Great Quotes from 100 Years of Nobel Prize Winners for Literature

By Pen Cooper

“Death is the fairest thing in the world. No one’s ever gotten out of it. The earth takes everyone – the kind, the cruel, the sinners. Aside from that, there’s no fairness on earth.”

Svetlana Alexievich | From Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster | 2015 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“You were right to tell me that in life it is not the future which counts, but the past.”

Patrick Modiano | From Missing Person | 2014 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“There is a limit to the amount of misery and disarray you will put up with for love, just as there is a limit to the amount of mess you can stand around a house. You can’t know the limit beforehand, but you will know when you’ve reached it. I believe this.”

Alice Munro | 2013 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Finally, she mused that human existence is as brief as the life of autumn grass, so what was there to fear from taking chances with your life?"

Mo Yan | From Red Sorghum | 2012 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“In the middle of life, death comes to take your measurements. The visit is forgotten and life goes on. But the suit is being sewn on the sly."

Tomas Tranströmer | From The Deleted World | 2011 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“One can’t fight with oneself, for this battle has only one loser.”

Mario Vargas Llosa | From Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter | 2010 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“I have packed myself into silence so deeply and for so long that I can never unpack myself using words. When I speak, I only pack myself a little differently.”

Herta Müller | From The Hunger Angel | 2009 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Real lives have no end. Real books have no end.”

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio | From The Book of Flights | 2008 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“What’s terrible is to pretend that second-rate is first-rate. To pretend that you don’t need love when you do; or you like your work when you know quite well you’re capable of better.”

Doris Lessing | From The Golden Notebook | 2007 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“I read a book one day and my whole life was changed.”

Orhan Pamuk | From The New Life | 2006 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“One way of looking at speech is to say that it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness.”

Harold Pinter | From Various Voices: Prose, Poetry, Politics | 2005 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Every day, a piece of music, a short story, or a poem dies because its existence is no longer justified in our time. And things that were once considered immortal have become mortal again, no one knows them anymore. Even though they deserve to survive.”

Elfriede Jelinek | From The Piano Teacher | 2004 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Truth is not spoken in anger. Truth is spoken, if it ever comes to be spoken, in love. The gaze of love is not deluded. It sees what is best in the beloved even when what is best in the beloved finds it hard to emerge into the light.”

John M. Coetzee | From Slow Man | 2003 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“You just sit there and tolerate it, the same way everything in this country is tolerated. Every deception, every lie, every bullet in the brains. Just as you are already tolerating bullets in the brains that will be implemented only after the bullet is put in your brains.”

Imre Kertész | From Liquidation | 2002 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Most people are not really free. They are confined by the niche in the world that they carve out for themselves. They limit themselves to fewer possibilities by the narrowness of their vision.”

Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul | 2001 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“You should know that there is little you can seek in this world, that there is no need for you to be so greedy, in the end all you can achieve are memories, hazy, intangible, dreamlike memories which are impossible to articulate. When you try to relate them, there are only sentences, the dregs left from the filter of linguistic structures.”

Gao Xingjian | From Soul Mountain | 2000 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Granted: I AM an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there’s a peep-hole in the door, and my keeper’s eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed type like me.”

Günter Grass | From The Tin Drum | 1999 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Words were not given to man in order to conceal his thoughts”

José Saramago | 1998 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“A theatre, a literature, an artistic expression that does not speak for its own time has no relevance.”

Dario Fo | 1997 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Let the people who never find true love keep saying that there’s no such thing. Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die.”

Wislawa Szymborska | From View With a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems | 1996 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“I can’t think of a case where poems changed the world, but what they do is they change people’s understanding of what’s going on in the world.”

Seamus Heaney | 1995 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“…I kept trying to run away. And I almost did. But it seems that reality compels you to live properly when you live in the real world.”

Kenzaburō Ōe | From A Personal Matter | 1994 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

Toni Morrison | 1993 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“The future happens. No matter how much we scream.”

Derek Walcott | From The Odyssey | 1992 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“The truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is.”

Nadine Gordimer | 1991 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Love is an attempt to penetrate another being, but it can only be realized if the surrender is mutual.”

Octavio Paz | From The Labyrinth of Solitude and Other Writing | 1990 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“I’m not made to philosophize, I don’t have the heart for it. My heart is more like a machine for making blood to be spilled in a knife fight…”

Camilo José Cela | From La familia de Pascual Duarte | 1989 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Home is not where you are born; home is where all your attempts to escape cease”

Naguib Mahfouz | 1988 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“The eye identifies itself not with the body it belongs to but with the object of its attention.”

Joseph Brodsky | From Watermark | 1987 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Romance is the sweetening of the soul
With fragrance offered by the stricken heart.”

