Raymond Chandler: You were sleeping the big sleep



What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell.


Raymond Chandler (1888–1959), The Big Sleep

Robert Bly: To live means to pick up particles of death



"To live" means to pick up particles of death
as a child picks up crumbs from beneath the table.
"To exist" means to drop the bread behind you on the path
hoping the birds will find the crumbs and eat them.
"To live" is to rush forward eating up your own death,
like a locomotive with its catcher on, hurrying into the night.


Robert Bly (1926–), "To live or not"


Photo of wild turkey and her chicks at Cumberland Island National Seashore from PxHere

Zuo Zhuan: The bravery of the scribes


The grand scribe wrote, “Cui Zhu assassinated his ruler.” Cui Zhu put him to death. The scribe’s younger brothers succeeded him and wrote the same thing, and so two more persons were killed. Another younger brother again wrote it, whereupon Cui Zhu desisted. The scribe of the south, having heard that the grand scribes had all died, clutched the bamboo strips* and set out. When he heard that the record had already been made, he turned back.


25th year of Lord Xiang of Lu, Zuo Zhuan (3rd century BC or older, ancient China)


大史書曰: ”崔杼弒其君。“ 崔杼殺之。 其弟嗣書,而死者二人。其弟又書。乃舍之。南史氏問大史盡死,執簡以往 問既書矣,乃還。





*Books were then written on bamboo strips.


Photo by the Knight Foundation of banners from a march by Mexican journalists in 2010, protesting the murders of fellow reporters. More than 900 journalists have been killed since then worldwide.

Tolkien: Peril, sorrow, and the shadow of death can bestow dignity and sometimes wisdom


It is one of the lessons of fairy-stories (if we can speak of the lessons of things that do not lecture) that on callow, lumpish, and selfish youth peril, sorrow, and the shadow of death can bestow dignity, and even sometimes wisdom.

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), from lecture On Fairy Stories


Photo of a young Afghan refugee by Franz, fsHH on Pixabay

Merwin: I was young and the dead were in other Ages


…I was young and the dead were in other Ages
As the grass has its own language

Now I forget where the difference falls

One thing about the living sometimes a piece of us
Can stop dying for a moment
But you the dead.

Once you go into those names you go on you never
You go on

W.S. Merwin (1927–2019), "The Hydra." Originally published in Poetry magazine, May 1967


Photo by Chris Beckett on Flickr


Liu Cixin: Nothing has disappeared


“From a scientific perspective, ‘destroy’ isn’t really accurate. Nothing has disappeared. All the matter that used to be there is still there, and so is all the angular momentum. It’s only the arrangement of matter that has changed, like a deck of cards being reshuffled. But life is like a straight flush: once you shuffle, it’s gone.” 

Windfall, an astronomer, in Death’s End, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu

Machiavelli: Reading, I forget every pain

When evening has come, I return to my house and go into my study. At the door I take off my clothes of the day, covered with mud and mire, and I put on my regal and courtly garments; and decently reclothed, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them lovingly, I feed on the food that alone is mine and that I was born for. There I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions; and they in their humanity reply to me. And for the space of four hours I feel no boredom, I forget every pain, I do not fear poverty, death does not frighten me. I deliver myself entirely to them.
Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527), in a letter to Francesco Vettori, 10 December 1513, translated by Harvey C. Mansfield, in The Prince, 2nd ed. (Chicago, 1998)

Venuta la sera, mi ritorno a casa ed entro nel mio scrittoio; e in sull'uscio mi spoglio quella veste cotidiana, piena di fango e di loto, e mi metto panni reali e curiali; e rivestito condecentemente, entro nelle antique corti delli antiqui huomini, dove, da loro ricevuto amorevolmente, mi pasco di quel cibo che solum è mio e ch’io nacqui per lui; dove io non mi vergogno parlare con loro e domandarli della ragione delle loro azioni; e quelli per loro humanità mi rispondono; e non sento per quattro hore di tempo alcuna noia, sdimentico ogni affanno, non temo la povertà, non mi sbigottisce la morte: tutto mi transferisco in loro.


Photo of the statue of Machiavelli in the Ufficio Plaza, Florence, by Mr Crash on Flickr

Emily Dickinson: Color, caste, denomination—these are time's affair


Color - Caste - Denomination -
These - are Time's Affair -
Death's diviner Classifying
Does not know they are -
As in sleep - all Hue forgotten -
Tenets - put behind -
Death's large - Democratic fingers
Rub away the Brand -
If Circassian - He is careless -
If He put away
Chrysalis of Blonde - or Umber -
Equal Butterfly -
They emerge from His Obscuring -
What Death - knows so well -
Our minuter intuitions -
Deem unplausible
Emily Dickinson (1830–1886)
Photo by Hellerhoff, Wikimedia Commons