To see at a distance

Thoreau has many striking things to say about poets, and even if I can't seize on them as definitive or universal in their application, they make me think.  This one is a little clunky in its expression, as if he is thinking out loud, but I like the idea of the poet...

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Power implied

Something whistlingly clean about this; good writing hitting its target with speed and precision, and a latent force behind every sentence. 'The art of composition is as simple as the discharge of a bullet from a rifle, and its masterpieces imply an infinitely greater...

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A blank-book for thoughts

Having had several detailed discussions with my brother on what constitutes acceptable paper for note-books or letters, I felt sympathy for Thoreau having to search for blank paper. For letters, I prefer blank sheets, but for journals or other notebooks, I like lined...

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The richest of all soils

The use of 'rich soil' to represent fertile ground for writing isn't surprising but this reference to 'decayed literature' is.  I've been wondering what constitutes 'decayed'.  Elsewhere Thoreau mentions books from the preceding three centuries languishing in...

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How hard one must work … and how!

In recent weeks, while typing up scores of quotations from Thoreau on the nature of writing, I started reading some essays by Seamus Heaney.  The first one began talking about finding your voice as a writer, finding the words to express yourself, and then I see that I...

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A quote to note

Drawing on thousands of sparkling, moving and inspiring quotations amassed during decades of attentive reading. These will be added in the days and months ahead, to delight the mind and spirit, take care of your gift-giving needs, and improve the world’s Powerpoint presentations beyond belief. And coming soon, in searchable form.

Watermelon casks

We were working our way through a watermelon even as I came across this quotation.  Never thought of them as rolling casks.  A little heavy to carry of course, but if you only have get them as far as your boat, and can then rest them there until you reach your picnic...

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Benign in his bowels

Don't worry, this is just a metaphor for people who are cloyingly, invasively kind and try to absorb you into their world.  This amazing tirade, which takes up half a page, firmly rejects those who are overly friendly and solicitous, with a touch of condescension in...

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Don’t try this trick at home

What a joy to read this sentence; there is no limit to the detail and originality of Thoreau's observations. 'A turtle walking is as if a man were to try to walk by sticking his legs and arms merely out of the windows.'  27 May 1853   Source: Henry David Thoreau,...

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As dumb as putty

Good we now have another way to tell someone they're dumb - please feel free to revive this fine phrasing next time you need to point out stupidity (your own is also acceptable). But how many inventive phrases get lost because there isn't an all-noting, all recording...

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Metaphorically speaking

More marvelous metaphors on Mondays … Monday, metaphor day.

Ebbs and flows of the soul

A journal as a beach gathering shells, seaweed and pearls washed up by the soul in the course of a day. 'Let the daily tide leave some deposit on these pages, as it leaves sand and shells on the shore. So much increase of terra firma. This may be a calendar of the...

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All parts are one

A lovely comment on interconnectedness.  I had fun choosing the image and hope you like its gentle irreverence. 'All parts of nature belong to one head, as the curls of a maiden’s hair.  How beautifully flow the seasons as one year, and all streams as one ocean!' ...

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Like sunshine over a field

I wish you countless such waves. 'A wave of happiness flows over us like sunshine over a field.'  7 August 1840 Source: Henry David Thoreau, The Journal 1837-1861, Damion Searls (ed.), preface by John R. Stilgoe (New York: New York Review Books, 2009), p. 11 Photo...

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Waking like a bullet

While I don't relish bullets striking things, I like the occasional quickness of a sleep-satiated body waking up, alert to the day. 'When you have been deprived of your usual quantity of sleep for several nights, you sleep much more soundly for it, and wake up...

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Bringing you pithy, evocative imagery in the form of three-legged microcosms of meaning. Updated on Tuesdays … Tuesday, triologism day!  You’ll never see this day of the week in the same way again.

Black-frogged livery

Of several unbelievable sojourns Leigh Fermor enjoyed in anciently aristocratic homes dotted across central Europe, this may top the lot.  He seems to have come from a sufficiently elevated stratum of English society to be able to pitch up here and there, after weeks...

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Half-glimpsed chateau

I know little about architecture in the formal sense but am in love with buildings, forever looking at them and wondering what histories they harbour, and often giving them a mental makeover to bring out their full ambiance and potential.  So how enticing this idea of...

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Good-tempered ears

Describing an idyllic ride on a wonderful horse.  I wish you many moments, and even days and weeks, of which the first sentence is true. 'There was not a single way in which life could be improved.  Malek's alert and good-tempered ears, his tireless and untiring gait...

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Tawny-maned horses

A journey you would never want to end, the way Leigh Fermor describes it. 'Poppies scattered the green crops, the smell of hay, clover and lucerne floated in the air, and tawny-maned horses grazed.  I wished the journey would never end.'   Source: Patrick Leigh...

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Chocolate-coloured ploughland

What deep, dark, friable soil this suggests! 'It was a geometrical interlock of chocolate-coloured ploughland with stripes of barley, wheat, oats, rye and maize with some tobacco and the sudden mustard flare of charlock.'   Source: Patrick Leigh Fermor, Between...

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Flat-bottomed clouds

Leigh-Fermor's continent-straddling meander encompasses pre-war scenes of breath-taking bucolic beauty.  A decade after his peregrination this world had been turned on its head and much of it destroyed. Yet in reading of his experiences, you sense an easy timelessness...

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Sharing words that sparkle, appeal, intrigue or otherwise grab me, including those in other languages.  And adoring alliteration, new words will be added on Wednesdays… Wednesday, word day.   See you back here then.

A scrawny, buttermilk-faced young besom

A besom is a broom made of twigs tied around a stick, though in Scottish & Northern English it's also a derogatory term for a woman or girl. 'A scrawny, buttermilk-faced young besom, allus askin' questions an' pokin' tha' nose where it wasna' wanted.'  ...

Graidely or gradely

Graidely seems an alternative spelling to 'gradely' which means fine and good; promising and likely; being in good health or physically attractive; fitting and proper. "He's took a graidely fancy to thee.  He wants to see thee and he wants to see Soot an' Captain."...

Fair moithered

Bothered or bewildered.  'Moither' can also mean to ramble or speak in a confused way. 'Mother's a good-tempered woman, but she gets fair moithered.'   Source: Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden, illus. Inga Moore (London: Walker Books, 2009) (1911), p....

An abundance of afflatus

A divine creative impulse or inspiration, from Latin afflare, 'to' plus 'to blow'. Wishing you an abundance of afflatus.   Source: Adam Nicolson, Sea Room: An Island Life (London: Harper Collins, 2013 (2002)), p. 11


Another and charming word for 'daffodils', which are also more commonly referred to as 'daffs'. "Crocuses an' snowdrops an' daffydowndillys.  Has tha' never seen them?"   Source: Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden, illus. Inga Moore (London: Walker Books,...


A beautiful bumble-bee buzzing about.  The dictionary insists this is a literary term for to 'buzz or hum' but such a round, friendly sound deserves more widespread use. For example, there are three trees in front of me that are full of tiny blossoms and every spring,...

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  1. Jess

    Submitting one of my favorite Kurt Vonnegut quotes:

    “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different”

    • beatriceotto

      Wonderful quotation indeed, many thanks for sharing. At last, the meaning of life.

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