Joseph Brodsky

(24 May 1940 – 28 January 1996 / Leningrad)

Quotations

  • ''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.''
    Joseph Brodsky (b. 1940), Russian-born U.S. poet, critic. Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 1987.
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  • ''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.''
    Joseph Brodsky (b. 1940), Russian-born-U.S. poet, critic. Address, 1984, delivered at Williams College. "A Commencement Address," Less Than One: Selected Essays (1986).
  • ''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.''
    Joseph Brodsky (b. 1940), Russian-born U.S. poet, critic. (First published 1979). "A Poet and Prose," sect. 2, Less Than One: Selected Essays (1986).
  • ''Snobbery? But it's only a form of despair.''
    Joseph Brodsky (b. 1940), Russian-born U.S. poet, critic. "Flight from Byzantium," sct. 9, Less Than One: Selected Essays (1986).
  • ''The delirium and horror of the East. The dusty catastrophe of Asia. Green only on the banner of the Prophet. Nothing grows here except mustaches.''
    Joseph Brodsky (b. 1940), Russian-born U.S. poet, critic. "Flight from Byzantium," sect. 9, Less Than One: Selected Essays (1986).
  • ''Racism? But isn't it only a form of misanthropy?''
    Joseph Brodsky (b. 1940), Russian-born U.S. poet, critic. "Flight from Byzantium," sct. 9, Less Than One: Selected Essays (1986).
  • ''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.''
    Joseph Brodsky (b. 1940), Russian-born U.S. poet, critic. Interview in Writers at Work, Eighth Series, ed. George Plimpton (1988).
  • ''The poetic notion of infinity is far greater than that which is sponsored by any creed.''
    Joseph Brodsky (b. 1940), Russian-born U.S. poet, critic. Interview in Writers at Work, Eighth Series, ed. George Plimpton (1988). On the "worrying" fact that W.H. Auden was a formal churchgoer in later life.
  • ''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.''
    Joseph Brodsky (b. 1940), Russian-born U.S. poet, critic. Interview in Writers at Work, Eighth Series, ed. George Plimpton (1988).
  • ''For the poet the credo or doctrine is not the point of arrival but is, on the contrary, the point of departure for the metaphysical journey.''
    Joseph Brodsky (b. 1940), Russian-born U.S. poet, critic. Interview in Writers at Work, Eighth Series, ed. George Plimpton (1988).

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To Urania

Everything has its limit, including sorrow.
A windowpane stalls a stare. Nor does a grill abandon
a leaf. One may rattle the keys, gurgle down a swallow.
Loneliness cubes a man at random.
A camel sniffs at the rail with a resentful nostril;
a perspective cuts emptiness deep and even.
And what is space anyway if not the
body's absence at every given
point? That's why Urania's older than sister Clio!

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