Wole Soyinka | From The Lion and the Jewel | 1986 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Life is not only full of sound and fury. It also has butterflies, flowers, art.”

Claude Simon | 1985 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Everything on earth has happened before,
nothing is new,
but woe to the lovers
who fail to discover a fresh blossom
in every future kiss.”

Jaroslav Seifert | From The Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert | 1984 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.”

William Golding | From Lord of the Flies | 1983 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.”

Gabriel García Márquez | 1982 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“I cannot become modest; too many things burn in me; the old solutions are falling apart; nothing has been done yet with the new ones. So I begin, everywhere at once, as if I had a century ahead of me.”

Elias Canetti | 1981 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

To believe you are magnificent. And gradually to discover that you are not magnificent. Enough labor for one human life.”

Czeslaw Milosz | 1980 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“If a separate personal Paradise exists for each of us, mine must be irreparably planted with trees of words which the wind silvers like poplars, by people who see their confiscated justice given back, and by birds that even in the midst of truth of death insist on singing in Greek and saying eros, eros, eros.”

Odysseus Elytis | 1979 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Night is a time of rigor, but also of mercy. There are truths which one can see only when it’s dark”

Isaac Bashevis Singer | From Teibele And Her Demon | 1978 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“I would say a few words
in your ear. A doubtful man has little faith.
Live a long time and it gets dark, and suddenly you know you don’t
know yourself.
But I’d say them even so. Since my eyes repeat what they take in:
your beauty, your name, the river’s sound, the woods, the soul on its own.”

Vicente Aleixandre | 1977 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.”

Saul Bellow | 1976 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Absent one, how I miss you on this shore
that conjures you and fades if you’re away”

Eugenio Montale | From Collected Poems, 1920-1954 | 1975 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“A poet or prose narrator usually looks back on what he has achieved against a backdrop of the years that have passed, generally finding that some of these achievements are acceptable, while others are less so.”

Eyvind Johnson | 1974 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Now we have fathomed what our space-ship is – a tiny bubble in a glass of God.”

Harry Martinson | From Aniara: An Epic Science Fiction Poem | 1974 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Because he had nothing to hide, he did perhaps appear to have forfeited a little of his strength. But that is the irony of honesty.”

Patrick White | From The Tree Of Man | 1973 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“An artist is like a woman who can do nothing but love, and who succumbs to every stray male jackass.”

Heinrich Böll | From The Clown | 1972 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.”

Pablo Neruda | From 100 Love Sonnets | 1971 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“The belly is an ungrateful wretch, it never remembers past favors, it always wants more tomorrow.”

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn | From One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich | 1970 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Samuel Beckett | From Worstward Ho | 1969 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Time flows in the same way for all human beings; every human being flows through time in a different way.”

Yasunari Kawabata | 1968 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Rise and demand; you are a burning flame.
You are sure to conquer there where the final horizon
Becomes a drop of blood, a drop of life,
Where you will carry the universe on your shoulders,
Where the universe will bear your hope.”

Miguel Angel Asturias | 1967 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Not every man remembers the name of the cow which supplied him with each drop of milk he has drunk.”

Shmuel Yosef Agnon | 1966 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“World, they have taken the small children like butterflies and thrown them, beating their wings, into the fire–”

Nelly Sachs | 1966 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“The grass grows over the graves, time overgrows the pain. The wind blew away the traces of those who had departed; time blows away the bloody pain and the memory of those who did not live to see their dear ones again—and will not live, for brief is human life, and not for long is any of us granted to tread the grass.”

Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov | From And Quiet Flows the Don | 1965 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.”

Jean-Paul Sartre | 1964 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Don’t ask me who’s influenced me. A lion is made up of all the lambs he’s digested, and I’ve been reading all my life.”

Giorgos Seferis | 1963 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do.”

John Steinbeck | From The Grapes of Wrath | 1962 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Between the fear that something would happen and the hope that still it wouldn’t, there is much more space than one thinks. On that narrow, hard, bare and dark space a lot of us spend their lives.”

Ivo Andric | 1961 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“And it is enough for the poet to be the guilty conscience of his time.”

Saint-John Perse | 1960 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“No, you listen! All my life, you’ve told me that the world is a dark, cruel place. But now I see that the only thing dark and cruel about it is people like you!”

Salvatore Quasimodo | 1959 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“I don’t like people who have never fallen or stumbled. Their virtue is lifeless and it isn’t of much value. Life hasn’t revealed its beauty to them. ”

Boris Leonidovich Pasternak | 1958 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”

Albert Camus | 1957 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“To live is nothing more than to come here to die, to be what we were before being born, but with apprenticeship, experience, knowledge of cause, and perhaps with will.”

Juan Ramón Jiménez | 1956 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“For man is essentially alone, and one should pity him and love him and grieve with him.”

