Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Delight of Quotations

Since fourth grade, I've been collecting quotations. The practice started with my elementary obsession with the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. In one of the later books, Laura and her friends sign each others' "autograph books" with little sayings and snippets of poetry. I don't remember where I got it, but one of my precious possessions was a little red-covered autograph book with blank pages in varying pastel colors. I asked my friends, teachers, and family members to write a little something in the beautiful little book with the word "Autographs" scrolled across the lower right corner of the cover in gold embossed letters.

The little book is upstairs in my Memory box; I hope it is, anyway. But right now the only quotation I remember was inscribed by my grandmother in her pretty penmanship that she took such pride in ... along with etiquette and other gracious aspects of life. She was an artist, and she took my request quite seriously, as lovely grandmothers do. She took a long time in deciding which words would be perfect for the occasion before writing the verses from memory and handing the little oblong book back to me. I remember rifling through the pages excitedly to see what she had inscribed for me. Written in blue ballpoint pen across a pale green page was a short excerpt from "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" translated by Edward Fitzgerald:

"Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a book of Verse, and Thou."

I didn't know the poet or the poem until much later in life, although my grandmother's masterpiece in oils was a portrait of an Indian sheik or maharajah, turban on his head and pearls cascading over his hands. His name? Omar.

Many writers I know collect words. I love words as much as any writer, but I find myself jotting down quotations instead. I love the way words bump up against each other, rubbing shoulders in their "come hither" way. The "Quote of the Week" in the sidebar of this blog is filled with quotations I've already collected into a little spiral notebook that I keep on the shelf above my desk where I can pull it easily down and copy yet another quotation, another example of words doing their "ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom."

Quotations send shivers up my spine. I prefer quotations from books I've read or from writers I am familiar with, but really, any quotation with a spark of genius, a promise of romance-among-words will do. I reach above my head, grasp onto the tightly spiraled wire along the spine of the journal, and splay the lilac-covered book open on my desk. I rifle through the ink-stained pages to find the next clean lines, pick up either my fountain pen or, if I really, really have fallen in love with the phrase, my rosewood dip pen and corked bottle of sepia ink, and copy the quotation in my best hand. As I let letter after letter and word after word flow through my fingers onto the page, the words somehow grip me, extending little clawed paws into my woolly brain.

And then magic happens: the words are now mine. I own them. I didn't originate them; I didn't print them. But they are mine in a mysterious, otherworldly way. Attempting to explain it removes the delicious mystery of the words-within-me. but once I have captured the phrase, the sentence, the paragraph, it becomes part of me in a truly mystic, consubstantiationist way.

And the quotations in my little yellow book with a spray of lilacs on the cover are from so many sources. The Bible. Shakespeare. Signature lines from e-mails and forums. Quote Garden (online quotation source -- quite addicting, may I add). Books. Movies. TV shows. Articles. Blogs. Magazines (especially Victoria). But they all had that immediate connection with me ... exactly like love-at-first-sight, only slightly less dangerous.

As each Monday rolls around, I pull down my little spiral-edged book and thumb through the pages, looking for "just the right" quote that expresses my mood for the upcoming week. My fingers tingle in heady anticipation when I blank out the little box on my blog and peruse my collection, selecting a quotation that "sings" to me at the precisely opportune moment. Often they are about writing. Or poetry. Or faith. Or reading. Or gardening. You know ... the stuff I am made of and made for, choosing yet another gem of a thought or phrase.

Please allow me to share just a very few of my favorites, most of which have already appeared on this blog at one time or another:

"Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore!" -- Henry Ward Beecher

"When I get a little money, I buy books, and if there is any left, I buy food and clothes." -- Erasmus

"I do not read a book; I hold a conversation with the author." -- Elbert Hubbard

"Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry." -- W.B. Yeats

"A poem is never finished, only abandoned." -- Paul Valery

"Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary." -- Kahlil Gibran

I could keep quoting all night, but it is well after midnight and if I indeed wish to function tomorrow, I need to draw this post to a close. Words are indeed beautiful things in isolation, but I find I get to know them best in a crowd of other words, each working together perfectly, bravely holding up its part of the quotation. Getting involved with each other. Making friends. Making out.

That's when my love affair with words becomes a liaison dangereuse.

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