeds and the trees were mulberries and locusts and sycamores--trees that partook also of the foul desiccation which surrounded the houses; trees whose very burgeoning seemed to be the sad and stubborn remnant of September, as if even spring had passed them by, leaving them to feed upon the rich and unmistakable smell of negroes in which they grew."

"A writer is trying to create believable people in credible moving situations in the most moving way he can."

"A writer must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice."

"About women? When I say soldiers I don't mean me. I wasn't no soldier anymore than a man that fixes watches is a watchmaker. And when I say women I don't mean you."

"After he learned that John had died. But he had done far away across the sea, and there was no body to return to tediously dull and earth, so she thought that was still laughing at that word, death, and had laughed at the other sets of sounds that indicate wanted rest, he felt that John had not waited for the time to teach him that the goal of wisdom is to dream high enough not to lose sleep while you are engaged in your search."

"Ah. That ceremony. I see. That's it, then. A formula, a shibboleth meaningless as a child's game, performed by someone created by the situation whose need it answered: a crone mumbling in a dungeon lighted by a handful of burning hair, something in a tongue which not even the girls themselves understand anymore, maybe not even the crone herself, rooted in nothing of economics for her or for any possible progeny since the very fact that we acquiesced, suffered the farce, was her proof and assurance of that which the ceremony itself could never enforce; vesting no new rights in anyone, denying to none the old--a ritual as meaningless as that of college boys in secret rooms at night, even to the same archaic and forgotten symbols?--you call that a marriage, when the night of a honeymoon and the casual business with a hired prostitute consists of the same suzerain’ty over a (temporarily) private room, the same order of removing the same clothes, the same conjunction in a single bed? Why not call that a marriage too?"

"Ah, Mr Compson said, Years ago we in the South made our women into ladies. Then the War came and made the ladies into ghosts. So what else can we do, being gentlemen, but listen to them being ghosts?"

"All the old accumulated rubbish-years which we call memory."

"An artist is a creature driven by demons. He doesn't know why they choose him and he's usually too busy to wonder why. He is completely amoral in that he will rob, borrow, beg, or steal from anybody and everybody to get the work done. The writer's only responsibility is to his art."

"An old man is never at home save in his own garments: his own old thinking and beliefs; old hands and feet, elbow, knee, shoulder which he knows will fit."

"Also, I think the writer is not really interested in bettering man's condition. He really doesn't give a damn about man's condition. He's interested in all man's behavior with no judgment whatever."

"All of us have failed to match our dream of perfection. I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. If I could write all my work again, I'm convinced I could do it better. This is the healthiest condition for an artist. That's why he keeps working, trying again: he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off. Of course he won't."

"Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself."

"And even a liar can be scared into telling the truth, same as honest man can be tortured into telling a lie."

"And I will look down and see my murmuring bones and the deep water like wind, like a roof of wind, and after a long time they cannot distinguish even bones upon the lonely and inviolate sand."

"And George Farr had the town, the earth, the world to himself and his sorrow. Music came fain’t as a troubling rumor beneath the spring night, sweetened by distance: a longing knowing no ease. (Oh God, oh God!) At last George Farr gave up trying to see her. He had 'phoned vainly and time after time, at last the telephone became the end in place of the means: he had forgotten why he wanted to reach her. Finally he told himself that he hated her, that he would go away; finally he was going to as much pains to avoid her as he had been to see her. So he slunk about the streets like a criminal, avoiding her, feeling his very heart stop when he did occasionally see her unmistakable body from a distance. And at night he lay sleepless and writhing to think of her, then to rise and don a few garments and walk past her darkened house, gazing in slow misery at the room in which he knew she lay, soft and warm, in intimate slumber, then to return to home and bed to dream of her brokenly."

"And I reckon them that are good must suffer for it the same as them that are bad."

"And so I told myself to take that one. Because Father said clocks slay time. He said time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. The hands were extended, slightly off the horizontal at a fain’t angle, like a gull tilting into the wind."

"And let them [ask] anything. I think that if you try to rehearse the question first, it's not too good. Whether it seems frivolous to you or not, ask it. We'll take the gloves off."