Design

What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You’ve Ever Read?

woman-reading-in-bed-by-richard-foulser

In May, Reddit asked, “What’s the most beautiful paragraph or sentence you’ve ever read?” Such a good question! I’ve been mulling it over in my head ever since. Here are a few of my best-loved lines, and I’m curious to hear yours…


“She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.”
—J. D. Salinger, “A Girl I Knew

“In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all of its moments — which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story.”
— Atul Gawande, Being Mortal

“ ‘Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?’
‘Supposing it didn’t,’ said Pooh after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this.”
— A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

“Some people say, ‘Never let them see you cry.’ I say, if you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.”
― Tina Fey, Bossypants

“There are many different kinds of bravery. There’s the bravery of thinking of others before one’s self. Now, your father has never brandished a sword nor fired a pistol, thank heavens. But he has made many sacrifices for his family, and put away many dreams.”

“Where did he put them?”

“He put them in a drawer. And sometimes, late at night, we take them out and admire them. But it gets harder and harder to close the drawer… He does. And that is why he is brave.”
— Conversation between Mrs. Darling and Michael, Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

“Three things no one has ever said about me:
You make it look so easy.
You are very mysterious.
You need to take yourself more seriously.”
― Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation

“Maybe… you’ll fall in love with me all over again.”
“Hell,” I said, “I love you enough now. What do you want to do? Ruin me?”
“Yes. I want to ruin you.”
“Good,” I said. “That’s what I want too.”
— Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Plus, nine poems that make me tear up.

What about you? If you have a minute to share your favorite line, poem or book, I’d love to hear…

P.S. Caroline’s five favorite books, and wise words.

(Top photo by Richard Foulser; Peter Pan quote via Momfilter. Reddit thread via Kottke)

  1. Sharon in Scotland says...

    I’m a bit late to this particular party, I spent the weekend reading most of the posts, ending up with a headache and dehydration because I was weeping so much.
    Words that touch me:

    “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”
    Plato

    “I am the master of my fate,
    I am the Captain of my soul”

    This one I have only just found and absolutely nails how I feel. I’m trying on-line dating and as a black women in her 50’s in the Highlands of Scotland…………………………….it’s proving……………….interesting!

    “A great fire burns within me, but no-one stops to warm themselves at it and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke”
    Vincent Van Gogh

  2. Jessica says...

    I love this post! And revisiting it every now and again. Wanted to share one of my own favorite pieces of writing. It’s a song by the band Thrice called “Anthology.” I’m not a huge fan of theirs otherwise but this song always makes me happy-sad. I already know it’s going to play a part in my wedding someday – and I’m single as hell! Here are the lyrics:

    Our lives built on tin cans and string
    But the cornerstone laid is a wondrous and beautiful thing
    Sure in the ground

    While the North wind is taking its toll
    You have helped me to find my way back and to anchor my soul
    Safe in the sound

    Oh you know me
    Oh and I know you
    And I know that
    We can see this through

    I’m brack, baring my bones
    Said if we heard the howling
    I’d run out to face it alone
    To meet it half way

    But I’ve still got badges to earn
    So keep sifting my soul
    Cause I think that I’m starting to learn
    To love you that way

    Oh you know me
    Oh and I know you
    And I know that
    We can see this through

    It’s true that you could snap my neck
    I trust you’ll save my life instead
    Cause our love is a loyalty sworn
    If we hold to our hope
    Then I know we can weather the storm
    Whatever they say
    Come what may

    Oh you know me
    Oh and I know you
    And I know that
    We can see this through

  3. there were 666 comments, so i had to add one for good luck!

    all these quotes are so beautiful.

    thank you for this.

  4. I haven’t actually read the book but have loved this line so much especially in times of uncertainty:

    “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

    ― Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
    I always love these little musings xo

  5. “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

    Albert Einstein

  6. Maggie says...

    Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place
    Iain S. Thomas

  7. //Trust me, this long read is worth it! I always fall in love with this poem <3

    MOUNTAIN DEW COMMERCIAL DISGUISED AS A LOVE POEM

    Here’s what I’ve got, the reasons why our marriage
    might work: Because you wear pink but write poems
    about bullets and gravestones. Because you yell
    at your keys when you lose them, and laugh,
    loudly, at your own jokes. Because you can hold a pistol,
    gut a pig. Because you memorize songs, even commercials
    from thirty years back and sing them when vacuuming.
    You have soft hands. Because when we moved, the contents
    of what you packed were written inside the boxes.
    Because you think swans are overrated.
    Because you drove me to the train station. You drove me
    to Minneapolis. You drove me to Providence.
    Because you underline everything you read, and circle
    the things you think are important, and put stars next
    to the things you think I should think are important,
    and write notes in the margins about all the people
    you’re mad at and my name almost never appears there.
    Because you make that pork recipe you found
    in the Frida Khalo Cookbook. Because when you read
    that essay about Rilke, you underlined the whole thing
    except the part where Rilke says love means to deny the self
    and to be consumed in flames. Because when the lights
    are off, the curtains drawn, and an additional sheet is nailed
    over the windows, you still believe someone outside
    can see you. And one day five summers ago,
    when you couldn’t put gas in your car, when your fridge
    was so empty—not even leftovers or condiments—
    there was a single twenty-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew,
    which you paid for with your last damn dime
    because you once overheard me say that I liked it.