Halldór Kiljan Laxness | 1955 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Ernest Miller Hemingway | 1954 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill | 1953 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“If you would tell me the heart of a man, tell me not what he reads, but what he rereads.”

François Mauriac | 1952 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Bitter, too, to be forced to acknowledge in one’s heart how little love has to do with kindness.”

Pär Fabian Lagerkvist | From The Sibyl | 1951 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.”

Earl (Bertrand Arthur William) Russell | 1950 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.
Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”

William Faulkner | 1949 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”

Thomas Stearns Eliot | From Four Quartets | 1948 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.”

André Paul Guillaume Gide | From Autumn Leaves | 1947 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”

Hermann Hesse | From Demian. Die Geschichte von Emil Sinclairs Jugend | 1946 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“You shall create beauty not to excite the senses but to give sustenance to the soul.”

Gabriela Mistral | 1945 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“During half a century of literary work, I have endeavoured to introduce the philosophy of evolution into the sphere of literature, and to inspire my readers to think in evolutionary terms.”

Johannes Vilhelm Jensen | 1944 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“How sad that love is still awakening of the finest and most pure, and in most cases only after it becomes dirty.”

Frans Eemil Sillanpää | 1939 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Love cannot be forced, love cannot be coaxed and teased. It comes out of heaven, unasked and unsought.”

Pearl Buck | 1938 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“I always have a pad of paper and a pencil within reach, to catch on the wing this turn of phrase which strikes me as felicitous, that idea which I hope to be able to examine more closely in the light of day.”

Roger Martin du Gard | 1937 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Why am I afraid to dance, I who love music and rhythm and grace and song and laughter? Why am I afraid to live, I who love life and the beauty of flesh and the living colors of the earth and sky and sea? Why am I afraid to love, I who love love?”

Eugene Gladstone O’Neill | From The Great God Brown and Other Plays | 1936 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Life is full of strange absurdities, which, strangely enough, do not even need to appear plausible, since they are true.”

Luigi Pirandello | From Six Characters in Search of an Author | 1934 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Words are one thing, deeds are quite another.”

Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin | 1933 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Love is not a hot-house flower, but a wild plant, born of a wet night, born of an hour of sunshine; sprung from wild seed, blown along the road by a wild wind. A wild plant that, when it blooms by chance within the hedge of our gardens, we call a flower; and when it blooms outside we call a weed; but, flower or weed, whose scent and colour are always, wild!”

John Galsworthy | From The Forsyte Saga | 1932 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“It whispers; all is waiting here
Kept safe for thee, year after year,
Beautiful songs in thousands;
Where hast thou been, where, where?”

Erik Axel Karlfeldt | 1931 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“We’d get sick on too many cookies, but ever so much sicker on no cookies at all.”

Sinclair Lewis | 1930 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

Thomas Mann | From Essays of Three Decades | 1929 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“All my days I have longed equally to travel the right road and to take my own errant path.”

Sigrid Undset | From Kristin Lavransdatter | 1928 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.”

Henri Bergson | 1927 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“According to an ancient Sardinian legend, the bodies of those who are born on Christmas Eve will never dissolve into dust but are preserved until the end of time.”

Grazia Deledda | 1926 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.”

George Bernard Shaw | 1925 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“I dreamed of great actions, of voyages–rovings across the oceans of a free and independent life.”

Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont | 1924 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“I have spread my dreams under your feet.
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

William Butler Yeats | 1923 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“If people could hear our thoughts, very few of us would escape from being locked away as mad men.”

Jacinto Benavente | 1922 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“We have never heard the devil’s side of the story, God wrote all the book.”

Anatole France | 1921 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“…I will exile my thoughts if they think of you again, and I will rip my lips out if they say your name once more. Now if you do exist, I will tell you my final word in life or in death, I tell you goodbye.”

Knut Pedersen Hamsun From Hunger | 1920 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Halt silent, my dear, and take me with you!
The evening is nigh, and the summit is remote.
I will play for Kurzweil a ditty like. ”

Carl Friedrich Georg Spitteler | 1919 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“Thor sang: Who is Svend among the attendants, who beyond Sundet stand?”

Karl Adolph Gjellerup | 1917 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“This thought has been ascribed to Voltaire: If God did not exist, mankind would have invented Him. I find more truth in the reverse: If there really is a God, then we should seek to forget Him, to raise up men who will to do good for goodness’ sake, not out of fear of punishment for their bad deeds. How can someone give alms to a poor man with a clean heart when he believes, and has an interest in believing, that there is a God who keeps score in heaven, who looks down and nods in approval?”

Henrik Pontoppidan From Lykke Per | 1917 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

“You smile, my people, but with stiff moves,
and sing, but without hope.”

Carl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam | 1916 Nobel Literature Prize Winner

H/T Literatipulp