July 22, 2021

What we Learnt from the Quotes we Can’t Forget.

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Recently I had cause to recall one of the few quotes that I remember learning at school:

“I have drunk and seen the spider.” ~ William Shakespeare

I was on the phone to a friend who told me how something her boyfriend had said made her realise that she needed to end the relationship.

The point of the quote: Sometimes once information is learnt, or even simply perceived, we cannot ignore it. She had seen the spider and could never drink from that glass again.

It got me thinking—how useful have the quotes we learnt at school been in our adult lives? Which quotes have our brains held on to? So, I asked this question on Facebook:


We received over 600 comments.

I’m sure our English teachers would be pleased to know that they taught us well—or perhaps we simply have good memories.

Whilst some quotes have poignant messages and are thought-provoking, I was struck by how few had any practical application in our day-to-day adult lives.

I started thinking about what quotes I would like my children to remember as they grow through their teenage years and face the grown-up world ahead. Something from Rumi, or Pema Chödrön perhaps?

I shall be picking out my favourites and adding them to the chalkboard wall display next to our dining table, so we can take the inspiration we need on a daily basis.

Here are a few of the quotes from our readers:

This is a selection of the many from William Shakespeare:

“The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath.” (The Merchant of Venice)

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.” (Sonnet 116)

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” (Sonnet 18)

“The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.” (Julius Caesar)

“Two households, both alike in dignity
(In fair Verona, where we lay our scene),
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” (Romeo and Juliet)
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” (Hamlet)

“There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;” (Julius Caesar)

“Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.” (Romeo and Juliet)

“All that glitters is not gold.” (The Merchant of Venice)

“To be, or not to be, that is the question:” (Hamlet)

“‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.” (Romeo and Juliet)
“Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d comrade.” (Hamlet)
“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.”(Macbeth)
“They say best men are molded out of faults,
And, for the most, become much more the better
For being a little bad” (Measure for Measure)

There were others from various famous and well-respected authors, such as:

“Of Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful
Seat, Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen
Seed, In the Beginning how the Heav’ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s Brook that flow’d
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my advent’rous Song,” ~ John Milton (Paradise Lost)

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (Self-Reliance)

“O, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive!” ~ Sir Walter Scott (Marmion)

“Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,” ~ Geoffrey Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales)

“I may think of you softly from time to time. But I’ll cut off my hand before I ever reach for you again.” ~ Arthur Miller (The Crucible)

“Until an hour before the Devil fell, God thought him beautiful in Heaven.” ~ Arthur Miller (The Crucible)

“It is rare for people to be asked the question which puts them squarely in front of themselves.” ~ Arthur Miller (The Crucible)

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour” ~ William Blake (Auguries of Innocence)

“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” ~ Abraham Lincoln

“Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” ~ William Blake (The Tyger)

“Time is the longest distance between two places.” ~ Tennessee Williams (The Glass Menagerie)

“Out of all the things I have lost, I miss my mind the most.” ~ Mark Twain

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” ~ Emma Lazarus (The New Colossus)

“Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly.” ~ Edward Albee

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” ~ H.P. Lovecraft (Supernatural Horror in Literature)

“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.” ~ Robert Frost (Nothing Gold Can Stay)

“Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.” ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)

“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” ~ William Wordsworth (Lyrical Ballads)

“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.” ~ William Wordsworth (I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud)

“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ʼem, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” ~ Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird)

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for” ~ Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird)

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” ~ Calvin Coolidge

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” ~ Dylan Thomas (Do not go gentle into that good night)

“Much Madness is divinest Sense –
To a discerning Eye –
Much Sense – the starkest Madness –
’Tis the Majority
In this, as all, prevail –
Assent – and you are sane –
Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –
And handled with a Chain” ~ Emily Dickinson (Much Madness is divinest Sense)

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby)

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” ~ George Orwell (Animal Farm)

“The blinds are drawn because of the sun,
And the boys and the room in a colourless gloom
Of underwater float” ~ D. H. Lawrence (The Best of School)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” ~ Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities)

“Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” ~ Benjamin Franklin (Poor Richard’s Almanack)

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” ~ Lord Acton

“The masses never revolt of their own accord, and they never revolt merely because they are oppressed. Indeed, so long as they are not permitted to have standards of comparison, they never even become aware that they are oppressed.” ~ George Orwell

“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.” ~ Wilfred Owen (Dulce et Decorum Est)

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

“You may shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I’ll rise!” ~ Maya Angelou (Still I Rise)

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” ~ The Preamble to the Constitution

If the one you best remember isn’t here, please share it with us in the comments.

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