    —from Rattle #31, Summer 2009

  8. “She was the still point of the turning world” – Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides (paraphrasing T.S. Eliot, I assume)

  9. “The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher.”
    -The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

    “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
    ― Roald Dahl

  10. Sadie says...

    “There is a corner of the sea that is deep but not so deep that it’s black. It’s the blue of a blueberry, violet in its heart, though this blue allows light through its million unseeable pores. The hue is evenly painted but electric, a klieg light pushing through a gel of cyan.” — Dave Eggers, You Shall Know Our Velocity

  11. Suzann says...

    “If I can stop but one heart from breaking, I shall not have lived in vain.”
    Emily Dickinson

  12. This has been one of my favorites for a long time:
    “We lead our lives like water flowing down a hill, going more or less in one direction until we splash into something that forces us to find a new course.”
    ― Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

    And this, because sometimes the only one you can save is yourself. No matter how terrible that feels.

    Poetry
    By
    Mary Oliver
    The Journey

    One day you finally knew
    what you had to do, and began,
    though the voices around you
    kept shouting
    their bad advice–
    though the whole house
    began to tremble
    and you felt the old tug
    at your ankles.
    “Mend my life!”
    each voice cried.
    But you didn’t stop.
    You knew what you had to do,
    though the wind pried
    with its stiff fingers
    at the very foundations,
    though their melancholy
    was terrible.
    It was already late
    enough, and a wild night,
    and the road full of fallen
    branches and stones.
    But little by little,
    as you left their voices behind,
    the stars began to burn
    through the sheets of clouds,
    and there was a new voice
    which you slowly
    recognized as your own,
    that kept you company
    as you strode deeper and deeper
    into the world,
    determined to do
    the only thing you could do–
    determined to save
    the only life you could save.

  13. emilyp says...

    I read All Quiet On The Western Front fairly young and while the war in Iraq was in full swing, and when I got to this sentence I had to go back and reread it several times.

    “The days stand like angels in gold and blue, incomprehensible, above the ring of annihilation.”

    It’s towards the end of the novel, as our main character is being physically and emotionally ground down by the whole war experience. Disillusionment with US involvement in the middle east was also peaking, and that one little sentence somehow drove home to me the horror of armed conflict. And it’s not even graphic.

  14. Quietly, he said, “If we’re not careful life becomes very small.” We walked the rest of the way home in silence. ~Dominic Smith, The Beautiful Miscellaneous

  15. Michelle says...

    I love that so many people mentioned Cheryl Strayed’s writings from her Dear Sugar column. My favorite column, one I have returned to religiously every few months since she published it in 2011, is “The Ghost Ship that Didn’t Carry Us.” The letter-writer is inquiring about the choice of whether or not to have a child, but her response both addresses his question and becomes a more general meditation on the choices we make, how to love both what is and what never was without regretting those choices, because they make us who we are. Here is the ending of the essay/response:

    “I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

    http://therumpus.net/2011/04/dear-sugar-the-rumpus-advice-column-71-the-ghost-ship-that-didnt-carry-us/

  16. Mariah says...

    One of my favorite lyrics that has always struck me as being beautifully written:

    “Your voice is echoing again
    Through catacombs inside my mind
    And I’ve been dreaming of revenge
    To make you love me more than even you can try
    All words converge to where you are”

    Dan Wilson – Breathless Lyrics

  17. Haley says...

    “The best love is the kind that awakens the soul and makes us reach for more, that plants a fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds. And that’s what you’ve given me. That’s what I’d hoped to give you forever” – Nicholas Sparks

  18. Keri says...

    “These feelings resembled memories, but memories of what? It seemed one could remember things that had never been.”

    Leo Tolstoy, Childhood

    “But you can’t give your heart to a wild thing: the more you do, the stronger they get. Until they’re strong enough to run into the woods. Or fly into a tree. Then a taller tree. Then the sky. That’s how you’ll end up, Mr. Bell. If you let yourself love a wild thing. You’ll end up looking at the sky.”

    Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

  19. Samantha says...

    Anything written by Julio Cortazar is strangely beautiful. Sometimes you relate, sometimes you wish to relate. Hopscotch is so painfully beautiful, I can’t find another way to describe it. There’s nothing pretty about the story, it’s almost tragic, but he has the most agile prose to take a less than perfect situation and paint it in a beautiful way.
    “Of all our feelings the only one which really doesn’t belong to us is hope. Hope belongs to life, it’s life itself defending itself.”
    “My love, I don’t love you for you, nor for me, nor for the both of us, I don’t love you because the blood calls me to love you, I love you because you’re not mine, because you’re on the other side, there where you invite me to jump but I cannot make the jump.”
    “Nothing is lost if one has the courage to proclaim that all is lost and we must begin anew.”
    “In quoting others, we cite ourselves.”
    “What most people call loving consists of picking out a woman and marrying her. They pick her out, I swear, I’ve seen them. As if you could pick in love, as if it were not a lightning bolt that splits your bones and leaves you staked out in the middle of the courtyard.”
    “I’m tormented by your love that doesn’t work for me as a bridge, because a bridge cannot hold itself on one side.”
    It’s so much more beautiful in Spanish, I feel lucky to have been able to read it in the language and the way it was intended.

