Quotations From JOSEPH BRODSKY


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  • Every writing career starts as a personal quest for sainthood, for self-betterment. Sooner or later, and as a rule quite soon, a man discovers that his pen accomplishes a lot more than his soul.
    Joseph Brodsky (b. 1940), Russian-born U.S. poet, critic. "The Power of the Elements," Less Than One: Selected Essays (first publ. 1980, repr. 1986).
  • Every individual ought to know at least one poet from cover to cover: if not as a guide through the world, then as a yardstick for the language.
    Joseph Brodsky (b. 1940), Russian-born U.S. poet, critic. (Essay written 1983). "To Please a Shadow," sct. 5, Less Than One: Selected Essays (1986). Brodsky recommended W.H. Auden as qualified on both counts.

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  • After having exhausted all the arguments on behalf of evil, one utters the creed's dictums with nostalgia rather than with fervor.
    Joseph Brodsky (b. 1940), Russian-born-U.S. poet, critic. (First published 1980). "The Power of the Elements," Less Than One: Selected Essays (1986).

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  • It would be enough for me to have the system of a jury of twelve versus the system of one judge as a basis for preferring the U.S. to the Soviet Union.... I would prefer the country you can leave to the country you cannot.
    Joseph Brodsky (b. 1940), Russian-born-U.S. poet, critic. Writers at Work, Eighth Series, ed. George Plimpton (1988). Brodsky was "asked" to leave the U.S.S.R. in 1972.

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  • 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.
  • 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).

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  • 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).

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  • The real history of consciousness starts with one's first lie.
    Joseph Brodsky (b. 1940), Russian-born U.S. poet, critic. (First published 1976). "Less Than One," sct. 1, Less Than One: Selected Essays (1986).

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  • What should I say about life? That's it's long and abhors transparence.
    Joseph Brodsky (b. 1940), Russian-born U.S. poet, critic. May 24, 1980. Written on his 40th birthday.

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  • 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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