Design

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

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

Cup of Jo has been running for 13 years (!) so we’ve decided that every week, we’ll be highlighting one of the most popular posts from the past. Here’s one of our favorites, originally published on July 1, 2015…

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. Millie says...

    Nick Cave on grief:

    “It seems to me, that if we love, we grieve. That’s the deal. That’s the pact. Grief and love are forever intertwined. Grief is the terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non-negotiable. There is a vastness to grief that overwhelms our minuscule selves. We are tiny, trembling clusters of atoms subsumed within grief’s awesome presence. It occupies the core of our being and extends through our fingers to the limits of the universe. Within that whirling gyre all manner of madnesses exist; ghosts and spirits and dream visitations, and everything else that we, in our anguish, will into existence. These are precious gifts that are as valid and as real as we need them to be. They are the spirit guides that lead us out of the darkness.

    I feel the presence of my son, all around, but he may not be there. I hear him talk to me, parent me, guide me, though he may not be there. He visits Susie in her sleep regularly, speaks to her, comforts her, but he may not be there. Dread grief trails bright phantoms in its wake. These spirits are ideas, essentially. They are our stunned imaginations reawakening after the calamity. Like ideas, these spirits speak of possibility. Follow your ideas, because on the other side of the idea is change and growth and redemption. Create your spirits. Call to them. Will them alive. Speak to them. It is their impossible and ghostly hands that draw us back to the world from which we were jettisoned; better now and unimaginably changed.”

  2. “In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.” – F Scott Fitzgerald, the Great Gatsby

    “It must be very nice to have a daughter.” “You cannot know how nice it is. It is like a second wife. My wife knows now all I think, all I say, all I believe, all I can do, all that I cannot do and cannot be. But now there is always someone you do not know, who does not know you, who loves you in ignorance and is strange to you both. Some one very attractive that is yours and not yours.” -Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa

    “He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” -Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

  3. Michelle Jacques says...

    “While I have been writing I have lived in the past, the light of it has been all around me – first the golden light of autumn, then the silver light of spring and then the strange light, grey but exciting, in which I see the historic past.”

    “Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression.”

    Both of the above are from Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle.

    • Kristin says...

      “All of us are better when we’re loved” -Alistair MacLeod

  4. McKenna R says...

    “I want a life that sizzles and pops and makes me laugh out loud. And I don’t want to get to the end, or to tomorrow, even, and realize that my life is a collection of meetings and pop cans and errands and receipts and dirty dishes. I want to eat cold tangerines and sing out loud in the car with the windows open and wear pink shoes and stay up all night laughing and paint my walls the exact color of the sky right now. I want to sleep hard on clean white sheets and throw parties and eat ripe tomatoes and read books so good they make me jump up and down, and I want my everyday to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift.”

    ― Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life

  5. Heather Ailes says...

    My mom died very suddenly and unexpectedly in August, just as my son turned 3 months old, and I’ve been simultaneously reading for clues and then desperately avoiding things about death. I keep returning, among other wisdoms/wishes to this poem by Raymond Carver:

    Late Fragment

    And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?

    I did.

    And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself

    beloved
    on the earth.



    • Ilona says...

      So very sorry for your loss, it must be a really difficult time right now. Love this poem too – I always thought it’d make a great inscription for a headstone.

  6. Chris says...

    “I made him walk on a lead and he jumped for joy, the way creatures do, and children do, and adults don’t do, and spend their lives wondering where the leap went.

    I looked at him, trusting, vulnerable, love without caution. He was a new beginning and every new beginning returns the world. In him, the rain forests were pristine and the sea had not been blunted. He was a map of clear outlines and unnamed hope. He was time before or time after. Time now had not spoilt him. In the space between chaos and shape there was another chance.”

    – Jeanette Winterson, The World and Other Places

  7. Jenny says...

    “He kissed her cheek and then she knew that you could become homesick for people too.”

    Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri is one of my favorite books, specifically the story A Temporary Matter. I would hate to ruin the story for anyone, so I will just put the last line: “They wept together, for the things they now knew.”

