Quotes from Czeslaw Milosz and Herman Melville

I finished “Moby-Dick” yesterday. It was one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read - but also incredibly beautiful and rewarding.

The past is inaccurate, because we cannot determine how it was in fact, no matter how hard we try. We must rely on people’s memory, which is treacherous, because memory is constantly juggling and revising the data of experience. …In telling about an event, we ourselves cannot avoid revising it, because our narrative simplifies and composes a whole out of selected components, while omitting others. It suffices to compare our knowledge of facts with their depiction in chronicles, journalistic accounts, memoirs, to understand the need for fantasizing that is somehow inscribed in the language itself, and which draws us into the forest of fiction. … Los Angeles horrifies me. In our imagination money is still steel and the production of factories; it is difficult to accustom oneself to the great change, the complete reversal, that has granted a marginal human activity, entertainment, its central position as a source of money or power. … I am moved by the very fact of that woman’s existence, of which all that has remained is this verse. … I know my own weakness and am inclined to consider myself…as a tangle of reflexes, a drunken child in the fog. … The essential characteristic of fame is its illusory nature, for what does a famous name mean if those who mention it are not well-informed about why it is famous? That, after all, is the fate of the majority of monuments in every large city; they turn into signs from which the content has evaporated. … Everything that enlarges man fortifies us; everything that depicts him as a multidimensional being.

Czeslaw Milosz –Milosz’s ABCs

A whole hour now passed; gold-beaten out to ages. … What a lovely day again! were it a new-made world, and made for a summer-house to the angels, and this morning the first of its throwing open to them, a fairer day could not dawn upon that world. … Ah! how they still strove through that infinite blueness to seek out the thing that might destroy them! … But Ahab’s glance was averted; like a blighted fruit tree he shook, and cast his last, cindered apple to the soil. … Close! stand close to me, Starbuck; let me look into a human eye; it is better than to gaze into sea or sky; better than to gaze upon God. … What! how can you see better of a dark night than anybody else, never mind how foolish? … Old man of oceans! of all this fiery life of thine, what at length will remain but one little heap of ashes! … Let faith oust fact; let fancy oust memory; I look deep down and do believe. … Would to God these blessed calms would last. But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm. There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause: - through infancy’s unconscious spell, boyhood’s thoughtless faith, adolescence’ doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally. Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more? in what rapt ether sails the world, of which the weariest will never weary? … I like a good grip; I like to feel something in this slippery world that can hold, man. … Seat thyself sultanically among the moons of Saturn, and take high abstracted man alone; and he seems a wonder, a grandeur, and a woe. But from the same point, take mankind in mass, and for the most part, they seem a mob of unnecessary duplicates, both contemporary and hereditary. But most humble though he was, and far from furnishing an example of the high, humane abstraction; the Pequod’s carpenter was no duplicate.

Hermann Melville – Moby-Dick

Ryan McCarl
Attorney | Writer | Educator