William Faulkner

Quotations

I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.

Paris Review interview (1958)

Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.

Paris Review interview (1958)

If I had not existed, someone else would have written me, Hemingway, Dostoevsky, all of us. Proof of that is that there are about three candidates for the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. But what is important is Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, not who wrote them, but that somebody did. The artist is of no importance. Only what he creates is important, since there is nothing new to be said. Shakespeare, Balzac, Homer have all written about the same things, and if they had lived one thousand or two thousand years longer, the publishers wouldn’t have needed anyone since.

Paris Review interview (1958)

The poets are wrong of course. … But then poets are almost always wrong about facts. That’s because they are not really interested in facts: only in truth: which is why the truth they speak is so true that even those who hate poets by simple and natural instinct are exalted and terrified by it.

The Town (1957)

Maybe the only thing worse than having to give gratitude constantly is having to accept it.

Requiem for a Nun (1951)

So vast, so limitless in capacity is man’s imagination to disperse and burn away the rubble-dross of fact and probability, leaving only truth and dream.

Requiem for a Nun (1951)

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

Requiem for a Nun (1951)

I can remember how when I was young I believed death to be a phenomenon of the body; now I know it to be merely a function of the mind — and that of the minds who suffer the bereavement. The nihilists say it is the end; the fundamentalists, the beginning; when in reality it is no more than a single tenant or family moving out of a tenement or a town.

As I Lay Dying (1930)

Sin and love and fear are just sounds that people who never sinned nor loved nor feared have for what they never had and cannot have until they forget the words.

As I Lay Dying (1930)

It takes two people to make you, and one people to die. That’s how the world is going to end.

As I Lay Dying (1930)

He had a word, too. Love, he called it. But I had been used to words for a long time. I knew that that word was like the others: just a shape to fill a lack; that when the right time came, you wouldn’t need a word for that anymore than for pride or fear.

As I Lay Dying (1930)

Women do have an affinity for evil, for believing that no woman is to be trusted, but that some men are too innocent to protect themselves.

The Sound and the Fury (1929)

Clocks slay time. Time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.

The Sound and the Fury (1929)

A man is the sum of his misfortunes. One day you’d think misfortune would get tired, but then time is your misfortune.

The Sound and the Fury (1929)

Well, between Scotch and nothin’, I suppose I’d take Scotch. It’s the nearest thing to good moonshine I can find.

As quoted in National Observer (3 February 1964)

Some folks wouldn’t even speak when they passed me on the street. Then MGM came to town to film Intruder in the Dust, and that made some difference because I’d brought money into Oxford. But it wasn’t until the Nobel Prize that they really thawed out. They couldn’t understand my books, but they could understand thirty thousand dollars.

as quoted in "Faulkner Without Fanfare" in Esquire (July 1963)

Why that’s a hundred miles away. That’s a long way to go just to eat.

On declining invitation to White House dinner honoring Nobel laureates, as quoted in Life magazine (20 January 1962)

There is something about jumping a horse over a fence, something that makes you feel good. Perhaps it’s the risk, the gamble. In any event it’s a thing I need.

As quoted in "Visit to Two-Finger Typist" by Elliot Chaze in LIFE magazine (14 July 1961)

Mr. Khrushchev says that Communism, the police state, will bury the free ones. He is a smart gentleman, he knows that this is nonsense since freedom, man’s dim concept of and belief in the human spirit is the cause of all his troubles in his own country. But if he means that Communism will bury capitalism, he is correct. That funeral will occur about ten minutes after the police bury gambling. Because simple man, the human race, will bury both of them. That will be when we have expended the last grain, dram, and iota of our natural resources. But man himself will not be in that grave. The last sound on the worthless earth will be two human beings trying to launch a homemade spaceship and already quarreling about where they are going next.

Speech to the UNESCO Commission, as quoted in The New York Times (3 October 1959)

I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Speech at the Nobel Prize Banquet after receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature (10 December 1950)

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. He must learn them again.

Speech at the Nobel Prize Banquet after receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature (10 December 1950)

It is my ambition to be, as a private individual, abolished and voided from history, leaving it markless, no refuse save the printed books; I wish I had enough sense to see ahead thirty years ago, and like some of the Elizabethans, not signed them. It is my aim, and every effort bent, that the sum and history of my life, which in the same sentence is my obit and epitaph too, shall be them both: He made the books and he died.

Letter to Malcolm Cowley (11 February 1949)

Be scared. You can’t help that. But don’t be afraid. Ain’t nothing in the woods going to hurt you unless you corner it, or it smells that you are afraid. A bear or a deer, too, has got to be scared of a coward the same as a brave man has got to be.

“The Bear” in The Saturday Evening Post (9 May 1942)

Between grief and nothing I will take grief.

The Wild Palms (1939)

Even a liar can be scared into telling the truth, same as an honest man can be tortured into telling a lie.

Light in August (1932)