    And the poem Good Bones by Maggie Smith:
    Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
    Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
    in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
    a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
    I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
    fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
    estimate, though I keep this from my children.
    For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
    For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
    sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
    is at least half terrible, and for every kind
    stranger, there is one who would break you,
    though I keep this from my children. I am trying
    to sell them the world. Any decent relator,
    walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
    about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
    right? You could make this place beautiful.

    • Claire says...

      Oof. This one hits you right in the guts. I love it, but it hurts.

  8. Kathryn Hadfield says...

    “I draw a path, a circle, a line, enclosing my loves, my family, mine. “
    You’ve got to check out @tatterhood_ she just gets it spot on everytime..
    http://www.tatterhood.co.uk/poems/

  9. STK says...

    It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. — Emerson

    I think this quote sums up character in such a beautiful way. I’ve never struggled much with “peer pressure”, but have at times found it difficult to speak my truth when I know it diverges from that of the person/ people I’m speaking to. Finding the words and actions to do this without alienating others or sounding preachy is something I strive for!

    I also love this poem:
    http://www.fleurdelis.com/desiderata.htm

  10. Heather Lemoine says...

    It was my life – like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me.
    How wild it was, to let it be.”
    ― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

  11. Heather Lemoine says...

    It was my life – like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me.
    How wild it was, to let it be.”
    ― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Tra

  12. mimi says...

    This is so beautiful…… who wrote this???

  13. Shelby says...

    I think quite frankly that the world does not care for complicated women. The ones who seem too dark, too deep, too vibrant, too opinionated. The ones who are so intriguing that new men fall in love with them every day. At every meal where there’s a waiter, in every taxi, in any instance when someone can get to know them just a little bit. Just enough to get completely gone. But most men in the end don’t have the stomach for that much person. – Elizabeth Wurtzel

  14. anja says...

    Lori Gottlieb: Maybe you should talk to someone

    “Walking to my car that day, I hear Julie’s question: Will you think about me?
    All these years later, I still do.
    I remember her most in the silences.”

  15. Tanja says...

    “To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all at the same time. You could see it every time you looked at her: layered in her face was the baby she’d been and the child she’d become and the adult she would grow up to be, and you saw them all simultaneously, like a 3-D image. It made your head spin. It was a place you could take refuge, if you knew how to get in. And each time you left it, each time your child passed out of your sight, you feared you might never be able to return to that place again.”

    ― Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere

    • Nonye says...

      Wow!
      This resonated with me so much.

  16. KK says...

    “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once” – John Green, The Fault in our Stars

    “Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only DO not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I CANNOT live without my life! I CANNOT live without my soul!” – Heathcliff about Catherine, Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

    “You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones that you’re holding” – Cheryl Strayed.

  17. Lena says...

    ‘You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.’
    — Turtles All The Way Down, by John Green

  18. Maggie says...

    This poem really resonated with me. A reminder that while striving for achievement and improvement has value, so does self acceptance and pride in who you are in the present :

    ‘as you are.’ says the universe.
    ‘after…’ you answer.
    ‘as you are.’ says the universe.
    ‘before…’ you answer.
    ‘as you are.’ says the universe.
    ‘when…’ you answer.
    ‘as you are.’ says the universe.
    ‘how…’ you answer.
    ‘as you are.’ says the universe.
    ‘why…’ you answer.
    ‘because
    you are happening now.
    right now.
    right at this moment
    and
    your happening
    is beautiful.
    the thing that keeps me alive
    and
    brings me to my knees.
    you don’t even know how breathtaking you
    are.
    as you are.’ says the universe through tears

    Nayyirah Waheed

    • Sara says...

      Oh my goodness, this just took my breath away. So so so beautiful.

  19. LM says...

    On love:
    Love can feel like it’s saved your life. More than food, you know, it’s like water. -Dave Matthews

    On grief:
    He manages like somebody carrying a box
    that is too heavy, first with his arms
    underneath. When their strength gives out,
    he moves the hands forward, hooking them
    on the corners, pulling the weight against
    his chest. He moves his thumbs slightly
    when the fingers begin to tire, and it makes
    different muscles take over. Afterward,
    he carries it on his shoulder, until the blood
    drains out of the arm that is stretched up
    to steady the box and the arm goes numb. But now
    the man can hold underneath again, so that
    he can go on without ever putting the box down.
    Jack Gilbert, “Michiko Dead

    On gratitude:
    Thank God he was sitting. He said. With his feet up on a rubber hose half facing a morning glory. The last or the first. And thanks for the ledge to put my coffee cup on. He said. -Gerald Stern

  20. Sheralyn says...

    “Es tan corto el amor, y es tan largo el olvido” Love is so short, and forgetting is so long – Pablo Neruda.