    • Lara says...

      I love these, thank you so much – I look forward to reading his books

  20. Dawn says...

    “He has one of his wistful, fanciful thoughts- that somehow he’s summoned from his mind not a fifty-year old memory of the moment he first saw this woman but the actual moment itself. After all, isn’t it the same sea, the same sun, the same them?
    -Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins

  21. Audrea Rachelle says...

    One of the most famous chapters of the Bible, so beautifully written. It’s all about love. I wish more lived by it.

    Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

    Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

    Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

    …And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
    1 Corinthians 13 – The Love Chapter

    • Of course the most beautiful and perfect words ever written would have to come from the ONE who is the word. Thanks. I was looking to see what others have chosen as their favorites.

  22. Liz says...

    From The Great Gatsy,
    “He smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. “

    • This is my favourite passage from The Great Gatsby. It hits a soft spot for me as my love is in the Navy so I am all too familiar with the pain of goodbye.
      “On the last afternoon before he went abroad, he sat with Daisy in his arms for a long, silent time. It was a cold fall day, with fire in the room and her cheeks flushed. Now and then she moved and he changed his arm a little, and once he kissed her dark shining hair. The afternoon had made them tranquil for a while, as if to give them a deep memory for the long parting the next day promised. They had never been closer in their month of love, nor communicated more profoundly one with another, than when she brushed silent lips against his coat’s shoulder or when he touched the end of her fingers, gently, as though she were asleep.”

  23. Emily says...

    “There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees.”
    -Victor Hugo

    ” Beneath my hands
    your small breasts
    are the upturned bellies
    of breathing fallen sparrows.

    Wherever you move
    I hear the sounds of closing wings
    of falling wings.

    I am speechless
    because you have fallen beside me
    because your eyelashes
    are the spines of tiny fragile animals.

    I dread the time
    when your mouth
    begins to call me hunter.

    When you call me close
    to tell me
    your body is not beautiful
    I want to summon
    the eyes and hidden mouths
    of stone and light and water
    to testify against you.

    I want them
    to surrender before you
    the trembling rhyme of your face
    from their deep caskets.

    When you call me close
    to tell me
    your body is not beautiful
    I want my body and my hands
    to be pools
    for your looking and laughing. ”
    -Leonard Cohen

  24. sadie says...

    I just love the photograph associated with this post. :)

  25. Julie says...

    I love Susan Sarandon’s line in Shall We Dance
    ” We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.”

    • This IS beautiful!

    • Jade says...

      Wow, that’s powerful! Thanks for sharing :)

    • Jade says...

      Wow, that’s awesome! Thanks for sharing :)

    • I love that line! I remember not liking the movie so much but loving this line. It’s so beautiful and exactly right. Thanks for reminding me of it :)

  26. Sasha says...

    “I taught myself to live simply and wisely,
    to look at the sky and pray to God,
    and to wander long before evening
    to tire my superfluous worries.
    When the burdocks rustle in the ravine
    and the yellow-red rowanberry cluster droops
    I compose happy verses
    about life’s decay, decay and beauty.
    I come back. The fluffy cat
    licks my palm, purrs so sweetly
    and the fire flares bright
    on the saw-mill turret by the lake.
    Only the cry of a stork landing on the roof
    occasionally breaks the silence.
    If you knock on my door
    I may not even hear.”

    Anna Akhmatova

  27. Sasha says...

    Actually, on your blog the most beautiful things I’ve read were your brother-in-law’s essay How Long Have I Got Left? and his letter to his daughter. I was also really moved by the story of the mother who had a stillborn baby. I had a stillborn baby three weeks ago, and I just went back to find it and reread it. I may stop reading here for a while, as I want to take a break from all things babies, but I wanted you to know that those posts were beautiful.

    • Heather says...

      I’m sorry and if I knew you I would give you a hug.

  28. Julie says...

    “The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”
    ― Laura Ingalls Wilder

    • sonia says...

      beautiful!

  29. Laura B. says...

    There are so many good ones out there, but this quote, which was written in a letter by the artist Feliz Gonzalez Torres in 1988, really struck me:

    “Don’t be afraid of the clocks, they are our times, time has been so generous to us. We imprinted time with the sweet taste of victory. We conquered fate by meeting at a certain time, therefore we give back credit where it is due: time. We are synchronized, now and forever. I love you.”

    • Haley says...

      I love this, so moving!