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Brodsky, Joseph

  • For aesthetics is the mother of ethics. . . . Were we to choose our leaders on the basis of their reading experience and not their political programs, there would be much less grief on earth. I believe--not empirically, alas, but only theoretically--that for someone who has read a lot of Dickens to shoot his like in the name of an idea is harder than for someone who has read no Dickens.

  • There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.

  • The surest defense against Evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even--if you will--eccentricity. That is, something that can't be feigned, faked, imitated; something even a seasoned imposter couldn't be happy with.

  • The real history of consciousness starts with one's first lie.

  • It would be enough for me to have the system of a jury of twelve versus the system of one judge as a basis for preferring the U.S. to the Soviet Union. . . . I would prefer the country you can leave to the country you cannot.

  • The poetic notion of infinity is far greater than that which is sponsored by any creed.

  • If a poet has any obligation toward society, it is to write well. Being in the minority, he has no other choice. Failing this duty, he sinks into oblivion. Society, on the other hand, has no obligation toward the poet.

  • What should I say about life? That it's long and abhors transparence.

  • In the works of the better poets you get the sensation that they're not talking to people any more, or to some seraphical creature. What they're doing is simply talking back to the language itself--as beauty, sensuality, wisdom, irony--those aspects of language of which the poet is a clear mirror. Poetry is not an art or a branch of art, it's something more. If what distinguishes us from other species is speech, then poetry, which is the supreme linguistic operation, is our anthropological, indeed genetic, goal. Anyone who regards poetry as an entertainment, as a "read," commits an anthropological crime, in the first place, against himself.

  • A poet is a combination of an instrument and a human being in one person, with the former gradually taking over the latter. The sensation of this takeover is responsible for timbre; the realization of it, for destiny.

  • Every individual ought to know at least one poet from cover to cover: if not as a guide through the world, then as a yardstick for the language.

  • Racism? But isn't it only a form of misanthropy?

  • After all, it is hard to master both life and work equally well. So if you are bound to fake one of them, it had better be life.

  • Snobbery? But it's only a form of despair.

  • Every writing career starts as a personal quest for sainthood, for self-betterment. Sooner or later, and as a rule quite soon, a man discovers that his pen accomplishes a lot more than his soul.

  • I'm the happiest combination you can think of.  I'm a Russian poet, an English essayist, a citizen of the United States, and born a Jew.