  21. G says...

    I first read this poem after the loss of my beloved grandmother and it has given me such comfort and encouraged me to keep mentioning her:
    “Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!”

    ― Henry Scott Holland, Death is Nothing at All

    • M says...

      G – Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem.

    • Alexandra says...

      Wow. This is absolutely incredible. How heart warming and beautiful.

  22. Obando says...

    What sticks to memory, often, are those odd little fragments that have no beginning and no end. The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien

  23. Keira says...

    “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 of five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole eternal 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.”

    The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

  24. Harmony says...

    “It’s as true today as it ever was, he who seeks beauty, will find it.”
    -Bill Cunningham

    • liz says...

      love this!

  25. A.B. says...

    “Let everything happen to you

    Beauty and terror

    Just keep going

    No feeling is final.”
    Rainer Marie Rilke from the poem Go to the Limits of Your Longing. Final quote in JoJo Rabbit.

  26. Michelle R. says...

    “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.”
    ― Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

  27. nina says...

    It was a discovery: that love could ground you wherever you landed, even as you flung yourself away from it. Even the ghost of love can ground you wherever you’ve landed, even years after you’ve flung yourself away from it. Its memory can find you, can remind you of the person you once were and the person you were once loved by, can insist that those people still live inside you somewhere.

  28. Eva says...

    Bones by Maren Morris, esp. the version with Hozier. Hits so close to home that it makes me cry every time.

    We’re in the homestretch of the hard times
    We took a hard left, but we’re alright
    Yeah, life sure can try to put love through it, but
    We built this right, so nothing’s ever gonna move it

    When the bones are good, the rest don’t matter
    Yeah, the paint could peel, the glass could shatter
    Let it rain ’cause you and I remain the same
    When there ain’t a crack in the foundation
    Baby, I know any storm we’re facing
    Will blow right over while we stay put
    The house don’t fall when the bones are good.

    Call it dumb luck, but baby, you and I
    Can’t even mess it up, though we both tried
    No, it won’t always go the way we planned it
    But the wolves came and went and we’re still standing

  29. Maren says...

    There’s a gap in me
    a space between me and everything else
    that keeps me closed.
    alone.
    in here
    But then you are there
    you who are the bit that puzzle me together
    with the laugh.
    people.
    out there.
    -Michaela Hamilton (translated from Swedish)

  30. Carmen says...

    From James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time: “Life is tragic simply because the earth turns, and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death – ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.”

  31. Kyveli says...

    ‘Don’t judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins’.

    – Walk Two Moons, Sharon Creech

  32. Esther says...

    “Remember this, if you can. There is nothing more precious than time. You probably feel you have a measureless supply of it, but you have not. Wasted hours destroy your life just as surely at the beginning as at the end, only in the end it becomes more obvious.” ~Herman Wouk

  33. Tori says...

    I no longer want
    The things I thought I wanted
    (Now I just want you)
    #haikuforformerlovers, caroline cala (instagram)

  34. Stephanie says...

    I have periods where everything I ever encountered– grass and trees, music, the taste of food, the way people move, the miracle of colors, even my own worth thoughts– seems luminous and razor-cut in clarity, exactly like the whole world seemed to me at seventeen. What a gift at this late date. Memories from deep into the last centery come blowing through me and I can hardly stand against their force. We all reach a point where we would like to draw a line across time and declare everything on the far side null. Shed our past life like a pair of wet and muddy trousers, just roll their heavy clinging fabric down our legs and step away. We also reach a point where we would give the rest of our withering days for the month of July in our seventeenth year. But no thread of Ariadne exists to lead us back there.

    • Stephanie says...

      – Charles Frazier, Thirteen Moons

    • Molly K says...

      Oh, I loved Thirteen Moons!

    • Jasmine H says...

      I am always overcome by the beauty of Tyler Knott Gregson’s poetry. It speaks to me in ways that nothing else does.

      One example, of so many:
      “I will miss you
      always,
      even in the moments
      when you are right
      beside me.
      Time apart has planted
      longing inside me
      and I do not think
      it is a weed
      that will ever stop
      growing.
      It will always live there,
      but my god
      it grows the most
      spectacular
      flowers.”

  35. Tracy says...

    “So, what if, instead of thinking about solving your whole life, you just think about adding additional good things. One at a time. Just let your pile of good things grow.” – Rainbow Rowell

    Read this recently and it’s my mantra for 2020. To just let the good things grow.

  36. Marygrace Murphy says...

    “By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of the night. May God bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.

    After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.”

    ― James Agee, A Death in the Family

  37. Katie says...

    All the Light We Cannot See:
    “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”

    Secret Garden:
    “She made herself stronger by fighting with the wind.”

    “One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands out and throws one’s head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one’s heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun–which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with the millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in someone’s eyes.”

  38. Ela Aktay says...

    “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” – from Charlotte” s Web by E.B. White

    Charlotte’s Web is my all-time favorite book. I read it every year on New Year’s Day, and, yes, I still cry every time. [SPOILER ALERT] These last lines are the most beautiful way to end the story.

  39. janine says...

    ?Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.”
    Kahlil Gibran

    • Amanda Anastasio says...

      <3

  40. Annie says...

    “This morning, with her, drinking coffee.” – Johnny Cash, when asked for his description of paradise

  41. gina solon says...

    I love this one so….
    “We looked at each other. And it occurred to me that despite his faults, which were numerous and spectacular, the reason I’d liked Boris and felt happy around him from almost the moment I’d met him was that he was never afraid. You didn’t meet many people who moved freely through the world with such a vigorous contempt for it and at the same time such oddball and unthwartable faith in what, in childhood, he had liked to call “the Planet of Earth.”
    – Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

  42. “When the inexpressible had to be expressed, Shakespeare laid down his pen and called for music. And if the music should also fail? Well, there was always silence to fall back on. For always, always and everywhere, the rest is silence.”
    Aldous Huxley, The Rest Is Silence

  43. Claire says...

    “To love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you.” Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, and also the ache of motherhood

    • Erin says...

      Yes! I love this quote so much. I keep it in a note in my phone.

      Also: “Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore” —Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things

  44. The poems and scriptures I have memorized are so precious to me…especially now that my brain is older and it is harder to memorize and make things stick. A memorized line of poetry is something you can pluck from your brain and admire; like a ring on your finger, the flash of brilliance is immensely cheering.

    • Agnès says...

      I can see how my father who is 90 does that. He remembers poems as if they were a glass of exquisite wine…

  45. Dawn says...

    The Guest House

    This being human is a guest house.
    Every morning a new arrival.
    A joy, a depression, a meanness,
    some momentary awareness comes
    as an unexpected visitor.
    Welcome and entertain them all!
    Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
    who violently sweep your house
    empty of its furniture,
    still, treat each guest honorably.
    He may be clearing you out
    for some new delight.
    The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
    meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
    Be grateful for whatever comes.
    because each has been sent
    as a guide from beyond.

    — Rumi

  46. Bridget says...

    “When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.” Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

    Makes me weep every single time.

    • Sarah says...

      I love this too

    • Stephanie says...

      Halfway through, I immediately recognized his beautiful words. I cried so hard when I read this.

    • Cara says...

      This was the first quote I thought of when I saw this post. I can’t read it without crying. Such a beautiful book.

    • Yes this line really got me.

  47. leigh says...

    “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
    Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, he told me, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
    – The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

    “What imperfect carriers of love we are, and what imperfect givers. That the reasons we can care for one another can have nothing to do with the person cared for. That it has only to do with who we were around that person—what we felt about that person.” – Goodbye, Vitamin, Rachel Khong

    “We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste.”
    – Call Me by Your Name, Andre Aciman